Saturday Jun 11, 2022

Deuteronomy 26:1-11 - Israel’s first first fruits & Christian spiritual worship

     In this section (Deut 26:1-11), Moses reminds Israel of God’s deliverance from Egyptian bondage, His faithfulness to bring them into the land of promise, and how they were to show their loyalty and gratitude by annually giving Him the first fruits of their agricultural production.

Directives for Entering Canaan

     God was giving Israel the land of Canaan as an inheritance, which was a reminder that God owns the world and controls who occupies territories (cf. Lev 25:23; Deut 10:14; Psa 24:1; 89:11; Acts 17:24-26). The time of this annual celebration was to begin after Israel had entered the land of Canaan, as Moses said, “Then it shall be, when you enter the land which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance, and you possess it and live in it” (Deut 26:1). This would be the first celebration of the feast of Firstfruits, in which Israelites gave to the priests the first and best of their produce of the land (see Deut 18:1-5). It was given to the priests because they served as God’s representatives, meditating between the people and God. Also, the priests were not given land and had to rely on their fellow Israelites for their daily needs. This new celebration marked a shift from Israel’s life as herders to farmers. Peter Craigie states:

  • "Unlike Passover and the covenant ceremony, the offering of firstfruits would be a new religious institution in Israel; before taking possession of the land, they were not an agricultural people and therefore had no harvest festival. Thus, this first offering of the firstfruits by the Israelites, once they had taken possession of the land, would mark the inauguration of the new life which had been anticipated for so long on the basis of the covenant promise of God."[1]

     Israel was a theocracy (Isa 33:22), and the annual practice of going to the tabernacle/temple was intended as a display of loyalty and appreciation to God for His blessings. The Israelite who had worked the land and been blessed by God with a harvest was to bring the first fruits to the tabernacle/temple once a year. Moses directed them, saying, “you shall take some of the first of all the produce of the ground which you bring in from your land that the LORD your God gives you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place where the LORD your God chooses to establish His name” (Deut 26:2). Once at the location of God’s choosing (the sacred space), the Israelite was to take a portion of his gift and place it in a basket and give it to the priest. Earl Radmacher states:

  • "The Israelites were to offer to God the fruit that ripened first, even though there was always a possibility that the rest of the crop would not ripen or be harvested because of some unforeseen circumstance. By offering the first of the produce to the Lord, the people expressed their trust in God’s provision and their gratitude for His good gifts."[2]

     Along with the basket of produce, Israelites were to bring a statement that recognized God’s faithfulness to bring them into the land of promise, as well as His promise to bless them. Moses said, “You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time and say to him, ‘I declare this day to the LORD my God that I have entered the land which the LORD swore to our fathers to give us’” (Deut 26:3). Here was a collaboration of worship, both by the giver and the priest in office at the time the gift was given.

     After the offeror had made his declaration that recognized God’s faithfulness and goodness, “Then the priest shall take the basket from your hand and set it down before the altar of the LORD your God” (Deut 26:4). The priest, who received the basket of produce and placed it before the altar, apparently gave it back to the offeror, who also placed it at the altar (see Deut 26:10). The altar mentioned here was the altar that was in the courtyard where animals were sacrificed, as the altar of incense was located in the holy place, where only priests could enter. After giving the priest the offering, Moses directed the giver to speak directly to God, saying, “You shall answer and say before the LORD your God” (Deut 26:5a). The recitation that follows is a short summary of Israel’s history from the divine perspective. The Israelites were to remember their ancestral heritage from nomadic wandering to Egyptian slavery and suffering, their cry to the Lord for help, His compassionate deliverance from slavery to freedom, and then freedom to eventual blessing in the land of promise. The specific wording to be spoken by the offeror was as follows:

  • "My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down to Egypt and sojourned there, few in number; but there he became a great, mighty and populous nation. 6 And the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, and imposed hard labor on us. 7 Then we cried to the LORD, the God of our fathers, and the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction and our toil and our oppression; 8 and the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with great terror and with signs and wonders; 9 and He has brought us to this place and has given us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. 10 Now behold, I have brought the first of the produce of the ground which You, O LORD have given me." (Deut 26:5b-10a)

