A few weeks ago we saw how the Pharisees virtually ignored the commands to look after and take care of the needs of widows and orphans. They were demanding that the poorest of the poor give everything they have to the building of that temple—the same temple that Jesus, looking at, knew would be destroyed in just a few short years. And we saw that Jesus said of those who run that kind of system that “They will receive greater condemnation.” That system was condemned and destroyed less than 40 years later as God used the Roman army to destroy that temple and slay those who used it to become wealthy. If you read the account of the destruction of Jerusalem written by the Jewish historian Josephus—may see it entitled called either “The Jewish War” or “The Wars of the Jews”—when you read it, you will find that the leaders of Jewish people were not necessarily innocent victims of Rome’s cruelty. In fact, there were many factions within the Jewish people, and these fought against each other and killed their own countrymen and polluted the temple with dead bodies before the first Roman soldier even set one foot within the city walls, let alone the temple. Furthermore, the Romans were more than content to allow the Jewish people to continue their temple sacrifices if they would only surrender. But these rabble were driven by pride and by rage and in the end, caused the destruction of the city and the temple and more than one million citizens.
And while all this was taking place, this same Josephus was pleading with the leaders of the various factions, before the Romans had even breached the walls of the city, to avoid the bloodshed that he knew would take place. And even this devout Jew understood that it was indeed God who was using the Romans to exercise His wrath upon the sinful city.
“And who is there that does not know what the writings of the ancient prophets contain in them?…For they foretold that this city should be then taken when somebody shall begin the slaughter of his own countrymen. And are not both the city and the entire temple now full of the dead bodies of your countrymen? It is God, therefore, it is God himself who is bringing on this fire, to purge that city and temple by means of the Romans, and is going to pluck up this city, which is full of your pollutions.”And this is what God had promised in Exodus 22:23-24—23 If you afflict [the widow and orphan] in any way…24 My wrath will become hot, and I will kill you with the sword.” The Pharisees afflicted the widows and orphans—and God killed them with the sword.
Now, we move on to the commands concerning the people's offerings to God. Exodus 22:29-31—“29 You shall not delay to offer the first of your ripe produce and your juices. The firstborn of your sons you shall give to Me. 30 Likewise you shall do with your oxen and your sheep. It shall be with its mother seven days; on the eighth day you shall give it to Me. 31 And you shall be holy men to Me: you shall not eat meat torn by beasts in the field; you shall throw it to the dogs.” This is the principle of Firstfruits. God gives the people some very simple, very straight-forward commands. Basically, “Give Me the first of everything.” The first of your crops—give them to God. The first of the juice you make from your grapes—give it to God. If the first child you have is a son—give Him to God. Your ox, your sheep—give the first male to God. Now, I'm not going to say that God never tells us “Give me everything you have so that you have nothing left over.” He may call some to do that—but that is not the normal pattern. God blesses us with whatever material possessions we have, and simply asks that we use some of those things to glorify Him first. Now, notice the first part of the command in verse 29. How long were they to wait before they gave it? Maybe hang onto it for a little while? Keep it with you until you have more of an increase?
“You shall not delay…” This was to be an act of faith. For the “ripe produce and juices”—as soon as you saw that a portion of your crop was ripe and fit for consumption—you reap it and you give it. Because what we humans would have a tendency to do is to look at that first portion of the crop, and say “Well, let’s wait for some more of the crop to come in just in case something happens and the rest of the crop was wiped out.” So they would wait until they had enough to harvest—then they would reap that portion they had dedicated to God, so that they would be sure they had some left over. But God said “Give it to Me as soon as it is ripe.” Matthew Henry—
“There is danger, if we delay our duty, that we may leave it out completely; and by neglecting the first opportunity, in expectation of another, we allow Satan to cheat us of all our time. Young people should not delay to offer to God the first-fruits of their time and strength, lest their delays turn into denials…and the more convenient season they promise themselves never arrives.”In other words, if that farmer says “I'm gonna wait to give my firstfruit until it’s more convenient just in case something happens,” then he looks up one day and lo-and-behold a swarm of locusts descends on his field and wipes out the entire crop before he has given to God—that delay has turned into a denial.
