Firstfruit Giving


Firstfruits offerings are an interesting concept from the Old Testament that has powerful New Testament implications. Deuschle (2011:22) contends that the “pattern of firstfruits is found in the Old Testament, with its principles reflected in the New.” We will start by discussing some scriptures that touch on this in New Testament before investigating the Old Testament roots. Finally we will work out some applications for the New Testament believer of this often misunderstood concept.

Definitions

The first-fruits, or the first sheaf of ripe grain was required to be offered to the Lord, and was waved before him by the priest, as expressing the sense of gratitude by the farmer, and his recognition of the fact that God had a right to all that he had. (Lev 23:10-14). The word (reshiyth #H7225), therefore, comes to have two meanings:

(i)         That which is “first,” the beginning, or that which has the priority of time; i.e. first in place, time, order or rank and,

(ii)        That which is apart and portion of the whole which is to follow, and which is the earnest or pledge of that; as the “first” sheaf of ripe grain was not only the first in order of time, but was the earnest or pledge of the entire harvest which was soon to succeed. It refers to first in dignity, the first of its kind and first fruits with regard to time

First-fruit (ἀπαρχή, aparchē #563) denotes the firstling of fruit or grain which was separated from the mass and presented as an offering to God. The Jews were required to present such a portion of their harvest to God, as an expression of gratitude and of their sense of dependence. (Num 15:19-21). Until this was done, it was not lawful to partake of the harvest.

Practical Working Definition: Firstfruits is the first portion of any increase, harvest or new source of income given to God as an offering to acknowledge that He has first priority in our lives and that He is the owner and source of our fruitfulness and increase. It demonstrates gratitude for the harvest and guarantees the full harvest.

One has to think from an agricultural perspective to understand first fruits. The Jews were farmers who took days or often weeks to plant their crops due to low technology. Consequently when the crops would ripen they would do so in stages over weeks. The first crop to ripe would be the early portion out of which a small portion was taken and presented to God as firstfruits. This would be before the rest of the harvest ripened. The firstfruits offering attracts God’s blessing upon the rest of the harvest. It is a demonstration of our faith that God is the one who will guarantee our full harvest. Alcorn (2003:176) correctly states that ‘The nature of firstfruits requires it be taken ‘off the top’. It’s both the best and the first. As soon as it is harvested or received it’s given to the Lord’

Scriptural Survey on Concept of Firstfruits in New Testament

Romans 11:16 declares that “For if the firstfruit is holy, the lump (the whole, the rest) is also holy; and if the root is holy, also the branches.” The Scripture demonstrates that once the first fruit is dedicated representatively on behalf of the whole harvest, consequently the rest is considered holy and blessed. Put simply: Once the first fruits were given, it rendered the rest of the harvest holy, that is, it was lawful then to partake of it. The first-fruits were the best portions of the harvest; so that it can be the best expression of their thanksgiving.

Some have erroneously implied that the firstfruits are the full first income. But the truth is that firstfruits are just a representative of the first ripe harvest and NOT the full first harvest. Similarly firstfruits do not mean the bigger portion but simply refers to the quality and preciousness of the first ripe crop. In fact it refers to the small portion of dough or kneaded meal that was offered to God; and then the mass or lump (φύραμα) was left for the use of him who made the offering. (Num 15:20-21). Clearly in the Jewish mindset the firstfruits were a very small portion which thwarts the attempts by some to make firstfruits the whole income.

In context Paul maybe referring to the patriarchs[1], the devoted and set apart people of old, as the first-fruits of the Jewish nation; (see Rom 11:28.) By their godliness the nation was, sanctified, or set apart to the service of God; implying that yet the great mass of them would be reclaimed and saved. Similarly the Jews were the firstfruits of the nations of the world who will be saved. Jesus Christ becomes the firstfruits of those who would be raised from the dead. As consecrating the firstfruits to God was the means of drawing down his blessing upon the rest, so the conversion of Abraham to the faith, and the several Jews who have now embraced Christianity, are pledges that God will, in process of time, admit the whole Jewish nation into his favor again, so that they shall constitute a part of the visible Church of Christ.

