This is Part 4 of our series on tithing. We continue with the study of first fruits vis-à-vis tithe. If you missed Parts 1-3 please click here. In Part 3 we established that firstfruits in the Old Testament was not just agricultural produce. It included the first male born in a family as well as the firstfruit of all animals. In Exodus 13:2 God instructed Moses as follows: “Consecrate every firstborn to me – the first one to come from the womb among the Israelites, whether person or animal is mine.” The horticultural and animal husbandry categories of firstfruit referenced Jesus as the SEED of David and the LAMB of God. But why did God appropriate the first males born in families for himself? We find the answer in the aptly named census record called Numbers. God spoke to Moses as follows:”I have chosen the Levites from among the Israelites to serve as substitutes for all the first born sons of the people. The Levites belong to me, for all the firstborn males are mine…
On the day I struck down all the firstborn sons of the Egyptians, I set apart for myself all the firstborn in Israel, both of people and animals. They are mine; I am the Lord” Numbers 3:11-13. In other words, if we want to understand why God appropriated the first males in the families of Israel, we must go to that terrible night in Egypt when the angel of death killed all the firstborn in Egypt. The kill order was an omnibus instruction. ALL first males were to be killed, whether man or animal. What saved the Israelite firstborn males was the blood on their doorposts. It served as deterrent to the death angel. The blood on the signposts said in effect: someone has already been killed here, no need to come in. The angel of death could not discriminate the blood of humans from the blood of a lamb. That was emblematic.
Eons later the blood of the Lamb of God would become the mark on our bodily tent to save us from the second death. The death of first males in Egypt was the final blow in the liberation struggle of the Israelites. Moses had announced to Pharaoh, “This is what the Lord says: At midnight tonight I will pass through the heart of Egypt. All the firstborn sons will die in every family in Egypt, from the oldest son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the oldest son of his lowliest servant girl who grinds the flour. Even the firstborn of all the livestock will die. Then a loud wail will rise throughout the land of Egypt, a wail like no one has heard before or will ever hear again. But among the Israelites it will be so peaceful that not even a dog will bark. Then you will know that the Lord makes a distinction between the Egyptians and Israelites.” Exodus 11:4-7.
In what will become known as the Passover, God instructed the Israelites through Moses as follows: “This month – (month of Nisan: March or April of Gregorian calendar) – is to be the first month of the year to you. Address the whole community of Israel; tell them that on the tenth of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family; one lamb to a house. If the family is too small for a lamb, then share it with a close neighbor. Your lamb must be a healthy male, one year old. Keep it penned until the fourteenth day of this month and
then slaughter it – the entire community of Israel will do this at dusk. Then take some of the blood and smear it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the house in which you will eat it. I will go through the land of Egypt on this night and strike down EVERY firstborn in the land of Egypt whether human or animal, and bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am God. The blood will serve as a sign on the houses where you live. When I see the blood I will pass over you – no disaster will touch you when I strike the land of Egypt. This will be a memorial day for you; you will celebrate it as a festival to God down through generations.” Exodus 12:1-14.
The whole ceremony- its significance, is pointing to Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who was sacrificed that we may live. Just as the lamb was sacrificed on 14th of Nisan, so was Jesus crucified on 14th of Nisan (possibly April 3, 33AD). In John 1:29, he is referred to as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. In Hebrews 9:14, he is called a perfect sacrifice. In 1 Peter 1:19, Peter wrote that the precious blood of Christ was like that of a sacrificial lamb without blemish or spot. And Paul nailed it directly when he called Christ our Passover Lamb in 1 Corinthians 5:7. In other words, the historical and ceremonial Passover point to Christ, the Passover Lamb. There is no more sacrifice of blood required of mankind. The blood of Jesus has been shed once and for all. (Hebrews 9:12).
God’s argument was simple: The first born in every Israeli family would have died but for his intervention. In sparing their lives they became his. He gained titular rights to them. It’s an “I save you, you belong to me” equation. God still uses that equation. It’s why Paul wrote, “whose I am and whom I serve.” You belong to God. (Acts 27:23). The firstborn males should have become priests but he designated the Levites in their stead. Therefore they need to be redeemed of that priesthood obligation. God was contractual under the law.
This redemption had nothing to do with redemption of their souls. It’s redemption from priestly service. The price of a soul is prohibitive. No one can afford it. Only God is rich enough to redeem a soul. (Psalm 49:7,8). And he would redeem not just the Israelites but all of mankind with the precious blood of Jesus. That gives you an idea of the economic value of the blood of Jesus. It has economic value though unquantifiable. It’s interesting God demanded redemption of first sons of humans, and even of unclean animals. (Exodus 13:13, Numbers 18:15). The redemption of unclean animals foreshadows the redemption of Gentiles as revealed to Peter in Acts 10:14-16. Otherwise salvation would have been exclusive to Jews. Peter struggled with this but thank God for Paul. Conceptually, firstfruit in the Old Testament points to Christ the firstborn and firstfruit from the dead. “Christ has been raised from the dead, and He became the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep in death.” (1 Cor.inthians 15:20 ).
In all mentions of firstfruits in the New Testament the term is always used metaphorically. Epaenetus for example is called the “firstfruit” in Asia. It means he was the first convert to Christ. (Romans 16:5 AMP). In the same vein the household of Stephanas were the “firstfruits” in Achaia (most of Greece). 1 Corinthians 16:15. The mentions of firstfruits in the New Testament are Romans 8:23, Romans 11:16, Romans 16:5, 1 Corinthians 15:20, 1 Corinthians 16:15, 2 Thessalonians 2:13, James 1:18, Revelation 14:4. None refers to offering. Firstfruits is used metaphorically for souls in the New Testament. It is not an offering.
Firstfruit in the New Testament is not the first salary of the year. It is not an offering, it is the first soul. That said, there is nothing wrong with a Christian giving his first month’s salary to God, or the first salary of his career. But that is a personal decision, it is not mandated. It is governed by the law of sowing and reaping in 2 Corinthians. 9:6-7. Firstfruit is not tithe either. Tithe is a definitive percentage (10%), firstfruit had no percentage. There is however a Rabbinic convention that firstfruits is 1/60th of the harvest. But that is not in scriptures. And in the New Testament there is no redemption of first sons because Jesus already redeemed mankind. “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins” according to the riches of God’s grace. (Ephesians 1:7).
Next week we continue the series as we take a look at the question of tithe under the New Testament.
© Leke Alder | firstname.lastname@example.org