Now, time-out. What did it mean for these people to “Give it to God”? Does it mean we take it, lift it up in our hands and it gets magically transported up to Heaven where it is consumed by God? No. God does not need to eat. Acts 17:24-25—“24 The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; 25 nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things.” We see what this command means in Deuteronomy 26. The people would put their firstfruits in a basket and bring it to the priest, and offer it to God through the priests and Levites. Since these were of the tribe of Levi, they did not have a portion of land, so all the offerings went to them so they could minister on behalf of the people. Deuteronomy 26:4-10—"4 Then the priest shall take the basket out of your hand and set it down before the altar of the LORD your God. 5 And you shall answer and say before the LORD your God: 'My father was a Syrian, about to perish, and he went down to Egypt and dwelt there, few in number; and there he became a nation, great, mighty, and populous. 6 But the Egyptians mistreated us, afflicted us, and laid hard bondage on us. 7 Then we cried out to the LORD God of our fathers, and the LORD heard our voice and looked on our affliction and our labor and our oppression. 8 So the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and with an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders. 9 He has brought us to this place and has given us this land, ‘a land flowing with milk and honey’;10 and now, behold, I have brought the firstfruits of the land which you, O LORD, have given me.' Then you shall set it before the LORD your God, and worship before the LORD your God." So the offering of firstfruits was a way of thanking God for hearing their cries and delivering them from their bondage to Pharaoh—slaying the firstborn of Egypt and sparing the firstborn of Israel.
Now, let’s flip back to Exodus 22:29-30. As far as the giving of the “The firstborn of your sons…your oxen and your sheep”—you got keep them for seven days, then on the 8th day you gave them to God. And this was not only an act of faith, but it was also to bring to mind at least one, probably two, historical events. First, of course, this was a reminder of the faith of Abraham, who offered up his firstborn son, Isaac. Genesis 22:1-3—1 Now it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2 Then He said, “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” 3 So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son; and he split the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. So what God was telling them was, basically, to have the faith of Abraham. To love God enough, and trust Him enough, to give up even the first son that they had—not knowing if they would have any more children, let alone another son.
And this is what James said about that kind of faith in James 2:21-23—21 Was not Abraham our father justified…when he offered Isaac his son on the altar?...23 And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." Abraham believed—and that faith led him to do what God commanded. Does this mean that God wanted them to take their firstborn son up a hill and slay him? No. It means that the firstborn son was separated from their family and devoted to the service of God. We see an example of that with Hannah, in 1st Samuel. She was barren, she prayed year after year for a son, and when she finally conceived and gave birth to a son—that son being the prophet Samuel—she did as she promised God and dedicated him to the service of God.
The second event it brought to mind was the command God gave to the Israelites on the night of the first Passover. Exodus 13:1-2, 11-15—1 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Consecrate to Me all the firstborn…both of man and beast; it is Mine”…11 [Moses said to the people] “And it shall be…12 that you shall set apart to the LORD all that open the womb, that is, every firstborn that comes from an animal which you have...14 So it shall be, when your son asks you, saying, ‘What is this?’ that you shall say to him…‘15 it came to pass, when Pharaoh was stubborn about letting us go, that the LORD killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man and the firstborn of beast. Therefore I sacrifice to the LORD all males that open the womb, but all the firstborn of my sons I redeem.’” Now, let’s follow this line a little further. If your first child was a son, that boy belonged to God. If that child’s parents wanted to keep that child, they had to redeem him. What does that mean? Well, that means they had to pay a price to the priest or Levite for the privilege of keeping their child. We find that price in Numbers 18:16—“And those redeemed of the devoted things you shall redeem when one month old, according to your valuation, for five shekels of silver.” Adam Clarke gives us a glimpse into what happens during a redemption, when parents want to keep their firstborn son.
“When the child is thirty days old, the father sends for one of the descendants of Aaron: several persons being assembled on the occasion, the father brings a cup containing several pieces of gold and silver coin. The priest then takes the child into his arms, and addressing himself to the mother, says: Is this thy son?
Priest. Hast thou never had another child, male or female, a miscarriage or untimely birth?
Priest. This being the case, this child, as first-born, belongs to me.