     This wording is likely a creedal statement that was to be memorized by the worshipper and repeated year after year, at the time of the offering of the first fruits. There are five parts to the statement: 1) a recognition of Jacob’s wandering until God brought him to Egypt where his family grew in number (Deut 26:5), 2) how the Egyptians afflicted them (Deut 26:6), 3) how the Israelites cried to God and He delivered them by His great power (Deut 26:7-8), 4), how God brought His people into the land of Canaan (Deut 26:9), and 5) the Lord’s goodness to bless them in the land (Deut 26:10). This statement was intended to help the Israelites frame their current blessings from the divine perspective. The specific breakdown of this statement is as follows.

     The Israelite offeror was to open with the statement, “My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down to Egypt and sojourned there, few in number; but there he became a great, mighty and populous nation” (Deut 26:5b). The reference to “my father” was likely a reference to Jacob, whose mother was an Aramean (Gen 25:20), and he worked as a shepherd in Aram for twenty years while serving his uncle Laban (Gen 31:41-42). After Jacob returned to Canaan and lived there for several years, God caused a famine on the land (Gen 41:25-32), and Jacob’s family suffered hunger which drove them to Egypt for food (Gen 46:1-7). Though Jacob and his family were seventy in number when they went to Egypt (Gen 46:26-27; Ex 1:5), God protected and blessed them, and over four hundred years they grew to be a great nation (Ex 1:7; Deut 10:22).

     However, though the Israelites grew in number while in Egypt, they were eventually mistreated. The Israelite offeror was to say, “And the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us and imposed hard labor on us” (Deut 26:6). Apparently, because of the growing Israelite population, the Egyptian leadership felt threatened by them and chose to oppress them as a means of controlling them. Such behavior is indicative of the arrogant who are enslaved by human viewpoint, which often resorts to oppression and bully tactics as a means of controlling others.

     During their captivity and suffering, the Israelites sought the Lord, saying, “Then we cried to the LORD, the God of our fathers, and the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction and our toil and our oppression” (Deut 26:7; cf., Ex 2:23-25). This speaks of the Israelite condition prior to their deliverance and how they cried out to the Lord to intervene, which He did. The confession recognizes God’s deliverance, saying, “and the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with great terror and with signs and wonders” (Deut 26:8). The Lord had previously promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that their descendants would become a great nation and possess the land of Canaan (Gen 17:7-8; 26:24; 28:13-14), so He brought them out of Egypt to fulfill His word (Deut 5:6; 6:12; 8:14), and thus He created the nation of Israel (Isa 43:15; 45:11). Because Egypt was the greatest superpower of the day, it took God’s intervention to liberate His people. Moses, throughout his address in Deuteronomy, references Egypt 49 times. Some of those instances were intended to infuse into Israelite thinking their time of Egyptian slavery (Deut 5:15; 15:15; 16:12; 24:18, 22), and that memory was to have a direct influence on how they appreciated God and behaved toward others.

     And after their deliverance and wilderness wanderings, the Israelite was to recognize God as the One who brought them into the land of blessing, saying, “and He has brought us to this place and has given us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Deut 26:9). Here was a recognition of God’s faithfulness to His Word. Lastly, as a display of covenant loyalty to the Lord, the offeror was to say, “Now behold, I have brought the first of the produce of the ground which You, O LORD have given me” (Deut 26:10a). God owns everything and needs nothing (Lev 25:23; Deut 10:14; Psa 24:1; 89:11; Acts 17:24-26); therefore, the annual gift was a test of the believer’s heart (see 1 Ch 29:11-18).

