This chapter is about offering the LORD a basket containing the first fruits of all the fruits of the land. It is the conclusion of a long speech by Moses and the climax of it. All the preceding chapters are the preparation for what is presented in this chapter. In Deuteronomy 1-11 we get to know the land. In Deuteronomy 12-16 it is mainly about getting to know the place where the LORD dwells.
In other words, the LORD tells us here with what to fill the baskets (Deuteronomy 1-11) and where to take the filled baskets (Deuteronomy 12-16). Deuteronomy 17-25 is about the effect of the commandments that God gives. There, what is spelled out is the appropriate mindset for God's people when coming together, like in this chapter, with their filled baskets. With Deuteronomy 27 a new section begins. The spiritual application for us is easy to make: laid before us here, is the essence of worship.
1 - 11 The Offering of the First Fruits of the Land
1 “Then it shall be, when you enter the land which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance, and you possess it and live in it, 2 that you shall take some of the first of all the produce of the ground which you bring in from your land that the LORD your God gives you, and you shall put [it] in a basket and go to the place where the LORD your God chooses to establish His name. 3 You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time and say to him, ‘I declare this day to the LORD my God that I have entered the land which the LORD swore to our fathers to give us.’ 4 Then the priest shall take the basket from your hand and set it down before the altar of the LORD your God. 5 You shall answer and say before the LORD your God, ‘My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down to Egypt and sojourned there, few in number; but there he became a great, mighty and populous nation. 6 And the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, and imposed hard labor on us. 7 Then we cried to the LORD, the God of our fathers, and the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction and our toil and our oppression; 8 and the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with great terror and with signs and wonders; 9 and He has brought us to this place and has given us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. 10 Now behold, I have brought the first of the produce of the ground which You, O LORD have given me.’ And you shall set it down before the LORD your God, and worship before the LORD your God; 11 and you and the Levite and the alien who is among you shall rejoice in all the good which the LORD your God has given you and your household.
This section is about worship. In order to comply with what is written here, the Israelites must first have fruit. They will only be able to have it in the land. Bringing the fruit is therefore proof that they have arrived in the land. By bringing the first fruits of this fruit they confess that they owe the land to the LORD.
The fruit is described in Deuteronomy 8. But the Israelite must not only know what to bring, he must also know where to bring it to. This is described in Deuteronomy 12. He has to look for that place as soon as he enters the land. Only then will he be able to do what is written here in verse 10, which is “worship before the LORD your God”. Thirdly, it is about the way in which the first fruits are to be brought. The fruit must be put in a basket and confession must be made when presented.
The application for us is whether we have something to bring to God and whether we know the place where He dwells, the place He has chosen. We can also worship personally, at home, but that is not the same as this place. There we do not come as individuals, but there we come together as a people, as a church.
In the wilderness too, a place was stipulated for the people to gather: the tabernacle.. But this is about the land and therefore a different place, with different characteristics. With which one do we have to do? With both places. Thus, in the first letter to the Corinthians and in the letter to the Hebrews the believers are seen and addressed as living in the wilderness. We meet on the first day of the week in the awareness that we are still in the wilderness.
We can also have awareness of being in the land. The land means to us what we find in the letter to the Ephesians: the heavenly places with the spiritual blessings as the fruit of the land. If the believer comes with worship on the first day of the week, he comes not only as someone with a sacrifice from the wilderness, but also as someone who has collected fruit in the land.
This is not just about entering and taking possession of the land, but about living in the land. Owning the land does not mean that we live there. Living means to rest in it, to be at home there. The introduction of Israel into the land of promises corresponds for the believer to the enjoyment of his privileges in Christ, in the practice of the life of faith. To ‘live’ in those privileges means to know the fulfilment of the blessings and to be satisfied with them.
That is what is proposed to us in the letter to the Ephesians. Before Paul mentions the spiritual blessings with which the believer is blessed in Christ in the heavenly places, he begins to praise Him from Whom all blessings come forth: “Blessed [be] the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly [places] in Christ” (Eph 1:3). This praise is addressed directly to God, the Giver of all riches. This must be the result of enjoying the Divine blessings.
