Monday, February 25, 2008

Third Sunday in Lent: Exodus XX.19: Dt. 26:1-11

Opening Prayer: Gracious Father, we thank you for calling us into your presence. We thank you that you are pleased with us because of Jesus, and that because you have poured out your Spirit in our hearts, we may call you our Father. Therefore we ask that you would teach us now to forsake all covetousness and to cultivate grateful hearts.

As we have noted throughout this series, the Ten Commandments are the fountain head of a culture of freedom. They are not mere prohibitions; they include a multitude of positive commands which are instructions for being God’s free sons. And the foundational difference between all liberty and slavery is faith and unbelief.

Rejoicing versus Covetousness
Covetousness is a sin of greed and evil desires. And again, we are called not only to turn away from coveting anything that belongs to our neighbor, but we are required to pursue the opposite. God’s people must not covet their neighbors’ belongings, but instead they must rejoice in what they have been given. Here, Moses reminds the people that they are getting ready to take possession of the land (26:1). This was the fulfillment of many years of God faithfully keeping his promises and granting Israel this great inheritance, and therefore it is to be marked with a great confession of faith (26:5-10), worship (26:10-11), and offering (26:2-4, 10). The purpose of this rite is for each Israelite to “rejoice in every good thing which the Lord” has given them and their house. The opposite of covetousness is rejoicing in what God has given. But the central act of gratitude for what God has given is an act of worship at the tabernacle (26:2, 10). This is why Paul says that covetousness is idolatry (Col. 3:5). If you aren’t giving thanks to God for what he has given then you are somewhere else, worshipping at some other shrine.

The Confession
This recital of the Israelite is a confession of faith. It is the Israelite Creed. In the confession the Israelite calls Jacob (Israel) their father, recites the story of the Exodus from Egypt, the granting of the Promised Land, and finally a profession that the firstfruits are a token of the land that Yahweh has given. The confession of “my father was a Syrian about to perish” also recounts a number of important elements of the story of the patriarchs. The word for “Syrian” is the word “aram” and is sometimes translated “Aramean,” and this is the region where Terah first came with his family from Ur and later died (Haran, Gen. 11:31-32). Abram’s brother Nahor settled there, and thus Isaac and Jacob both took wives from this region (Gen. 24:7, 10, 29:4). The confession is also commonly translated, “my father was a wandering Aramean,” drawing off of a secondary definition of oved and emphasizing the whole story of the patriarchs rather than focusing on Jacob and the famine.

The word for “firstfruits” is “resheet” which literally means “first” or “beginning.” It first occurs in Gen. 1:1. This is a separate offering from the tithe, and it seems to be tied particularly to the gifts of God: sons, grains, oil, wine, fruit, bread, etc. (e.g. Gen. 49:3, Num. 18:12, ). The annual harvest feast was at least one annual requirement to offer firstfruits (Ex. 23:16, Lev. 23:9), but they could be offered at other times as well (e.g. Neh?). A related word is “b’cor” which means “first born,” and this word is used a number of times interchangeably with resheet. Both words are used together in a few places; Ex. 23:19 is one place where the wording is striking: “The beginning of the firstborn of your ground [lit. Adam] you shall bring…” (cf. Ex. 34:26, Ez. 44:30). It is difficult to ignore the allusion to the creation narrative of Genesis. If we remember that the sanctuary is a new garden, then whenever the Israelites brought these firstfruit offerings, they are symbolically bringing Adam back into the garden-sanctuary. This is why the New Testament writers understand Christians to be the fulfillment of this offering. Paul says that since we have the “aparke” (beginning) of the Spirit, we (with creation) groan for the redemption of our bodies (Rom. 8:23). And since Christ has already been raised from the dead, he is the “firstborn” of many brethren (Rom. 8:29, 1 Cor. 15:20-23, cf. Col. 1:18). But the only other use of this term is with reference to Christians (Rom. 16:5, 1 Cor. 16:15, Js. 1:18, Rev. 14:4).

Conclusion & Applications
If the tenth commandment prohibits coveting all of these particular things of our neighbor, it exhorts us to give thanks and rejoice in all of the particular things that God has bestowed upon us. Giving thanks is recognition for the gifts. Refusing to give thanks is a denial of the gifts. Notice too that this rejoicing starts in worship with your family and flows out to include the strangers in your midst. Ministry should always be an overflow and not a redirecting. In other words, caring for strangers should not create more strangers.

In Christ, you are the firstfruits of creation. This is because the Spirit is bringing Adam back into the garden. Jesus is the new Adam, and in him, we are all being made alive. But if we are the firstfruits of this creation, this means that all that we are is the promised inheritance of King Jesus; all of it is holy to him. You are called to rest in this promise.

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!

Closing Prayer: Almighty God, we thank you that in Jesus you sent your Son to be man, to be a new Adam for us. We thank you that in Christ you have made the entire world our promised land and our inheritance because you have given the ends of the earth to Jesus and given him a name that is above every name. Teach us to walk in this faith; to live with gratitude to our king for all that he has bestowed upon us.

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