     After reciting the above script, Moses directed the offeror to place the gift before the Lord and to worship Him. The worship also included the priest, the alien, and the members of the worshipper’s household. Moses said, “And you shall set it down before the LORD your God, and worship before the LORD your God, and you and the Levite and the alien who is among you shall rejoice in all the good which the LORD your God has given you and your household” (Deut 26:10b-11). Daniel Block states:

  • "The final phase of this ritual (v. 10b) involves actions by the worshiper: He is to set the basket with the firstfruits before Yahweh, and then in a gesture of homage and submission prostrate himself before Him. Having done so, he is to invite his entire household, as well as Levites and aliens from his town, to join him in celebrating all the benefactions Yahweh has lavished on them. Like the pilgrimages described in Deuteronomy 12:5-12, this is to be a joyful event, presumably involving a meal eaten at the sanctuary in the presence of Yahweh with the entire household, as well as with Levites and aliens whom the worshiper has invited to accompany him to the sanctuary (cf. Deut 12:7, 12, 18; 14:26-27; 16:11, 14)."[3]

     Here we observe how the worshipper included his family, the Levites, and the alien who lived within the covenant community. This shows that the worship associated with the feast of First Fruits was to be an ongoing annual activity, at the prescribed location of the tabernacle/temple, was public, and corporate.

Present Application

     Though both the people of God, Israel and the Church are distinct, the latter being blessed by the former. But not everyone recognizes this distinction, as replacement theologians teach that the Church replaces Israel. As a result, they have sought to find corresponding replacements for Israel’s religious offices and practices. For example, the Roman Catholic Church believes:

  1. Israel had a specific location for worship in Jerusalem, so the Church must have a specific holy place, which they’ve designated as Vatican City in Rome.
  2. Israel had a specialized priesthood, and the Church should have a specialized priesthood as well.
  3. Israel had a tiered priestly system consisting of the high priest, ordinary priests, and Levites who served at the temple and in the community; likewise, the Roman Catholic Church has a tiered system with the pope, cardinals, archbishops, bishops, and priests.
  4. Israel’s priests had special clothing, and the Roman Catholic Church has special clothing for its leaders.
  5. Israel offered ongoing animal sacrifices, and the Roman Catholic Church teaches that the Lord’s Supper is a perpetual sacrifice (transubstantiation).

     However, the New Testament reveals there is a distinction between Israel and the Church (1 Cor 10:32), and that worship and service in ancient Israel was different than that of the Christian living in dispensation of the church age. Israel was a nation (Ex 19:6), but the church is not a nation (Rom 10:19). God’s program for Israel focused on the land promised to Abraham (Gen 12:1; 15:18; 17:8), whereas the church is called to go out to many lands (Matt 28:19-20; Acts 1:8). Israel was mentioned throughout the Old Testament and recognized by other nations (Num 14:15; Josh 5:1), but the church was a mystery not known in the Old Testament (Eph 3:1-6; Col 1:26-27; cf. Rom 16:25-26). Israel had a priesthood that was specific to the tribe of Levi (Num 3:6-7), whereas all Christians are priests to God (Rev 1:6; cf. 1 Pet 2:5, 9). Israel worshipped first at the Tabernacle and later the Temple (Ex 40:18-38; 2 Ch 8:14-16), but for Christians, their body is the temple of the Lord, and they gather locally where they want (1 Cor 6:19-20; cf. 1 Cor 16:19; Col 4:15). Israel was required to tithe from the produce of their land (Deut 14:22-23; 28-29; Num 18:21), but there is no tithe required from Christians, only a joyful attitude when giving, “for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9:7). Israel offered produce and animal sacrifices to God (Lev 4:1-35), but Christians offer spiritual sacrifices (1 Pet 2:5; cf. Rom 12:1-2; Heb 13:15). The Christian’s spiritual sacrifices to the Lord include:

  1. The giving of one’s body for service to the Lord: “Therefore, I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom 12:1-2)
  2. The sacrifice of praise for worship: “Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name” (Heb 13:15).
  3. The doing of good works and sharing with others: And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased” (Heb 13:16; cf., Phil 4:18).
  4. The sacrifice of one’s life for the benefit of others: “But even if I am being poured out as a [sacrificial] drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all” (Phil 2:17; cf., Phil 1:21-26).
  5. To walk in sacrificial love: “Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (Eph 5:1-2).


[1] Peter C. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), 320.

[2] Earl D. Radmacher, Ronald Barclay Allen, and H. Wayne House, Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary (Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers, 1999), 259.

[3] Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Deuteronomy, ed. Terry Muck (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 604.

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