3 Old Testament Realities About Thanksgiving

The Thanksgiving holiday is upon us, and many of you who teach Sunday school may be spending a little bit of time reflecting on thankfulness with your people before seeing them off to a week of family, fellowship, and turkey (and all the fixins' that come with). Doing word studies from Scripture is one of my favorite things to do as a teacher.  I hope this one may help you as you hopefully take a few minutes in class this Sunday to express thankfulness to the Lord.

Towdah.  That is the Hebrew word often translated as "thanks" or "thanksgiving" in the Old Testament.  In the King James translation, the Hebrew word towdah is used 32 times.  24 of those times the word is translated as "thanksgiving", "thanks offering", or as just "thanks".  The other 8 times it is translated as either "praise" (6 times) or "confession" (2 times).  What is interesting about this is if you look at the passages that have the word, I think, it reflects 3 important things about giving thanks or thankfulness. 

Thanksgiving is a sacrifice or offering to the Lord

Leviticus 7:13 and 22:29 both talk about offering up "thanks offerings" or "thanksgiving sacrifices" up to the Lord.   People were instructed to offer up their sacrifices to the Lord not begrudgingly but with thankfulness.  They were to offer up sacrifices to the Lord of their own free will and gratitude.  So in this sense, thanksgiving was an act of worship.  A person was to bring their offerings to the Lord as a means of showing thanks. Thank offerings were often spontaneous and offered to the Lord for such things as thankfulness for answered prayer or for safety on a journey.  Thank offerings, according to Leviticus 7, are part of what is considered fellowship offerings, and they are to be given freely, often, and done out of pure gratitude to the Lord.  These offerings were a tangible way for them to give thanks to the Lord for His goodness and provision.

Thanksgiving is an opportunity to lift praise up to the Lord

The word towdah is used in the Psalms at least 12 times, and it is translated as "praise" 4 times.  As already mentioned, offering thanks to the Lord is an act of worship.  Psalm 100 is entitled "A Psalm of Praise".  So praise and thanksgiving went hand in hand.  It's important for us to remember this because as we truly and humbly give thanks to the Lord we are offering him our praises which He delights in.  He wants to be thanked and praised for the good things He gives us.  He desires to be praised by His people.  As a matter of fact, the praise is the point of the thanks offering or sacrifice.  An offering, in order to be acceptable to the Lord, can't be made in a spirit of grumbling or complaining but must be made in a spirit of praise and thanksgiving.  So thanksgiving is not only an opportunity to bring an offering to the Lord but to praise Him.

Thanksgiving is a chance to confess before the Lord

The word towdah was translated as "confession" in both Joshua 7:19 and in Ezra 10:11.  In both of these passages, the word is translated that way because the context of the passage relates to the confession of sin.  In the Joshua passage, Joshua is charging Achan to confess after taking from the plunder at Jericho after the Lord had told them not to.  In the Ezra passage, Ezra is telling the people to repent of marrying foreign wives and following their false gods. Ezra was calling them back to holiness and faithfulness to the Lord. I think this teaches us something important about thanksgiving.  God calls us to repent of sin, and we should be thankful that we have a God who desires for us to draw near to him even when we stumble.  We serve a God who is quick to forgive, and He desires for us to seek repentance, and He delights in offering forgiveness.  So confession is an expression of thanks to a God who freely forgives.

I hope this coming Thanksgiving is a wonderful time of fellowship with family and friends.  I also hope it is a time to think on all God has done for us and all He has given us in Christ Jesus.  We no longer are required to bring thank offerings to be sacrificed before God, but Scripture does tell us to offer Him our bodies as living sacrifices.  So I challenge all Sunday school and small group leaders to set aside some time this Sunday to offer thanks to God for his kindness towards us, recommit yourself to Him, praise Him for his goodness and mercy, ask God to reveal any sin that needs confessed to you, and thank Him for being a God who forgives.


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