Thanksgiving According to the Book of Leviticus

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Thanksgiving is a special time shared by all Americans who gather together to eat tons of turkey, watch parades and football games, and share with one another all of the reasons they are thankful.

Thanksgiving is a national holiday rooted in the history of this great country. In 1621 pilgrims and puritans celebrated Thanksgiving for the full harvest they received from God, and by 1789 our first president George Washington marked Thanksgiving “as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favours of Almighty God.”

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However, the notion of offering thanks to God didn’t originate with the pilgrims and puritans who emigrated to America; it actually goes back as far as the book of Leviticus in the Old Testament.

The book of Leviticus is full of commands and laws from God for the Israelites to offer up sacrifices on certain days, at certain times, for certain reasons. The majority of these sacrifices were required of the Israelites… no ifs, ands, or buts!

However, there was one sacrifice in Leviticus that wasn’t a requirement. This sacrifice was to be a pure expression of thanks to God, it’s called the Todah (“Thanks”) offering. In fact, today when you travel to Israel one of the first words you learn in Hebrew is todah–– “thank you”!

So, as an Israelite if you simply wanted to say thank You (todah) to God for all the blessings He’s bestowed on you as one of His children, you would follow the law outlined in Leviticus 7:11–15.

According to the rabbis the thankful Israelite would bake 40 loaves of bread (30 unleavened/10 leavened) mentioned in Leviticus 7:12–14. After baking his loaves of bread he would choose his finest lamb or goat and travel to the Temple in Jerusalem. This walk could be an hour or days journey depending on where you live, just to say, “todah, Lord!”

When the thankful Israelite would arrive at the Temple he would give a portion of his bread (about 5 loaves) to the priests. The priest would take the offered lamb or goat and sacrifice it to the Lord; that whole lamb would be offered up to God. After it’s been cooked the priest would take that barbecued lamb off the altar and give it to the thankful Israelite who was required to eat all of it by the end of the day: “The flesh of the sacrifice of his peace offering for thanksgiving shall be eaten the same day it is offered. He shall not leave any of it until morning” (Lev. 7:15).

Now, for Thanksgiving we all buy turkeys that range from 12-20 lbs., which that can feed  8-15 people, with some leftovers for a casserole or turkey sandwich the next day. According to Leviticus, the thankful Israelite was required to eat all of the lamb (100+ lbs.) by the end of the day! Now he has 35 loaves of bread and 100+lbs. of lamb to eat. I certainly hope there’s no tryptophan in lamb!

You’re probably asking, “So how would he eat all of that food?” The thankful Israelite would take his abundance of meat and bread that he used to show thanks to God and bless family, friends, and even strangers with a filling meal. As they would sit around to eat, inevitably they ask why the Israelite was so thankful to the Lord, which gave him an opportunity to glorify the Lord and what He has done in his life.

I love the way the Lord structured this sacrifice. First, it wasn’t required, which means God doesn’t want a manufactured “Thank You” from us. Instead, He wants us to give Him the praise and thanks He deserves from the heart. Second, the Lord didn’t take sacrifice for Himself, instead His impossible demand to eat all of the meat by the end of the day encouraged the thankful Israelite to glorfy God and bless others.

Let me ask you, what are you thankful to the Lord for this season?

CJK

About the Author
Chris Katulka

Chris Katulka

Chris Katulka is the assistant director of North American Ministries for The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, the host of The Friends of Israel Today radio program, a Bible teacher, and writer for Israel My Glory magazine.

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