Prime Minister Stephen Harper had to walk a fine line in (this week`s) G8 summit talks on the Middle East, upholding Ottawa’s strong support for Israel while respecting President Obama’s recent call for talks based on pre-war 1967 borders, and resisting Europe’s determination to pressure the Israeli government. According to reports, the Canadian delegation worked hard to keep the summit declaration from making specific mention of the 1967 borders. Mr. Harper argued that if Mr. Obama’s speech was to be used as a benchmark, the statement had to reflect his calls for concessions on both sides, not just from Israel. (http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2011/05/27/harper-resists-u-s-style-peace-approach/#more-39968).
As Israel prepared to enter the Promised land following their exodus from Egypt, Deuteronomy 26:1-11 referred to the offering of a part of the first crops grown after the Israelites have settled in the land of Canaan. This first share belonged to God (18:4; see also Exo 22:28; 23:19; 34:26; Lev 2:12, 14; 23:10–17), as did also the first-born male of the domestic animals (Exo 13:11–15). The produce was taken to the central sanctuary (verse 2) and given to the priest, who set it down in front of the altar (verses 3–4). This offering was accompanied by the recital of a confession and the promise to obey God’s laws (verses 5–10).
For those who have much, there are many responsibilities. We become stewards of the many resources under our care. The concept of stewardship is a doctrine of responsibility and celebration. Although we are responsible for all the resources under our care, such responsibility is not to be one of burdensome work, but one of a proper celebration. God expects that we joyously offer unto Him the first of our time, talent and treasure as a "Firstfruits" our lives.
We build a "Life of Stewardship" in the offering of "Firstfruits", when we:
1) Use God’s gift to His fullest Expectations. (Deuteronomy 26:1)
Deuteronomy 26:1 [26:1]"When you come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance and have taken possession of it and live in it, (ESV)
Israel was expected to “come into the land … possess it and dwell in it” (v. 1). God’s promise to Abraham was a land for his descendants. Up to this time the land had not been taken. It had been promised, but not possessed. It had been spied out, but not seized. The people stood between the promise of God and its fulfillment. Notice the progression of the phrases. They were to arrive at the land, strive for it, and live in it. That they should live in it: this refers to a time when the Israelites have settled down and have had time to grow their first crops. Until that happened, they would be living below their potential.
• God’s gift to each of us is our potential. Our gift to Him is what we do with that potential. The chief way that you and I can be disloyal to God is to make small what He intended to make large. One way we glorify God is to fulfill the expectations of the God who created us. To do so is to concretely express our gratitude to God for His blessing.
Sohio, the Alaskan subsidiary of Standard Oil of Ohio, drilled a well in the Beaufort Sea in 1983, hoping to tap a geological formation holding several billion barrels of oil. Instead, they hit water, and $120 million went a glimmering. The oil companies know the risk. They drill only after extensive soil samples and aerial photos offer substantial possibilities of success. Yet despite the precautions, geological formations that promise to break all records for oil or gas deposits break the bank instead. Such risks are considered acceptable, however, as a strike like the one contemplated would have repaid the investment many times over.
God has built energies, talents, and giftedness into every generation of Christians, in order that Christ’s mission can successfully be implemented. But does the will and personal commitment exist to do it? If we would invest energy, time, and expertise (with courage like) oil companies, (what would God accomplish with such daring and faithful followers?) (Hurley, V. (2000). Speaker’s sourcebook of new illustrations (electronic ed.) (69–70). Dallas: Word Publishers.)
We build a "Life of Stewardship" in the offering of "Firstfruits", when we:
2) Return to God the first of everything He has given you (Deuteronomy 26:2-4)
Deuteronomy 26:2-4 you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from your land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket, and you shall go to the place that the LORD your God will choose, to make his name to dwell there. And you shall go to the priest who is in office at that time and say to him, ’I declare today to the LORD your God that I have come into the land that the LORD swore to our fathers to give us.’ Then the priest shall take the basket from your hand and set it down before the altar of the LORD your God. (ESV)
The ritual outlined here was to be undertaken not in the present but only after the promised land had been appropriated and settled (v. 1). Then, in the socioeconomic life of agrarianism in which patterns of sowing, cultivation, and harvesting had been adopted... According to the agricultural calendars, this would be in early summer, on the sixth of Sivan (May/June), the time of the beginning of the wheat harvest (cf. Lev 23:15–16) (Merrill, E. H. (2001). Vol. 4: Deuteronomy (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (332–333). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.)
