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  • THE TEMPLE - CH. 19 - C

    Biccurim in the Temple

    Having thus explained the nature of the various religious contributions, it only remains to describe the mode in which the Biccurim or 'firstfruits,' were ordinarily set apart, and the ceremonial with which they were brought to Jerusalem, and offered in the Temple. Strictly speaking, the presentation of the firstfruits was an act of family religion. As in the first omer at the Passover, and by the Pentecostal loaves, Israel as a nation owned their God and King, so each family, and every individual separately acknowledged, by the yearly presentation of the firstfruits, a living relationship between them and God, in virtue of which they gratefully received at His hands all they had or enjoyed, and solemnly dedicated both it and themselves to the Lord. They owned Him as the Giver and real Lord of all, and themselves as the recipients of His bounty, the dependents on His blessing, and the stewards of His property. Their daily bread they would seek and receive only at His hand, use it with thanksgiving, and employ it in His service; and this, their dependence upon God, was their joyous freedom, in which Israel declared itself the redeemed people of the Lord.

    As a family feast the presentation of the firstfruits would enter more than any other rite into family religion and family life. Not a child in Israel--at least of those who inhabited the Holy Land-- could have been ignorant of all connected with this service, and that even though it had never been taken to the beautiful 'city of the Great King,' nor gazed with marvel and awe at the Temple of Jehovah. For scarcely had a brief Eastern spring merged into early summer, when with the first appearance of ripening fruit, whether on the ground or on trees, each household would prepare for this service. The head of the family--if we may follow the sketch in the harvest-picture of the household of the Shunammite-- accompanied by his child, would go into his field and mark off certain portions from among the most promising of the crop. For only the best might be presented to the Lord, and it was set apart before it was yet ripe, the solemn dedication being, however, afterwards renewed, when it was actually cut. Thus, each time any one would go into the field, he would be reminded of the ownership of Jehovah, till the reapers cut down the golden harvest. So, also, the head of the house would go into his vineyards, his groves of broad-leaved fig-trees, of splendid pomegranates, rich olives and stately palms, and, stopping short at each best tree, carefully select what seemed the most promising fruit, tie a rush round the stem, and say: 'Lo, these are the firstfruits.' Thus he renewed his covenant-relationship to God each year as 'the winter was past, the rain over and gone, the flowers appeared on the earth, the time of the singing of birds was come, and the voice of the turtle was heard in the land, the fig-tree put forth his green figs, and the vines with the tender grapes gave a good smell.' And as these fruits gradually ripened, the ceremonies connected first with setting them apart, and then with actually offering them, must have continued in every Israelitish household during the greater portion of the year, from early spring till winter, when the latest presentation might be made in the Temple on the 25th Kislev (corresponding to our December).

    Songs of Ascent

    Of course every family could not always have sent its representatives to Jerusalem. But this difficulty was provided for. It will be remembered that as the priests and the Levites, so all Israel, were divided into twenty-four courses, who were represented in the Sanctuary by the so-called 'standing men,' or 'men of the station.' This implied a corresponding division of the land into twenty-four districts or circuits. In the capital of each district assembled those who were to go up with the firstfruits to the Temple. Though all Israel were brethren, and especially at such times would have been welcomed with the warmest hospitality each home could offer, yet none might at that season avail himself of it. For they must camp at night in the open air, and not spend it in any house, lest some accidental defilement from the dead, or otherwise, might render them unfit for service, or their oblation unclean. The journey was always to be made slowly, for the pilgrimage was to be a joy and a privilege, not a toil or weariness. In the morning, as the golden sunlight tipped the mountains of Moab, the stationary man of the district, who was the leader, summoned the ranks of the procession in the words of Jeremiah 31:6: 'Arise ye, and let us go up to Zion, and unto Jehovah our God.' To which the people replied, as they formed and moved onwards, in the appropriate language of Psalm 122: 'I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of Jehovah.' First went one who played the pipe; then followed a sacrificial bullock, destined for a peace-offering, his horns gilt and garlanded with olive-branches; next came the multitude, some carrying the baskets with the firstfruits, others singing the Psalms, which many writers suppose to have been specially destined for that service, and hence to have been called 'the Songs of Ascent'; in our Authorised Version 'the Psalms of Degrees.' The poorer brought their gifts in wicker baskets, which afterwards belonged to the officiating priests; the richer theirs in baskets of silver or of gold, which were given to the Temple treasury. In each basket was arranged, with vine-leaves between them, first the barley, then the wheat, then the olives; next the dates, then the pomegranates, then the figs; while above them all clustered, in luscious beauty, the rich swelling grapes.

