The one statement you’ll never hear from God in the Old Testament is “Thank you.” He says, “let there be” and “bless you” and “I am who I am,” but he will never express gratitude to someone for a gift bestowed.
The reason is obvious: no one ever gives God anything that he didn’t already give them first. David expresses it quite succinctly: “All things come from You, and of Your own we have given You” (1 Chron. 29:14). The Orthodox liturgy, echoing David, puts it this way: “Thine of Thine own, we offer to Thee.”
Like a toddler at the dinner table, trying to feed Dad with the very food that Dad has earned, purchased, prepared, and spooned onto his plate—so are we with God.
To say “Thank you” is, therefore, a distinctly human activity. Those two words summarize our position as receivers in the divine/human relationship. Indeed, even our language is a gift from heaven. We couldn’t even pronounce those two words “Thank you” unless the Logos, the Word himself, had placed them in our mouths.
Any day of thanksgiving is thus a confessional day—a day of expressing a short creed that sums up our entire existence: God gives, we receive.
Thanksgiving as a day of confession becomes very obvious when we look at it from a Hebrew perspective.
The Hebrew verb for giving thanks is yadah (יָדָה). Frequently, it also means to confess. And rightly so, because in the Old Testament, when Israel thanks God, often that thanksgiving consists of confessing, in detail, exactly what he’s done—and continues to do—for his people.
The Hebrew twist on thanksgiving, therefore, is that it often sounds not so much like “thank you” as “Here is what kind of God you are for us.”
For instance, Psalm 136 is a thanksgiving hymn. It begins with the Hebrew verb yadah, “O give thanks unto Yahweh, for he is good, and his lovingkindness endures forever.” Three more times in this psalm, the poet calls on us to “give thanks to God.” But what’s fascinating is that, between all of these calls for thanksgiving, verse by verse, we rehearse the work of God in creation and exodus.
To say that God “made the heavens with skill” (vs. 5) or “spread out the earth above the waters” (vs. 6) or “smote the Egyptians in their firstborn” (vs. 10) are all ways of saying Thank You. How so? Because each of these describe the God who acts on behalf of his people to give them gifts. Much like a creed rehearses who God is and what he does, so this thanksgiving psalm recounts what God did in creation and redemption as an epiphany of his love.
To thank God, Hebrew style, is to confess who he is. That confession alone is our way of describing the fact that he gives and we receive. He saves and we are saved. He loves and we are the beloved.
One final thought based on all this: Jesus truly is what (in Greek) we could call our Eucharist (which means “thanksgiving”). He is Thanksgiving for he embodies both divinity and humanity in one person. He is both God the Giver and Man the Receiver. We look at Jesus as the one from whom every good gift comes to us; the one who is the gift of the Father; and the priest who, representing us all, gives thanks to the Father for us and all creation. Indeed, so gracious is he that he even places his body and blood into us in the Eucharistic meal, thereby uniting us to God and filling us with his Spirit.
A blessed Thanksgiving Day to everyone, as we confess who God is, the gift we have in Jesus, and our ability to thank the Lord through his Spirit.