The 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 sanctuaryA sanctuary is the consecrated area around the altar of a church or temple. It also means a place of safety where one can flee for protection. In the Old Testament, especially in the Psalms, God is referred to as a sanctuary, a refuge from... More: Unleavened Bread (PassoverPassover commemorates the deliverance of the Hebrew people from Egypt as described in the book of Exodus. It is celebrated with worship and a meal on the fourteenth day of the month called Nisan, which is the first month of the Jewish year. The time... More), 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; “PentecostPentecost was originally a Jewish harvest or pilgrimage festival that fell on the fiftieth day after Passover. It was during this festival that the Holy Spirit visited Jesus' followers in tongues of fire and caused them to speak in many languages, as reported in Acts... More,” 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 AbrahamGod promised that Abraham would become the father of a great nation, receive a land, and bring blessing to all nations. More 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 JacobThe son of Isaac and Rebekah, renamed Israel, became the father of the twelve tribal families More, 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 salvationSalvation can mean saved from something (deliverance) or for something (redemption). Paul preached that salvation comes through the death of Christ on the cross which redeemed sinners from death and for a grace-filled life. More, and the backbone of Genesis through JoshuaThe successor of Moses, Joshua led the Israelites into Canaan More. 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.