The Giving of the Firstfruits
Through this lesson, students of the Bible:
- Will understand more fully the history and significance of the Jewish celebration of Shavuot;
- Will understand how giving our very best to God is a concept found throughout Scripture; and
- Will understand what it means to give God our "firstfruits."
Key Bible Verses
"Then you shall declare before the LORD your God: ‘My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous. But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, putting us to hard labor. Then we cried out to the LORD, the God of our fathers, and the LORD heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression. So the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with miraculous signs and wonders. He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey; and now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that you, O LORD, have given me.’ Place the basket before the LORD your God and bow down before him. And you and the Levites and the aliens among you shall rejoice in all the good things the LORD your God has given to you and your household." (Deuteronomy 26:5-11)
Scripture to Read: Deuteronomy 26:1-15
Before You Begin
When the people of Israel began to settle into the Promised Land, the celebration of Shavuot became an agricultural holiday that celebrated the Lord’s provision for His people. In Deuteronomy (the final book of the Torah), Moses reminded the people to faithfully celebrate Passover (Deuteronomy 16:1-7), Unleavened Bread (Deuteronomy 16:8), the Omer Count (Deuteronomy 16:9), and Shavuot (Deuteronomy 16:9-11):
"Count off seven weeks from the time you begin to put the sickle to the standing grain. Then celebrate the Feast of Weeks to the LORD your God by giving a freewill offering in proportion to the blessings the LORD your God has given you. And rejoice before the LORD your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name—you, your sons and daughters, your menservants and maidservants, the Levites in your towns, and the aliens, the fatherless and the widows living among you" (Deuteronomy 16:9-11).
The Hebrew word sheva means "seven," shavu’ah means "week," and shavuot means "weeks." So exactly seven weeks after the first harvest of barley is the celebration of Shavuot. As one of the three pilgrimage holidays, the people of Israel were to come to the Temple to present the firstfruits of their spring crops before God. The Greek translators of the Torah later called this day "Pentecost," or the fiftieth [day], since Shavuot occurs fifty days after Passover.
The firstfruits were called bikkurim, and referred especially to the seven fruits of the Promised Land—wheat, barley, olives, figs, pomegranates, dates, and grapes (Deuteronomy 8:8). As soon as the farmer saw evidence of a ripening fruit, he would tie a string or ribbon around it and designate that "firstfruit" as bikkurim. Later, he would pick that fruit, put it in a basket (wicker for the poor or one woven with strands of gold and silver for the more well-to-do), and bring it to the Temple. At the Temple, each family would present their basket of fruits to the priest and repeat the verses from Deuteronomy 26:5-11: "Now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that you, O LORD, have given me” (Deuteronomy 26:10).
Shavuot was a time of great rejoicing and celebration. It was a time for the people to remember all that God had provided for them in the Promised Land, and it was a time to express joy and thanksgiving to God.
As you work through this study, reflect on the many ways that God has provided for you and on your response to His provision.
Giving to God
- The concept of giving back to God a portion of what He has provided can be found in the Book of Genesis. Read Genesis 4:1-7, and then answer the following:
- What did each of the two brothers bring to God?
- What was the difference between Abel’s and Cain’s offerings?
- Why do you think God was not pleased with Cain’s offering?
- What does this tell you about what God expects when we bring our offerings to Him?
- In Leviticus 23:9-14, God gives Moses instructions on how the people are to celebrate the Festival of the Firstfruits. Read that passage and then answer the following:
- What were the people supposed to bring to the priest as an offering?
- What were they not supposed to do before bringing that offering? (v. 14)
- Why do you think God gave them that instruction?
- Read 2 Chronicles 31:2-8. As part of King Hezekiah’s religious revival, he restored the celebration of the annual festivals. How did the people respond to Hezekiah?
- What other practice did Hezekiah also restore? (vv. 4-8)
- Read the following passages and write down what you learn about "firstfruits" from each.
- Nehemiah 12:44
- Psalm 78:51
- Proverbs 3:9-10
- Jeremiah 2:3
- Ezekiel 44:30
- Romans 8:23-25
- 1 Corinthians 15:20
- James 1:17-19
- Read Malachi 3:6-12.
- How were the people cheating God?
- What was the result because of their actions?
- What would happen if they repented?
- Read Luke 6:38.
- What is the principle of giving that Jesus states?
- Are God’s blessings always material?
- In what other ways does God bless us when we give?
- Giving back a portion of what God gives to us is an important concept in Paul’s teachings as well. Read 2 Corinthians 8:1-14 and then answer the following:
- How did Paul characterize the giving of the Macedonian church?
- How did the Macedonian church view giving? (v. 4)
- What did they do first? (v. 5)
- According to Paul, why should we give generously of our resources? (vv. 8-9)
- According to Paul, how does God want us to give? (vv. 10-12)
- Based on what you have just read, what changes, if any, do you need to make in your giving? In your attitude toward giving?
Something to Think About
Read the account of the birth of the church in Acts 2:1-42. The momentum of the stories told in the Book of Acts is derived from a single critical incident that took place in Jerusalem during the celebration of Shavuot (also called "Pentecost" because it occurred fifty days after the Passover). Jesus’ instruction for his disciples to stay in Jerusalem and wait to receive a special gift (Acts 1:4) must have seemed vague at the time, but the arrival of the explosive power of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost made great symbolic sense. This celebration was both a harvest festival and a time for recalling the gift of the original covenant documents to Moses at Mount Sinai.
- In what ways are these two themes reflected in the events that occurred and followed at Pentecost?
- In what ways were the results of Peter’s sermon to the crowd that day a reflection of "firstfruits"?
Read Psalm 65 aloud. This harvest psalm praises God the Creator as reflected in the beauty of nature. Nature and our surroundings help us to understand something of God’s character. The Jews believe that God’s care of nature is a sign of His love and provision for us. Nature is also a sign of God’s generosity. Spend a few moments this week outdoors. Take time to reflect on your surroundings and give thanks to God for all that He has provided you and your family. Write your own psalm of thanksgiving to God, our Provider!
The Feast of Firstfruits
Regulations for the celebration required all Israelites to assemble at the Temple in Jerusalem, bringing with them the first sheaf of grain from their fields. As the time of harvest approached across the land, even before the regular reaping started a single bundle of grain was cut on each farm and toted off to the Temple. There it was “waved” before the Lord as an offering (Leviticus 23:11) along with two loaves of bread that were baked from the newly harvested grain (Leviticus 23:17). Furthermore, to broaden the impact of the event, two male lambs were also brought from the first castings of each flock (Leviticus 23:12). As these gifts were presented to God in the Temple courts, all of the men danced around the altar that carried the smoke of the gifts toward heaven. The crowds of women, children, and elderly men too old to jump around formed a large circle around these revelers and sang Psalms 113-118.