Our laughter and our tears display our hearts, but our calendars and checkbooks display our priorities. God wanted his people to get first things first. This principle related to every category of their lives. A reoccurring phrase in the book of Leviticus is, “I am the Lord.” God’s peoples’ conduct was inextricably linked to God’s identity. A reoccurring word and concept in the book of Leviticus is holiness. God’s peoples’ conduct was intertwined with God’s integrity. No one could compartmentalize God. He could not be divided. Therefore Israel had no division between secular and sacred. Everything was sacred.
This connection between belief and behavior was especially seen in worship and service; between festivals and offerings. For the most part God’s people were shepherds and farmers. The job of shepherding reminded Israel of God’s way of leadership, and the job of farming reminded Israel of God’s way of provision. A person might serve as a priest, Levite, soldier, or king, but somehow the role of farmer was never far from the whole nation. In fact, the first section of the Mishna (Jewish commentary on the law) is simply labeled “agriculture” (or seeds). When it came to worshipping God Israel would look to the flock and the ground first (see Genesis 4:2-4).
Leviticus 2:14; 23:9-14
Firstfruits are exactly what they are. They are the first and best offerings; not the last and least offerings. They are never the dregs. The first seven chapters of Leviticus outline how Israel was to observe the sacrifices and offerings of the Lord. Chapter 1 deals with the burnt offering (called such because they were all burnt up—totally given to God). Chapter 1 deals with the grain offering, which was waved before the Lord in worship and then given to the priests to eat. (The Levites were freed from other job constraints so that they could serve in the tabernacle full-time. Therefore Israel was to provide for them. This was done, in part, through the grain offerings.)
The remarkable thing about the grain offering in chapter 2 was that it was first crushed and roasted. This meant that the grain had moisture in it, which implied that it was early in the harvest season, in other words, “first.” Offering something as firstfruits meant that one would have to depend on God for the rest of the harvest to meet the needs of the family. What if the harvest was small?
Our text in chapter 23 picks up this same emphasis. As was true for peoples and faiths outside of Israel, religious festivals were linked to the fertility of the ground, that is, the harvest. The preceding context of our passage speaks of observing Sabbath and Passover. The following context of our passage speaks of what was essentially the festival of Pentecost. That must mean the grain offering being discussed in our text was the first of the harvest season. To give that back to God was an act of faith. It was a posture of trust that he would supply all needs. The procedure was as follows: the Israelite was to bring the first sheaf (collective head) of grain to the priest. The priest was to wave it (something mentioned three times in the text) before the Lord. This was followed by offering a perfect young lamb along with more of the grain offering which had been mixed with olive oil and presented as a food offering to the Lord. To this was added a drink offering of wine. God was as serious as a heart attack about these instructions. They were to be observed throughout Israel’s history (v. 14). The point of it all, though, was that Israel was to be intentional about it and make sure that God was first in it.
Giving to the Lord is always two-dimensional. The primary dimension is vertical—to God. But the secondary dimension—and indicative of the vertical—is to others. Israel was commanded by God to leave some of the harvest in the field for the poor and foreigner. This seems counterintuitive. But God was teaching several lessons. Obviously, the needs of the poor could be met. Also, the way that God had Israel do this meant that the poor had to work to collect the harvest in the field, thereby preserving their dignity. Finally, God was reinforcing that his identity was tied to Israel’s obedience. Again, note the phrase, “I am the Lord your God.”
Financial wizard Dave Ramsey (Financial Peace University) says, “We should live like no one else . . . so that we can give like no one else.” Bringing firstfruits ensures God is worshipped and peoples’ needs are met.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
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