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Deuteronomy: The Second Law - Speech 7

A commentary on the seventh speech of Moses in Deuteronomy 24-26. The book of Deuteronomy is a series of 12 speeches that Moses gave just before his death at the end of Israel's wilderness journey.

Category - Bible Commentaries

Chapter 14

Firstfruits Offerings

Deuteronomy 26:1 and 2 says,

1 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, 2 that you shall take some of the first of all the produce of the ground which you shall 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.

All of the first fruits offerings were tokens that recognized Yahweh as their King, the One who owned the land, and the One credited with its production. This law follows the basic principle that the Owner of the land had the right to partake of the fruit prior to the general harvest when all could partake of it (2 Tim. 2:6).

Where to Present the First Fruits

Secondly, these first fruits were to be taken “to the place where the Lord your God chooses to establish His name” (Deut. 26:2). The wording is indefinite as usual, because the location was to change over the centuries. We see this indefinite commandment most clearly in Deuteronomy 16, where God required all men to keep three feasts in the place where God had chosen to establish His name: Passover (16:2), Pentecost (16:11), and Tabernacles (16:15).

The first place where God established His name was in Shiloh (Josh. 18:1; Jer. 7:12). When the priesthood in that place corrupted itself in the days of Eli, God removed His name (presence) from Shiloh (Psalm 78:60) and moved it to Jerusalem (Psalm 78:67, 68).

About three centuries later, after the priesthood of Jerusalem had become corrupted, the glory of God depart from that place as well. The glory first lifted from the Most Holy Place to the threshold (Ezekiel 10:18), and then it moved outside the city to the top of the Mount of Olives (Ezekiel 11:22, 23).

There it remained until Jesus Christ, in whom was the glory of God, ascended to heaven from the top of the Mount of Olives (Acts 1:12). The glory then returned ten days later to the disciples in the upper room on the day of Pentecost. From that point on, the only lawful place to keep the feasts is within our foreheads, for we read in Rev. 22:4,

4 and they shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads.

Paul says that we are now the temple of God, both personally (1 Cor. 3:16) and corporately (Eph. 2:19-22).

Under the New Covenant, then, the first fruits offerings are to be given to the indwelling God. If anyone tries to fulfill this law by going to a holy shrine somewhere in the world, they are unwittingly violating the law, for they are recognizing some place other than where He has chosen to place His name. Such shrine worship gives testimony that the worshiper in question is not truly the temple of God.

The indefinite command allowed God to move the location of His presence from place to place until it found its final resting place in the temple having Jesus Christ as its chief corner stone. In that temple, Paul says in Eph. 2:20, the apostles and prophets are the foundations, and we are the “living stones” (1 Peter 2:5) in its main structure.

The Bible gives no indication that His presence will ever be removed from us and be returned to the old Jerusalem’s temple mount, as some have proposed. In fact, Jeremiah prophesied that God’s presence would leave Jerusalem as it left Shiloh (Jer. 7:14). The glory never returned to Shiloh, for Ichabod was pronounced at that time (1 Sam. 4:21, 22). It means “the glory has departed.”

How to Offer First Fruits to God

How, then, shall we offer God the first fruits of harvest under the New Covenant. The book of Hebrews gives us a long list of alterations that were required in the change from the Old Covenant to the New. A full commentary on this book may be studied by reading my book, Hebrews: Immigrating from the Old Covenant to the New. But even the book of Hebrews does not discuss the law of first fruits, although it does point to the “heavenly Jerusalem” (Heb. 12:22).

We offer the first fruits of the Passover season by presenting Christ as the wave-sheaf of the barley harvest, for He is the first of the first fruits. 1 Cor. 15:20 says,

20 But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.

Jesus died at Passover and was raised from the dead at the wave-sheaf offering, where the first fruits of the barley was presented to the Lord in the temple. Since the first fruits are but the beginning of a general harvest, the wave-sheaf offering signaled the start of barley harvest. Christ was also the first of the firstfruits, because the barley sheaf was the first of three such offerings associated with the three main feast days. Paul relates this also to the fact that Christ’s resurrection ensures that there will be a greater “barley harvest” yet to come.

After Passover comes Pentecost, in which the Church is the second offering of first fruits. James 1:18 speaks of this, saying,

18 In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we might be, as it were, the first fruits among His creatures [ktisma, “created thing”, or creation].

Even as the barley company are those who receive life in the first resurrection (Rev. 20:4-6), so also are these overcomers the first fruits of wheat company, which is the church in general. The church is the offering of wheat (Exodus 34:22), because it was formed on the day of Pentecost. In fact, the Holy Spirit was given while the high priest was offering up the two loaves of wheat bread in the temple at the third hour of the day.

