If you are not a gardener you might not truly appreciate the sacrifice of the firstfruits under the Old Law. Every gardener knows that the first picking is the best. As time passes, the corn and beans toughen. The tomatoes and peppers become smaller and smaller and rot more quickly from the many blemishes. The cucumbers turn yellow and overblown before they reach their full length. Yet we have the frozen food section at the grocery store and a produce section that brings food from places where the firstfruits are just appearing. Many of us have never seen anything but the firstfruits.
I’ve often heard that certain frozen and canned vegetables are more reliably good than the fresh. They are picked at their peak and processed within hours. We can have the best any time of the year, and we take it for granted. The devout Israelite never had that opportunity. It was ingrained in
him from birth: the best belongs to the Lord.
All the best of the oil, and all the best of the vintage, and of the grain, the first-fruits of them which they give unto Jehovah...The first-ripe fruits of all that is in their land, which they bring unto Jehovah… (Numbers 18:12-13)
As a dedicated Hebrew watched his crops grow, his cattle bear, his vines hang lower and lower with the heaviness of ripening fruit, he knew that the best would not be for him, but an offering to the Lord.
And this shall be the priests' due from the people, from them that offer a sacrifice, whether it be ox or sheep, that they shall give unto the priest the shoulder, and the two cheeks, and the maw. The first-fruits of your grain, of your new wine, and of your oil, and the first of the fleece of your sheep, shall you give him. For Jehovah your God has chosen him out of all your tribes, to stand to minister in the name of Jehovah, him and his sons forever. Deuteronomy 18:3-5.
The pious Israelite knew that the best of the fruits of his labor would be eaten not by his family, but by Jehovah’s priests, his representatives on earth.
The first of the first-fruits of your ground you shall bring into the house of Jehovah your God. Exodus 23:19.
Not just the firstfruits, but the first of the firstfruits—the best of the best—was required in his service to God.
Most of us have learned that our weekly contribution of money must be “purposed” (2 Cor 9:7). But we haven’t learned to apply that axiom to every aspect of our lives. Too often God gets nothing but our leftover time, our leftover energy, our leftover effort. I’ve heard Christians talk about exercising when their bodies are at their peak, about avoiding certain times of the day for important work, about matching body rhythms to tasks. Do we ever talk like that our about service to God? Do we offer service that is well planned, organized for maximum efficiency, and timed for greatest effect? Yes, we often talk about caring for our temples (bodies) so we can use them for God, but then we use all that energy for everything else instead and still God gets the leftovers.
The principle of the firstfruits was so important that Hezekiah included it in his great restoration (2 Chron 31:5). It was deemed so necessary to a true attitude of worship that Nehemiah charged the returning exiles to keep those ordinances in particular (Neh 10:35-39).
We sing a hymn: “Give of Your Best to the Master.” That principle has not changed. In fact, we are the firstfruits (James 1:18), “brought forth by the word of truth.” As such, God expects us to give ourselves. If we do, the rest will follow. If it hasn’t, maybe we need to take a closer look at our “devotion.”
…but they first gave themselves to God…2 Cor 8:5.