A Thanksgiving Who’s Who

In the early years of the 17th century, there was a sect of religious folk in England. They were called "Puritans" because they desired to purify themselves from anything and anyone that didn't fit into their doctrinal mold. They believed that their destiny was to be found in the prophecies of the Revelation. They understood their time to be the end-time and that they alone were Yahweh's last hope for a sinful world.

Jackson Snyder, 1997

 (Mat 3:8-10 KJV) Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: {9} And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that El is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. {10} And now also the ax is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.

These are the words of John the Baptist, who was sent here by Yahweh to prepare us 2nd Grade Squantum Day Festivitiesfor his Kingdom. John preaches from the arid wasteland to those religious city folk who came out to question him. He tells them that the evidence of true faith doesn't consist in their parentage, or their race, or their religious affiliation, or how they were baptized. Rather, John insists that the evidence of their salvation consists in the fruits of their repentance -- fruits such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness -- goodness -- benevolence. These lacking, the "tree" is not only chopped down, but destroyed in the bonfire, making room for the fruitful.

We, the people of Yahweh present today, desire to be fruitful. We know in our hearts that Yahshua will suddenly make his appearance public to set up his Reign here on earth. And we know that if we are fruitful trees, we shall reign with him forever. The Pilgrims believed this, too. They considered themselves to be the spiritual descendants of John the Baptist, setting forth from a hostile England to set up the New Jerusalem of Scripture in the Americas, in hopes that Yahshua might join them as king. It's their story that today I will tell.

Who Were the Pilgrims?

In the early years of the 17th century, there was a sect of religious folk in England. They were called "Puritans" because they desired to purify themselves from anything and anyone that didn't fit into their doctrinal mold. They believed that their destiny was to be found in the prophecies of the Revelation. They understood their time to be the end-time and that they alone were Yahweh's last hope for a sinful world. Through them, Yahweh spoke damning judgment against England, and through them, Yahshua was establishing the New Jerusalem. Our group of 101 Puritans, whom we know as "The Pilgrims," set sail for America in September 1620 to do just that -- to establish the eternal Kingdom of Yahweh on earth.

When the Mayflower landed on Plymouth's rocky shore November 21, we can only imagine what the Indians might have thought. Regardless of their fearsome appearance, the Indians' religion taught them to help all strangers in need, so they treated the newcomers with courtesy. Had this not been so, the elements would have swiftly put an end to the Pilgrims’ grand experiment.

And Who Were These Indians?

These Indians were the Wampanoags, a tribe of the "The Delaware League." They were a civilized people who lived in round, wooden wigwams gathered into villages along the seacoast. They wore deerskin clothing, moccasins and bearskin coats. They wore braided hair; men were adorned with a single feather. Like us, these Indians farmed. During hunting seasons, they moved with their prey. And they worshiped one El, who they called, "The Master of Heaven." Their faith taught that charity was to be extended to the needy and hospitality to the helpless. They believed in the Creation and respected all creatures as equals. The natives of the Wampanoag tribes knew and practiced what we call the Golden Rule.

Squanto

One of the Wampanoags that our Pilgrims encountered early on spoke English. His Squantum Days Festivitiesname was Tisquantum. We know him as "Squanto." Long before the Mayflower set sail for the New World, Squanto met Messiah, was discipled by an English explorer and taken to live and learn in Europe. While in Europe, Squanto met another coastal tribesman named Samoset, a freed slave. After 15 years in Europe, Squanto and Samoset decided to go home -- back to the village of Patuxet in Massachusetts.

When the Indians arrived home, they found their village deserted (except for mounds of skeletons). Slave traders had been there; they captured the strongest to sell on the slave market, and unwittingly killed the rest will smallpox. Squanto's family was dead or gone. He and Samoset left in horror at what they had seen and learned. When they returned to Patuxet a year later, they were surprised to find a tiny encampment on the very site of their village. The camp was the Pilgrims' New Jerusalem.

Contact!

For several days Squanto and Samoset watched the Pilgrims from a hiding place. Finally, they ventured out. Samoset said one English word to the Pilgrims: "Welcome." Now, the Pilgrims were surprised. Two Indians who spoke English! Unbelievable! And the Pilgrims were very glad. For, by this time, El's Chosen were in bad shape. Half had died the first winter. Now they were living in dirt huts with no food. So Squanto decided to stay for a few months to teach the Pilgrims how to survive their Apocalypse. Squanto hunted deer and beaver for their food and clothing. He taught them how to plant vegetables and how to build wigwams. He taught them the difference between medicine herbs and poison plants, how to dig and steam clams, how to tap maple trees, how to use fish for fertilizer and dozens of other survival skills.

