The Sacrifice of Thanksgiving
As we approach our wonderful American holiday of Thanksgiving, I pause to reflect on the importance of thanksgiving in our Christian lives. As I often do when studying a thought or word, I looked thanksgiving up in the Bible. The word is first used in the Bible in Leviticus, chapter 7, in a description of “the law of the sacrifice of peace offerings” (Leviticus 7:11). I decided to find out what this passage (verses 11-15) could teach us about thanksgiving.
- First, I noticed is that the “sacrifice of thanksgiving” was not a separate offering but was a kind of peace offering. The peace offering pictures how Christ satisfied the wrath of God against sin and made peace between God and every sinner who will trust in Jesus Christ. It also pictures the inner peace we have through Christ—the “peace of God, which passeth all understanding” (Philippians 4:7).
As such, I understand that our inner peace of mind is connected to our practice of thanksgiving. Colossians 3:15 teaches us to “let the peace of God rule in your hearts…and be ye thankful.” We cannot have this peace apart from a thankful heart. If we gripe and complain; if we always see our needs and ignore our blessings; then, we cannot have the peace of God. We will be troubled and continually distressed. To have peace, you must be thankful.
- Second, the offering of thanksgiving is a multiple offering. It is to be made with unleavened cakes, unleavened wafers and cakes of fine flour (verse 12). These differing forms of the sacrifice are not given as options but are all commanded to be offered together. Nothing was to be left out. In like manner, we are to give “thanks always for all things unto God” (Ephesians 5:20). We cannot choose our favorites and ignore the unpleasant items. We must learn to be thankful for all. This too is the path to that blessed inner peace from God.
- Third, God makes an unusual requirement for the sacrifice of thanksgiving. He commands, “Besides the cakes, he shall offer for his offering leavened bread with the sacrifice of thanksgiving” (verse 13). Leaven (that is, yeast), in scripture, pictures that which is false, impure, sinful. It is consistently negative. How can leaven be a part of the thank offering? Well, remember that we are to give thanks for all things? Evidently that includes the bad as well as the good. We cannot judge God’s purpose for the things in our lives. God works it out for good if we love Him (Romans 8:28). Paul even learned to “glory in tribulations” (Romans 5:3) and “take pleasure in infirmities” (2 Corinthians 12:10) because he understood that God would turn it to His glory. He learned to be thankful for all things. How about you?
- Fourth, a portion of the thanksgiving sacrifice was to be given as a “heave offering unto the LORD” (verse 14). A heave offering was lifted up toward heaven with extended arms as a type of presenting it to the Lord. This shows us that our thanksgiving goes directly up to God and is accepted by Him. Samuel was special because the Lord “did let none of his words fall to the ground” (1 Samuel 3:19). Unfortunately, many of our words probably never extend beyond our ceiling. God, knowing all things, knows that we said them. But He was untouched. However, words of thanksgiving go directly into the presence of God and are immediately accepted by Him. God calls the giving of thanks one of the sacrifices with which He is “well pleased” (Hebrews 13:15-16). Do you desire to speak words that go directly from your mouth to God’s ears (as the Jewish proverb says)? Then speak words of thanksgiving.
- Fifth, the sacrifice of thanksgiving was to be offered with the sprinkling of the blood of the peace offering (verse 14). This shows that all of our thanksgiving is based on the shed blood of Jesus Christ for our sins. My spirit of thanksgiving is possible because my sins have already been forgiven and because my soul’s eternal destiny has been secured by the blood. I can say with Paul, “Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift” (2 Corinthians 9:15). Because of that gift—Jesus Christ—I can be thankful for everything else that comes my way. God’s gift of salvation makes it possible for me to endure and even be thankful for everything that God allows to come my way.
- Sixth, the flesh of the animal offered with the thanksgiving sacrifice was to be eaten (verse 15). Some sacrifices were to be burnt as wholly given to God. But this sacrifice was to be eaten. In addition, the peace offering seems to be the only sacrifice that was eaten, not only by the priests who offered it, but also by the Israelites who brought the sacrifice. It had the consequence of bringing priest, people and God all together for a meal of blessed fellowship. In like manner, thanksgiving brings God’s people closer to each other and closer to their God. The psalmist declares, “I will give thee thanks in the great congregation: I will praise thee among much people” (Psalm 35:18). Thanksgiving draws us into closer communion with God and with God’s people.
- Seventh, the sacrifice had to be eaten the same day it was offered. Nothing was to be left until the morning (verse 15). This shows us that yesterday’s thankful heart will not suffice for today. Each day must have its own expression of thanksgiving or the day’s opportunity will be lost forever. We must be thankful while it is today. Yesterday is gone and we have no promise of tomorrow. Will you be thankful this day for the goodness of God in your life? Will you offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving that reaps so many benefits to you and to others? Judge your heart in this matter. What would God have you to do? Will you be obedient to Him? Will you offer thanksgiving to your great God? Perhaps this year, thanksgiving can be more than just an annual holiday. Perhaps this year, it can become a way of life.
TEXT: Leviticus 7:11-15 And this is the law of the sacrifice of peace offerings, which he shall offer unto the LORD. If he offer it for a thanksgiving, then he shall offer with the sacrifice of thanksgiving unleavened cakes mingled with oil, and unleavened wafers anointed with oil, and cakes mingled with oil, of fine flour, fried. Besides the cakes, he shall offer for his offering leavened bread with the sacrifice of thanksgiving of his peace offerings. And of it he shall offer one out of the whole oblation for an heave offering unto the LORD, and it shall be the priest's that sprinkleth the blood of the peace offerings. And the flesh of the sacrifice of his peace offerings for thanksgiving shall be eaten the same day that it is offered; he shall not leave any of it until the morning.