O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever (Psa 106:1)
The Hebrew word most often translated “Give thanks” in the Old Testament (hodah) does not exactly mean the same thing as our English word “thanks”. First of all, the word is never directed towards a man or any other creature, only to God. And second, the primary meaning of the word is “to confess.”
In the Bible, to give thanks to the LORD is to confess his attributes. Take, for example, Psalm 106 above. To give thanks unto the LORD is to confess that he is good, and that his covenant faithfulness is forever. It is not simply muttering a few words before you begin to eat, nor is it really “counting your blessings”. Although there is certainly biblical warrant for recounting the ways that God has blessed us, we must not lose sight of the what it truly means to thank the LORD.
Can someone who has unrelenting pain, hunger, persecution and want give thanks to the LORD? What if you look around the circumstances of your life and see very little material evidence of God’s blessing? Paul wrote,
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; (Phi 4:6 NKJ)
Paul was in a Roman prison at the time without any material blessings. He depended upon the gifts of others to even eat from day to day. And yet he learned the true meaning of thanksgiving.
Give thanks to the LORD for he is good, for his mercy endureth forever! What a beautiful thought.
If God is the creator and sustainer of the universe, and nothing happens outside of his will –
and if God is good –
and if God has entered into a covenant with us by the blood of Jesus which can never fail –
then whether we are rich or poor, healthy or sick, lonely or surrounded with family and friends, strong or weak, we know for certain, based upon God’s character, that our circumstances are not accidents, but from his fatherly hand.
And if that is true, then we have much to be thankful for. Earth is not our home, we are strangers and pilgrims destined by God’s grace to a place at the table of the marriage supper of the Lamb – in fact, we are more than honored guests, we are the bride of the Lamb who loves us and will not rest until his bride is at his side.
And every circumstance of our lives is decreed by the wisdom and goodness of God to prepare for us a place.
When we confess this to ourselves and to one another and to the world, our whole outlook on life changes. Nothing can take us from God’s hand. Nothing can drive us from our Father in heaven. God promised disaster to Israel, and yet Habakkuk gave thanks to God’s name by singing,
17 Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls:1
18 Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation.
19 The LORD God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places. (Hab 3:17-19 KJV)
To give thanks unto the LORD means to confess his goodness, his mercy, his holiness, his justice, his beauty and wisdom, his eternal immutability, his unchangeable will. This is what it means to give thanks unto the Lord. And this we do regardless of the circumstances of our lives. God is still good, even when he chastens his children. God is still good even when he doesn’t give us the petty, idolatrous wants of our sinful hearts. God is still good, even in trials. In fact, it is in the valley of the shadow of death that one learns to stay very close to the faithful shepherd, who will never leave us, nor forsake us.
Otherwise, it’s a rather silly holiday. There’s only so many ways you can take objects and make pictures of turkeys from them. There’s really only so many ways to cook a turkey. The story of pilgrims and native Americans gets old really quick. But the story of God’s never ending faithfulness will be sung for eternity!
And besides, God has blessed us all so much that with most of us we can go out a buy a turkey any day of the year if we want to. We have so much food around us all the time that everyday is a grand feast day according to the standards of most of the world since the beginning of time.
But it can remind us to truly give thanks unto the LORD. Confess his attributes, his name. Confess his goodness and lovingkindness. This is not just a vague muttering at a nameless deity, but the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who loved us, took away our sins and is preparing us a home!
Give thanks indeed to his marvelous name!