Like most Christian families, in our home we have made it a tradition to give thanks before meals. When our children were younger and all still lived at home, I would choose one of them to say the blessing. Usually it was a short prayer, very short, and most of the time the blessing was the same prayer each time. I also noticed that the younger children would often pray the same prayer as the older children. The substance and the length of the prayer was never really an issue with me, but I did want my children to understand that God provided for our meals and to learn to have a grateful heart for his provision. My hope was that the gratefulness for food would also spill over to every part of their lives.
The act of thanksgiving in worship has been around for many years. In fact, God made provision for it in the Levitical law (Leviticus 7:11-15). According to James M. Freeman in is his book Manners and Customs of the Bible, there were three types of peace offerings; thank-offerings, offerings for vows, and free will or voluntary offerings (Leviticus 7:12,16). Freeman writes, “The offerings were accompanied by the imposition of hands and by the sprinkling of blood around the great altar, on which the fat and the parts accompanying were burned.”
Another aspect of the peace offering was that parts of the offering were waved and others were heaved (Leviticus 7:34). According to Jewish tradition the parts of the offering were laid on the hands of the offerer. The priest would put his hands under that of the offerer and move them horizontally for the wave offering and vertically for the heave offering. This action was intended to be a presentation of the offering to God as the supreme ruler of heaven and earth. The use of the Hebrew word for thanksgiving also bears out this Jewish tradition.
In Leviticus 7:12, 13 and 15 the Hebrew word used for thanksgiving is towdah. Towdah means an extension of the hand, avowal or adoration. This word comes from another Hebrew word yadah. Yadah means to use or to hold out the hand, to physically throw at or away, especially to revere in worship with extended hands. Towdah (Psalms 26:7; 50:14; 69:30; 95:2; 100:4; 107:22; 116:17; 147:7) and yadah (Psalms 18:49, 30:4, 12) are used many times throughout the scriptures.
The tradition of offering the sacrifice of thanksgiving continued with King David. 1 Chronicles 16 records that once David had successfully placed the ark of the covenant in the tabernacle he erected, he offered the burnt offerings and the peace offerings. He then appointed some of the Levites to commemorate or record, to thank (yadah), and praise the Lord (1 Chronicles 16:2-4). David even wrote a psalm of thanks that he gave to Asaph for the Levites to minister to the Lord (1 Chronicles 16:7-36). David also appointed singers and musicians to minister and give thanks at the tabernacle of Moses that was in Gibeon where the priests offered the morning and evening sacrifices (1 Chronicles 16:39).
King Solomon continued the tradition of giving thanks when the ark of the covenant was moved into the temple (2 Chronicles 5). After years of idolatry in Judah, King Hezekiah restored temple worship and thanksgiving (2 Chronicles 31:2). And after years of exile, Ezra and Nehemiah both record the restoration of Davidic thanksgiving during the rebuilding of Jerusalem (Ezra 3:11; Nehemiah 12).
The importance of giving thanks has always been a part of the church age as well. Jesus gave thanks (Matthew 15:36; 26:27). In his epistles the apostle Paul exhorted the churches to give thanks (Philippians 4:6; Colossians 3:17, 4:2; Ephesians 5:4, 20; 1 Thessalonians 5:18)
The Greek words used in these passages by Paul for thanks and thanksgiving (eucharisteo and eucharistia) mean; to be grateful or to actively express gratitude towards, to say grace at meals, grateful language to God as an act of worship. In the Revelation of Jesus Christ, John uses those same words as he witnesses the host of heaven giving thanks to God (Revelation 4:9; 7:12; 11:17).
The writer of Hebrews also exhorts us, Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. (Hebrews 13:15 NKJV) The Greek word used in this verse for thanks (homologeo) means to assent, acknowledge or make confession or covenant. So, in giving thanks to his name we are assenting to, making confession and acknowledging that God is all he says he is; his name.
We mentioned earlier that the Old Testament thank-offering was made with an animal sacrifice. The sacrifice was placed in the hands of the offerer and waved and heaved with the help of the priest. The offering was intended to be a presentation to God as supreme ruler of heaven and earth. Today we present our thank offering is much the same way. We still need the assistance of a high priest to offer our sacrifice. As the writer of Hebrews said, . . . by Him (Jesus) let us continually offer. In other words, by or through the sacrifice of Jesus we offer our sacrifice. His sacrifice makes our sacrifice acceptable. There is one major exception in our thank offering. We do not offer a dead animal sacrifice; we offer our bodies as a living sacrifice of praise.
The offering of our bodies as a living sacrifice of praise is the giving of ourselves to the obedience of God’s commands and surrendering our lives to the cause of God’s kingdom. It would also seem that offering our bodies as a living sacrifice of praise to God would include a confession on our part that the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is supremely valuable to us.
Paul wrote, I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. (Romans 12:1 ESV) In modern day worship services there is a popular trend of lifting and even waving hands. It could be that many people do it because it’s popular, but doing something because it’s popular doesn’t make it worship. The waving or lifting of our hands to God in thanksgiving is not acceptable to God if, through the blood sacrifice of Jesus, we do not offer our bodies as a living sacrifice of praise.
As we enter God’s gates to come before his presence with our hands extended in thanksgiving (Psalms 100:4), let us remember that we do so, not only in gratitude and adoration for his mighty deeds towards us, including the sacrifice of his son, but also as a presentation of our bodies as a living sacrifice in covenant with him, acknowledging and confessing that he is supreme ruler of heaven and earth.