What are first fruits offerings? First fruits offerings were offerings that God commanded be brought to the temple and given in advance of each harvest. The first fruits offerings were part of three splendid festivals that God commanded every Jewish male to attend in Jerusalem each year. One festival was in the spring (Passover/Unleavened Bread), one was in the summer (Pentecost/Harvest), and one was in the early fall (Tabernacles/Ingathering).
Notice the reference to the first fruits offerings in the Bible’s command to the Jews: “Three pilgrim festivals shall you celebrate for Me during the year…the Festival of Matzos (Unleavened Bread)…the Festival of Harvest…the Festival of Ingathering…Three times during the year shall all your men folk appear before the LORD…the choicest first fruit of your land shall you bring to the House of Hashem, your God” (Exodus 23:14-19, Stone Edition of the Chumash).
The Fourfold Purpose of First Fruits Offerings
The first fruits offerings were given from what were called “the seven favored fruits of Israel.” The seven fruits were barley, wheat, figs, grapes, pomegranates, dates, and olives. Because the harvests became ripe at different times, they were brought throughout the spring (barley), summer (wheat, figs, grapes, and pomegranates) and early fall (dates and olives). Unlike the tithe, first fruits offerings were calculated and given before the harvest, not following the harvest. According to Carta’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, the first fruits offerings were “dedicated to the expression of heartfelt thanks for God’s bounty and the presentation of the beginning of one’s harvest to Him.”
The first fruits offerings were brought with great celebration in anticipation of God’s provision of a coming bountiful harvest. Carta’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem says, “By expressing thanks for God’s bounty and presenting the beginning of one’s harvest to Him, a circle was closed as nature’s produce was returned to its Origin. The ceremony was spiritually elevating and everyone felt deep reverence, awe, and joy as they realized it is the Holy One alone who is the Source of all blessing.”
The purpose of the first fruits offering was fourfold: it honored God as the Source of all blessing; it sanctified the remaining part of the harvest by bringing the harvest under God’s authority; it assured that the coming harvest would be exceedingly bountiful; and it demonstrated that the giver could be trusted in the stewardship of the resulting wealth (Romans 11:16; Proverbs 3:9-10). Do the first fruits offerings have any present meaning and current application for the believer today? Yes, without a doubt. There are three reasons why the first fruits offering is relevant and applicable to believers today.
The Relevance of First Fruits Offerings Today
Firstly, the first fruits offering is part of “all” Scripture. Paul the Apostle said, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). Christians often disregard many Old Testament practices as “Old Covenant” and therefore irrelevant for the believer in Christ today. However, Christians who disregard Scripture in such a manner often miss precious truths because, in the Old Testament, the New Testament is concealed (being foreshadowed and foreordained) and in the New Testament, the Old Testament is revealed (being fulfilled and explained). Truth is truth, regardless of which Testament contains the truth and, in the final analysis, it is only the truth that we know that makes us free (John 8:32).
Secondly, the three festivals in which the first fruits offerings were brought to the temple, and the first fruits offerings themselves, are all rich in deep spiritual meaning, foreshadowing many precious realities of Christ’s finished work of redemption. In fact, in Leviticus 23:2, the festivals were called “convocations” which can mean “a rehearsal.” For thousands of years, every year that the Jews celebrated the festivals, they were having dress rehearsals for the coming of Jesus and His redemptive work for all mankind.
One of many examples is that the first of all the first fruits offerings, called the omer offering, was a symbol of Jesus’ resurrection. The omer offering was a first fruits offering from the barley harvest and took place every year on the Jewish calendar on the 16th day of Nissan (sometime in March or April). Guess what else happened on the 16th day of Nissan? It was on the 16th day of Nissan that Jesus was raised from the dead—it was the first Easter. Now you know why it says in 1 Corinthians 15:20, “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept.” The New Living Translation of 1 Corinthians 15:20 says that Jesus being raised from the dead was, “the first of a great harvest of all who have died.”
Jesus’ resurrection was a first fruits offering to God that assured there would be an exceedingly abundant harvest of many saints being raised from the dead in the resurrection of the righteous. Every time the Jews gave the first fruits offering on their barley harvest, they were having a dress rehearsal of Jesus’ resurrection and then, when they harvested the rest of the crop, it pointed to the future physical resurrection of the saints. Glory to God!