What do I find in the land, what blessings do I enjoy there? First of all, I meet in heaven a glorified Lord at the right hand of God. Further to this, I enjoy my personal attachment to this Lord, because I share in the sonship He affords. Thirdly, I find there that I am part of the body of Christ and that I am therefore also intimately connected with Him in that way. There too I discover the house of God, where the Holy Spirit now lives. And because the Lord Jesus is my life, His Father is my Father – I may enter the sanctuary as one of the sons who say “Abba, Father”, to worship Him!
The basket also says something of the zeal needed to fill it. The fruits we bring must have cost us something. Collection is done with effort. We cannot bring old fruits; it is about the first fruits.
God wants us to bring the fruits to the place He has chosen. For an Israelite, the city of Jerusalem is the only place on earth, where the people have to gather to celebrate the feasts of the LORD. And for us? For the redeemed of Christ there is only one center of meeting. It is not left to our own insight to discover that place. The Word clearly lets us know through the Lord Jesus: “For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst” (Mt 18:20).
The pagans bring sacrifices in every place they consider good. God Himself will designate this place for His people, and He expects His people to seek it. Not until four hundred years after they are in the land does it become known where that place is. That’s because then, there is one who genuinely seeks it: David.
Psalm 132 describes the exercises associated with this search. David finds the ark in the fields of Efratha (Psa 132:1-7). At this time he is still young. Youthfulness should serve no prohibition in finding that place of fellowship. If interest in that place abounds, God will give the means to ensure that it is found.
Geographically, believers meet in many places as a church. But it is always the same God, the same altar, the same Table of the Lord, and not, as with the pagans, different gods and tables. It is not the intention that a new group with its own insights should meet at every location. It is also important to be open to all the children of God who live in fellowship with God. That place can only be where the characteristics of the body of Christ are practiced. His authority applies there.
In that place we not only bring fruits, we also eat there. Which is to say, we have fellowship with God and with each other. We share what we ourselves have collected of fruits with others. The first fruits are for God. We offer our thanks to God for it. As we do so, the other attendees enjoy of what, as the result of a fresh collection, is offered in thanksgiving to God.
In Deuteronomy 16 there is the danger that not everyone comes with something in his heart, because it is not offered loudly to the Lord. Sisters may think that they need not have anything, because they cannot speak it loudly anyway (1Cor 14:34). But what matters is what is in the heart; that is what God sees, and there He expects fruit. There is no excuse whatsoever for someone coming empty-handed, i.e. with an empty heart. The first fruits must be taken from all the fruit and put in a basket (verse 2). We are that basket ourselves. We must not appear empty, there must be something in our hearts of the Lord Jesus. Everything we have seen of Him, we may offer to God.
In verses 3-4 we again have one of the rare mentions of the priest in this book. That is because worship is mentioned here, a more familiar theme and occurrence in the book of Leviticus. In Leviticus it is about bloody sacrifices. They are placed on the altar. Deuteronomy, however, deals with the fruits of the land. These sacrifices do not come onto the altar, but are placed before the altar. In worship there is a personal aspect – “I declare … that I have entered” (verse 3a) – and a joint aspect – “our fathers to give us” (verse 3b). God is praised by us personally that He has blessed His people, the church, according to His counsels.
In the foregoing we have seen what the Israelite must do by order of the Lord. In what follows, we find what he should say when he is in the presence of the priest. What the Israelite must remember is important to show the grace of which the people are the object of, from the LORD’s side. He mentions the old state of the people (verses 5-7), the liberation of which the people are the object of from the side of the LORD (verse 8) and the part given to him according to the promise of the LORD (verse 9).
These three aspects are important to our worship. We remember:
1. That we were in bondage to sin.
2. That Christ freed us from it at the cost of His life.
3. That we are now blessed with many and great blessings.
Will not the remembrance of these things elevate our worship?