If the root be holy, so are the branches can be implied to mean that if the root of a tree is the source of nutritious juices necessary for its growth, and gives its character to the tree, is sound, then we expect the same of the branches. If the leadership (firstfruits) is offered to God the whole church will be blessed. As goes the leaders so goes the church.

Firstfruits are a thanksgiving offering to God for the expected full harvest that enable the rest of the harvest to be guaranteed and blessed by God. So firstfruits produce a blessing on the anticipated harvest or income.

I Cor 15:20-23

“But now Christ has risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who slept. For since death is through man, the resurrection of the dead also is through a Man.  For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first-fruit, and afterward they who are Christ’s at His coming (the harvest)”

Christ is declared the firstfruits of those who slept. Just as the firstfruits[2] were what first sprung out of the earth, were first to ripen, and were first reaped and gathered in, and then offered unto the Lord; so Christ first rose from the dead, and ascended to heaven, and presented himself to God; as the representative of his people. The firstfruits were the best, and most valuable. Christ rose as the first in dignity, as well as in time. He rose as the head of the body, the firstborn, the beginning, that in all things he might have, and appear to have, as he ought to have, the pre-eminence. As Deuschle (2011:54) observes, ‘The firstfruit, therefore comprised of the best and first of their increase.”

The firstfruits, i) sanctified the rest of the harvest, ii) represented the whole, iii) gave right to the ingathering of it, and iv) ensured it. Similarly Christ by lying in the grave, and rising out of it, sanctified it for his people, and in his resurrection represented them; they rose with him, and in him; and their resurrection is secured by his; because he lives, they shall live also. Christ is the firstborn from the dead, with respect to the many brethren. His resurrection has been demonstrated, and our resurrection necessarily follows; as sure as the first fruits are the proof that there is a harvest, so surely the resurrection of Christ is a proof of ours.

It was not merely or mainly that Christ was the first in order of time that rose from the dead, for Lazarus and the widow’s son had been raised before him; but it was that he was chief in regard to the dignity, value, and importance of his rising; he was connected with all that should rise, as the first sheaf of the harvest was with the crop; he was a “part” of the mighty harvest of the resurrection, and his rising was a “portion” of that great rising, as the sheaf was a portion of the harvest itself; and he was so connected with them all, and their rising so depended on his, that his resurrection was a demonstration that they would rise. He is, therefore, the first of those that thus rise, and a portion of that great host which shall be raised to die no more. The first sheaf of the harvest was consecrated to God, and then all the harvest was regarded as consecrated to him.

The firstfruits, i) sanctify the rest of the harvest, ii) represent the whole, iii) give right to the ingathering of it, and iv) ensure it. The firstfruits are proof and demonstration that the harvest will happen even as Christ’s resurrection ensures and guarantees the general resurrection of the saints.

The Jewish Understanding of Firstfruits

The whole land’s produce was consecrated to God by the consecration of the first-fruits, just as the whole nation by that of the firstborn. The law[3] required that;

(i) The feast of Tabernacles be held as an acknowledgment that the fruits of the harvest were from the Lord (Exo 34:22[4]).

(ii) Every individual, was also required to consecrate to God a portion of the first-fruits of the land (Exo 23:19[5]) for the benefit of the priests, his representatives. (Num 18:11-13).

(iii) The law enjoined that no fruit was to be gathered from newly-planted fruit-trees for the first three years as they were regarded as uncircumcised and profane, and that the first-fruits of the fourth year were to be consecrated and devoted to the Lord (Lev 19:23-25). Lev 19:23 states that when we give the first fruits then “in this way your harvest will be increased.”

In acknowledgment of the fact that the land and all its products were God’s gift to Israel, and in thankfulness for His bounty, all the first-fruits were offered to Him.

Deuschle (2011:63) commends on the relationship between the tithe and firstfruits from Lev 19:23-25[6] as follows, “The spiritual significance of this principle is that the firstfruits offering ensured God’s lifelong blessing on the tree, while the tithe guaranteed the harvest i.e. protecting the yield each subsequent season.”

