What God has required of his people to give back to him in thankfulness has changed from ancient Israelite times to now.
Psalm 50 gives evidence of that change. In Psalm 50, God is no longer interested in sacrificial animals as a form of thanksgiving. God declares with incontrovertible logic: Why would I want any of your animals anyway? I own the entire earth, including your animals. I can have as many animals as I want. What would be most meaningful for you to give me is your thanksgiving, your praise. Let that be your sacrifice to me.
Reading Psalm 50:14 more carefully, we see a beautiful poetic parallelism.
Offer unto God thanksgiving;
and pay thy vows unto the most high:
Notice the idea of “paying.” We’re obligated; we owe something. Significantly, the underlying Hebrew word here for “pay” is the word shalem, which comes from the root word shalom “peace.” In giving thanks, we are coming to terms of peace with God. We are “paying” for peace.
Incidentally, we find a similar word in the Book of Mormon: Shilom. It is the name of a city and a land that the Lamanites gave to Nephite settlers led by Zeniff in Mosiah 9. Significantly, shilom may mean to offer a gift or a bribe. Notice the wordplay that the Lamanites bribed (shilom) the Nephites to settle peacefully (shalom) in the Lamanite lands so that the Lamanites could eventually take the Nephites into bondage. The eventual bondage ended the reign of wicked king Noah who had rejected the warning words of the prophet Abinadi.
Now back to Psalm 50. In verse 15, as a way to offer thanksgiving, God commands us:
And call upon me in the day of trouble:
I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.
How do we glorify God? I suggest these things: Recognize his hand in all things, record what great things the Lord has done and testify to others of what great things the Lord has done.
Do we realize that the act of testifying to friends and family of God’s goodness to you and to others is a form of thanksgiving? Declaring God’s acts of righteousness on your behalf in your journal is a form of thanksgiving. And did you ever consider that the prophets who wrote and preserved the scriptures were committing an act of thanksgiving? How so? They were telling future generations of God’s wondrous deeds!
So important is it to recognize the hand of God in all things and to publish that testimony to future generations that it is the foundation of how we are exhorted to know the truth. Listen to Moroni’s final words in Moroni 10:
"Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down unto the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.
"And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
"And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things" (see Moroni 10:3-5).
Most of us are so familiar with these passages that we skip over the homework we must undertake before we pray to God. Reread verse 3.
What is the assignment? Ponder all the great things God has done for his children from the time of Adam until the time you read these things. How would you be able to ponder all of God’s great deeds unless someone had recorded them? Should we not all then record the great deeds God has done for us? Isn’t testifying of God’s great goodness the ultimate in thanksgiving?
Indeed, God has said in Doctrine and Covenants 62:3, “Ye are blessed, for the testimony which ye have borne is recorded in heaven for the angels to look upon; and they rejoice over you, and your sins are forgiven you.” Just as in ancient Israel thanksgiving as sacrificial atonement covered the people’s sins, so today testifying of God’s great deeds is the act of rendering thanks to God that covers our sins in forgiveness.
During this holy day season of giving thanks to God, we should consider demonstrating our thanks by testifying of God’s great goodness in our lives.
Taylor Halverson (Ph.D., biblical studies, instructional tech) is a BYU teaching & learning consultant; founder of Creativity, Innovation & Design Group; and travel leader to Mesoamerica and Middle East. taylorhalverson.com. His views are his own.