The First Thanksgiving

By harvest time, life was much better for the Pilgrims. El had saved them through his Indian servant, Squanto. The Pilgrims had accumulated enough food to last the winter. They were living in cozy wigwams. They even build a little church. So thankful were they for their preservation, they decided to observe the Feast of Tabernacles, as commanded in the Scripture (Lev 23:34-36). Feasting was quite out-of-character for Puritans, because the English Church, against which they were rebelling, obligated the people to observe certain non-Biblical holidays like Christmas and Easter. The Puritans saw these holidays as pagan practices. Observance of such was blasphemy. For them, Thanksgiving meant a long fast, not a feast!

On the other hand, the Wampanoags held six feasts every year honoring the "Master of Heaven" for his creation, including the maple dance, the strawberry festival, the harvest feast and New Year. The Pilgrims' first thanksgiving of the year was the Indians' fifth! Captain Miles Standish, the Pilgrim leader, declared the start of the feast and invited Squanto, Samoset and Chief Massasoit to attend. As the meal proceeded, Delaware Indians just kept coming -- twenty little, thirty little, forty little Indians -- until there were 90 little Indians. Seeing the tiny dab of food the Pilgrims offered, Chief Massasoit ordered his men to go get more. They brought back five deer, turkeys, fish, beans, squash, soups, corn bread and fruit.

When all was ready, Captain Standish held down one end of the long, long table, and Squantum Days FestivitiesChief Massasoit the other. This was the first time the Wampanoags sat down to eat rather than recline on furs. They were in the custom of reclining at the table as the Israelites had. The Pilgrim men sat with the Indian men and women as equals. The Pilgrim women, however, had to stand aside. That was their rule. English women served. Thus the first Thanksgiving was a time of peace and friendship; Chief Massasoit gave Patuxet village to the Pilgrims as a sign of friendship.

As we know, the friendship between the Pilgrims and Indians didn't last. The Pilgrims considered themselves to be the new, true Israelites. The Pilgrims woefully misinterpreted Scripture, identifying the Indians as Philistines to be eliminated, despite the hospitality of these gentle native races. If the New Jerusalem were to be set up in this new land, the Philistines would have to be eliminated.

True Colors

You see, Pilgrim evangelism was not based in charity, but in fear, judgment and punishment. Despite their help, the Pilgrims saw the Indians as instruments of the devil. Even Squanto, a True Believer, was considered to be merely the means by which El preserved His chosen people. Because the Indians were populous and powerful, they were also dangerous; the Pilgrims would bide their time only until more Pilgrims arrived to shift the balance of power. In the meantime, they threatened El's wrath upon the Indians if they wouldn't give up their customs to become Puritans. The Indians had to totally submit to be saved. Such coercion and threat is far from the biblical model of the Gospel; it in itself is Elless and full of pride. Legalism never leads to conversion, but to a breakdown of relationship; and ultimately, to war.

Soon, more Pilgrims migrated to Plymouth, and the holy war began. After years of musket balls, lead shot and smallpox, the few Wampanoags left were captured and sold as slaves -- some payback for their hospitality and help. It's a sad matter for me to recount the third Thanksgiving prayer from 1623, but it exemplifies Pilgrim-brand religion. The Pastor, Elder Mather, began the Feast of Tabernacles by giving thanks to El for sending the smallpox that had wiped out the Indians during the last two years. He praised El for killing "chiefly young men and children, thus clearing the forests to make way for a better growth" -- a "better growth" of Puritans, of course. But Elder Mather should have known that it wasn't El who sent the smallpox; the Pilgrims had brought it with them from Europe. The same white washed Pharisees that the Pilgrims had fled, they had now become.

