“Do I eat the flesh of the mighty? Do I drink the blood of goats? Sacrifice to God thanksgiving and make peace with the Most High with your vows. Call to me in the day of trouble and I will deliver you and you shall honor me.”
And thus, the desire of God has more to do with the heart behind the sacrifice, not the ritual itself. Yet, we should ask, what is a “sacrifice of thanksgiving”? That might sound like an odd question, but given that it is handled in so many ways in Christ’s church today, perhaps it would be wise for us to see how the Bible defines such a thing.
Typically, in levitical law, sacrifices of thanksgivings were understood as grain offerings or bread offerings (see Leviticus 7:12). Yet, as we move through Jewish history, by the time of David there is an emphasis on singing thanksgiving in the worship of God (see 1 Chronicles 16:7 and 2 Chronicles 5:13). In fact, in the latter verse, the idea of praise and thanksgiving are wed together. Likewise, in the reestablishment of the Temple, Nehemiah establishes a body of Levites in charge of songs of thanksgiving (Nehemiah 12:8).
In fact, while the old food offerings are not totally forgotten in the latter parts of the Old Testament, for instance, we still see Amos joining the food offering with praises (Amos 4:5), the singing of praise becomes the dominant way in which God’s people express their thanksgiving. Psalm 26:7 speaks of telling of the wondrous deeds of God as thanksgiving, Psalm 69:30 speaks of magnifying God’s name with thanksgiving, Psalm 95:2 equates songs of praise with thanksgiving as does Psalm 100:4. Psalms 107:22 and 116:17 speak of a “sacrifice of thanksgiving” in the context of singing praises and Psalm 147 speaks of singing to the Lord with thanksgiving accompanied to the sound of the lyre.
Probably the most profound statement, though, on this matter, comes from the prophet Jonah. Being supernaturally preserved in the depths of the sea, held in the belly of the great fish, Jonah cries out to God in repentance and states: “with a voice of thanksgiving I will sacrifice to you.” There is no other way to interpret this passage but that of a song of praise. His very context precludes anything but a song (or most likely a psalm) of praise.
When we combine this Old Testament context with the language of the New Testament, the idea is only reinforced. The author of Hebrews writes that the fruit of our lips is a sacrifice of praise. What a contrast that is to the mouth of the wicked, which breathes out lies and venom (Romans 3:13). Indeed, how naturally this language fits with what we are commanded by Paul in Colossians 3:16 that we are to come together with singing and thankfulness in our hearts.
Vows too, play an important role in the worship of God’s people and are often mentioned. Note that Jonah, in the passage above, also promises to fulfill the vows that he made and Hosea speaks about returning to the Lord not only with sacrifice but with a commitment to fulfilling the vows of our lips (Hosea 14:2). If we look at the language of the thanksgiving in the Old Testament psalms, you will notice that vows are repeatedly incorporated into them — vows to obedience and vows to tell others of the goodness of God. Shall we not do the same.
And, when we cry out to God in our time of distress, should we expect anything else but to honor him as our response to his deliverance? How often, professing Christians have a view of God as a celestial power that exists to meet their personal needs. The Bible, in contrast, presents mankind as persons designed to submit to the Almighty God and to worship him. A God that exists to serve us is not worthy of worship and thanksgiving, but a God who is sovereign and demands our praise and thanksgiving is a God that can also demand our obedience. You are either submitting to the whole of God’s revealed will or you are bowing down to an idol of your own making; we cannot have it both ways.