The Supper He left for us for the time of His absence is a remembrance meal. It focuses our thoughts on Christ, our beloved Savior, Who has given Himself as a propitiation for us. We owe everything to His death on the cross. In no other place than the worship service with the Supper as the center, does it suit us better to be aware of the various and rich blessings. Our God and Father overloaded us with them in Christ. We may enjoy them through the Holy Spirit. They are listed in the letter to the Ephesians.
The Israelite gives a personal testimony in verses 5-9. When we meet as a church, the individuality of the believer does not disappear. We eat personally and together. He not only brought me into the land, He brought us into the land. The meeting on the first day of the week is the perfect day to glorify God together. In worship we tell Him what we have seen of the Lord Jesus. We tell Him what we used to be. But we don’t stop there.
Jacob is “a wandering Aramean” because he lived in Syria for twenty years and because his mother comes from there. There he also had a wife and children from whom the people are built (Hos 12:13). He has been at death’s doorstep, because Laban has tried to kill him. This part of the confession emphasizes the humiliating origin. As far as origin is concerned, there is nothing that the Israelite can boast of.
But God is the God of Jacob, and He has freed him from his distress. He has turned a man who was in danger of being killed into a great people. The act of liberation is an act of mercy and compassion. Making a great people and bringing the people into the blessing of the land are acts of God’s intention and sovereignty. Thus we have found ourselves in the world (Egypt), and God has led us out of it, and in so doing has formed the church according to His counsel.
The wilderness is not mentioned here. That is not part of God’s counsels. The wilderness belongs to the ways of God with us, our upbringing. That’s why we don’t tell God on the first day of the week what we have all experienced in the world. We can do this on other occasions, such as the meeting for prayer.
In the worship service we speak about how we used to belong to the world and what He did to bring us into the land. We praise Him for the great blessings we have found there. The most important thing, however, is not the gift, but the Giver Who is the cause of our joy.
We find in these verses a beautiful painting of worship. This exalted Christian service on earth is experienced by us weak and imperfect. Despite that, it is a foretaste of what will be perfectly and for all eternity realized in the glory by the countless redeemed.
The name ‘worship service’ is sometimes given to some religious gathering of which the purpose is prayer or listening to the Word of God. That, however, that is not what biblical worship means. Here we have a picture of what this service truly consists of. The Israelite comes in the presence of the LORD to bring Him an offering which He has prescribed. For the Christian, the worship service is a service where he offers up to God the Father “spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1Pet 2:5).
The above does not weaken the value of prayer and the reading and studying of Scripture in the meeting. On the contrary, if this is done in a way that is pleasing to the Lord, it will result in the hearts expressing themselves more fully in praise and worship.
In order to be able to offer something to God, it is important that we can say: “For all things come from You, and from Your hand we have given You” (1Chr 29:14b). Mary of Bethany, who offers at the feet of the Lord Jesus very costly perfume of pure nard, performs worship (Jn 12:1-8). Her deed is a striking picture of it. Hence, it can be said of our worship service to God: “The sweet scent of our praise is nothing but that of Your love.”
In these eleven verses the word ‘given’ occurs regularly. It points out to us that God makes Himself known as Giver, not as Someone Who demands. And He has given “all the good” (verse 11). He only gives good gifts: “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow” (Jam 1:17; Mt 7:11). If an Israelite must rejoice at all the good that the LORD had given his God to him, how much more reason do we have than to bow down, just like the Israelite, in holy reverence before God and His Son?
12 - 15 The Triennial Tithes
12 “When you have finished paying all the tithe of your increase in the third year, the year of tithing, then you shall give it to the Levite, to the stranger, to the orphan and to the widow, that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied. 13 You shall say before the LORD your God, ‘I have removed the sacred [portion] from [my] house, and also have given it to the Levite and the alien, the orphan and the widow, according to all Your commandments which You have commanded me; I have not transgressed or forgotten any of Your commandments. 14 I have not eaten of it while mourning, nor have I removed any of it while I was unclean, nor offered any of it to the dead. I have listened to the voice of the LORD my God; I have done according to all that You have commanded me. 15 Look down from Your holy habitation, from heaven, and bless Your people Israel, and the ground which You have given us, a land flowing with milk and honey, as You swore to our fathers.’
