Deuteronomy 26:1-11 – First Fruits


Deuteronomy 26:1-11


The central law code closes with the offering of first fruits and contains a pithy summary of the people’s history.


The offering of the first fruits of the seven species of the land – wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives (as oil) and dates (as honey) – was to be presented before the high priest at the central worship site (Jerusalem) (Deuteronomy 26:3, Leviticus 23:10). This offering was presented at some time between Shavuot (Pentecost/Weeks) and Sukkot (Booths/Tabernacles) as the species were collected. In some years, the offering would be presented during Shavuot, in other years, later. This offering of first fruit is distinct from the tithes (Deuteronomy 14:22-29), and is related to, but not identical with Shavuot (Numbers 28:26 assumes that first fruits will fall within the Festival of Weeks).

Essentially a festival celebrating the wheat harvest (Deuteronomy 16:9-12), at this time 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:

  • The first section is famously difficult to translate. 26:5 may be variously translated as “My father was a wandering Aramean” or “An Aramean [tried to] destroy my father.” The text may recall Abraham’s sojourn in the land and journey down to Egypt. Alternatively, Jacob could be the wandering Aramean. Though certainly he was less of an Aramean than his grandfather, Jacob did move his direct descendants to Egypt, as in the next clause. This passage may alternatively be read as saying that Laban the Aramean abused Jacob during his stay in Paddan Aram. In any case, the Israelites prospered initially in Egypt, as verse 5 describes.
  • 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.