James tells us that the Church is the first fruit offering of a greater harvest, which James calls the harvest of “creation.” The creation first fruits offering was depicted by the offering of the new wine at the time of the grape harvest. This offering was poured out as a drink offering each day for the seven days of Tabernacles. It prophesies of the Restoration of All Things.

Paul confirms this in Rom. 8:19-23, telling us that all of creation awaits the manifestation of the sons of God, knowing that it will benefit from this event. The manifestation of the sons of God is the main purpose of the feast of Tabernacles, the third feast in which all men were to present themselves to God in the place where He has established His name.

For a more complete study on the distinction between the two resurrections of Rev. 20, see my book, The Purpose of Resurrection.

And so, getting back to our discussion of Deuteronomy 26, we see that the way to offer the first fruits to God under the New Covenant is no longer to give Him barley, wheat, or wine, but rather Christ the first fruits, then the Church which is the first fruits of creation, and finally the sons of God, whose manifestation ultimately will set all of creation free. When “He has put all things in subjection under His feet” (1 Cor. 15:27), then “God will be all in all” (1 Cor. 15:28).

Who Receives the First Fruits?

Moses then continues,

3 And you shall go to the priest who is in office at the 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.”

In the time of Moses, the priest receiving the first fruit offering was Aaron, and in later times, it was his sons. But when that priesthood was corrupted, first at Shiloh and later at Jerusalem, a change of priesthood became necessary, as Heb. 7:12 says. The Levitical priesthood was flawed and mortal, and they abused their role as executors of God’s Last Will and Testament. Hence, a new order of priests was called, that is, the Order of Melchizedek, led by Jesus Christ the high priest, who, being immortal, “holds His priesthood permanently” (Heb. 7:24).

This order of priests is not according to genealogy, as was the order of Levi, for Melchizedek is set forth in Genesis 14 with no record of genealogy (Heb. 7:6). Certainly, he was not of Levi, for Levi was yet in his loins (Heb. 7:9, 10). Thus, Jesus Christ, who was of Judah, qualified as the high priest of this other order (Heb. 7:14) in the same way that David had qualified when God told him in Psalm 110:4, “Thou art a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”

The two orders of priests had existed side by side since the time of Adam, but this order surfaces first in Genesis 14:18 with the appearance of Melchizedek. Because Moses himself was allowed to enter the Tabernacle into the presence of God, it is probable that he too was of this priestly order, while his brother Aaron was the high priest of Levi.

In David’s day, he was of the Melchizedek order while Abiathar was the high priest of the Levitical order. For this reason, it was not unlawful for David to eat the bread from the table of showbread (1 Sam. 21:6). This question was raised by Jesus Himself in Matt. 12:3, 4, which put the Pharisees to silence, for they could not understand that their Levitical priesthood might be superseded by a better Order.

It is the same today, for we see in Jerusalem the Jews are preparing cohens, or “priests” of the order of Levi to offer animal sacrifices in a rebuilt temple in the place where God no longer has chosen to place His name. Even some Christians support this effort, apparently believing that the changes made under the New Covenant were only temporary to accommodate “gentiles” for a season. This view makes no sense to me, and I believe no genuine Christian ought to support Christ’s replacement in any way, that is the spirit of antichrist.

Therefore, to fulfill Deut. 26:3, we must present our first fruits offerings “to the priest who is in office at that time.” Jesus Christ is that High Priest under the New Covenant. Any first fruits offering given to a priest of Levi violates the law. By extension, any first fruits offering given to a Christian denomination whose theology or eschatology supports the reinstatement of the Levitical priesthood is suspect at best.

To fulfill the law, one must follow its instructions. Deut. 26:3 does not command us to take the first fruits offerings to Levitical priests, but only to the one “who is in office at that time.” To fulfill this law, one must know who is in office at the time. Judaism today does not recognize the priest who is actually in office, and so it does not abide by this law.

In 70 A.D. God settled this question by hiring the Romans (Matt. 22:7) to destroy Jerusalem and its temple, making it impossible to sacrifice in the old way any longer. But in the past century the rise of Zionism has given them renewed hope for Judaism and its Levitical viewpoint. It was Jeremiah’s view that at some point in time God will destroy the city permanently (Jeremiah 19:11), in order to shatter men’s misplaced faith in that which God has forsaken.

Thus God will make it clear once and for all that His presence has departed from Jerusalem as Shiloh and that the order of Levi has been replaced by the order of Melchizedek. Animal sacrifices have been replaced by the one true Sacrifice for sin in the Person of Jesus Christ. The Old Covenant has been replaced by a better covenant.

The casting out of Hagar, which is Jerusalem (Gal. 4:25), along with her son (Judaism and any who consider Jerusalem to be their “mother”) is necessary in order to establish the true inheritors (Isaac). The true inheritors offer their first fruits offerings to the high priest of the Order of Melchizedek.

