What Is the Thanksgiving Offering in the Old Testament?

Dustin Crowe
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A study of thanksgiving not only investigates words but it examines practices and themes throughout the Bible. To do this, we need to review the “thanksgiving offering,” the religious and theological context of giving thanks.

The Peace Offering

Leviticus 7:11–38 introduces the “peace offering,” which includes the thanksgiving offering (7:11–16), vow offering, and wave offering. Peace offerings were unique. A person voluntarily presented a peace offering (Ps. 22:25). They weren’t recurring sacrifices tied to any holiday, ceremony, or event. Unlike other offerings given to the priest, the worshiper ate the peace offering. It provided a meal bringing people together around the table, joined in thanksgiving to God. Sound familiar? The only thing missing is turkey and stuffing.

God’s glory provokes gratitude, and gratitude promotes God’s glory.

Out of the overflow of who God is and all they received from Him, Jews worshiped God through this offering. Those with a “willing heart” (2 Chron. 29:31) gave this sacrifice, not those compelled by ceremony. Genuine awe or appreciation prompt this kind of praise. God’s glory provokes gratitude, and gratitude promotes God’s glory (Ps. 50:23).

Gratitude From Within

You see this in Psalm 107, a chapter recounting episodes from the drama of Israel’s story. This history retells Israel’s unfaithfulness and God’s faithfulness. The psalmist looks to thanksgiving as the appropriate response, not only for former generations but for anyone who reads his words, including you (Ps. 107:1, 8, 15, 21–22, 31–32). “Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man! And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, and tell of his deeds in songs of joy!” (vv. 21–22). The focus isn’t on the object presented on the altar but gratitude within the worshiper.

God is not interested in our pious practices if our heart isn’t in it. If our motives are self-centered, such as wanting to keep God off our back or on our side, then God says keep these sacrifices to yourself (Ps. 50:8–13; 40:6). But God loves authentic worship, whether it’s in brokenness trusting Him (Ps. 51:16–17) or in blessing thanking Him (Ps. 50:14).

Tax or a Gift?

If you consider how you typically give thanks to God, is it more like a gift or a tax? A gift is something you want to give God. Gifts can’t comprehend everything you want to say to someone, but they’re a small representation of appreciation. A tax is different. It’s something you pay out of obligation. You might like its benefits, but you pay a tax to stay in good favor or avoid trouble.

Do you give thanks to God like a tax or a gift? When presented to God as a gift, thanksgiving is the sacrifice God takes pleasure in. Do it out of delight, not duty. Give thanks to bless God, not to bribe Him.

For Further Reading:

The Grumbler’s Guide to Giving Thanks

by Dustin Crowe

The apostle Paul instructed the Philippians to be anxious in nothing and thankful in everything. And when he said everything—he meant...

book cover for The Grumbler’s Guide to Giving Thanks