Levitucus 7:11-34 – The Original Thank Offering
Our celebration of Thanksgiving Day is so traditional that we do not often give thought as to how or why we will observe it.
In America our tradition goes back to the first Thanksgiving when our pilgrim forefathers offered thanks to God for their first harvest in the New World. But it was really nothing new. God's people have been offering thanks to God since the beginning. In the Law of Moses we find a prescribed form for giving thanks in a special offering (Leviticus 7:11-34). Here we learn the proper how and why for offering thanks.
The offering outlined in Leviticus 7 is called a “peace offering” or “fellowship offering.” This offering was used for any one of three reasons: when making a vow (v. 16); as a freewill offering (v. 16); or as a thank offering (v. 12). A special requirement that distinguished the thank offering from the other offerings was that it had to be eaten on the day it was offered – thus making it also a day of feasting (vs. 15, 16).
The three aspects of this thank offering help us to understand the proper manner and attitude for offering thanks to God. The first part was offered directly to God; the second part was given to the priests as God's representatives; and the third part was given back to the offerer for a covenantal thanksgiving feast.
The Lord's Portion
The Lord's part of the offering, which was the fat portions, was to be set apart to him alone and completely burned upon the altar. Failure to do this resulted in the severe punishment of being cut off from God's people.
Some have asserted scientific reasons for this type of law. We know today that the fat is not good for us to eat. However, such health concerns are not the reason for such severe punishment. The simple and straightforward reason was that the Lord had laid claim to this portion. To use it for any other purpose was to profane what he had declared to be holy and was an invasion of his rights.
It may be hard for us to understand why the Lord would want the fat portions for himself. In our culture, where people starve themselves to be thin and beautiful, we cannot appreciate the significance of the fat. In other times and cultures to be pleasingly plump was a status symbol of prosperity. It showed that you were blessed with an abundance. This was also true in relation to livestock. The man with well-fed, fattened livestock was a prosperous man.
Devoting the fat portions to the Lord symbolically recognized that the excess the Lord gives belongs to him. He does not give you an excess of the world's goods to consume them for your own pleasure, but to use them for his glory.
This part of the thank offering teaches that our thanks should be directed to the Lord alone. A truly thankful person will realize that “every good and perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17) and will therefore direct his thanks to him alone.
Another lesson to be learned is that we should not store up for ourselves treasures on earth, but devote the abundance the Lord gives to him for his service and glory. It has been said that if all Christians were faithful in tithing, there would be no shortage of funds for missions or diaconal ministries. Such shortages betray a lack of faithfulness and a failure to be truly thankful to the Lord. How much more there would be if we gave the Lord of our abundance!
In the Orthodox Presbyterian Church we have our own Thank Offering which gives us all the opportunity to show our thanks to the Lord. We have the opportunity to give the Lord of our abundance.
The Priest's Portion
The next part of the offering was given to the priest as the Lord's representative. It was to be waved before the Lord, indicating that it was given to him through the priest. The priest was to receive the choice cuts of meat, the breast or right thigh. In this way the Lord provided for the priests who were unable to tend their own livestock or grow their own crops.
This part of the thank offering teaches us that the Lord wants our best, not our leftovers or rejects. How often do you have the attitude that the Lord can have what is left over after you have all you want? Do you keep the choice portions for yourself or give them to the Lord?
We also learn from this the priority and importance the Lord puts on the support of those who give their lives to his service. When they are poorly supported, it shows that the people do not have the same priorities the Lord has and do not place the same importance on the work of his servants. This is especially true when the members of a church enjoy a much higher standard of living. Do you give your choice portions to support the Lord's servants?
In 1 Timothy 5:17 we read that those who labor in preaching and teaching are worthy of “double honor.” This does not mean “double pay.” But it does mean adequate support as is evident in the next verse which says “the worker deserves his wages.” Giving the priest the choice cuts of meat was how they were awarded double honor and were assured of adequate support.
This not only applies to the support of your own pastor but to your support of missionaries as well. Are those who sacrifice so much to take the gospel to the far corners of the world adequately supported and compensated? A truly thankful person will show his thankfulness to the Lord by realizing the priority and importance of the work of the Lord's servants and contribute his choice offerings for their support. Our Thank Offering is one way you can show your thankfulness and be sure that the Lord's servants are adequately supported in their work.
The Offerer's Portion
The rest of the offering is used by the offerer for a covenantal thanks giving feast for himself, his family and friends. A special rule for the thank offering was that all the meat be eaten on the day it was offered. None was to be left to the next day (v. 15). The purpose of this was to promote generosity and hospitality (Deuteronomy 12:12). He was to invite family and friends to rejoice with him.
The symbolic meaning of this feasting was that as the offering would nourish and strengthen his body, so also did the worshiper give to the Lord his life to be strengthened in his soul to live a holy life before the Lord. The food was sanctified as a symbol of the spiritual food by which the Lord satisfies and refreshes his people.1 It symbolized feasting on Jesus, the Bread of Life. It foreshadowed eating and drinking in the kingdom of God (Luke 14:15; 22:30) and the Lord's Supper, which is also called the Eucharist – a thanksgiving meal.
So there is nothing wrong with feasting, as long as it is not done in a spirit of self-indulgence. When done in the proper spirit of generosity and hospitality, it is a biblical way of rejoicing in God's goodness. It is good to celebrate with family and friends, but we should also open our doors to extend our hospitality to the poor, needy and lonely. One can demonstrate the love of Christ in this way.
As you Observe Thanksgiving Day this Year, Consider These Things:
- Are you directing your thanks to the Lord alone?
- Have you given to the Lord of your abundance?
- Have you given him your best?
- Have you given your choice portions to him through his servants?
- Are you celebrating in a spirit of generosity and hospitality?
May the Lord give us all a true spirit of thankfulness.