Israel was holy to the LORD,
the firstfruits of his harvest.
All who ate of it incurred guilt;
disaster came upon them,
declares the LORD.” (ESV)
I was reading this verse, this morning, and it took me by surprise. Genuinely, really, shocked me.
And I know what you’re thinking: Gabe, you’re actually mentally ill. And you would be correct. But that’s not what this post is about.
When I was growing up, there was a duty placed on Christians. And I mean that in the most literal way. There was a burden placed on the Christians I was around, due mostly in large part to the heavy influence of the prosperity gospel, that you ought to give ten percent of your income, as a base amount, in order to please God. Quite literally, I remember hearing Jesse Duplantis say, live mind you, that Christians would be judged by God according to how much they gave. That God would give them blessings based on their giving.
Please hear me: I am not embellishing that or exaggerating. That is what he said.
I can recall hearing people in sincere arguments over whether we should give said ten percent from our gross or net incomes. With verses bandied about and everything. There was an unhealthy mixture of fear and greed where you were making God angry by not giving enough or you were able to get God to give you more by giving more.
It was/is evil.
As I was reading this morning, however, that verse I quoted above in Jeremiah sprung up out of nowhere to me. It sort of smacked me in the mouth.
Israel was to God the firstfruits of His harvest. There are massive implications for this verse. I can think of it like the fact that historic Israel was, in fact, the seed of spiritual Israel, the church. But those implications aren’t what hit me so hard. What hit me hardest was the simple idea that the firstfruits had very special meaning to the Jews, and to God Himself. There was, in fact, a party thrown every year that sounds, to be honest, pretty crazy:
“You shall tithe all the yield of your seed that comes from the field year by year. And before the LORD your God, in the place that he will choose, to make his name dwell there, you shall eat the tithe of your grain, of your wine, and of your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and flock, that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always. And if the way is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, when the LORD your God blesses you, because the place is too far from you, which the LORD your God chooses, to set his name there, then you shall turn it into money and bind up the money in your hand and go to the place that the LORD your God chooses and spend the money for whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household. (ESV)
Interesting. These offerings were meant, specifically, to teach the children of Israel to fear God. How? How does eating ten percent of your income teach you to fear God?
It means that you are reliant on God to provide all the rest. That in an agrarian society, where you lived day by day, you had a sort of savings account of provisions. And you set aside a day to enjoy them. And if they couldn’t make the journey with you, you cashed them in and then bought “whatever your appetite craves.”
This doesn’t sound “holy” at all, if I’m being honest. It sounds fun. It sounds a little crazy. If you’re in the mood for wine or strong drink or fatty meat? Get that. Buy it. Eat. Drink. Celebrate.
So there is this joy in learning to fear the Lord. Learning to rely on Him, not on your own abilities or your own investments. This is almost entirely an inversion from the corruption that’s in the prosperity gospel nonsense. This isn’t God doing some quid pro quo.
But let me be clear about what actually rocked my world this morning: Israel belonged to God as HIS firstfruit. They were His tithe. They were His and He said that any who “ate of it [them] incurred guilt.” If I’m not being clear enough here, God revels in His people the way He commanded His people to revel in their tithe.
Think of it in terms of the shear blessing described in that passage in Deuteronomy. Grain, wine, oil, the firstborn of the herd so lamb or veal… or, wine or strong drink. He celebrates us, the way we celebrate with wine or a fine meal.
He rejoices in us.
This is humbling to me on a level that I hadn’t expected. He loves us. He enjoys us. Not just a burden on Him, but a joy. Not just another duty hung about His neck to care for those horrible sinners. No.
He enjoys us as His firstfruits.