One of my favorite things about the Old Testament is how often Jewish people were commanded to eat together. In fact, there were seven feasts that were mandated to take place in every calendar year for the Jewish people. Those feasts took up 34 days out of the year. When you add in the Sabbath, which also included a meal that would have been shared communally, you end up with over 80 days that Jewish people were eating ritual meals together. Some of them—like Sabbath and Passover—you have heard of. But one you may not have heard of is the Feast of First Fruits. I hadn’t heard of it until I went to Bible college, anyway. But the Feast of First Fruits is contained within the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which occurs immediately after Passover. So If you’ve heard of Passover, you get partial credit!

The Feast of First Fruits is about as counter cultural as you can possibly imagine. In the agrarian Hebrew society, harvests of fruit and grain would happen at a certain time every year. At that time, the people were instructed to bring the very first of their harvest to the priest as a sacrifice to the Lord.

(Before I go on, this is not a blog about tithing. Hang with me.)

You might be a farmer. I am not. So I tried to come up with an illustration that would help me understand the mentality of the Jewish people at the Feast of First Fruits. Let’s say I make a million bucks a year. Just for fun. That’s after taxes, too, in this totally made-up scenario. I get paid weekly (that part is real), so that amounts to $19,231 a week (back to fantasy). If I want to give 15% of my take-home income to the church, or $150,000 over the course of the year, most American families would simply take about $2,885 out of every paycheck and hit the $150,000 mark on week 52.

There is obviously a very significant cultural gap here, so take this as allegory, not as exegesis. But as best as I can relate this to the Lord’s command in Leviticus regarding the Feast of First Fruits, what I would actually have been obliged to do is give my first seven ENTIRE PAYCHECKS to the church. Then I would get to keep a tiny bit of the eighth, before being able to actually cash the ninth. It would be nearly March before I got an entire paycheck.

In other words, Israelites weren’t demarcating their fields with a portion going to the Temple, harvesting their entire field, and then sacrificing the allotted amount once they had accounted for what they would need to feed their communities. Instead, before they ever got to take a bite of that year’s harvest for themselves, they were making sure to return the very best, the First Fruits, to the Lord as an act of worship.

This is convicting to me because what I give the Lord is very often something far less than my First Fruits. This is true of my money, but I think it’s even more true of things that are much more valuable: my time, my affection, my worship, my energy, my faith, my love, my trust. I’m happy to give him each of those things, once I have made sure there’s still going to be enough to spend on the things I want.

One more quick story from the Old Testament. This one is an absolute all-timer, and it’s found in 2 Samuel 24:18-25 if you want to read it for yourself. This story begins with everyone’s favorite prophet, Gad, telling King David to build an altar on the threshing floor of a guy named Araunah. When David gets to Araunah’s house, he seems a little bit star-struck and starts quite literally giving away the farm. He offers for David to use his threshing floor, he offers him wood to burn, an animal to slaughter, literally “whatever he wishes” (24:22, NIV). In a moment of wisdom and honor, David responds with a line that I think is so pertinent to our conversation about First Fruits: “No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing” (24:24, NIV).

David buys the threshing floor, the wood, and the animal. He builds an altar, offers a sacrifice, and the Lord answers his prayer.

We don’t offer sacrifices anymore. But I won’t be the first or the last to draw parallels between Old Testament animal sacrifice and many of the things we consider acts of worship today: prayer, reading Scripture, corporate singing, using our gifts to serve the body, tithing, fasting. Do these cost us anything? They might. But I think the Feast of First Fruits challenges us to ask an even harder question: Do these cost us enough? And if they don’t, what are we telling the Lord about what he is worth to us?

Church, may we set out to give the Lord the First Fruits—the very best—of our time, effort, passion, money, and love. He’s the only one who is worthy of it.

Brad Warren

Brad is a part of our Christ’s Church family and serves as the Church Relations Manager at one of our Impact Partners, Christ In Youth.

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