The Old Testament lesson for this Sunday is from the fifth book of the Torah. It is from Deuteronomy 26:1-11 and is the text for the first Sunday in the Lenten season. At first glance, one may wonder why this text was chosen for Lent and how it reflects a connection to the assigned Gospel, Luke 4:1-3. The Luke passage is the account of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. A possible preaching point is the reversal we see in the life of Christ. In the Deuteronomy passage the people are given instructions on how to give offerings when they are led out of the wilderness into the Promised Land of Canaan. In the Luke passage, Jesus leaves the Promised Land to go out into the wilderness as the Sin-bearer to take our sins back to Satan (and then to the cross). God gives great blessings to His people, but only through the One who is a substitute in our place, His Son.
The blessing/gift of the Land of Canaan is a large part of the covenantal promise the LORD has cut with Israel. In this passage we hear the echoes of language from chapter 6:10-13. The earlier reference is to a land the LORD provides for the people; good cities they did not build, houses filled with things they did not work for, cisterns they did not dig, vineyards they did not plant. They truly receive provisions from the LORD who has done all the giving of a land flowing with milk and honey. And, the people are cautioned not to forget this. Now, in chapter 26 we see the giving of firstfruits and tithes as a mean by which the Israelites will remember who the LORD is and what He has done—and will continue to do for them. Ultimately, the greatest gift the land will provide is the Messiah. The prophets of the LORD are clear. The Messiah must be born in this Promised Land. Thus, we see how important this small piece of property becomes, even to this day. Its true value is in the gift of Jesus who will provide His blood and very life to endow all people with forgiveness and everlasting life for His children.
The idea of firstfruits and tithes is it being the best of the best—the first and best. In sacrifices it is the sacrifice without blemish or spot; the best of the best. When the people give their firstfruits and tithes they give the best BECAUSE they have first received the best from the LORD. It is important to emphasize which comes first: The LORD blesses so the people may give. The LORD sends His Son to rescue and redeem so the people may walk with Him.
26:1 נֹתֵן (no-Ten) Qal participle: “to give” This verb will appear over and over again in these verses. The emphasis is not on what man is going to give to God, but rather, what the LORD has given to them.
26:2 מֵרֵאשִׁיתe (me-re-Shit) from: רֵאשִׁית (ray-sheeth) “first fruit; best part; choicest part” Not leftovers or extra.
בַטֶּנֶא; (vat-Te-ne) from: טנא (teh-neh) “basket; Literally: in a basket”
יִבְחַר (yiv-Char) root: בחר (baw-khar) “to choose” “The place the LORD will choose to make His name to dwell” is a reference to Jerusalem, the location of the Temple.
26:3 לָתֶת לָנוּ ((La-tet La-nu) “to give to us”
26:4-5 וַיָּגָר; (vai-Ya-gor) root: גור (goor) Qal: “to dwell as a sojourner; as an alien”
בִּמְתֵי (bim-Tei) from: מת (maht) “people; man”
עָצוּם (a-Tzum) “mighty; great”
26:6 וַיָּרֵעוּ (vai-ya-Re-u) root: רֵעע (raw-ah) Hiphil: “to deal with poorly; to treat badly; to be bad; evil”
וַיְעַנּוּנוּ (vay-an-Nu-nu) root: ענה (aw-naw) Piel: “to oppress; to humble; afflict; to cause a person to feel/be dependent”
קָשָׁה (ka-Shah) “hard; difficult; severe”
26:7 וַנִּצְעַק: (van-nitz-Ak) root: צעק (tsaw-ak) Qal: “to shout; cry out”
עָנְיֵנוּ (a-ne-Ye-nu) from: עָנְיֵ (on-ee) “affliction; misery; oppression”
עֲמָלֵנוּ (a-ma-Le-nu) from: עמל (aw-mawl) “need; trouble; toil”
לַחֲצֵנוּ; (la-cha-Tze-nu) from: לחץ; (lakh-ats) “oppression”
*All of this language reminds the people of their struggles in Egypt and the LORD God’s response as it focuses on Exodus 2:23-25. It also reminds of the covenant and its promises.
26:8 וּבִזְרֹעַ (u-viz-Ro-a) from: זְרוֹעַ (zer-o-ah) “arm, shoulder, strength”
וּבְמֹרָא (u-ve-mo-Ra) from: מוֹרא (mo-raw) “terror; awe-inspiring act or deed”
וּבְמֹפְתִים (u-ve-mo-fe-Tim) from: מוֹפת (mo-faith) “wonder; sign”
26:9 זָבַת (za-Vat) Qal: “gush; flow”
חָלָב (cha-Lav) “milk”
וּדְבָשׁ (u-de-Vash) “honey” This is a phrase used to indicate both the providing hand of the LORD, and to symbolize poverty. Milk and honey are the food of the poor who cannot afford to eat the meat of their flock, etc.
26:10-11 וְהַגֵּר (ve-hag-Ger) from: גר (gare) “stranger; sojourner; new comer”
The following illustration is from a devotional book I wrote some time ago using my children as an example of our relationship with God (The Children (Not the Adults) of God). It has a stewardship angle to it, and, of course, would have to be adapted to your own children in some way:
The sermon is finished and I stand at the altar and wait as the offering is gathered. My back is to the congregation and I am deep in thought. Have you ever wondered what the pastor is thinking at that moment? One day in the midst of my “meditation” I heard a voice—not that kind of voice! This one was coming from the congregation. It was a child’s voice and it sounded unhappy—worse, it sounded familiar!
Somewhere in the front pew my wife was attempting to teach the children a lesson in stewardship, and my middle son was rewriting the lesson plan. My wife had given each child a quarter to place in the collection plate. Unfortunately, in the short interval between receiving the quarter and the passing of the plate my son became mysteriously attached to his designated offering. When the plate came down the row my son looked at the plate, then he looked at his mother, and his lip went out, his fingers closed tightly and he declared the quarter to be his! Nothing disastrous thus far, but there is a lesson to be taught.
Sometimes retreat is a perfectly acceptable maneuver. Sometimes it is the wisest course. This is little used in parenting. Parents tend to subscribe to the idea of forging ahead. My wife did! She tried gentle persuasion, but not having a lot of time to work with, she resorted to force. She pried open his fingers, dropped the quarter in the plate and quickly passed it on. Done!
Not hardly! It started slow and soft, “I want my quarter back.” And it grew in volume, “I WANT MY QUARTER BACK!” This is no longer a personal, child-raising moment. The entire family of God in that place is now included. To this day, I give thanks my wife had another quarter in her purse! Children!
On the other hand, you have adults. We are more reserved in these matters, but I wonder how often, as we drop the envelope into the plate, our hearts are crying out, maybe screaming, “I want my money back!” As we laugh at children like mine, we have a feeling we would like to join the chorus. Maybe the kid has a point! Maybe this is why we are called the children of God and not the adults!
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Deuteronomy 26:1-11.