This is Part 3 of the teaching on the subject of Tithing. If you missed Parts 1 & 2, click here (Part 1 , Part 2). In Part 1, we established that tithing began with the father of faith, Abraham. He gave a tenth of spoils of war. Abraham’s grandson, Jacob extended the principle of tithing to cover all earnings. This is the Jacobian extension. And so tithing did not begin under the dispensation of the Law of Moses. It is a faith principle. But it was incorporated into the regime of the Law to produce a very complex system of social economics. Because of the merger of Church and State in ancient Israel, tithing under the Law incorporated social justice. Abrahamic and Jacobian tithing were elective, even proactive; but tithing under the Law was obligatory. The tithe catered primarily for the priests, who under the Law were public servants. The disadvantaged also benefitted. Tithing was an obligation owed the State and noncompliance attracted spiritual penalty. Israel was a theocratic state. It actually originated as a compensatory scheme for the Levites who had no rights of inheritance in the Promise Land.
Today, we begin to look at “firstfruits” vis-à-vis tithe. Does God require “firstfruits” offering of Christians? As usual we follow the tradition of scholastic honesty, dispassionately and objectively examining scriptures. The first instance of “firstfruits” in scriptures is in respect of Cain and Abel. Firstfruits predates tithing. Cain and Abel as you well recall were the children of Adam I, the first products of human copulation. Cain and Abel were the first humans born of humans, so they occupy a unique place in Adamic history. The story goes that the two brothers made offerings of their productivity to God. Both were engaged in agriculture: Cain was into farming, Abel was into animal husbandry. “Cain brought to the Lord of the fruit of the ground. And Abel brought of the firstborn of his flock. And the Lord had respect for Abel and for his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no respect or regard. So Cain was exceedingly angry and indignant, and he looked sad and depressed. And the Lord said to Cain, Why are you angry? And why do you look sad and depressed and dejected? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not well, sin crouches at your door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.” Genesis 4:3-7. Cain will go on to kill his brother in the first murder and fratricide. It was a double first.
There have been several speculations as to why God preferred Abel’s offering to Cain’s. Some have said it was because Abel brought a blood offering and Cain didn’t. But this was a firstfruit offering not an offering for atonement, therefore that argument cannot hold. It was a presentation of professional output, not a presentation for sin. The religious moralists of course opine that Cain was stingy with his offering – that he brought shriveled produce. But that is an eisegesis not an exegesis. Eisegesis is an interpretation of scriptures that introduces presuppositions and biases into a text. Exegesis is the process of drawing out the meaning from a text in accordance to its context and discoverable meaning. The Bible is clear as to why Cain’s offering was not accepted. The Message translation gives us light: “By an act of faith, Abel brought a better sacrifice to God than Cain… It was what he BELIEVED, not what he BROUGHT, that made a difference. That’s what God noticed and approved as righteous.” (Hebrews 11:4 MSG). Therefore an offering is nothing without faith. We do righteousness by faith. “But without faith it is impossible to please and be satisfactory to God. For whoever will come near to God must necessarily believe that God exists and that he is the rewarder of those who earnestly and diligently seek Him out.” (Hebrews 11:6 AMP). Cain believed God existed no doubt, but he didn’t believe he rewards those who diligently seek him.
Firstfruits was not just about farm produce. Biological firstfruits were demanded as well. God commanded the Israelites Exodus 22:29, “Give me the firstborn of your sons.” And in Exodus 34:19-20: “All the males that first open the womb among your livestock are mine, whether ox or sheep… All the firstborn of your sons you shall redeem. And none of you shall appear before me empty handed.” Instructions about the firstfruits are replete throughout the Old Testament. But Leviticus 2 is particularly instructive: “As an offering of firstfruits you may offer leaven and honey to the Lord, but they shall not be burned on the altar for a sweet odor to the Lord, for their aid to fermentation is symbolic of corruption of the human heart.” (Leviticus 2:12).
The phrase – “fermentation is symbolic of corruption of the human heart” is emblematic of the sinful state of man. The symbolism of these offerings would become apparent in the New Testament, and Paul would speak of the leaven. In Leviticus 23:10-14, we find a Christ referent passage (The Old Testament points to him): “Tell the Israelites, When you have come into the land 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, that you may be accepted. You shall offer… a male lamb a year old without blemish for a burnt offering to the Lord. This passage clearly points to Christ the sinless and spotless Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. The passage goes on to elaborate rituals and offerings: burnt offering, cereal offering (no, not Kellogg’s), drink offering, offering made by fire, sin offering, peace offering. These rituals are heavy symbolisms pointing to the Lamb of God. They are shadows of Christ.
It’s important not to get lost in the shadows of the Old Testament, to understand the relationship between old and new. Jesus is our drink offering – his blood has been poured for us. He is our peace offering, sin offering… In accordance with His will “we have been made holy through the offering made once for all of the body of Jesus Christ. Christ after he had offered a SINGLE SACRIFICE for our sins FOR ALL TIME, sat down on the right hand of God” (Hebrews 10:10,12). You don’t need to make those Old Testament sacrifices again. Christ has been offered for you. But why did God want the Israelites to bring firstfruits? And why did he claim their firstborns?
Firstfruits offering was a history lesson of God’s unbroken faithfulness – lest one become an ingrate of grace. As part of the ritual the Israelite must recount his ancestral history before God. He must recount God’s help to his ancestor Jacob – a “wandering and lost Aramean” who went to Egypt, multiplied and became great in Egypt and whose descendants became enslaved in Egypt. He must recount how God delivered the Israelites with awesome power, brought them into a land flowing with milk and honey. “And now, behold, I bring the firstfruits of the ground which you, O Lord, have given me.” (Deuteronomy 26:1-10). The ritual of firstfruits in the Old Testament was to bring to constant remembrance a simple fact: God is the historical helper, and the fruit of productivity is his blessing not the work of our hands. But the offering and redemption of the firstfruits of the womb had a bigger rationale. We will examine this next week. We will soon see the difference between tithes and firstfruits, and what “firstfruit” implies in the New Testament.
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