OLD TESTAMENT – FIRSTFRUITS
The feast of “firstfruits” was a Jewish celebration held in early springtime at the start of the grain harvest. It was observed on the 16th of Nisan, which is also called the “Day of firstfruits.” It was the third day after Passover and the second day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
Firstfruits was a day of thanksgiving for God’s provisions. The Israelites went out from Egypt into the wilderness and held this feast in honor of the Lord. It was a three days journey from Passover into the wilderness. This offering was a public acknowledgment of the bounty and goodness of God for the generous fruit of the earth.
Exodus 3:18 – And they will listen to your voice, and you and the elders of Israel shall go to the king of Egypt and say to him, ‘The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us; and now, please let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God.’
Exodus 5:3 – Then they said, “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Please let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God, lest he fall upon us with pestilence or with the sword.”
The offering of firstfruits of the harvest was instituted by Moses through the Word of the Lord.
Leviticus 23:9-14 – And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you come into the land that I give you and reap its harvest, you shall bring the sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest to the priest, and he shall wave the sheaf before the LORD, so that you may be accepted. On the day after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it. And on the day when you wave the sheaf, you shall offer a male lamb a year old without blemish as a burnt offering to the LORD. And the grain offering with it shall be two tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil, a food offering to the LORD with a pleasing aroma, and the drink offering with it shall be of wine, a fourth of a hin. And you shall eat neither bread nor grain parched or fresh until this same day, until you have brought the offering of your God: it is a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings.
The people were to bring a sheaf of the finest barley grain to the priest, who would wave it before the Lord. A burnt offering, a meal-offering, and a drink offering were also required at that time. No grain (barley) was to be harvested or bread made of new wheat until the firstfruits offering was brought to the Lord.
Leviticus 23:14 – And you shall eat neither bread nor grain parched or fresh until this same day, until you have brought the offering of your God: it is a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings.
This offering was given as a sign to remember Israel’s stay in Egypt, the Lord delivered them from slavery, and their possession of “a land flowing with milk and honey.”
In the Old Testament, “firstfruits” occurs almost 12 times. The hebrew word is, re’shiyth (ray-sheeth’) n-f. which is, “the first, in place, time, order or rank (specifically, a firstfruit)”
Under Old Covenant Law, firstfruits were never the same as tithes. It was always the food increase from inside Israel and it was brought to the Temple in Jerusalem for priests to eat.
Nehemiah 10:35-37 – We obligate ourselves to bring the firstfruits of our ground and the firstfruits of all fruit of every tree, year by year, to the house of the LORD; also to bring to the house of our God, to the priests who minister in the house of our God, the firstborn of our sons and of our cattle, as it is written in the Law, and the firstborn of our herds and of our flocks; and to bring the first of our dough, and our contributions, the fruit of every tree, the wine and the oil, to the priests, to the chambers of the house of our God; and to bring to the Levites the tithes from our ground, for it is the Levites who collect the tithes in all our towns where we labor.
Nehemiah 12:44 – On that day men were appointed over the storerooms, the contributions, the firstfruits, and the tithes, to gather into them the portions required by the Law for the priests and for the Levites according to the fields of the towns, for Judah rejoiced over the priests and the Levites who ministered.
Nehemiah declared that firstfruits and firstborn offerings went straight to the Temple and were needed to be eaten by ministering priests only inside the Temple. While the Levites ate only the tithe, the priests could also eat from the firstfruits, firstborn offerings, and other offerings. All of this is very clear from the scriptures. The firstfruits were never the same as tithes.
2 Chronicles 31:5 – As soon as the command was spread abroad, the people of Israel gave in abundance the firstfruits of grain, wine, oil, honey, and of all the produce of the field. And they brought in abundantly the tithe of everything.
SUBSTANCE AND INCREASE
Under the Old Covenant law, one of the ways Israel honored the Lord was related to the offering of firstfruits. It does say that offering firstfruits will cause God to bless, but it is not clear if this is a common proverb or a distinct promise of God to Israel. Mostly, firstfruits is connected with thanksgiving to the Lord for bringing the Israelites from Egypt to Canaan. Below is the same verse from two different bible translations.
Proverbs 3:9-10 – Honor the LORD with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.
Proverbs 3:9-10 – Honor the LORD with your substance, and with the first fruits of all your increase: So shall your barns be filled with plenty, and your presses shall burst out with new wine.
The firstfruits were never the same as wealth, possessions or non-food items. The verse in Proverbs 3 is a blessing for Old Covenant Israel who called God, the LORD. Wealth, possessions and non-food items were also called “substance” in the Old Testament. Like all the other occurrences in the Old Testament firstfruits refers only to food.
WHAT IS INCREASE?
Proverbs 3:9-10 – Honor the LORD with your substance, and with the first fruits of all your increase…
The “increase” did not apply in years of famine, drought or crop failure. It did not include those with no increase; they brought freewill offerings. The “barns” and “presses” prove that the blessing came in the form of more food.
The word “firstfruits” is also used figuratively in the Old Covenant.
Numbers 3:12-13 – “Behold, I have taken the Levites from among the people of Israel instead of every firstborn who opens the womb among the people of Israel. The Levites shall be mine, for all the firstborn are mine. On the day that I struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, I consecrated for my own all the firstborn in Israel, both of man and of beast. They shall be mine: I am the LORD.”
When the Lord supernaturally destroyed all the first-born of the Egyptians, he spared those of the Israelites.
Exodus 12:29 – It happened at midnight – the LORD struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the prison, and all the firstborn of the cattle.
Even though, He had declared all first-born males to be set apart unto Himself. God appoints the whole tribe of Levi to attend his immediate service.
Numbers 3:41 – And take the Levites for me – I am the LORD – instead of all the firstborn males among the Israelites, and the livestock of the Levites instead of all the firstborn of the livestock of the Israelites.”
This was also applied to the first-born of animals and beasts. The first-born male of each female herd animal had several criteria depending on what they were. For example, a first-born male donkey could be redeemed by donating a lamb.
Exodus 13:11-13 – “When the LORD brings you into the land of the Canaanites, as he swore to you and your fathers, and shall give it to you, you shall set apart to the LORD all that first opens the womb. All the firstborn of your animals that are males shall be the LORD’s. Every firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb, or if you will not redeem it you shall break its neck. Every firstborn of man among your sons you shall redeem.
Deuteronomy 15:19 – You must set apart for the LORD your God every firstborn male born to your herds and flocks. You must not work the firstborn of your bulls or shear the firstborn of your flocks.
This was not to be for other animals such as the first-born of cows, sheep, and goats. These were not to be redeemed but sacrificed.
Numbers 18:17 – But the firstborn of a cow, or the firstborn of a sheep, or the firstborn of a goat, you shall not redeem; they are holy. You shall sprinkle their blood on the altar and shall burn their fat as a food offering, with a pleasing aroma to the LORD.
The first-born animals were dedicated in remembrance of God taking all the first-born of men and animals in Egypt while the firstfruits produce were given in remembrance of God providing for Israel in Canaan.
In the Second part, we will deal with the un-scriptural or twisted claims made to support the giving of firstfruits in the New Covenant.