My daily Bible reading today (Deuteronomy 25-27) concerned the “firstfruits” offering. At harvest, a basket containing choice selections from the beginning of the harvest was to be prepared and offered to God. In bringing the offering, the offerer was to say: “My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous. But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer . . . Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our misery . . . So the Lord brought us out of Egypt . . . He brought us to . . . this land, a land flowing with milk and honey; and now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that you, O Lord, have given me.”
Memory plays a huge part in thankfulness. A hundred years after Moses, none of those reciting those words would have experienced the Exodus. And yet, nothing for which they were immediately thankful would have been possible without those events of the past.
When we count our blessings, may we not just be thankful for the immediate, but also for blessings of the past that have brought us along the road to our present. Parents will do their children a favor to recite those blessings in their prayers of thanksgiving. It gives fuller meaning to the words of the hymn “‘tis grace that has brought us safe thus far,” and confidence to finish the verse with “and grace will lead us home.”
That’s the word that comes to mind as I read Deuteronomy 26.
The first of everything belonged to God. First foal. First calf. First child. First harvest from a field. All of it, in its entirety, belonged to God. Three times a year Israel was to assemble before the Lord, and no one was to show up “empty-handed.” Additionally, during the year, there would be a number of sacrifices people would need to offer. At harvest time, not all the field could be harvested. Part of it had to be left for the poor to harvest for themselves. And if all this weren’t enough, a tenth of all income belonged to God. That’s a tenth of gross by the way, not net.
The tithe and firstfruits offerings were God’s part by divine decree, and the procedure for making the offering involved a public vow that God had not been “shorted” in the offering, that it was indeed the “real” firstfruits, and the complete tenth.
The procedure for offering the tithe and the firstfruits also involved a formal and personal recognition of just how far each person had come under the blessing of the Lord and the procedure served to remind everyone that God was the source of every gain.
If the average Christian were to give a tenth of his gross income, it still wouldn’t match what Israel was called to give. But the fact of the matter is, the average Christian gives only a small fraction of a tenth. And that’s “net,” not “gross.”
Perhaps the reason our blessings are not as great as we expect is that our thankfulness for what we have is not as great as it ought to be. As you give to God this Sunday, ask yourself if you could in all good conscience pray the prayer of a giving Israelite: Each was to say: “I have obeyed the Lord my God. Look down from heaven, your holy dwelling place and bless your people Israel.”
And along with this you might remember that the prayer for God’s blessing of the community depended on the thankfulness of the individual.