The Bible is predominately a moral and spiritual Book revealing the truths and ways of God to men. It is therefore rich in types, parables and symbols as means of communicating understanding to the human mind. Some things, however, can only be appreciated by believers, because they are indwelt by the Spirit of God. Worship is based on a personal relationship with God, hence the recurring mention of the Lord thy God in this section (nine times). God graciously provides pictures of worship in the Old Testament to enrich our understanding. Deuteronomy 26.1-11 provides such a picture to illustrate the importance and priority of worship in personal and assembly testimony today. Let us consider the details of this Old Testament ritual - the basket of first fruits.
"When thou are come into the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee" (v.1). At last after much wandering and waywardness, the grateful Israelite finally arrives in the land of promise, not by dint of his works and wisdom, but by the gift of God's grace. The land became the inheritance of His people - a land "flowing with milk and honey", of incredible beauty and fertility. Similarly, believers of this present age have come into a spiritual inheritance by grace (Eph 1.11; 1 Pet 1.4). The first lesson we learn from this ritual is that worship takes priority in our relationship with God (v.10). There can be no true worship until we have come to dwell in the land of God's provision, and when that is appropriated and appreciated worship becomes more meaningful. The Israelite's first duty in the land was to worship God. Is it ours?
"Thou shalt take of the first of all the fruits of the earth" (v.2). This involved exercise in gathering suitable fruit for an offering to God: how fitting to give God His portion first. Then "thou…shalt put it in a basket", a receptacle in which to bring the gathered fruit to the Lord, and "go unto the place which the Lord thy God shall choose to place his name there" (v.2). This procedure surely resonates with us today, as we seek to worship in the divine sanctuary and among the saints in the "house of God…the pillar and ground of truth" (1 Tim 3.15; see also Mt 18.20). We need to take what we have gleaned and gathered from the Word, put it in the basket of our heart, and bring it before the God to worship in "spirit and in truth" (Jn 4.23-24). Some have larger capacities than others, but whether baskets are small or large, round or square, God delights to accept them all. Preparation of mind and heart is, therefore, a prerequisite for effective worship (1 Cor 11.28). Do we prepare and are ready to worship, silently or audibly, when we come together?
"Thou shalt go unto the priest" (vv.3-4). There must be a mediator through whom the gifts can be presented in an acceptable manner. The priest needed to be sure that the person was a sincere and genuine Israelite, and so he demanded a public declaration of faith (no silent brethren then) thus: "I am come unto the country which the Lord sware unto our fathers to give us" (v.3). This provided assurance that the offering and offerer were acceptable to God. The priest placed the offering "before the altar" (v.4), as worship must be based on sacrifice, and the Lord received it. In our day we are all believer-priests and are able to "offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ" - our Mediator and Great High Priest (1 Pet 2.5); therefore, "Let us draw near…in full assurance of faith" (Heb 10.22).
"A Syrian ready to perish" (vv.5-11). As part of the offerer's worship he had to rehearse the nation's humble origin in Jacob, when God saved him from the famine in Canaan, brought him down to Egypt, and there made from him the great nation of Israel (Gen 46.1-7). Then he would remember the bitterness and bondage in Egypt, until the Lord brought them out "with a mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm" (v.8), and brought them into this beautiful and bountiful land (Ex 3.7-8). This foreshadows redemption's story that unfolded at Calvary, for we also are ruined sinners, "ready to perish" (v.5) but for the compassion of a Saviour God. These are all elements of true worship.
The Israelite then acknowledged his unworthiness and that God's love and faithfulness had accomplished everything for him - "I have brought the firstfruits of the land, which thou, O Lord, hast given me…and worship before the Lord (my) God (v.10). This verbal profession, "the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name (Heb 13.15), recalled God's gracious dealings, and induced humility and holiness in their relationship with Him. Finally, and importantly, there is the command to "rejoice in every good thing which the Lord thy God hath given unto thee" (v.11); worship should be a source and stimulus of spiritual joy. Is that our experience?
What an appropriate picture of worship this ancient ritual portrays! Let us note the obvious lessons so that our worship may be deeper and richer. It is interesting to observe that the rest of this chapter (please read) deals with practical "well doing"; worship should issue in well doing - "heart to God and hand to man". God filled their baskets with fruits that their hearts might be filled with praise to Him.