The firstfruits of the harvest were offered at the Feast of Weeks (16:9–12; cf. 18:4); 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 (Craigie, P. C. (1976). The Book of Deuteronomy. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (320). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.).
Some scholars believe that this was a command to be followed only once. However, the first fruits were offered yearly on the day after Passover (Lev 23:10–11) (KJV Bible commentary. 1997 (369). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.).
That they should take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground the word fruit (NRSV) should be understood in the general sense of “produce,”
not just of fruits and vegetables but also of sheep and cattle (Braun, M. (2000). Deuteronomy (2nd ed.). The People’s Bible (242). Milwaukee, Wis.: Northwestern Pub. House.).
During the years that the people were in Egypt, whatever they raised was on soil that did not belong to them. During the years that they were in the wilderness, they were away from fertile land on which to grow things. But in the land that God planned to give them, crops, orchards, and vineyards would be theirs to enjoy. God had exceedingly blessed them, and they were to express their thanks (Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (Dt 26:3). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.).
• Many times in life we are driven by what others want us to do? From chores, to hobbies to workplace projects, we can become so busy that after it all, we are worn out.
• Firstfruit ministry is looking at God’s priorities, mandates, and giftings for you first, before all other obligations.
This acknowledgment for the people of Israel in verse two, is that God was the source and owner of everything that the people possessed. It was God who promised them the land; it was God who heard their cry in Egypt and delivered them; it was God who protected and provided for the people in the wilderness. Now God was going to give them possession of the land and cause them to prosper! 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 (Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (Dt 26:2). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.).
• When you look at your commitment to Christ, do you find that it happens when everything else is first in order. Once all your bills are paid and all other arrangements are done, do you then consider ministry for God?
The word translated in verse 2 as “first” of all the fruit, comes from the Hebrew word for “head,” the “beginning” or the “chief” fruits. And so these could mean the first that comes up or the best that comes up; either way, the Lord wanted his people to give back to him the best of what he’d given them (Braun, M. (2000). Deuteronomy (2nd ed.). The People’s Bible (242). Milwaukee, Wis.: Northwestern Pub. House.)
• For us in "Building a Life of Stewardship" we must come to understand that God wants the best of all our efforts. He wants the first of our week, the beginning of our attention, the first thought in our minds, and the beginning of our planning. From finances, to time, we are called to show in our actions, that the Kingdom of God and His priorities are first in our lives. Anything less, is in essence idolatry, in having another god before Him.
Please turn to Matthew 6
Basic courtesy is often the common everyday example of demonstrating the “law of firsts”. To give others the first choice of a dessert. Ladies walked through doors first and older people spoke first before children. Prayer was first before the food was eaten. Obeying the “law of firsts” demonstrates respect for others and an acknowledgment of our place in society. But the greatest lessons of “firsts” comes in our relationship to God. God should be the first part of every day, the first day of every week, the first priority in our life, and the first tenth of our money.
Matthew 6:25-33 "Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ’What shall we eat?’ or ’What shall we drink?’ or ’What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (ESV)
Baskets of the firstfruits of the first harvest reaped by Israel once they were in the land of Canaan were to be taken to the tabernacle (cf. Ex. 23:19; 34:26; Num. 18:12–17). This is to be distinguished from the annual Feast of Firstfruits (cf. Lev. 23:9–14) celebrated in conjunction with the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread (MacArthur, J. J. (1997). The MacArthur Study Bible (electronic ed.) (Dt 26:2). Nashville: Word Pub.).
The means to carry the firstfuits (basket) is not the key but The place which the Lord your God will choose, to make his name to dwell there: the central sanctuary (12.11.)
• A Central part of a life of worship is a corporate offering. It is a public display of solidarity and commitment to the corporate work of God. It takes the work of God from the realm of a private ministry to realizing how God equips and commissions a corporate body for communal ministry.
The declaration to the priest in Dt. 26:3 was a personal testimony that the man had entered the promised land, and the basket he earned symbolized that already he was beginning to experience the blessing of the new land and the new life given by God. But the declaration did not only reflect man’s experience; it was a testimony also to the faithfulness of God, who had promised the land long ago and now had fulfilled that ancient promise by giving the land to his people (Craigie, P. C. (1976). The Book of Deuteronomy. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (320). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.).
