This spring and summer we will try to grow some zucchini squash in our garden plot in the Community Garden up on the hill. Now if you have ever grown zucchini, you know that if the plant is healthy, you will soon have more zucchini that what you can ever use. So what do you with the excess zucchini? You give it away, right? You use what you want first and if there is extra, you give it away to someone else. That first squash though is special and I remember bringing it home with eagerness!
Exodus 23:15 indicates that this feast occurred right after the Feast of Unleavened Bread. This is another feast in the first month of the Hebrew calendar or our mid March. Passover is first, then the Feast of Unleavened Bread and then the Feast of Firstfruits.
God says that they are to celebrate this when they enter the land as a continual ordinance. Now let’s remember where the people are when they get these instructions. They have been rescued and told that they are God’s chosen special people. They are about 3 days out of Egypt and are a long, long way from entering into a land of their own. They have been punished already for making the golden calf and many of them have already died. They are in the middle of the desert miles from wherever it is they are going and God is telling them to celebrate a harvest festival when they get to the promised land. The purpose of telling them this now was to give them hope that they would in fact someday enter into this promised land. God will give them the land and they will have a bountiful harvest. God is showing them vividly that there is hope for the future.
II. Now let’s look at the sacrifice that was required.
Verses 9-11 say that after they enter the promised land, they are to bring a sheaf of barley of the first harvest. Note that it’s a sheaf, not a just a stalk of grain or a cup or two; it’s a full sheaf! This harvest would come at the end of a potentially lean winter where the stock of food would slowly diminish. I can imagine the wife in the house looking at the store of grain and seeing it getting smaller and smaller. With the first sheaf comes the promise of more coming but that must be given away. It was an act of faith that more is coming. But it was also a recognition that they have the blessing of the upcoming harvest because of what God had done for them. The waving action was likely a ritual that displayed the gift as being given. Waving it means that it was not to be placed on the alter as the other items were. This was to be saved and not burned as an offering. This occurs on the day after the Sabbath, which most likely refers to the regular Sabbath.
Now the food offering on the altar is made more specific. Along with the sheaf of barley, they were to bring a lamb as a burnt offering. It was to be one year old lamb, perfect and without defect as with the Passover lamb. They were to bring two tenths of an ephah, or about 7 liters of fine flour. They were also to bring a hin, or about one and half liters of wine. And notice that the people could not enjoy any of the bounty of the harvest until after this feast was accomplished. God must be recognized as the giver all the bounty before they are to eat of any of it. Quite simply, God must be recognized as being first.
III. How does Christ fulfill this feast?
First let’s look at Romans 11:16 – “If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches.” Here Paul says that the believing Jews are like the firstfruits in the church. They were the first believers and they promised that there would be more coming from the Gentiles and from every tribe, language and nation. Firstfruits reminds us that the people of God are still being gathered now after Jesus has come and as we await his coming again.
Another way of understanding firstfruits is seen in 1 Corinthians 15:20-23. “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.” Christ is now the firstfruits of the harvest that is coming when Jesus returns. Jesus is the first to rise again and as such it is a promise that there will be more to this resurrection harvest as well.
But in both cases, take note that it is God who is bringing this offering of firstfruits. God is building his church in this world through the expansion of the kingdom. It began with the Jews as the firstfruits but now spreads through the entire world. Let’s thank God that we are part of that harvest! And God provided the firstfuits of the resurrection as well in raising Jesus from the dead.
In this feast we hear a reminder that we are to trust God in all of our material things. Do we believe God will provide for us or do we feel that we have to do things on our own? Now we have to be careful that we don’t go to either extreme on this. There are some who firmly believe that the saying, “God helps those who helps themselves” is in the Bible; it is not. Nor should we simply sit back and just wait for God to take care of us. Rather what we must see is that God provides for us through the work we do. The people of Israel didn’t just sit there in the land of Canaan and wait for God to send them food like he did with the manna. We read that when the people arrived in the land of Canaan the manna stopped and it was time for the people to go to work. But this feast reminds the people that ultimately it is God who provides for them and they must trust him and look to him. We must trust that God will provide for us in our material needs.
We must also trust that Christ as the firstfruits of the resurrection has indeed taken our punishment and given us forgiveness. At times when we think of our sins, it’s hard to imagine that God actually forgives them. I know the things that linger in my mind as well as the things I do in my life. You know the things you think and do that you would find it hard to forgive. We must trust that God has completely forgiven us and that he looks at us as though we had never sinned. It’s real and true; we can rely on it. Jesus, God’s one and only Son, died and rose again so that we can have that.
Finally, we must trust God enough that we are willing to give God the first and best of what we have. We have trouble with that at times, don’t we? We would rather give God the leftovers. It’s a great story and from what I could determine, it appears that this indeed did happen. A woman was cleaning out her deep freezer and she finds a butterball turkey in there that is 28 years old, according the date on its side. She calls the Butterball company to see if this thing is safe to eat. The customer service person puts her on hold to consult with the supervisors, comes back and says, “Ma’am, can you be sure that this turkey has been frozen for the entire 28 years?” The woman says, yes, frozen solid. I’ve never lost power, it’s never thawed.” The customer service person says, “Well then, we believe the turkey is safe to eat. But just so you know, we cannot guarantee the quality of the meat – it might not taste very good.” The woman pauses, thinking, then says, “Well, that’s alright. I’ll just give it to the church.”
God wants the first and best as an expression of our gratitude to him. Will we trust God enough to give him the best of what he has first given us?