This semester in Sunday School, we're doing the video series, "That the World May Know." It's a FotF production that videos a Bible scholar taking a group through Israel. There's something about the imagery and the lessons that makes the Scripture come alive to me in different ways. Ray Vander Laan weaves cultural history and the Bible seamlessly together, and I see new things in familiar places.
This week's lesson was on Jericho. I didn't know this, but apparently, Jericho is probably the oldest city in the world. It was around for about 8,000 years before Abraham walked the earth, if that gives you any new perspective. The city isn't as large as I used to a imagine, only a few acres really, and it's located at a crossroads in the ancient world. Jericho is a green, lush place. Its a natural oasis with a clear brook running through it.
When the Israelites crossed the Jordan River, they were headed for Jericho. It seemed like a perfectly logical place to go, a beautiful example of the land of milk and honey they had been promised. After the defeat of Jericho, they probably would've loved to rebuild and settle there. It probably looked like a sure thing that they would get a good yield on their crops there.
But God had other plans. He told them not to rebuild a single stone of that city. In fact, he went so far as to tell them that the man who did so would lose both his oldest and youngest sons as the cost of his disobedience. This came to pass later on.
But why would God not allow his children to build there? Vander Laan suggested that the reason could have something to do with the concept of first fruits. This was one of the Biblical feasts set out by God for his children to practice.
Each year at harvest time, they were to give him the first of whatever they harvested... the first bunches of grapes, the first handfuls of grain, etc. They gave to God what they'd longed and hoped for for months, and if a sudden storm came afterward, there would be nothing of the harvest left for them. They gave to God first, trusting that it was He that provided, and that he would continue to provide what they needed.
So maybe God required Jericho as a kind of first fruit. It was the first city that the Israelites took in the Promised Land. Logic said to them that they should trust in its fertile location to take care of them in future years. God demanded that they remember that it was He who would provide what they needed. They probably looked at it with longing as they left. It isn't easy to trust God as we leave what we think is certain security...
It got me thinking about first fruits in my own life. There are some obvious ways of giving God first fruits. When we tithe off the top of our income, we're saying that we trust God to provide the rest. That's first fruits. But there are other ways to give the first and best without knowing that we'll get what we think we need afterward.
Time is a hard thing for me to give to God. When Seth goes down for his nap, I'm not giving God the first and best of the time I have if I spend it talking on the phone or even doing dishes instead of doing my devotions. I need to give to God first, instead of pushing my time with Him off until I think it's convenient for me.
So often, I don't give to God first. I give to me first, and I ask Him to take what's left after I'm satisfied. This lesson was a challenge to me. What are some ways that you could give God his first fruits in your life?