Finally, the first fruits offering teaches timeless principles of both giving and receiving that cross all covenants and can be applied in any “dispensation”.
The Timeless Principles in First Fruits Offerings
First, the first fruits offering teaches that we should honor God first with our best. In fact, the Hebrew word translated “first fruits” can mean, “chief or choicest.” When the Jews would prepare their first fruits offerings, they would go into the fields and orchards and tie a cord around the first and best part of the harvest that they saw ripening in the field in order to indicate what would be given to God.
Second, the first fruits offering teaches us to honor God with the first and the best of any blessing bestowed upon us that will be ongoing in our lives. The first fruits offerings on the seven favored fruits of Israel represented an acknowledgment of God’s ongoing blessing, bestowed upon the upcoming harvest of each crop, to bring each crop to abundance and maturity. This is why this type of offering only needs to be given once each year as a form of honor to God on each form of increase. For example, as you anticipate your annual salary for the year, you would give a first fruits offering once at the beginning of the year.
Third, the first fruits offering teaches that all offerings do not necessarily need to be large amounts of money in order to be honorable. The first fruits offering on the barley harvest was only about 2 quarts; it was only two loaves of wheat bread on the wheat harvest; and it appears to have been only one basket of each of the other seven favored fruits of Israel (all amounts are regardless of the anticipated size of the harvest).
Fourth, the first fruits offering teaches that part of honoring God is also honoring His ministers. Although the first fruits offerings were given to God at the temple, it took the form of the offerings being given to the priest personally for their worship, use, and consumption. It was a method that God ordained to care for the needs of the priesthood whom He had commissioned to be in service to the people.
Finally, the first fruits offering teaches that giving is not something we do with our material substance only, but it is something we do with our hearts and mouths. In fact, the word translated “offering” is the Hebrew word korban which can mean, “a drawing near to God.” In Deuteronomy 26:1-11, there is a blessing that each Jew was to confess over their first fruits offering, declaring their gratitude that they had come into the land of promise. In the same way, we can use a first fruits offering to declare that God has brought us into every spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ.
Applying the Principles of the First Fruits Offerings
How could you apply the principles of the first fruits offerings in a primarily monetary economy (as opposed to a primarily agricultural society) in the light of the New Covenant? Of course, in our covenant, we must be Spirit-directed in our first fruits offerings, but there are many possible ways to express generosity in the light of the principles contained in the first fruits offerings. One possible way to give a first fruits offering could be to give the first part of a salary increase to God. For example, if a person were told they would be receiving an annual salary raise that would increase their pay by $10 each paycheck, they could give the first $10 increase from their first paycheck. It would be a first fruits of the coming harvest. In light of the biblical model of the first fruits offering, the $10 offering would not need to be repeated for each successive paycheck – it would be given only once. Another possible application could be that if someone owned their own business, or perhaps an investment, they could give a first fruits offering of an amount based on their own discretion, or an amount impressed upon their heart by the Holy Spirit, in anticipation of profits in the coming year. It could represent the first part of the increase that they saw “ripening in the field”. Since the first fruits offerings were given to the priest, I believe it would be appropriate to give a first fruits offering directly to a minister of the gospel, but as the Holy Spirit may direct, it would also be appropriate to give a first fruits offering to a church or ministry.
Although, the first fruits offering is not directly mandated in the New Testament, when directed by the Holy Spirit, it is a beautiful expression of generosity to the gospel and also of our love for God. Also, in my view, it should be a consistent expression of our generosity. Some may resist the principle of the first fruits offering as being legalistic or ritualistic, but it need not be so if given in love and faith. Others may claim that redemption in Christ frees us from such practices. However, we certainly haven’t been redeemed unto stinginess. In Christ, we have the greatest cause for generosity. Let’s reclaim the power of first fruits offerings and begin to see our barns filled with plenty and our vats overflowing with new wine (Proverbs 3:10)!
Nathanael & Michelle
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PSS – One of the reasons we posted this article is because we just finished ministering at the Kingdom Wealth Conference at Dayspring Church in Springfield, MO and there were many questions about the first fruits offering. Also, many received healing both at the conference and in the service the following Sunday morning, including a little girl who had a growth on the back of her leg. While praying, the growth immediately decreased by about two-thirds and the little girl and her mom sat weeping in the warmth of the love of Christ. It was beautiful! Yay Jesus! Check our ministry schedule for a full listing of where we’ll be next!