When the worshiper enjoys grace and fellowship with God (verses 1-11), the spirit of grace immediately reveals itself toward others. The Levite, the stranger, the orphan and the widow in Israel are the objects of it (Deu 14:28-29). For us this means doing good to the servants of the Lord, “the Levite”, to the unbelievers who cross our path, “the stranger”, and to those who are deprived of their natural support, “the orphan and the widow”.
Apart from being invited to continually offer sacrifices of praise to God through Christ, there are other sacrifices to be made to those around us. For it is written: “And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased” (Heb 13:16). These sacrifices are called directly connecting to our spiritual sacrifices, the sacrifices of praise, which is the fruit of our lips (Heb 13:15).
If we have performed worship on the first day of the week, we may then offer our money. But the text tells us that these sacrifices are not to be limited to that occasion. We are privileged to make these sacrifices whenever the opportunity arises. That of course requires faithfulness and devotion to the Lord.
As with the bringing of the basket of first fruits (verses 3-10), the Israelite also pronounces an explanation when bringing the tithes. This statement gives us important teaching for our practice of giving. These tithes are not given to the LORD, but directly to those for whom they are intended. They are not taken to the sanctuary, like the annual tithes, but to their towns to be distributed.
By expressing this explanation or prayer, the giver is placed in God’s direct presence. In this way these tithes are, as it were, given to Him first. They are sanctified by this prayer, set apart for God. The sincere worshiper confirms that in no circumstances in his life has he changed anything in his benefits toward others. He has not taken anything for himself from what he has set apart for those in need. He has kept in mind what God has said about this and has not forgotten it.
Having showed in the practice of his life that he is a righteous man, he can ask for God’s blessing and count on His attentive intervention (cf. Jam 5:16b). The scope of his prayer goes beyond his personal interests. He does not pray for blessing for himself, but for the whole people and the land. He is aware that what he gives is the yield of the land that the LORD has given to His people because of His fidelity to the promises He has made to the fathers.
There is certainly something lacking in worship if we do not feel the desire that the ‘stranger’, he who does not know the Lord, should also get to know Him. The same applies to those who are in trial and therefore miss much of what we can enjoy together. The collection held in connection with worship is proof that our love for the Lord is translated into a contribution to His work. The result will be that He will be worshiped by those who receive this love service.
The service to meet the needs of others will have an end. Praise and worship, however, will continue forever to the glory of our God and Father and of the Lord Jesus Christ, His Beloved Son.
16 - 19 Obedience and Promise
16 “This day the LORD your God commands you to do these statutes and ordinances. You shall therefore be careful to do them with all your heart and with all your soul. 17 You have today declared the LORD to be your God, and that you would walk in His ways and keep His statutes, His commandments and His ordinances, and listen to His voice. 18 The LORD has today declared you to be His people, a treasured possession, as He promised you, and that you should keep all His commandments; 19 and that He will set you high above all nations which He has made, for praise, fame, and honor; and that you shall be a consecrated people to the LORD your God, as He has spoken.”
The enjoyment of all the blessings that the people have received is inextricably linked with obedience to God’s commandments. We can only enjoy the spiritual blessings in the heavenly places if we obey Him in everything. This obedience will be used by God to set His people for praise, fame and honor high above all nations.
In Zephaniah God says it like this: “Behold, I am going to deal at that time with all your oppressors, I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will turn their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. At that time I will bring you in, even at the time when I gather you together; indeed, I will give you renown and praise among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes,” says the LORD” (Zep 3:19-20; Jer 13:11).
God’s people are the means through which He will receive praise and God’s Name will be exalted. In so doing, God’s people will radiate His glory as an ornament. God’s intention is not only to set His people high above all nations, but also to possess them as a consecrated people, in effect, a people separated from all nations for Him. God’s people are there for Him.