Today’s Chocolate: Theo 70% Dark Chocolate
Today’s Passage: Genesis 29:31-35; Leviticus 7:11-15, 22:29-30
Welcome back to our study on thankfulness, “Totally Hip Gratitude.” Get it? It’s a play on attitude? Like cool–you know, forget it. Before returning to the minor prophets, we’re going to look at thankfulness in the Torah, like we intended to in the first installment of this series before we got distracted by portions of the Torah where any mention of thankfulness is conspicuously absent. And this time around? There’s gonna be more of my other favorite food, Biblical Hebrew, so crack open your Strong’s Concordance and let’s get to word-studyin’.
Unsurprisingly, I haven’t been the first to observe how weird the Hebrew Bible’s way of discussing thankfulness seems to modern readers. Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, available on biblestudytools.com, notes, “Early in the Old Testament both the language and the concept of thanksgiving are conspicuous by their absence. The Old Testament lacks an independent vocabulary of thanksgiving or gratitude; it uses the verb yada [sic] (יָדָה), and the cognate noun toda [sic] (תּוֹדָה), both ordinarily translated as ‘praise,’ to convey the concept.” Depending on context, these two verbs might be translated “shoot arrows,” “throw down,” “confess sin,” “praise,” or “give thanks.”
Why such a broad range of possible renderings? A little knowledge of Hebrew is a dangerous thing, and I freely admit to speculating based more on ignorance than knowledge here, but I do know both of these words are derived from yad (יָד), the Hebrew word for “hand.” Thankfulness, I infer, is something you do with your hands: you extend them toward the recipient of your gratitude, as if to give back for what they’ve given you. Your gift to them is acknowledgement of their generosity. Biblical gratitude, it would seem, is an act with deeply physical roots.
Neither of these words shows up until Genesis 29. God has just given Jacob’s wife Leah three children, but it’s only at the birth of the fourth that she says, “This time I will praise the Lord” (Genesis 29:35). She names him “Judah,” which comes from that same word for “praise.” God gives her children because he sees that her husband favors Rebecca over her, but it takes four children before she formally acknowledges his generosity. Her first son Reuben’s name literally means, “Look, a son!” I could drown in the shortcomings of Jacob’s family, fill a vault and swim in them Scrooge-McDuck-style (heck, I could do that with my own sins), but one such shortcoming is likely Leah’s tendency to focus on her own problems and dissatisfaction over God’s generosity and comfort.
And now we come to Leviticus, where we find in most English translations the first actual mention of the word “thank.” Here we find formal instructions for offering a sacrifice of thanksgiving in the context of peace offerings. The text instructs: “If he offers it by way of thanksgiving, then along with the sacrifice of thanksgiving he shall offer unleavened cakes mixed with oil, and unleavened wafers spread with oil, and cakes of well stirred fine flour mixed with oil” (Leviticus 7:12). It’s a voluntary offering, not mandated by particular times or circumstances. Moreover, the animal offered for the priest offering and the cakes for the sacrifice of thanksgiving form a meal for the people bringing the sacrifices and the priest offering them: “Now as for the flesh of the sacrifice of his thanksgiving peace offerings, it shall be eaten on the day of his offering; he shall not leave any of it over until morning” (Leviticus 7:15). The instruction to eat it promptly is reiterated in Leviticus 22:30.
And that seems to be the simplest, cleanest takeaway from what the Torah has to say about gratitude: we can give our cake and eat it too. When we freely thank God for his generosity toward us, it’s because he’s given us the gift of an opportunity to be thankful. It’s a force multiplier: offering up our gratitude enriches our lives, our relationships with others, and our relationship with God.