“What shall I return to the LORD for all his bounty to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD,
I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people.
Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his faithful ones.
O LORD, I am your servant; I am your servant, the child of your serving-maid. You have loosed my bonds. I will offer to you a thanksgiving sacrifice and call on the name of the LORD.
I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people,
in the courts of the house of the LORD, in your midst, O Jerusalem.
Praise the LORD!”
What can I give to God this Thanksgiving, a God who has given me everything?
That’s something I’m thinking about this week of Thanksgiving. I am reminded of a story that Old Testament theologian Ronald Allen tells about a friend who was a medical missionary in India. The missionary served as an ophthalmologist where blindness was endemic to the area. As thousands of people were becoming blind, the missionary doctor developed a procedure to cure the terrible disease. People would leave his clinic exuberant knowing that they would not become blind. But they would not say “thank you” to him, because that was not in their dialect. Rather, they would say, “I will tell your name.” (Ronald Allen, I Will Praise Him: A Guide to Worship in the Psalms)
I like that story because it goes to the heart of Biblical thanksgiving. We best give thanks to God by telling His name, telling others of His character and love.
Just like those people living in that part of India, the ancient Hebrews did not have “thank you” in their dialect. To tell others what had been done for them took the place of saying “Thank you”. That’s why in today’s Scripture the psalmist wants to tell others what God has done for him. It’s his way of saying thanks to God.
The psalmist begins by asking, “What shall I return to the LORD for all his bounty to me?” Quick comes his answer: “I will lift the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD…I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people.” He has to tell others. He cannot remain silent!
In this the psalmist takes us into the Biblical world of giving thanks to God. It was not enough to thank God in private. Thanksgiving compelled them to go public. A “thanksgiving sacrifice” or, literally, an “acknowledgement sacrifice”, was offered in the temple for all to see, eat and enjoy. The thanksgiving sacrifice might be offered for deliverance from trouble, healing of an illness, answers to prayer, or some other blessing. Others must be told what God had done!
In today’s Scripture the psalmist’s vow to lift “the cup of salvation” can be translated, “the cup of deliverance”. In this case God has delivered the psalmist from death (vv. 3, 15). The cup lifted up refers to the libation raised at a sacrifice (Exodus 29:40; Numbers 28:7), as a cup of wine was lifted in thanksgiving to God. Compare this with “the cup” raised to God in the Lord’s Supper, Communion or Eucharist (1 Corinthians 10:16), as we tell others that God has delivered us from death and sin.
Whether it’s the first thanksgiving celebrated at St. Augustine in 1565, Jamestown in 1610, or Plymouth Plantation in 1621, people sit down to a feast and tell what God has done for them! So, on Thanksgiving this Thursday I want to tell others what God has done for me! But more than this Thursday, I want to live my life telling others with lips and life what God has done for me! Praise the Lord!
P.S. Advent begins on Sunday, November 29. But it’s not to late to order copies of Water from Rock’s Advent devotional “And the Word Became Flesh: Daily Reflections on the Incarnation for Advent 2015”. Order copies for yourself, your family and friends, and study group, Sunday School class, church, etc., by clicking on this link.