Presents made to God of part of the fruits of the harvest, to express the submission, dependence, and thankfulness of the offerers. The portion given was instead of the whole, in acknowledgement that all was due to God. They were offered in the temple before the crop was gathered on the fifteenth of Nisan, in the evening, and threshed in a court of the temple. After it was well cleaned, about three pints of it were roasted, and pounded in a mortar. Over this was thrown a measure of olive oil and a handful of incense; and the priest, taking the offering, waved it before the Lord towards the four cardinal points, throwing a handful of it into the fire on the altar, and keeping the rest. After this, all were at liberty to get in the harvest. When the wheat harvest was over, on the day of Pentecost they offered as first fruits of another, in the name of the nation, two loaves, of about three pints of flour each, made of leavened dough, Le 23:10,17. In addition to these firstfruits, every private person was obliged to bring his firstfruits to the temple, but Scripture prescribes neither the time nor the quantity.
There was, besides this, another sort of firstfruits paid to God, Nu 15:19,21; Ne 10:37: when the bread in the family was kneaded, a portion of it was set apart, and given to the priest or Levite of the place; if there were no priest or Levite, it was cast into the oven and there consumed.
Those offerings are also often called firstfruits, which were brought by the Israelites from devotion, to the temple, for the feast of thanksgiving, to which they invited their relations and friends, and the Levites of their cities. The firstfruits and tenths were the most considerable revenue of the priests and Levites.
Christians have "the firstfruits of the Holy Spirit," Ro 8:23; that is, more abundant and more excellent gifts than the Jews; these were also a foretaste of the full harvest. "Christ is risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept," 1Co 15:20, the forerunner of all those who, because he lives, shall live also, Joh 14:19.
(See FIRSTBORN.) The whole land's produce was consecrated to God by the consecration of the first-fruits (Ro 11:16); just as the whole nation by that of the firstborn. At the Passover, on the morrow after the sabbath, a sheaf of green barley (which is earlier than wheat), of the first fruits of the crop, was waved before the Lord. At Pentecost, 50 days later, two loaves of wheaten bread (Leviticus 23). The feast of tabernacles, on the 15th day of the seventh month, was itself an acknowledgment of the fruits of the harvest. Besides these national offerings the law required that the first of all ripe fruits and liquors should be offered by individuals (Ex 22:29). A cake of the first dough baked was to be a heave offering (Nu 15:19,21). The first-fruits of the oil, wine, and wheat were to be offered to Jehovah, for the benefit of the priests as His representatives (Nu 18:11-13).
The Talmud fixed on the 60th as the least to be given of the produce, a 30th or 40th as a liberal offering. The individual presentation of the first-fruits in a basket took place at the temple or tabernacle. The offerer said: "I profess this day unto the Lord thy God that I am come unto the country which the Lord sware unto our fathers to give us." The priest took the basket and set it down before the altar of the Lord. The offerer added: "A Syrian (Jacob) ready to perish was my father, and he went down into Egypt," etc. (Deuteronomy 26). The Talmud adds that companies of 24 used to assemble at evening m a central station, and pass the night in the open air; the leader in the morning summoned them, "Let us arise and go up to mount Zion, the house of the Lord our God." On the road to Jerusalem they recited Psalm 122; Psalm 150. Each party was preceded by a piper and a sacrificial bullock with horns gilt and crowned with olive.
The priests met them, and the Levites singing Psalm 30. Each presented his basket, reciting the formula in Deuteronomy 26. King Agrippa, it is stated, once carried his basket as others. The offerings were either bichurim, raw produce, "first-fruits," or tirumot, "offerings," prepared produce. Times of apostasy brought a neglect of this duty; the restoration of the offering of both kinds was a leading point in the reformation under Hezekiah (2Ch 31:5,11), and under Nehemiah (Ne 10:35,37; 12:44). The prophets insist on this duty (Eze 20:40; 44:30; 48:14; Mal 3:8). Fruit trees were to be regarded as uncircumcised, i.e. profane, for three years. The produce of the fourth was devoted to God, and only in the fifth year the produce became the owner's (Le 19:23-25).
1. The law ordered in general that the first of all ripe fruits and of liquors, or, as it is twice expressed, the first of first-fruits, should be offered in God's house.
It was an act of allegiance to God as the giver of all. No exact quantity was commanded, but it was left to the spiritual and moral sense of each individual.
2. On the morrow after the passover sabbath, i.e. on the 16th of Nisan, a sheaf of new corn was to be brought to the priest and waved before the altar, in acknowledgment of the gift of fruitfulness.
3. At the expiration of seven weeks from this time, i.e. at the feast of pentecost, an oblation was to be made from the new flour, which were to be waved in like manner with the passover sheaf.
4. The feast of ingathering, i.e. the feast of tabernacles, in the seventh month, was itself an acknowledgment of the fruits of the harvest.
These four sorts of offerings were national. Besides them, the two following were of an individual kind.
5. A cake of the first dough that was baked was to be offered as a heave-offering.
6. The first-fruits of the land were to be brought in a basket to the holy place of God's choice, and there presented to the priest, who was to set the basket down before the altar.
The offerings were the perquisite of the priests.
Nu 18:11; De 18:4
Nehemiah, at the return from captivity, took pains to reorganize the offerings of first-fruits of both kinds, and to appoint places to receive them.
An offering of first-fruits is mentioned as an acceptable one to the prophet Elisha.