The First Fruits Vow

When men brought their first fruits offering to the place where God had placed His name, they were to make a statement before God as an expression of their heart. We read in Deut. 26:4-10,

4 Then the priest shall take the basket from your hand and set it down before the altar of the Lord your God. 5 And you shall answer and say before the Lord your God,

“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 And now behold, I have brought the first of the produce of the ground which Thou, O Lord has given me.”

And you shall set it down before the Lord your God, and worship before the Lord your God, 11 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.

This statement acknowledged that Yahweh, the God of Israel, had the right to be recognized as the King and the Source of all the fruit of the land. It recognized God as the Creator of heaven and earth, the Owner of all that He has created, and having the right to be served and to be obeyed. In other words, this vow was rooted in the First Commandment.

But God was far more interested in the hearts of the people than in the fruit of the ground. In fact, the fruit of the ground was just a carnal type of the fruit of the Spirit that He was looking to receive from His people. God knew that the first step to receiving the fruit of the Spirit was for His people to obey the First Commandment.

God Looks for Fruit

The prophet Isaiah bears witness of God’s intent in the “Song of My Beloved” in Isaiah 5:1-7,

1 Let me sing now for my well-beloved a Song of My Beloved concerning His vineyard:

“My well-beloved had a vineyard on a fertile hill.

2 And He dug it all around,

Removed its stones,

And planted it with the choicest vine.

And He built a tower in the middle of it;

And hewed out a wine vat in the middle of it;

Then He expected it to produce good grapes,

But it produced only worthless ones.”

The prophet then interprets this in verse 7 by telling us that the vineyard was Israel, and the plants themselves were Judah. In other words, the primary focus of this song was upon Judah and Jerusalem, as this was where the temple was located, where the people were supposed to bring their fruits of the ground. God’s vineyard (Israel) did not produce fruit that was good to eat, because their hearts were full of idolatry and bitterness. So God said in verses 5 and 6,

5 So now let me tell you what I am going to do to My vineyard: I will remove its hedge and it will be consumed; I will break down its wall and it will become trampled ground. 6 And I will lay it waste; it will not be pruned or hoed, but briars and thorns will come up. I will also charge the clouds to rain no rain on it.

It is not hard to see that the “wall” being broken down was the wall of Jerusalem. The city was to be laid waste by the Babylonians a century later, and the “briars and thorns” (beast nations) were to take over the vineyard. Further, God vowed to withhold the rain of the Holy Spirit upon that vineyard.

Jesus’ Parable of the Vineyard

This same situation was repeated centuries later when Jesus came to receive the fruits of the vineyard. Jesus drew His material from Isaiah’s song when he told the parable in Matt. 21:33-40,

33 Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard and put a wall around it and dug a wine press in it, and built a tower, and rented it out to vine-growers, and went on a journey. 34 And when the harvest time approached, he sent his slaves to the vine-growers to receive his produce. 35 And the vine-growers took his slaves and beat one, and killed another, and stoned a third. 36 Again he sent another group of slaves larger than the first; and they did the same thing to them. 37 But afterward he sent his son to them, saying, “They will respect my son.” 38 But when the vine-growers saw the son, they said among themselves, “This is the heir; come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.” 39 And they took him, and threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40 Therefore when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vine-growers?

We see from this, as in Isaiah’s prophecy that God expected to receive fruit from the vineyard. The first fruits offering was the physical manifestation of the real fruit that God expected—the fruit of the Spirit, which we find listed in Gal. 5:22, 23,

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

This is the fruit that God wants us to present to Him. If a person comes to the temple, speaks his vow according to Deut. 26:5-10, yet presents evil fruit that is not fit to eat, that person is hypocritical and unacceptable to God.

In Jesus’ parable we find some added features that fit the situation in His day. First, we are given a brief history of how the prophets were persecuted and stoned when they came to receive the fruit of the vineyard. Secondly, when the Landowner sent His son (Jesus), they immediately recognized who He was and decided to kill Him in order to seize the vineyard for themselves and for their own use. In other words, they ceased to recognize God as the rightful Owner of the vineyard and thereby violated the First Commandment.

It is important to note that Jesus believed that those usurpers recognized who He was, and this was why they would soon kill Him. They did not do this in ignorance. They killed the Son as a deliberate act to usurp the vineyard from the Father.

The main difference between Isaiah’s song and Jesus’ parable is that Isaiah spoke of fruit that was unfit to eat, while Jesus spoke of their refusal to render to God any fruit at all. These are two sides of the same issue, so they do not contradict each other. They were indeed producing fruits of bitterness against God for subjecting them to the four beast empires of Daniel 7. Yet they also refused to give God any fruit of the Spirit. Bitterness is not a fruit of the Spirit.