• When we talk about Christianity, do we mention about the decisions and actions that we took, or about God’s grace, guidance and provision? Is our testimony of “Egypt experiences” in the bondage or sin or about “wilderness wanderings” of disobedience without ever getting into the Promised Land? What is God doing in our lives here and now and what do we have confidence that He promised that He would do in the future.
Illustration: Tongue in cheek, one commentator compared testimonies to basketball games. In professional basketball, the team with the ball must shoot before twenty-four seconds are up or the buzzer goes off and they forfeit the ball to the other team. Perhaps churches should apply the twenty-four second principle to personal sharing times. If the Christian does not glorify God or provide encouragement for others in twenty-four seconds, he must sit down.
We build a "Life of Stewardship" in the offering of "Firstfruits", when we:
3) Share the story of God’s goodness with others (Deuteronomy 26:5-9)
Deuteronomy 26:5-9 "And you shall make response before the LORD your God, ’A wandering Aramean was my father. And he went down into Egypt and sojourned there, few in number, and there he became a nation, great, mighty, and populous. And the Egyptians treated us harshly and humiliated us and laid on us hard labor. Then we cried to the LORD, the God of our fathers, and the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. And the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great deeds of terror, with signs and wonders. And he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. (ESV)
To “make response” (literally, “answer and say”) is a technical phrase introducing solemn or official material, in this case the formal, longer confession (Cairns, I. (1992). Word and presence : A commentary on the book of Deuteronomy. International theological commentary (222). Grand Rapids, Mich.; Edinburgh: W.B. Eerdmans; Handsel Press.).
These words became part of the litany of the Passover Seder service, the Haggadah (recitation). The recital of these words formed a wonderful celebration of God’s great deliverance of Israel from Egypt, not unlike the Christian recital of a creed or confession of faith (Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (Dt 26:5–8). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.).
Please turn back to Deuteronomy 6
The confession here as Israel’s credo, that corpus of irreducible dogma that expresses the very essence of Israel’s identity and purpose before God. The same confession, is to be found in less full form in Deut 6:20–24 and in a much expanded version in Joshua 24:2–13. Ancient Israel, like the later church, encapsulated its most significant truths in summary form and that the faithful periodically recited them in a (public) setting (G. von Rad, “The Form-Critical Problem of the Hexateuch,” in The Problem of the Hexateuch and Other Essays (London: SCM, 1966), 3–8.).
Deuteronomy 6:1-3 [6:1]"Now this is the commandment, the statutes and the rules that the LORD your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it, that you may fear the LORD your God, you and your son and your son’s son, by keeping all his statutes and his commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be long. Hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to do them, that it may go well with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as the LORD, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey. (ESV)
Deuteronomy 6:20-24 "When your son asks you in time to come, ’What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the LORD our God has commanded you?’ then you shall say to your son, ’We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt. And the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. And the LORD showed signs and wonders, great and grievous, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and all his household, before our eyes. And he brought us out from there, that he might bring us in and give us the land that he swore to give to our fathers. And the LORD commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the LORD our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day. (ESV)
In Dt. 26:5, Israel’s testimony begins with Jacob, the grandson of Abraham, the father of the sons whose names were given to the twelve tribes. The nation Israel derived its name from him. Jacob, however, is called an Aramean/Syrian (v. 5) because of his long stay there (Gen. 29–31) and because his two wives and most of his children were born there. Aramean means a native of Aram, modern Syria.
This is the only place in the Old Testament where the noun Aramean appears. Jacob sojourned/wandered, which means not having a fixed place to live, or “moving from place to place.” (Bratcher, R. G., & Hatton, H. (2000). A handbook on Deuteronomy. UBS handbook series (418–424). New York: United Bible Societies).
• Until we "Build a Life of Stewardship" seeing God as the source of all our blessings and resources, we wander aimlessly seeking fulfillment and answers in the materials of life itself instead of the creator and sustainer of life.
Jacob went down, which is the conventional way of speaking in Hebrew about going from Canaan to Egypt; it does not mean descending from the mountains to the plains (although it is true that Egypt was lower in altitude than Canaan). Jacob lived in Egypt as a foreigner, a resident alien (1:16). Jacob was 130 years old when he went down to Egypt taking only seventy people with him (Gen. 46:27). He became a nation, meaning he and his family, who were few at first, eventually became a large ethnic community in Egypt (see Exo 1:7).
