THE INITIAL PRESENTATION OF FIRST-FRUITS AND OF THE THIRD-YEAR TITHE CELEBRATED GOD’S PAST FAITHFULNESS AND CALLED FOR CONTINUED BLESSING AS THE PEOPLE FULFILLED THEIR COVENANT OBLIGATIONS
Daniel Block: Moses concludes his exposition on the principles of covenant relationship with an exciting flourish in chapter 26. This chapter divides into two unequal parts. Exhibiting numerous links with 12:2–28, 26:1–15 contains instructions for liturgical expression of covenant fidelity in the presence of Yahweh. Verses 16–19 function as a formal conclusion to the second major part of the second address (chaps. 12–26). The reference to “decrees and laws” in verses 16 and 17 echo 12:1, framing chapters 12–26 as a grand exposition of the laws and regulations. By placing instructions on cultic worship at the boundaries, Moses issues a profound theological message: meaningful and acceptable cultic worship provides the framework for life. Although prescribed direct speech dominates verses 1–15, this segment divides into two parts. Verses 1–11 focus on celebrating Yahweh’s faithfulness, and verses 12–15 on affirming the worshiper’s fidelity to Yahweh when he worships at the central sanctuary.
Gerald Gerbrandt: The point of the chapter is not spelling out further directions for the cult but a dramatic presentation of Israel’s faith and ethics through worship of the Lord your God, incorporating symbolic action and liturgical declaration. God has taken a wandering Aramean, made his descendants into a great nation even as they were oppressed by the Egyptians, brought them out of Egypt, and given them the Promised Land. In response the Israelite presents his first-fruits to God and shares the bounty of a land flowing with milk and honey, celebrating and sharing with the less fortunate.
Deuteronomy 26 consists of three distinct parts,
– the first developed around the presentation of first-fruits at The Place (vv. 1–11),
– the second largely a speech regarding the third-year tithes (vv. 12–15),
– and the third a narrative climax not only to the chapter but also to all of chapters 12–26 (vv. 16-19).
The first two parts are bound together by numerous common features. Both these parts are framed by brief narrative comments, they include ceremonial offerings and action, at their center is a longer formal speech by an individual Israelite that is to be recited before the Lord your God, and they characterize the land given to Israel as flowing with milk and honey. God’s actions are foundational to both, but in the first the Israelite responds by presenting to God a gift from the first-fruits of the land, and in the second the Israelite shares some produce of the land with the disadvantaged. One might speak of the two responses together as balancing the vertical relationship (God-human) with the horizontal (human-human). God’s gifts are for all. The Israelite’s response is directed both to God and to neighbor.
The chapter and core of the second speech then conclude with a return to the today of Moab, formalizing the particular relationship between God and the people of God.
MacArthur: As the stipulation section of Deuteronomy came to an end (chaps. 5-25), Moss commanded the people to keep two rituals when they had conquered the Land and began to enjoy its produce. These two rituals were the initial first-fruits offering (26:1-11) and the first third-year special tithe (26:12-15). In both cases, there is an emphasis upon the prayer of confession to be given at the time of the rituals (26:5-10, 13-15). These special offerings were given in order to celebrate Israel’s transition from a nomadic existence to a settled agrarian community, made possible by the Lord’s blessing.
I. (:1-11) PRESENTATION OF FIRST-FRUITS —
CELEBRATING THE LORD’S PAST COVENANT FAITHFULNESS TO THE NATION OF ISRAEL
Duane Christensen: On the basis of prosodic analysis, vv 1–11 may be divided into five subunits:
A You shall bring the first-fruits to the central sanctuary 26:1–2
B Presentation of first-fruits to the priest with declaration 26:3–4a
X Presentation at the altar with recitation of Magnalia Dei 26:4b–9
B´ Presentation of first-fruits to YHWH by the worshiper 26:10a
A´ You shall put it down before YHWH and rejoice 26:10b–11
Eugene Merrill: As with all such ritual, there must be both act and word, the act consisting here of the offering of the produce (vv. 1-3a, 4-5a, 10b-11) and the word a statement of the present occasion (v. 3b), a recitation of Israel’s “sacred history” (vv. 5b-9), and an explanation of what the offerer had done (v. 10a). It may be helpful to discuss the passage according to this analysis.
A. (:1-2) Collection of Produce for Offering of First-Fruits
1. (:1) Timing of the Offering
“Then it shall be, when you enter the land which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance, and you possess it and live in it,”
Michael Grisanti: Israel’s conquest of and settlement in the land of Canaan serves as the chronological point (cf. 17:14; 18:9; 27:3) after which God’s people must celebrate Yahweh’s provision for them through offerings.
2. (:2) Taking of the Offering
“that you shall take some of the first of all the produce of the ground which you shall bring in from your land that the LORD your God gives you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place where the LORD your God chooses to establish His name.”
Peter Craigie: Unlike Passover and the covenant ceremony, the offering of first-fruits would be a new religious institution in Israel; before taking possession of the land, they were not an agricultural people and therefore had no harvest festival. Thus this first offering of the first-fruits by the Israelites, once they had taken possession of the land, would mark the inauguration of the new life which had been anticipated for so long on the basis of the covenant promise of God.