The Evil Figs

All of this was prophesied again in Jeremiah 24, where we see a very specific prophecy based on the first-fruits law in Deuteronomy 26. Jeremiah 24:1, 2 says,

1 After Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had carried away captive Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, and the officials of Judah with the craftsmen and smiths from Jerusalem and had brought them to Babylon, the Lord showed me: behold, two baskets of figs set before the temple of the Lord! 2 One basket had very good figs, like first-ripe figs; and the other basket had very bad figs, which could not be eaten due to rottenness.

This occurred during the time of fig harvest. Two men had brought their first-fruits of figs in baskets to the temple, in accordance with the law of first fruits in Deuteronomy 26. From one tree the figs were delicious. From the other tree the figs were rotten (roah, “evil, wicked”). The revelation is then given:

5 Thus says the Lord God of Israel, “Like these good figs, so I will regard as good the captives of Judah, whom I have sent out of this place into the land of the Chaldeans. 6 For I will set My eyes on them for good, and I will bring them again to this land; and I will build them up and not overthrow them, and I will plant them and not pluck them up. 7 And will give them a heart to know Me, for I am the Lord; and they will be My people, and I will be their God, for they will return to Me with their whole heart.”

This was important, because God was in the early stages of destroying His vineyard as a whole for its evil fruit, as Isaiah had prophesied a century earlier. God made it clear that if the people would submit to the divine judgment, agreeing with Him that His judgment was just, then He would consider those people to be “good figs” that were fit for God’s table. These willingly went as captives to Babylon.

On the other hand, if people disagreed with God’s judgment, deciding to fight the Babylonians that God had called to bring judgment upon Jerusalem, they would continue to be categorized as evil figs, as we read in Jer. 24:8-10,

8 But like the bad figs which cannot be eaten due to rottenness—indeed, thus says the Lord—so I will abandon Zedekiah king of Judah and his officials, and the remnant of Jerusalem who remain in this land, and the ones who dwell in the land of Egypt. 9 And I will make them a terror and an evil for all the kingdoms of the earth, as a reproach and a proverb, a taunt and a curse in all places where I shall scatter them. 10 And I will send the sword, the famine, and the pestilence upon them until they are destroyed from the land which I gave to them and to their forefathers.”

These evil figs were to remain under God’s judgment as long as they continued to produce bitter fruit, which, in Jeremiah’s day, was on account of their refusal to submit to Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, as God had decreed.

The evil figs (people) were so carnally minded that they viewed their situation only politically and militarily. They saw an ungodly king threatening their kingdom, their religion, and their way of life. Religiously, they thought that their temple sacrifices and rituals were sufficient to satisfy God. They were unaware of the real “fruit” that God desired of them.

Essentially, the priests had usurped the place of God, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. So when God judged them, they first blamed the prophets, and later they blamed God Himself for treating them unjustly.

In Jesus’ day the situation was largely the same, and it had the same result. This time God used the Romans to destroy the city and the temple, for Rome was the fourth beast of Daniel 7 which God had raised up to a position of authority under Him. Once again, most of the people did not accept the divine judgment and chose instead to fight the Romans.

As a result, over a million people were killed, as once again they thought God would come to save His temple at the last minute.

The Present Danger

Today we see the same situation repeating. Under the banner of Zionism, the Jews have returned to the land without repenting as the law demands in Lev. 26:40-42. They have no intention of bringing forth the fruit of the Spirit that God also demands. They still consider themselves to be innocent victims of divine justice. They still reject Jesus Christ and continue to usurp His Kingdom with the help of Christian Zionism.

History is about to witness the final destruction of Jerusalem as prophesied in Jer. 19:11, where the prophet said that the city would be destroyed as a vessel which could never again be repaired. The prophet even illustrated it by smashing an old earthen jar in the valley of ben-Hinnom (Greek: gehenna), the city dump.

It is inevitable, then, that the current state that calls itself Israel is headed toward utter disaster, for they are the old clay jar that Jeremiah smashed in gehenna. Nonetheless, any Jews who repent and agree with the judgments of God will be considered “good figs.” Those individuals who repent of their hostility to Jesus Christ (Leviticus 26:40, 41) may escape the judgment of God.

While Christian Zionists raise money to send Jews into the destruction zone, the Scriptures warn Jews to depart from that land to avoid the disaster. The full solution, though, is to bring forth the fruit of the Spirit that God required of His vineyard. This has been the requirement from the beginning. It has always been God’s purpose for planting a vineyard—His Kingdom.

Therefore, we fulfill the law of first-fruits first by recognizing God’s right of ownership over that which He has created. Secondly, by faith in Jesus Christ we not only accept Him but the One who sent Him. Thirdly, we may receive the promise of the Father, which is the Holy Spirit, given at Pentecost, by which we may bear fruit that is fit to eat.