    And so they passed through the length and breadth of the land, everywhere wakening the echoes of praise. As they entered the city, they sang Psalm 122:2: 'Our feet stand within thy gates, O Jerusalem.' A messenger had preceded them to announce their approach, and a deputation from the Temple, consisting of priests, Levites, and treasurers, varying in numbers according to the importance of the place from which the procession came, had gone out to receive them. In the streets of Jerusalem each one came out to welcome them, with shouts of, 'Brethren of such a place' (naming it), 'ye come to peace; welcome! Ye come in peace, ye bring peace, and peace be unto you!'

    As they reached the Temple Mount, each one, whatever his rank or condition, took one of the baskets on his shoulder, and they ascended, singing that appropriate hymn (Psa 150), 'Praise ye Jehovah! praise God in His sanctuary: praise Him in the firmament of His power,' etc. As they entered the courts of the Temple itself, the Levites intoned Psalm 30: 'I will extol Thee, O Jehovah; for Thou hast lifted me up, and hast not made my foes to rejoice over me,' etc. Then the young pigeons and turtle-doves which hung from the baskets were presented for burnt-offerings. After that, each one, as he presented his gifts, repeated this solemn confession (Deut 26:3): 'I profess this day unto Jehovah thy God, that I am come unto the country that Jehovah sware unto our fathers for to give us.' At these words, he took the basket from his shoulder, and the priest put his hands under it and waved it, the offerer continuing: 'A Syrian ready to perish was my father, and he went down into Egypt, and sojourned there with a few, and became there a nation--great, mighty, and populous.' Then reciting in the words of inspiration the narrative of the Lord's marvellous dealings, he closed with the dedicatory language of verse 10: 'And now, behold, I have brought the firstfruits of the land which Thou, O Jehovah, hast given me.' So saying, he placed the basket at the side of the altar, cast himself on his face to worship, and departed. The contents of the baskets belonged to the officiating priests, and the offerers themselves were to spend the night at Jerusalem.

    The Word 'Firstfruits' in the New Testament

    Turning from this to what may be called its higher application, under the Christian dispensation, we find that the word rendered 'firstfruits' occurs just seven times in the New Testament. These seven passages are: Romans 8:13; Romans 11:16; Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 15:20-23; 1 Corinthians 16:15; James 1:18; Revelation 14:4. If we group these texts appropriately, one sentence of explanation may suffice in each case. First, we have (1 Cor 15:20,23), as the commencement of the new harvest, the Lord Jesus Himself, risen from the dead, the 'firstfruits'--the first sheaf waved before the Lord on the second Passover day, just as Christ actually burst the bonds of death at that very time. Then, in fulfilment of the Pentecostal type of the first loaves, we read of the primal outpouring of the Holy Spirit, dispensed on the day of Pentecost. The presentation of the firstfruits is explained by its application to such instances as Romans 16:5, and 1 Corinthians 16:15 (in the former of which passages the reading should be Asia, and not Achaia), while the character of these firstfruits is shown in James 1:18. The allusion in Romans 11:16 is undoubtedly to the 'first of the dough,' and so explains an otherwise difficult passage. The apostle argues, that if God chose and set apart the fathers--if He took the first of the dough, then the whole lump (the whole people) is in reality sanctified to Him; and therefore God cannot, and 'hath not cast away His people which He foreknew.' Finally, in Revelation 14:4, the scene is transferred to heaven, where we see the full application of this symbol to the Church of the first-born. But to us all, in our labor, in our faith, and in our hope, there remain these words, pointing beyond time and the present dispensation: 'Ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body' (Rom 8:23).

    'Glory to God on account of all things.'--St. Chrysostom


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