B. (:3-4) Consecration of the Offering
1. (:3) Presented by the Offerer to the Priest
“And you shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, ‘I declare this day to the LORD my God that I have entered the land which the LORD swore to our fathers to give us.’”
Daniel Block: The remainder of verse 3 shifts attention from prescribed ritual actions to ritual declaration. With this declaration, the worshiper recognizes the priest “in office at that time” (v. 3a) as both a symbol of divine presence and the official witness to his declaration.
Peter Craigie: The declaration was a personal testimony that the man had entered the Promised Land, and the basket he earned symbolized that already he was beginning to experience the blessing of the new land and the new life given by God. But the declaration did not only reflect man’s experience; it was a testimony also to the faithfulness of God, who had promised the land long ago and now had fulfilled that ancient promise by giving the land to his people.
2. (:4) Presented by the Priest to the Lord at the altar
“Then the priest shall take the basket from your hand and set it down before the altar of the LORD your God.”
Daniel Block: The priest’s actions declare symbolically that Yahweh has accepted the worshiper’s expression of devotion.
C. (:5-10a) Confession Recounting God’s Faithfulness to the Nation
“And you shall answer and say before the LORD your God,”
Daniel Block: Many have recognized that what follows is an early creedal statement (cf. 6:20–25; 11:2–7), cast in celebrative prose, summarizing the Israelites’ basic beliefs concerning their origins. Structurally this speech is divided into three parts:
(1) an opening statement concerning the social and/or economic status of Israel’s ancestor (v. 5b);
(2) a survey of Israel’s history (vv. 5c–9); and
(3) a declaration by the worshiper concerning his present offering (v. 10).
1. (:5b) Testimony of the Relative Insignificance of the Father of the Nation
“My father was a wandering Aramean,”
Gerald Gerbrandt: The reference probably is to Jacob, renamed Israel, the traditional father of the twelve tribes. After his alienation from his brother, he flees to Paddan-aram, where he spends time with the extended family of his father, people called Arameans in the Old Testament (Gen 28:5). But it may also be a more general reference, perhaps to Jacob’s family or the whole group of ancestors.
Daniel Block: Since the narratives of Genesis associate all three patriarchs with Aram (Gen. 11:31; 12:4; 28:1–7; 31:16), “my father” may function as a collective, referring to all three ancestors.16 In any case, the multiplication of the nation represents Yahweh’s fulfillment of his promise repeated to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
But the modifier “wandering” remains a riddle. Based on the range of meanings of the root of this word, the clause could be translated, “an Aramaean on the point of death.” However, since the rest of this credo emphasizes the patriarchs’ homelessness rather than their threatened existence, the word may refer to their status as aliens, as reflected explicitly in the verb gûr (“to sojourn, live as an alien”), which is used of all three patriarchs. Nonetheless, since both insecurity and wandering are associated with the patriarchs (cf. Gen. 20:11–13; Ps. 105:12–13), it is difficult to decide whether the term translated “wandering” means “perishing” or “wandering.” The ambiguity is probably intentional; when ancient Israelites recited this credo in Hebrew, they perceived the full range of meanings of the word.
Michael Grisanti: Israel’s “father,” Jacob (renamed “Israel” in Ge 32:28), moved his entire (extended) family to Egypt and settled there, where “he lived as an alien” (gwr; in contrast with the worshiper who has settled in Canaan). Although they were originally few in number (“seventy souls”; Dt 10:22; cf. Ge 46:27), Yahweh has multiplied their population in the intervening years in fulfillment of his promise to the patriarchs (Ge 15:5; 22:17). They had been an inconsequential people but have become a powerful and numerous nation.
2. (:5c-9) Testimony of God’s Amazing Providence in Israel’s History
a. (:5c) Exponential Growth in Egypt
“and he went down to Egypt and sojourned there,
few in number;
but there he became a great, mighty and populous nation.”
b. (:6) Painful Affliction in Egypt
“And the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us,
and imposed hard labor on us.”
c. (:7-8) Powerful Deliverance from Egypt
“Then we cried to the LORD, the God of our fathers, and the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction and our toil and our oppression; 8 and the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with great terror and with signs and wonders;”
d. (:9) Gift of the Fruitful Promised Land
“and He has brought us to this place, and has given us this land,
a land flowing with milk and honey.”
3. (:10a) Testimony to Covenant Obedience in Response to God’s Grace
“And now behold, I have brought the first of the produce of the ground which Thou, O LORD hast given me.”
Daniel Block: Moses hereby calls on the worshiper to speak directly to Yahweh, to declare his gratitude, and to acknowledge Yahweh’s gracious provision, symbolized by the container of first-fruits he has brought.
Gerald Gerbrandt: By the end of the declaration, the contrast with the wandering Aramean is complete. No longer are they wandering, about to perish, but they can say, I have come into the land (26:3, 9). It is the story of Israel, but even more it is the story of what God has done in response to the cry of aliens oppressed in a foreign land and about to die. After reciting the credo before the priest at the central sanctuary, the people symbolically and literally celebrate the bounty God has given them.
