Deuteronomy 26:1-11 – First Fruits
SummaryThe central law code closes with the festival of first fruits and contains a pithy summary of the people's history.
Early Israel celebrated three major annual festivals requiring the presence of all males at the sanctuary: Unleavened Bread (Passover), the Festival of Weeks, and the Festival of Booths (Deuteronomy 16:16). The second of these provides the setting for the close of Deuteronomy's central law code (chapters 12-26). Some confusion arises from the variety of names associated with this important festival: "first fruits" (Numbers 28:26) and "feast of ingathering" (Exodus 23:16) refer to its nature as a harvest festival; "Festival of Weeks" refers to its occurrence seven weeks after Passover; "Pentecost," from the Greek word for "fiftieth," refers to the fiftieth day after Passover.
Essentially a festival celebrating the wheat harvest (Deuteronomy 16:9-12), on this day each Israelite was required to bring the first fruits of the harvest to the sanctuary to thank God for the land they have been given "as an inheritance to possess" (26:1) and to testify that God's promise to Abraham had been realized. Embedded within the ceremony is a marvelous historical summary recited by the worshiper (vv. 5-9) in which three decisive moments in their history, resulting in their possession of the land, are recalled:
- First to be recalled is the seminomadic wanderings of their ancestors, especially Jacob, later called "Israel." Jacob was also the one who reunited his sons, later the twelve tribes that became Israel, in Egypt where they prospered and multiplied (v. 5).
- Second is Israel's experience of slavery in Egypt and the miraculous response to their cries of distress when God delivered them "with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm" (vv. 6-8).
- Third is the gift of the land of Canaan, which God promised to Abraham (v. 9).
The gifts brought by the worshiper provide incontrovertible proof of the productivity of the "land flowing with milk and honey," which becomes the basis of the worshiper's thanksgiving.
This testimony, offered by the worshiper, has sometimes been seen as Israel's earliest creed, an outline of Israel's history of salvation, and the backbone of Genesis through Joshua. Such claims are usually regarded as extreme these days. Nevertheless, the annual celebration of God's gift of the land, the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham, remains a compelling articulation of Israel's faith.