There’s always a temptation when reading Bible genealogies to skim them, or even to skip them. For many, they’re just lists of unfamiliar names. But always tucked away in odd places are little surprises. Matthew’s genealogy of our Lord has the four “questionable” ladies (questionable, not because they were women, but because of their background, and we can learn a lot from them, but that’s a whole other post).
Nehemiah 11 has a gem in verse 17. Mattaniah is described as “the leader of the praise, who gave thanks”. In modern ‘evangelical’ terminology he might be thought of as the ‘worship leader’, but I suspect his role was much less ostentatious. The Hebrew says he was “the beginning of the praise” and while the word is literally “head”, I wonder if he was not rather precentor. As precentor, he would have started the praise in a generally unobtrusive way, aiding the people of God in their praise by getting them started on the right note, rather than drawing attention to himself, and keeping them going. Nor would he have had those endless, timeless, mindless guitar introductions, so beloved by many ‘worship leaders’ I’ve encountered, where the congregation knows not when to start singing.
But whatever his function or how he performed it, this thing is clear — his main task was to give thanks. Perhaps he would be called ‘Minister of Thanksgiving’ today in certain churches, though somehow I doubt it would be a priority appointment to the pastoral staff. Giving thanks seems almost a dying practice. Praise is in; big time. Petition is commonplace, especially when we’re in dire straights. But thanksgiving is lacking. We need Mattaniah to begin it and keep us going in it.
In my youth and early adult years, growing up in a brethren assembly, thanksgiving was a major focus of the Sunday morning meeting, as we sat around the table and men would give thanks to God for his Son. Often today at the Lord’s Supper I hear little thanksgiving in depth, and much more petition and prayer to apply the pastor’s sermon. Not that these things are bad, just inappropriate at the Lord’s Supper. And thanksgiving gets minimized.
And what of our prayer meetings? I remember many men giving thanks to God for all his mercies before they presented petitions to God. Are we often too busy petitioning God to give him thanks? Do we consider the petitions the important thing, and when time is limited we ought to concentrate on that.
And what of meal-time grace in the home? Or in our favourite restaurant? If that isn’t too embarrassing to contemplate. It seems only my generation and older practice this, and even then it is dying out.
Have we little to thank God for?
It is more than a song to sing “My heart is filled with thankfulness …”. God’s mercies are fresh every day. Should our thankfulness not be as fresh as his mercies? Or have his mercies become sale by the time we have woken up to them? How stale is Calvary? Stale enough that the Lord’s Supper is an optional extra, infrequently partaken.
Is it perhaps time we read a little genealogy, and learned a big lesson. The people of God in Nehemiah’s time saw the danger of giving up on giving thanks, so they appointed Mattaniah as Minister of Thanksgiving to make sure they were always giving thanks. Would that we have the men and women in our churches today who would lead us in such thanksgiving.
So don’t skip the genealogies — you could miss a big lesson from a bit player in the unfolding drama of redemption. Where are the ministers of thanksgiving in the contemporary church? Where are Mattaniah’s understudies today?