Joshua 6:16-19 tells a story that reveals the importance of firstfruits. “The seventh time around, when the priests were about to sound the trumpets, Joshua ordered the people to shout, and he said, “The LORD has given you the city! The city and everything in it must be totally destroyed as an offering to the LORD. Only the prostitute Rahab and her household will be spared, because she hid our spies. But you are not to take anything that is to be destroyed; if you do, you will bring trouble and destruction on the Israelite camp. Everything made of silver, gold, bronze, or iron is set apart for the LORD. It is to be put in the Lord’s treasury.”

The city and the inhabitants of it should be devoted[7] to destruction, and the riches and spoil of it dedicated to God’s uses, and not become the property of the Israelites; for as this was the first city in the land of Canaan that was conquered, it was appropriate that the firstfruits of the conquest should be the Lord’s, as an acknowledgment of His gift of the land to them, and that the conquest of it was due to him. So Jericho, as the first Canaanite city that was captured, was devoted by Israel as first-fruits to God, as a token that Israel received all the land from Him.

I disagree with Lusk (2001) who believes that firstfruits were typological in character and have found their fulfillment in Christ, the firstfruits of the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:20) and the firstborn over all creation (Col. 1:15, 17; Rom. 8:29). While I concur that they do find fulfillment in Christ, I believe that the underlying principle of first fruits is not abolished but is transferable to the New Testament. An example of how this works is shown in this rather long quote from the early Church. It demonstrates that they reserved their earliest thoughts and activities and offered them as firstfruits to God on a daily basis. If they did this with their words and movements, how much more with their financial resources? Clearly this quote demonstrates the principle of firstfruits used within a New Covenant setting with matters outside agricultural produce. So surely there is room for transferring this principle to financial matters.

“But what shall I say of the firstfruits which surely are given daily by all who serve Christ faithfully? For when men waking from sleep and arising with renewed activity after their rest, before they take in any impulse or thought in their heart, or admit any recollection or consideration of business consecrate their first and earliest thoughts as divine offerings, what are they doing indeed but rendering the firstfruits of their produce through the High Priest Jesus Christ for the enjoyment of this life and a figure of the daily resurrection? And also when roused from sleep in the same way they offer to God a sacrifice of joy and invoke Him with the first motion of their tongue and celebrate His name and praise, and throwing open, the first thing, the door of their lips to sing hymns to Him they offer to God the offices of their mouth; and to Him also in the same way they bring the earliest offerings of their hands and steps, when they rise from bed and stand in prayer and before they use the services of their limbs for their own purposes, take to themselves nothing of their services, but for His glory advance their steps, and set them in His praise and so render the first fruits of all their movements by stretching forth the hands, bending the knees, and prostrating the whole body. For in no other way can we fulfil that of which we sing in the Psalm: “I prevented the dawning of the day and cried;” and: “Mine eyes to Thee have prevented the morning that I might meditate on Thy words;” and: “In the morning shall my prayer prevent Thee;” unless after our rest in sleep when, as we said above, we are restored as from darkness and death to this light, we have the courage not to begin by taking any of all the services both of mind and body for our own uses. For there is no other morning which the prophet “prevented,” or which in the same way we ought to prevent, except either ourselves, i.e., our occupations and feelings and earthly cares, without which we cannot exist-or the most subtle suggestions of the adversary, which he tries to suggest to us, while still resting and overcome with sleep, by the phantoms of vain dreams, with which, when we presently awake, he will fill our minds and occupy us, that he may be the first to seize and carry off the spoils of our firstfruits. Wherefore we must take the utmost care (if we want to fulfil in act the meaning of the above quoted verse) that an anxious watchfulness takes regard of our first and earliest morning thoughts, that they may not be defiled beforehand being hastily taken possession of by our jealous adversary, and thus he may make our firstfruits to be rejected by the Lord as worthless and common. And if he is not prevented by us with watchful circumspection of mind, he will not lay aside his habit of miserably anticipating us nor cease day after day to prevent us by his wiles. And therefore if we want to offer firstfruits that are acceptable and well pleasing to God of the fruits of our mind, we ought to spend no ordinary care to keep all the senses of our body, especially during the hours of the morning, as a sacred holocaust to the Lord pure and undefiled in all things. And this kind of devotion many even of those who live in the world observe with the utmost care, as they rise before it is light or very early, and do not at all mix in the ordinary and necessary business of this world before hastening to church and striving to consecrate in the sight of God the firstfruits of all their actions and doings.[8]

