The Law of First-Fruits
Dec 31, 2008
In Kingdom agriculture, the first-fruits of the harvest were to be given to God. This was separate from the tithe itself. When a tree was first planted, fruit could not be gathered from it during the first three years (Lev. 19:23). If the young tree attempted to bear fruit, the fruit was to be removed so that the tree could devote its time to growth, rather than to bearing fruit. In the fourth year, ALL of its fruit was to be given to God (Lev. 19:24). Only in the fifth year was the fruit harvest to be eaten by the one growing it.
Each year, the fruit grower was to give God the best first-fruits of the trees. Normally, he would mark the best tree early in the year and when the first of the fruits began to ripen, he gathered them in a basket and brought them as an offering to God (Deut. 26:2).
His declaration is given in verses 3-10. It indicates that he remembers the story of how God kept His promise in delivering them from Egypt and in bringing him into the Promised Land. It ends with an acknowledgement in verse 10, "I have brought the first of the produce of the ground which Thou, O Lord, hast given me."
In other words, the man recognized that it was God who had given the increase, as Paul says in 1 Cor. 3:6 and 7,
" (6) I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. (7) So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth."
Because the man could not eat the fruit of his labor until he had first given God the first-fruits, it was another recognition of God's ownership and labor in causing the growth. Even so, the laborer was allowed to keep most of the fruit for himself, because, as Paul says in 1 Tim. 5:18,
"For the Scripture says, 'You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing,' and 'The laborer is worthy of his wages'."
In other words, even an ox is allowed to partake of the grain that he is threshing. God gives us 90% of what we produce (minus the first-fruits) as the reward for our labor. Paul applies this principle to the elders who are called to minister the word of the Kingdom (1 Tim. 5:17). In 2 Tim. 2:6 he applies it more generally,
"The hard-working farmer ought to be the first to receive his share of the crops."
The first-fruits manifest the condition of one's heart, especially when we see this act prophetically. In Jeremiah 24 the prophet saw two baskets of figs that people had brought to the temple as a first-fruits offering. One was very good; one was very bad. This became an occasion of prophecy that showed the conditon of the hearts of the people.
The first-fruits offering was a recognition of the Covenantal relationship between God and man. The first-fruits confession recognized the sovereignty of God and the limits of man's authority. God's ownership always trumps man's authority to use that which God owns. The law makes it clear that God owns all that He created, and man's ownership is limited to his own labor.
Since man is made from the dust of the ground--which God created--no man owns himself any more than he owns the land that he farms (Lev. 25:23). For this reason Lev. 25:24 says,
"Thus for every piece of your property, you are to provide for the redemption of the land."
These laws of redemption are applicable not only to "property" but also to all men and all that God has created. Because all men are subject to the laws of God, and because God has the means of enforcing His laws, it is evident that all men are to be redeemed. Those redemption laws are written in Leviticus 25, and when one studies them, one discovers that man lacks the right to sell himself perpetually as a slave to sin.
In other words, the limitation of man's authority is to sell himself until the trumpet of the Jubilee is blown. At that point, the debtor (sinner) is set free, regardless of the amount of any remaining debt that he may owe. This is the law of grace that is built into the law.
Redemption and Jubilee are two separate things. The time of redemption ends with the Jubilee. A debtor who has sold himself and his property has opportunity to redeem himself or to be redeemed by a near-kinsman only until the Jubilee. At the Jubilee, the time of redemption ends and is superseded by the higher law of Jubilee.
So it is with us. Christians are those who have been redeemed by Jesus Christ, their Kinsman-Redeemer. These redeemed ones now serve Him as Christ's bondservants (Lev. 25:53; Rom. 1:1). But Lev. 25:54, 55 says,
" (54) Even if he is not redeemed by these means, he shall still go out in the year of Jubilee, he and his sons with him. (55) For the sons of Israel are My servants; they are My servants whom I brought out from the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God."
In the year of Jubilee, God exercises His right of eminent domain. It matters not who the slavemaster is who is holding the debtor as his slave. Ultimately, all are God's servants, and so man's ownership is limited by God's right as Creator.
In Exodus 23:14, 15 we read,
" (14) Three times a year you shall celebrate a feast to Me. (15) . . . And none shall appear before Me empty-handed."
The three feast days each had its own first-fruits offering. The first was barley, the second was wheat, and the third was grapes.
The three feast days themselves represent the progressive relationship that we have with God: Justification, Sanctification, and Glorification.
But the first-fruits offerings associated with each of these three feasts represent the groups of people who enjoy those various levels of relationship with God. There are some who are justified by the blood of the Passover Lamb; some who are filled with and sanctified by the Spirit through Pentecost; and there is the mature group that have the hope of a glorified body (Rom. 8:23) through the feast of Tabernacles.
The feasts, then, represent various stages of growth in one's Christian life. Not all who have been justified through Passover have been filled with the Spirit. Not all who have been filled with the Spirit have really fulfilled the purpose of Pentecost--which is to learn obedience. But some throughout history have qualified to move beyond Pentecost into the feast of Tabernacles, and these are the overcomers. These are the first to come to maturity.
Only mature first-fruits are qualified to be presented to God. But not all believers come to maturity during their life time, and certainly, not all believers go beyond the grace of Justification into the obedience of Sanctification. But those who do are the overcomers, and collectively, they become the first of the first-fruits raised from the dead at the first resurrection (Rev. 20:4-6).
The second first-fruit offering (the Church) is presented to God at the second resurrection, which is the general resurrection including both believers and unbelievers (John 5:28, 29). Jesus says that the unbelievers will be judged, while the believers at that time will receive "life." Obviously, the unbelievers will not be part of the second first-fruit offering that is given to God, for they are not wheat but grapes (prophetically speaking).
These three groups: barley, wheat, and grapes, together represent all of creation--that is, the overcomers, the church or believers, and finally the unbelievers. Each is treated differently in Scripture. Barley is winnowed; wheat is threshed, and grapes are trodden under foot to extract the wine. The result is bread and wine for God's Communion Table.
Dr. Stephen Jones