The psalms of thanksgiving in the Hebrew Bible are joyful declarations of what God has done for the nation. Israel offered thanksgiving to God because they were a thankful people.
When the people of Israel offered thanksgiving to God, they did so in worship. The people came before God in the temple and as God’s people they expressed their joy and their gratitude for all the blessings they had received from God.
In worship, the people came before God to express their gratitude for the things God had done that changed their lives and blessed their community. The people, however, did not approach God empty-handed. Whenever the people came to offer thanks to God, they also brought their offerings.
Today people all over our country are celebrating Thanksgiving Day. But people today are different. People say much but give little. They often give thanks to God for blessings received, but that expression of thanksgiving never comes with an offering.
In Israel, the worship of God within the community of faith was a grateful acknowledgment of the gifts and of the blessings received from God. In Psalm 7:17 the psalmist expressed the sentiment of the people of Israel: “I will give thanks to the LORD because of his righteousness and will sing praise to the name of the LORD Most High.”
Psalm 7 begins with a supplication and ends with a thanksgiving. The worshiper began with a petition. He asked God to answer his prayer. He asked God for a special favor. He said that when God answered his prayer, he would do two things: he would give thanks to the Lord and he would sing praise to the name of the Lord.
In the experience of the psalmist, thanksgiving and worship belonged together. For him, thanksgiving came in anticipation of a blessing to be received. Because he knew that God would answer his prayer, the psalmist thanked God before he received God’s blessing and he thanked God after he received it.
Psalm 111:1-2 is another good example of thanksgiving being expressed in the context of worship. The psalmist said: “Praise the LORD! I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation. Great are the works of the LORD, studied by all who delight in them.”
Look at how the psalmist planned to give thanks: “I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation.”
Another example of thanksgiving is found in Psalm 9:1-2: “I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds. I will be glad and exult in you; I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.”
In Psalm 9:1-2 we learn several things about thanksgiving. The psalmist wrote:
I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart.
These words expressed the psalmist’s gratitude. His whole heart means his whole life. The psalmist was grateful to God, so he gave thanks.
I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.
The psalmist was so thankful that he would tell others what God had done for him. Telling what God had done for him was a sign of a grateful heart.
I will be glad and exult in you.
The joy and happiness of the psalmist was the result of having a thankful heart.
I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.
The psalmist’s singing was a reference to worship, either in the temple or with other members of the community of faith.
Today we are celebrating Thanksgiving Day. What should you and I do to express our thanksgiving to God?
First, we must be aware of what God has done for us. As we count our many blessings, this alone will be a good reason to give thanks.
Second, we must take time to worship God and give him our thanks for the blessings received. We also must express our gratitude for his wonderful love.
Third, we must give an offering to God. As we enjoy the abundance of what God has given to us, let us share these blessing with others. Give out of a grateful heart.
Finally, let this Thanksgiving Day become an occasion to tell others what God has done for you.
Thus, let remembrance, worship, sharing, and testimony be included in your celebration of Thanksgiving Day.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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