Deuschle (2011:87) postulates that giving “firstfruits to God was a covenantal declaration of submission to Him; the outcome of which was the Lord’s favour on the remainder.”

Who Receives Firstfruits and Why?

Deut 18:1-8 says “The priests the Levites, and all the tribe of Levi, shall have no part nor inheritance with Israel: they shall eat the offerings of the LORD made by fire, and his inheritance. Therefore shall they have no inheritance among their brethren: the LORD is their inheritance, as he hath said unto them. And this shall be the priest’s due from the people, from them that offer a sacrifice, whether it be ox or sheep; and they shall give unto the priest the shoulder, and the two cheeks, and the maw. The firstfruit also of thy corn, of thy wine, and of thine oil, and the first of the fleece of thy sheep, shalt thou give him. For the LORD thy God hath chosen him out of all thy tribes, to stand to minister in the name of the LORD, him and his sons forever. And if a Levite come from any of thy gates out of all Israel, where he sojourned, and come with all the desire of his mind unto the place which the LORD shall choose; Then he shall minister in the name of the LORD his God, as all his brethren the Levites do, which stand there before the LORD. They shall have like portions to eat, beside that which cometh of the sale of his patrimony.”

It is clear that within the Old Testament the priests received the firstfruits. We should be careful to avoid taking Old Testament models and patterns rigidly and instead take the patterns and formulate principles through the modification of the patterns to enable applicability to New Testament context. For example it is strenuous to make direct application between High Priests and Levites AND apostles and pastors respectively.

We should remember that while principles are universal, applications vary according to various situations and church models. Ezekiel 44:30 declares “The best of all the first-fruits and of all your special gifts will belong to the priests. You are to give them the first portion of your ground meal so that a blessing may rest on your household”.  From this Scripture Deuschle (2011:98-99) provides an application that the priest in this case refers to pastors in function and so one can bring his firstfruits to a pastor. The minister of the word, who partakes of the firstfruits, and is comfortably provided for and supported, may pray to the Lord for such who liberally contribute to him; that a blessing may come and abide upon them and their families, and prosperity and success may attend them in their secular business and employments of life; as well as they and theirs may be blessed with all spiritual blessings, with grace here, and glory hereafter. So the firstfruits are meant for the man of God. The purpose of a firstfruits offering is for the man of God to pray a blessing over your ventures or your finances or business.

The testimony of the Early Church gives credence to this principle and shows that it was applicable to the New Testament[9]. The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles (sometimes called The Didache), applies the firstfruits to the Church. “Every firstfruit of the produce of the wine-vat and of the threshing-floor, of cattle and flocks, you will take and give as the firstfruit to your prophets; for they are your chief priests.  If you prepare food, take and give the firstfruit according to the commandment. Likewise, when you open a jar of wine or oil, take and give the firstfruit to the prophets. Take also the firstfruit of money and clothing and every possession, as it may seem right to you, and give according to the commandment.” It further states: “If, however, you have no prophet [minister of the gospel], give [the first fruits] to the poor” (13:4). Finally, 13:7 says to take the first fruits of “money and clothing and whatever [else] you own as you think best and give them according to the commandment.”

