Although Thanksgiving tends to be associated with the United States, several other countries observe the holiday on various dates. As the American celebration approaches, participants become more introspective about the act of giving thanks. The giving of thanks is common in Israel’s Scriptures and, often, this act of praise is a reaction to being in the presence of God. When the Lord’s people offer thanksgiving, they express gratitude for the human-divine relationship and acknowledge the nearness of God.

As with the modern Thanksgiving holiday, the ancient offering of “thanks” (תודה; todah) included various foods. The thanksgiving sacrifice originates in Leviticus. God says that the priest “shall offer with the thanksgiving sacrifice (זבח התודה; zevach hatodah) unleavened loaves mixed with oil, unleavened wafers smeared with oil, and loaves of fine flour” (Lev 7:12). In Israelite worship, meals were events in which God and the people participated together, and they signified the divine presence among the congregation. God commands the priests to “set the bread of the presence (לחם פנים; lechem panim) on the table before me regularly” (Exodus 25:30), and the Lord even partakes in the sacrificial meal when the scent of the burnt offering ascends as a “pleasing aroma” (ריח ניחח; reach nihoach; e.g., Genesis 8:21; Leviticus 1:9). These ancient communal feasts underscored the depth of Israel’s thankfulness to God.

The Psalms provide many songs of thanksgiving, and several of them speak to God’s enduring presence. For instance, Psalm 100 declares, “Serve the Lord with gladness; come into his presence (פניו; panav) with singing…. Enter his gates with thanksgiving (תודה; todah), and his courts with praise. Give thanks (הודו; hodu) to him; bless his name!” (100:2, 4). Literally, the Hebrew for “presence” (פניו; panav) means “face,” which shows that the psalmist offers thanksgiving with the expectation of seeing God in the Temple. Indeed, offering of thanksgiving was an opportunity for fellowship between those on earth and in heaven. The psalmist tells God, “I will offer to you the thanksgiving sacrifice (זבח התודה; zevach hatodah) and call on the name of the Lord…. I will pay my vows to the Lord with all his people” (Ps 116:17-18). Giving thanks is the communal activity of praising God’s perpetual presence.

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7 COMMENTS

  1. Shalom Prof. Now that the Temple does not exist, Levitical priesthood not existing - where and how should the thanksgiving sacrifice be done today? Who should preside over the ceremony today?
    • Thanks for your question, Thandu. No sacrifices happen today since, as you note, the Temple and priesthood no longer exist. From a NT perspective, Jesus offers a "once for all sacrifice" in his death (cf. Rom 6:10; Heb 7:27; 9:12, 26; 10:10), so that the theological efficacy of sacrifices can be maintained even though the Temple sacrifices do not occur today.
    • Thanks for your question, Yolanda. The celebration of Advent is a later church tradition, likely dating from around the 3-5th centuries CE. There are a couple of ways to say "Advent" in Hebrew: הציפייה (hatsiphiyah) literally means "the expectation." Alternatively, הופעה (hopha'ah) means "appearance" or "arrival."
  2. We need to give thanks daily ,not just with prayers ,but how we live our lives. As you stated Christ did the ultimate sacrifice for all. & has become the mediator of new covenant for all. Today, those in Christ are as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual Sacrifices to God through Jesus Christ. ! Peter 2:5 ,Romans 12:1-2 We are to offer our bodies as living sacrifices, holy & pleasing to God,this is your spiritual act of worship. 1 Cor.6:19 Do you not know that your bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you. For we are the Temple of the living God. I personally feel that a day of Thanksgiving ,as a Nation, at one time was & still can be a good thing. However, the holiday has lost it's true meaning for many by becoming just a day off from work, the invasion of it being more about "Eating food until you are stuffed to the max & buying things on sale ".Plus, if you are only truly thankful one day & only remember Christ that day & on Christmas ,you are forgetting ,God,His blessings , Christ's sacrifice & gift to us, throughout the year are you not?
    • If the Jerusalem Temple were to be rebuilt, sacrifices would likely take place there. On this question, see https://weekly.israelbiblecenter.com/will-temple-rebuilt/
    • We are very happy that you’ve joined our discussion forum. Would you believe that these articles are only a taste of what Israel Bible Center has to offer? We also provide comprehensive teaching on a variety of biblical, historical, and cultural topics. You might begin with The Jewish Gospel of Matthew or The Hebrew Psalms: How To Worship God. You’ll be amazed at the Jewish world that awaits you. Don’t delay another minute: enroll now!

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