Here is, I. A good work ordered to be done, and that is the presenting of a basket of their first-fruits to God every year, Deut. 26:1, 2. Besides the sheaf of first-fruits, which was offered for the whole land, on the morrow after the passover (Lev. 23:10), every man was to bring for himself a basket of first-fruits at the feast of pentecost, when the harvest was ended, which is therefore called the feast of first-fruits (Exod. 34:22), and is said to be kept with a tribute of free-will-offering, Deut. 16:10. But the Jews say, “The first-fruits, if not brought then, might be brought any time after, between that and winter.” When a man went into the field or vineyard at the time when the fruits were ripening, he was to mark that which he observed most forward, and to lay it by for first-fruits, wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates, some of each sort must be put in the same basket, with leaves between them, and presented to God in the place which he should choose. Now from this law we may learn, 1. To acknowledge God as the giver of all those good things which are the support and comfort of our natural life, and therefore to serve and honour him with them. 2. To deny ourselves. What is first ripe we are most fond of; those that are nice and curious expect to be served with each fruit at its first coming in. My soul desired the first ripe fruits, Mic. 7:1. When therefore God appointed them to lay those by for him he taught them to prefer the glorifying of his name before the gratifying of their own appetites and desires. 3. To give to God the first and best we have, as those that believe him to be the first and best of beings. Those that consecrate the days of their youth, and the prime of their time, to the service and honour of God, bring him their first-fruits, and with such offerings he is well pleased. I remember the kindness of thy youth.
II. Good words put into their mouths to be said in the doing of this good work, as an explication of the meaning of this ceremony, that it might be a reasonable service. The offerer must begin his acknowledgment before he delivered his basket to the priest, and then must go on with it, when the priest had set down the basket before the altar, as a present to God their great landlord, Deut. 26:3, 4.
1. He must begin with a receipt in full for the good land which God had given them (Deut. 26:3): I profess that I have come now at last, after forty years’ wandering, unto the country which the Lord swore to give us. This was most proper to be said when they came first into Canaan; probably when they had been long settled there they varied from this form. Note, When God has made good his promises to us he expects that we should own it, to the honour of his faithfulness; this is like giving up the bond, as Solomon does, 1 Kgs. 8:56; There has not failed one word of all his good promise. And our creature-comforts are doubly sweet to us when we see them flowing from the fountain of the promise.
2. He must remember and own the mean origin of that nation of which he was a member. How great soever they were now, and he himself with them, their beginning was very small, which ought thus to be kept in mind throughout all the ages of their church by this public confession, that they might not be proud of their privileges and advantages, but might for ever be thankful to that God whose grace chose them when they were so low and raised them so high. Two things they must own for this purpose:—(1.) The meanness of their common ancestor: A Syrian ready to perish was my father, Deut. 26:5. Jacob is here called an Aramite, or Syrian, because he lived twenty years in Padan-Aram; his wives were of that country, and his children were all born there, except Benjamin; and perhaps the confessor means not Jacob himself, but that son of Jacob who was the father of his tribe. However it be, both father and sons were more than once ready to perish, by Laban’s severity, Esau’s cruelty, and the famine in the land, which last was the occasion of their going down into Egypt. Laban the Syrian sought to destroy my father (so the Chaldee), had almost destroyed him, so the Arabic. (2.) The miserable condition of their nation in its infancy. They sojourned in Egypt as strangers, they served there as slaves (Deut. 26:6), and that a great while: as their father was called a Syrian, they might be called Egyptians; so that their possession of Canaan being so long discontinued they could not pretend any tenant-right to it. A poor, despised, oppressed people they were in Egypt, and therefore, though now rich and great, had no reason to be proud, or secure, or forgetful of God.
3. He must thankfully acknowledge God’s great goodness, not only to himself in particular, but to Israel in general. (1.) In bringing them out of Egypt, Deut. 26:7, 8. It is spoken of here as an act of pity—he looked on our affliction; and an act of power—he brought us forth with a mighty hand. This was a great salvation, fit to be remembered upon all occasions, and particularly upon this; they need not grudge to bring a basket of first-fruits to God, for to him they owed it that they were not now bringing in the tale of bricks to their cruel task-masters. (2.) In settling them in Canaan: He hath given us this land, Deut. 26:9. Observe, He must not only give thanks for his own lot, but for the land in general which was given to Israel; not only for this year’s profits, but for the ground itself which produced them, which God had graciously granted to his ancestors and entailed upon his posterity. Note, The comfort we have in particular enjoyments should lead us to be thankful for our share in public peace and plenty; and with present mercies we should bless God for the former mercies we remember and the further mercies we expect and hope for.
4. He must offer to God his basket of first-fruits (Deut. 26:10): “I have brought the first-fruits of the land (like a pepper-corn) as a quit-rent for the land which thou hast given me.” Note, Whatever we give to God, it is but of his own that we give him, 1 Chron. 29:14. And it becomes us, who receive so much from him, to study what we shall render to him. The basket he set before God; and the priests, as God’s receivers, had the first-fruits, as perquisites of their place and fees for attending, Num. 18:12.
III. The offerer is here appointed, when he has finished the service, 1. To give glory to God: Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God. His first-fruits were not accepted without further acts of adoration. A humble, reverent, thankful heart is that which God looks at and requires, and, without this, all we can put in a basket will not avail. If a man would give all the substance of his house to be excused from this, or in lieu of it, it would utterly be contemned. 2. To take the comfort of it to himself and family: Thou shalt rejoice in every good thing, Deut. 26:11. It is the will of God that we should be cheerful, not only in our attendance upon his holy ordinances, but in our enjoyments of the gifts of his providence. Whatever good thing God gives us, it is his will that we should make the most comfortable use we can of it, yet still tracing the streams to the fountain of all comfort and consolation.