• To often our vision of who were are applies to our immediate surrounding. We see few in number and assume this must be God’s design. We must ask ourselves if this is in fact the case or is God wanting us to take action in order that He may use that faithfulness in order to multiply us.
God’s actions described in verse 8 of His mighty hand … outstretched arm, celebrates the direct involvement of the Lord in the salvation of the Israelites from slavery. The terror … signs and wonders, regularly repeated to describe God’s miraculous works during the Exodus (4:34; 34:11, 12). God with His own hand demonstrated His power to the Egyptians and delivered the Israelites (Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (Dt 26:8). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.).
Israel’s bragging rights could not be traced to their own strength and character. Their testimony was great because it focused upon God’s greatness, not theirs. That God "brought us into this place" (verse 9) reflects not only deliverance but also provision. God gave them this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. Not only is this figurative language but also essentially scientific terminology. In agricultural terms we speak of a “milk flow” and a “honey flow.” By this we mean the peak season of spring and summer, when pastures are at their most productive stages. The livestock that feed on the forage and the bees that visit the blossoms are said to be producing a corresponding “flow” of milk or honey. So a land flowing with milk and honey is a land of rich, green, luxuriant pastures. And when God spoke of such a land for Israel He also foresaw such an abundant life of joy and victory and contentment for His people (Phillip Keller, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, pp. 46, 47.).
Illustration: Persistent Sowers
During a particular drought several years ago, much of the seed that had been planted did not come up. The seed that did produced runty plants that promised a scanty yield, if any at all. Grass burned up in the intense heat, and the cattle nearly starved. Many farmers were forced to sell their cattle. Except those who faced bankruptcy or foreclosure, few farmers were giving up. In many cases they could be seen plowing up hopelessly lost crops and planting other seed. They worked in hopes of refreshing rain and an eventual harvest.
If they were so persistent, should sowers of the seed of the Word of God do less?
Yes, many will reject our witness. Others will receive it superficially, only to show their true colors when the going gets rough. Some will truly be saved but will yield little or no harvest as they get caught up in the temporal things of this age. But we must persist, knowing that others will be saved and will give themselves wholeheartedly to the service of the Lord, yielding an abundance of souls led to Christ (Mark 4:1–20) (Hobbs, H. H. (1990). My favorite illustrations (90–91). Nashville, TN: Broadman Press.).
We build a "Life of Stewardship" in the offering of "Firstfruits", when we:
4) Worship and rejoice before the LORD your God (Deuteronomy 26:10-11)
Deuteronomy 26:10-11 And behold, now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground, which you, O LORD, have given me.’ And you shall set it down before the LORD your God and worship before the LORD your God. And you shall rejoice in all the good that the LORD your God has given to you and to your house, you, and the Levite, and the sojourner who is among you. (ESV)
Here the offerer himself , not the priest as in verse 4, gives thanks for what God has provided. Even in the midst of corporate thanks and praise, individually our prayer and thanks must be offered to God.
Please turn to Romans 1
The phrase “the LORD your God” is used 299 times in Deuteronomy. It expresses a personal and exclusive relationship between Yahweh and Israel, and it suggests that there is a fundamental difference between Israel’s God and those of other nations (G. T. Manley, The Book of the Law: Studies in the Date of Deuteronomy (London: Tyndale Press, 1957), p. 41.).
An ungrateful heart is the fundamental expression of unbelief:
Romans 1:18-25 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. (ESV)
• Giving thanks for luck, mother nature or personal achievement, fails to recognize that it is God Himself who is the source of all blessing, deserving thanks.
Acknowledging the source of all blessing is worship, as described in Dt. 26:10. (Heb. shachah) (Deut. 26:10; Gen. 23:7; 37:7, Lev. 26:1) The most common Hebrew word for worship literally means “to cause oneself to lie prostrate.” In ancient times, a person would fall down before someone who possessed a higher status. People would bow before a king to express complete submission to his rule. ...Following the example of the ancient people of faith, true Christian worship must express more than love for God, it must also express submission to His will (Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (Dt 26:8). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.).
(Format note: Outline from Maxwell, J. C., & Ogilvie, L. J. (1987). Vol. 5: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Volume 5 : Deuteronomy. The Preacher’s Commentary series (269–271). Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Inc.)