There is nothing like stepping back and smiling with pride on something that signifies an accomplishment. Whether it is a diploma, a trophy, a picture, a memento, or the traditional “first sale” dollar bill hanging behind the cash register, those “symbols” represent a dream or a goal and all the hard work it takes to achieve it. The faithful in Ancient Israel also had a symbol that represented something similar yet far more significant. It was called the First Fruit offering. The First Fruit festival was part of those commanded to be observed in Leviticus 23 (Lev. 23:9-14) and Deuteronomy 26 (Dt. 26:1-11). Further details about its observance are included in Numbers and Exodus (Num. 18:8-13; 28:26; Ex. 23:14-19).
Israel’s agricultural cycle was not anything like ours. There were two growing seasons. The first occurred after the winter rains. The crops produced during this season were predominantly barley and wheat. When the farmers saw their first stalk emerging they would tie a brightly colored cord around it to mark it as the First Fruit offering. As the days of Passover approached the men would prepare to go to Jerusalem as it was required for them to “appear before the Lord” three times a year. The First Fruits would be cut just before they left on the journey and once in Jerusalem this sheaf would be given to the priest who first ceremoniously presented it to the Lord and then brought it to his home to provide for his family (Dt. 18:4). This offering reminded the people of where they had come from and what the Lord had brought them to. They had been slaves, then nomads, living a very unsettled existence. Those tiny shoots helped them to realize that the Lord abundantly blessed them and giving back a small token of what His hand had brought forth was a way of recognizing the grand things God had done. The First Fruit offering also reminded them of the good things to come. It was still early in the season so the full harvest was not completely in. By taking this first sign of promise to the priest, the faithful were affirming they knew God would also provide the rest.
Perhaps the most significant aspect of First Fruits was the time frame upon which it was celebrated. Some of the festivals had a very specific start date (such as Passover in Lev. 23:5). The Feast of First Fruits was determined by the first Sabbath celebrated during the festival which immediately followed Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread. This becomes significant when reading John 20:1 as John seems to be fixated on the fact that it was the first day of the week. If we remember that the Sabbath was the last day of the week, and that the Feast of Unleavened Bread was now in progress since Passover had just been celebrated, then we should realize that the day Jesus rose from the dead was also the Feast of First Fruits! This is what Paul proclaims when writing to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 15:20). Jesus becomes the First Fruit offering upon His resurrection. He is also the priest Who offers Himself as an offering before the Lord (Heb. 9:11-14; 10:11-14). The First Fruit offering beautifully represents Christ Himself.
Many have seen how the Feast of First Fruits illustrates Christ at His resurrection and even the way in which He represents us as the harvest to come. But let’s think about the first fruits themselves for a moment. Who truly provided them? Was it the farmer? Or was it the Lord Who blessed the land and brought forth the harvest? Proverbs 3:9-10 reminds the Lord’s people to honor Him with their first fruits. How often do you acknowledge that all the blessings you enjoy really come from the Lord and not your endeavors? How often do you take a portion, the first portion, of those blessings and give them back to the Lord? As you celebrate the resurrection this Easter look for ways that you can give back to Christ what He gave His life for you to receive. And then do them!
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
Week of 3/27/2016