378 Years Later

Today, 378 years later, there are no real Puritans left in Plymouth, but there are still Squanto Day Festivitiesplenty of heathens. There are even a few Wampanoags around and about. In 1970, one of the few survivors was asked to speak at the 350th anniversary celebration of the Pilgrim's arrival in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Here's a part of what he said:

Today is a time of celebrating for you -- a time of looking back to the first days of white people in America. But it is not a time of celebrating for me. It is with a heavy heart that I look back upon what happened to my People. When the Pilgrims arrived, we welcomed them with open arms; little knowing that it was the beginning of the end. That before 50 years were to pass, the Wampanoag would no longer be a tribe. That we and other Indians living near the settlers would be killed by their guns or dead from diseases that we caught from them. Although our way of life is almost gone, we still walk the lands of Massachusetts. What has happened cannot be changed. But today we work toward a better America, where people and nature once again are important.

Who's Who

The question that remains is, "At Plymouth Colony, just who were the true True Believers -- the Pilgrims or the Indians?" The answer seems easy. The Pilgrims left England because they were persecuted for the sake of their brand of religion. They came to the New World to pave the way for the Messiah’s advent. They had their Bibles and prayers and liturgies and candles and feasts and formulas. They didn't smoke, drink, cuss or go to dances or movies or swim together. They made it plain that they were religious, entirely sanctified, perfected.

After all, save Squanto and a few others, the Delaware Indians only knew about a harsh Yahshua from the Pilgrims -- they were, in a literal sense, heathens. They smoked tobacco and drank wine and danced whenever they felt like it and went swimming naked. They didn't have correct doctrine, or Bibles, or candles, or liturgies, or Sunday suits, or church buildings. They called the Creator "Master of Heaven" – not “Jehovah” like the Pilgrims. They didn't even put up a Messiahmas tree. So it's obvious that the Pilgrims are the True Believers in our story.

But in light of John the Baptist's message, we might ask an even more pertinent question: "Who bore fruit meet for repentance? The Pilgrims or the Indians? The True Believers or the Savages?" That too is easy to answer; the Pilgrims may have been True Believers, but their fruits were stinking' rotten. The fruits of dead legalistic religion are absent or rotten. The true fruits of repentance were found in the deeds of the Indians.

So who's who? As to fruits, who fulfilled John's requirements? Let me read them again, and then you decide.

(Mat 3:8-10 KJV) Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: {9} And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that El is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. {10} And now also the ax is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is cast into the fire.

Whose fruit was acceptable in the story I just related?

Invitation

Now, as Americans, the spiritual children of the Pilgrims, whom we call our "Pilgrim Fore-fathers," where do we stand in light of John the Baptist's indictment? Do we have all the religious trappings, while the fruits are smothered? Do the heathens know who we are by our love and good deeds, or only by the Bibles under our arms, the crosses around our neck, the churches we attend, the rules we set up for others but don’t fulfill ourselves?

Friends, come to know the real Yahshua; learn of his ways. Be just like him -- bear sweet fruits – the kind the Wampanoag tribe presented to our Pilgrim Fathers -- and be thankful.

Epilog

The story of the First Feast of Tabernacles or Thanksgiving and its aftermath may have brought you some sadness or perplexity. I hope hearing “the other side of the story” challenged you. There is a joyful side. Plymouth Rock still has a ceremony each Squanto Day Celebrationyear to commemorate that first Thanksgiving. And since 1898, Thanksgiving has been a national holiday on which both saints and sinners give thanks to Yahweh, whatever they call him. We, like believers all over, gather this week to worship and thank Yahweh for his faithfulness. And, just like at the first Thanksgiving, while we worship and give thanks together, peace will reign among us. Let us conclude this portion of worship with a tribal thanksgiving prayer:

Now the time has come! We are your children, Master of Heaven! Hear us. We are here to speak the truth, for you do not hear lies. Thus we offer our prayers to you.

In the beginning of all things, you provided that we inherit your creation. You said, "I shall make the earth on which people shall live. They shall look to the earth as their mother. They shall say, 'It is she who supports us.'" You said that we should always be thankful for our earth and for each other.

So it is that we are gathered here; we are your children, Master of Heaven. You said that we should have food -- ours in exchange for our labor. You thought that ours should be a world where green grass of many kinds should grow. You gave us medicine herbs and corn, beans, and squash to sustain us. This is what you thought, Master of Heaven. Thus did you think to provide for us.

And you ordered that when the warm season comes that we should see the return of life, remember you, and be thankful. And as we gather here once again, the smoke rises, and we offer our prayers. We are thankful, Master of Heaven.

 

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Jackson Snyder
November 20, 1997