Then, turning to the father, he says: If it be thy desire to have this child, thou must redeem it.
Father. I present thee with this gold and silver for this purpose.
Priest. Thou dost wish, therefore, to redeem the child?
Father. I do wish so to do.
The priest then, turning himself to the assembly, says: Very well; this child, as first-born, is mine, as it is written in Bemidbar, (Numbers 18:16), Thou shalt redeem the first-born of a month old for five shekels, but I shall content myself with this in exchange. He then takes two gold crowns, or thereabouts, and returns the child to his parents.”
So the firstborn son, when he was 30 days old, was purchased back by the parents for five shekels of silver. Now, Christian parents are no longer under obligation to pay for their children—even though their children, and every other thing on the face of the earth, belong to God. But when we are born—whether we are a firstborn son, or a 15th-born daughter—we are all dedicated, at the moment of our birth—in fact, at the moment of our conception—we are dedicated to the service of sin, Satan and the flesh. Psalm 51:5 (NLT)—For I was born a sinner—yes, from the moment my mother conceived me. That is our first birth—our physical birth. The first time we are born, we are servants of sin, Satan and the flesh. We are born in bondage to this Law we are studying. But, for those whom God has called, there comes a time when they experience a second birth. This is not a physical birth; this is a spiritual birth. This is what Richard spoke about last week, what Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3:3—“Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Literally, He says “Unless one is born from above…” Every single person is born “from below”—that is, born into the human family that has been stained and cursed because of sin, and is therefore subject to the Law of God. But, when one is born “from above” they are adopted into the family of God and called children of God. 1st John 3:1—Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! And the firstborn of our new family is none other than our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 8:29—For whom [God] foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.
Now, when that second birth—that birth “from above”—takes place, there must be a redemption price paid. To be redeemed from bondage to the Law, some payment must be made to free us from that service. That payment was made to the One who is ruler and sovereign over all—the One who owns every single square inch of the universe. And that is Almighty God. We must be redeemed from the Law. Who has redeemed us? God has! Isaiah 43:1—But now, thus says the LORD, who created you, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine.” Isaiah 63:16—You, O LORD, are our Father; Our Redeemer from Everlasting is Your name. Lamentations 3:58—O Lord, You have pleaded the case for my soul; You have redeemed my life. Hosea 13:14—“I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death.” Revelation 5:9—And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation!” And what was that price that was paid for our redemption? Galatians 3:13—Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us. 1st Corinthians 6:20—You were bought with a price. 1st Peter 1:18-19—18 you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold…19 but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.
Under the OT Law, everything that opened the womb belonged to God. Under the New Covenant, everything that is born again—born of water and the Spirit—belongs to God. The firstborn son in a human family was redeemed with gold and silver—the Only Begotten Son of God redeems those in the family of God with His blood. And none can snatch us out of His hands. Charles Spurgeon—
“My Brethren, the life of a Jew, happy as it was compared with that of a heathen, was perfect drudgery compared to yours and mine! He was hedged in with a thousand commands and prohibitions. His forms and ceremonies were abundant and their details minutely arranged. He was always in danger of making himself unclean. If he sat upon a bed or upon a stool he might be defiled. If he drank out of an earthen pitcher, or even touched the wall of a house—a leprous man might have put his hand there before him and he would thus become defiled. A thousand sins of ignorance were like so many hidden pits in his way. He must be perpetually in fear lest he should be cut off from the people of God. When he had done his best any one day, he knew he had not finished—no Jew could ever talk of a finished work. The bullock was offered, but he must bring another. The lamb was offered this morning, but another must be offered this evening, another tomorrow and another the next day. The Passover is celebrated with holy rites—it must be kept in the same manner next year. The high priest has gone within the veil once, but be must go there again. The thing is never finished—it is always beginning. He never comes any nearer to the end…But see our position—we are redeemed from this! Our Law is fulfilled, for Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness! Our Passover is slain, for Jesus died! Our righteousness is finished, for we are complete in Him! Our victim is slain, our Priest has gone within the veil, the blood is sprinkled! We are clean and clean beyond any fear of defilement, ‘For He has perfected forever those that were set apart.’”Jesus Christ is Lord. Amen.