Eugene Merrill: The peace and stability that would permit the inauguration of regular agricultural patterns would be irrefutable evidence that the Lord had indeed accomplished his word to the fathers. In recognition of this and in tribute to the Lord’s electing and saving grace, the farmer would come to proffer the first-fruits of his fields (v. 10a).
D. (:10b-11) Celebration of the Offering
1. (:10b) Celebration in Thankful Worship
“And you shall set it down before the LORD your God,
and worship before the LORD your God;”
2. (:11) Celebration in Communal Rejoicing
“and you and the Levite and the alien who is among you shall rejoice in all the good which the LORD your God has given you and your household.”
II. (:12-15) PRESENTATION OF THIRD YEAR TITHES –
CALLING ON THE LORD FOR FUTURE BLESSING BASED ON ISRAEL’S COMMITMENT TO COVENANT FAITHFULNESS
A. (:12) Application of the Tithe to Specific Classes of Needy People
“When you have finished paying all the tithe of your increase in the third year, the year of tithing, then you shall give it to the Levite, to the stranger, to the orphan and to the widow, that they may eat in your towns, and be satisfied.”
Eugene Merrill: The benevolence of God’s people was to operate in two dimensions, the vertical and the horizontal. Thus the offering of first-fruits to the Lord (26:1-11) could not be separated from the beneficence to be shown to fellow kingdom citizens (vv. 12-15).
Michael Grisanti: Scholars have debated whether this triennial tithe referred to the normal tithe that would be diverted for these needy people every third year, was a second tithe required every third year, or was a third tithe.
Peter Craigie: If the first offering of first-fruits took place in the first year of full settlement in the land, the ceremony described in vv. 12–15 would take place two years later during the third year of full settlement. The tithe of the third year took place in the Israelite towns or settlements, and that which was tithed was to be distributed among various classes of underprivileged persons (v. 12);
B. (:13-14) Affirmation of Obedience in Executing the Tithe
“And you shall say before the LORD your God,”
1. (:13b) Managed the Tithe in Appropriate Fashion
a. Separated the Tithe for its Intended Purpose
“I have removed the sacred portion from my house,
and also have given it
to the Levite and the alien, the orphan and the widow,”
Michael Grisanti: The giver begins by declaring that he has, in fact, “removed” this tithe from his home and turned it over to the needy people for whom it was intended. This form of the verb (Piel of bʿr) occurs thirteen times in Deuteronomy, eleven of which are part of the statement “purge the evil from . . .” . Clearly, it indicates a rigorous separation (McConville, 381) to emphasize that the worshiper has kept absolutely none of the tithe for personal consumption. In his “global” affirmation, he declares that he has not turned aside from nor forgotten (two common verbs for covenantal treachery) Yahweh’s expectations in this area of his life. The worshiper then states what he has not done with the “sacred offering.”
b. Acted in Obedience to the Lord’s Commands
“according to all Thy commandments
which Thou hast commanded me;
I have not transgressed or forgotten any of Thy commandments.”
2. (:14) Maintained Ritual Purity
a. Avoided Potential Pitfalls
“I have not eaten of it while mourning,
nor have I removed any of it while I was unclean,
nor offered any of it to the dead.”
Eugene Merrill: The best understanding here is that he had not participated in use of the tithe while engaged in pagan rites of fertility or sympathetic magic. Such rites were characteristic of Canaanite worship as a means of inducing the underworld deities to fertilize the soil and guarantee a bountiful harvest. They would include the presentation of offerings and a sacred drama in which weeping and lamentation would play a part (cf. Ezek 8:14).
Michael Grisanti: All three statements affirm the ritual purity of the offered tithe (hence its acceptability for the recipients). The worshiper affirms that he has not touched the tithe when he was unclean, whether as the result of coming into contact with a corpse (Lev 22:4) or other reasons, or from some affiliation with pagan practices.
b. Acted in Obedience to the Lord’s Commands
“I have listened to the voice of the LORD my God;
I have done according to all that Thou hast commanded me.”
C. (:15) Appeal for Future Blessing
“Look down from Thy holy habitation, from heaven, and bless Thy people Israel, and the ground which Thou hast given us, a land flowing with milk and honey, as Thou didst swear to our fathers.”
MacArthur: This was the first reference to God’s dwelling place being in heaven.
Daniel Block: The worshiper’s plea for Yahweh to observe him from heaven is motivated by a desire for his blessing “on your people Israel.” After all, the worshiper is part of the greater entity, Yahweh’s covenant nation. He completes the relational triangle by extending the scope of the blessing to the land (cf. v. 9). Although the land is indeed a “good land,” the people are still dependent on Yahweh to bless them and the land (cf. 28:1–14; 33:13–16).
Eugene Merrill: Contrary to the frail, ineffectual gods of the nations who could even die and lie beneath the earth, Israel’s God reigned from heaven above. But his transcendence did not nullify his interest in and involvement with his covenant nation. He had made solemn promises to their fathers to give them the land of Canaan, one that flowed with milk and honey, not because of fructifying forces attributed to nature gods but because of his providential grace (cf. Deut 11:8-12).