In the hearts and minds of the faithful, the prohibition of covetousness is grounded in a right relationship of grace, obedience, and blessing. This blessing is of course grace, which leads to grateful obedience, and more blessing. We receive, and we give, in order to receive again, so that we might grow mighty in giving. Learning all this begins with the first fruits and the tithe. "And it shall be, when thou art come in unto the land which the Lord they God giveth thee . . ." (Dt. 26:1-19).
When God brings the Israelites into the land, they are called to bring an offering of the first fruits (vv. 1-10). When the first fruits are offered, the Israelites were to recite a creed which exults in God’s redemption manifested in history (vv. 5-10). They were also called to remember the triennial tithe, for the Levite, alien, orphan and widow (vv. 11-15). In response to the tithe, and the vow associated with it, the Israelite sought God’s blessing. The last four verses of this chapter conclude the exposition of the law that Moses has been giving (vv. 16-19). This conclusion reechoes the same themes—grace, obedience, blessing.
The Israelites had not been farmers, and they would now begin that process. The surrounding agricultural pagans would try to teach them pagan "harvest home" practices. Contrary to this, they were to bring their first fruits to the place where God had set His name (vv. 1-2).
The first fruits were to be presented with an acknowledgement that God had brought them into the land (v. 3). The priest sets the offering before the altar (v. 4), and then the worshipper confesses his faith. A wandering Aramean (Jacob) was brought down to Egypt and became a mighty nation (v. 5). The Egyptians afflicted them (v. 6), and God heard Israel’s cry and delivered them with a terrible deliverance (vv. 7-8). After this, He brought them into a land flowing with milk and honey (v. 9), and the worshipper responds with the gratitude of the first fruits (v. 10).
The first fruits are not only an important part of worship, they are also an important type. They represent the Holy Spirit, who is the beginning of the coming harvest of resurrection (Rom. 8:23). They represent those who are brought first into the Christian faith (Rom. 16:5; 1 Cor. 16:15; Jas. 1:18; Rev. 14:4). They represent Jesus Christ Himself, raised from the dead (1 Cor. 15: 20, 23).
Then there is the matter of joy and the tithe. The tithe is married to the attitude of joy (v. 11). And "thou shalt rejoice." Those who do not tithe do not know joy. And those who tithe without joy are just throwing away their money.
The tithe was brought to the central sanctuary in the first, second, fourth, and fifth years. There was no tithe in the seventh year. In the third and sixth years, the tithe was to be used locally—"within thy gates" (v. 12). At the same time, the worshipper had to take a vow at the central sanctuary that he had in fact given away the tithe to the Levites, widows, aliens, orphans, et al. (v. 13). The vow had to include the fact that he had not eaten any of it himself in mourning, had not used any of it in an unclean way, and had not given any for the dead (v. 14). God loves a cheerful giver. Having rejoiced in generosity the way God had commanded, the worshipper is then commanded to seek the blessing of God (v. 15). Truly, despite our materialism, because of our materialism, we want so little.
Having a right attitude toward their blessings would place them high above the nations. God has given His law, His statutes. Israel was to keep them with all their heart, and all their soul (v. 16). They had sworn a covenantal allegiance to the Lord (v. 17), and He had answered in kind (v. 18). They were His peculiar people. God’s purpose in this was to raise them up above the other nations in praise, name and honor—that they might be a holy people (v. 19).
The applications are straightforward. First fruits—God is to be our God in the first things. The top of the harvest is His, because the whole is His. Our confession of faith—as we confess our faith, redemption and gratitude are to be right at the center of it. Giving and true joy—who does not tithe? The killjoy. Who does not give? The crank. Who gives the money begrudgingly? The idiot. The blessing of God—we are so ill-trained that we miss the simplest lessons. We do not give to lose. We do not give to get. We give because we have already gotten, and we give to get in order to give again. And here is freedom from covetousness.