First-Fruits (Deuteronomy 26:1-11)

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The people Moses was speaking to in Deuteronomy were not the same that he had led out of Egypt to receive God’s commands at Mount Sinai. That generation had died in the wilderness after failing to trust that God could do what he said he would do. Now, a new generation was about to inherit God’s promises and enter into the Promised Land. Before he handed the leadership of Israel over to Joshua, Moses addressed God’s people to prepare them for their entry into the Promised Land. The Book of Deuteronomy gives us Moses’ last address to the Israelites.

One of the instructions Moses gave to the Israelites was to bring the first produce of the land God was giving them to the place of worship and offer them to him (Deuteronomy 26:1-11). Often referred to as a ‘first-fruits’ offering, this was the way in which the Israelites were to thank God for the gift of the land. Thanking someone with words is good, but God wanted his people to show their thanks by offering to him the first and the best of what God had first given them.

We can hear these words of Moses as a rule or command to follow, but we can also understand the first-fruits offering as an act of faith. Through Moses’ words, we can hear God calling us to trust him enough to give him the first and best of what he has given us. Offering to God the first and best of what he has already given us is an act of faith for three reasons.

Firstly, when the Israelites gave back to God the first-fruits of each year’s crops, they showed that they believed that the land was a gift from God. He wanted his people to remember that he had given them the land and that every good thing the Israelites had was a gift from him. God didn’t give the land to them because they deserved it or had somehow earned it. Instead, God’s gift of the land to the people he had chosen was an act of grace, a gift given purely out of his love for his people.

In the same way, God asks us to give back to him the first and best of what he has given us to show that we recognize that every good thing comes from him. It is easy for us to have a sense of entitlement with the things we have. Whether we are talking about our time, energy, abilities, finances or other possessions, we can tend to think that they belong to us and we have the right to do whatever we like with them because we have earned them. God reminds us that all good things come from him, and he asks us to recognize him as the giver of everything in our lives by giving the first and best of what we have back to him.

Secondly, giving their first-fruits to God was an act of faith that God would give them enough to last for the coming year. In an agricultural society where people relied on what the land produced in order to survive, giving the first produce of the land back to God would have been risky because there was no guarantee that the subsequent produce would have been enough to last for the rest of the year. Giving the first produce, instead of hanging on to it until they were sure they had enough for the coming twelve months, was an act of faith that God would provide what they needed.

In the same way, we can often use what we think we need first and then give what’s left over to God. Whether we are talking time, energy, finances or abilities, we are more inclined to do what we think needs to get done first and then give what remains to God. The first-fruits offering challenges us to consider what we can give to God first in the faith that God will provide us with what we need for everything else. This is particularly true with our time. When we have a lot to do and the pressure’s on, we can easily ignore spending time with God by reading his Word, praying to him or worshiping with other believers in our faith community. However, as the source of every good thing we have, God asks us to trust him enough to put him first, to make spending time with him our first priority, in the faith that God will provide us with everything we need to do what he has called us to do.

Our third reason why giving God our first and best is one that the ancient Israelites didn’t have – God has already given his best for us and to us. When our relationship with God was broken because of sin, God gave his first and best for us in the person of Jesus. The Son of God prioritized us and the need to reconcile us with God so highly that he gave everything for us on the cross. Jesus didn’t spend his life thinking about himself and the things that would make him happy before giving whatever was left over for us. Jesus had the cross in his view right from the start of his ministry and willingly sacrificed everything out of love for us. In Jesus, God literally gave everything for us and to us so we can live in a new relationship with him as his children. Because God has already given his first and his best for us and to us, he asks us to trust him enough to do the same.

Giving the first and best of everything we have to God can mean making some significant changes in our lives. We might need to completely reorganize our priorities as we reorient ourselves towards God and trusting in his grace. Doing that isn’t easy and requires a deep and secure faith that God will provide us with every good thing we need for this life and the next through Jesus.

I wonder, though, what might our lives look like if we were able to make that change through God’s grace and goodness? How might our relationships look different if we prioritized what we could give to others over what we want to get from them? How might our communities, especially our churches, look different if we gave our first and best back to God, trusting in God’s grace-filled love for us? Would it be possible that people might encounter the goodness of God in us and find a God they could trust? If we could trust God enough to give him our first and our best, maybe others might encounter our God who gives everything, even his own life, to us and for us.

More to think about:

  • What do you think is more important in life – what you give to others or what you get from them? Explain why you think that way…
  • In your relationships with people, do you tend to think more about what you can get from them or what you can give to them? Why do you think you do that?
  • What do you think about viewing giving to God as an act of faith? What do you like or not like about the idea?
  • How might you see different aspects of your life differently if you viewed every good think you have, even those things you complain about, as a gift from our God who loves you?
  • How might your life be different if you could be 100% sure that God was always going to provide you with what you needed? Would you live differently? Explain why…
  • What is your reaction to the idea that Jesus gave everything for you on the cross because he loves you that much? Might that help you see yourself differently? Might it help you see your life differently? Explain why…
  • What is one way you can give God your first or best this week: Spending time with him first thing each morning in prayer or reading your Bible? Making worship a higher priority? Giving of yourself to a ministry of your church? Commit to it for a week or two and see what happens…