Quantum of Firstfruits

The Law ordered, in general, that the first of all ripe fruits and of wine, or the first of first-fruits, should be offered in God’s house. It was an act of allegiance to God, as the giver of all. No exact quantity was commanded, but it was left to the spiritual and moral sense of each individual. It is however clear that it was just a small portion. Some Jewish rabbis prescribed either a fortieth or a sixtieth of the whole. But this is extrabiblical teaching. The main thing is that it shows that it was a small amount. Put simply there is no set portion. Some may give a percentage others may give the whole of the first fruit. Unlike in a tithe where the quantum is predetermined, the firstfruits allow for you to be led by the Spirit in determining the portion. The firstfruits differ from the tithe because their amount is not prescribed but determined by the giver in the same manner as the freewill offering.

How to Give Firstfruits?

Deuschle (2011[10]) while understanding the African custom already alluded to earlier, states “The first portion belongs to the Lord. A portion of first paycheck would be the first fruit and it should be given to God. This does not preclude giving a portion of your first income to your parents either.”

The firstfruits are given out of the first harvest before the full harvest has been gathered. So if one has an increase they take a portion out of that increase on the first salary and give it. Or if one has gotten a new business or project, he can separate a portion of that first income and separate it as firstfruits. On the other hand the tithe is taken out of the full harvest when it can now be quantified. So the firstfruits offering is a portion of the very first income in order to have the rest blessed. While the tithe is given after the full harvest because then one can compute the tithe or ten percent of the full harvest. Let me illustrate the difference: When I acquire a new business or start a new production line, I take a portion out of the first product and offer it as firstfruits even though I do not know what the full production would be. When the business is now running or the project is completed I can now compute the full gross profit from the generated revenue on the project or business and then pay my tithe out of that gross profit. So firstfruits are taken upfront on the production while tithing is calculated at the back end of the production.

Firstfruits may be given out of new job, out of new business opportunity or out of new harvest opportunity or out of a significant income stream[11].

Summary

Firstfruits are presented to God from the earliest harvest, as an act of gratitude and dependence on God for harvest. They were required before one would eat of his harvest.

Once the best portion of the first is given to God the whole harvest is blessed and sanctified. The offering of firstfruits would cause a drawdown of blessing on the rest of the harvest. The firstfruits are a representative of the whole harvest or revenue stream. The firstfruits sanctify the rest of the harvest, represent the whole, give right to the ingathering of it, and ensure and guarantee it. The firstfruits are a pledge that the whole harvest will come through. The firstfruits where for the benefit of the priests or ministers of the Gospel. Firstfruits are a powerful strategic tool for drawing God’s blessings.

[1] From Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible. His material influenced most of my thoughts and I try to paraphrase him in this section to bring clarity on the subject of firstfruits.

[2] Source: John Gill’s Exposition of Entire Bible

[3] Source: Faucett’s Bible Dictionary  and Easton’s Bible Dictionary

[5] As you harvest each of your crops, bring me a choice sample of the first day’s harvest. It must be offered to the Lord your God.”

[6] “When you enter the land and plant any kind of fruit tree, regard its fruit as forbidden. For three years you are to consider it forbidden; it must not be eaten. In the fourth year all its fruit will be holy, an offering of praise to the LORD. But in the fifth year you may eat its fruit. In this way your harvest will be increased. I am the LORD your God.”

[7] For a more detailed and comprehensive discussion of the concept of the devoted thing as part of firstruits, see Deuschle (2011) chapter  9.

[8] Chapter 26 – How we ought also to offer our firstfruits to the Lord. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series 2, Volume 11, PC Study Bible © 2003, 2006 by Biblesoft,

[9] This application clearly supports Pst Tom Deuschle’s interpretation of the pastor as the equivalent of the priest as regards receiving firstfruits. It should be pointed out that this is an application of principle and not a reinstitution of the priesthood. Deuschle and I fully adhere to the priesthood of all believers.

[10] This is a free quote from a message he taught in Church. In Deuschle (2011:163) he refines it this way, “The first paycheck belongs to the Lord, and when it is given to Him, His blessing follows. Unfortunately when they give it to their relative, they only receive a relative blessing. …. Consequently, these people have missed God’s blessing.”

[11] For detailed practical applications of firstfruits giving scenarios for today, see Deuschle (2011) Chapter 14.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s