The Land of The Giver

"And it shall be, when you come into the land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, and you possess it and dwell in it, that you shall take some of the first of all the produce of the ground . . . "(Deuteronomy 26:1, 2)

Under the leadership of Joshua Ben Nun, a new generation was about to enter the Promised Land.

From the very outset, the Land of Israel was to be understood as a gift, as part of the inheritance given by the LORD God to His People, Israel. The Land was promised to the Patriarchs and their descendants, as an everlasting possession. The time had come for the Chosen People to possess their inheritance. Joshua and this new generation would enter and possess the Land. The Land was, is and will always be a gift to Israel.

The context of the Scripture passage is in regard to the firstfruits and tithes. These constituted the first of all the produce of the land, and as such were to be set aside.

The produce of the Land reflected the close partnership between God and Israel. God provided the sun and rain, while Israel worked the Land; a poignant reminder of the special covenant relationship between the Chosen People and the LORD their God.

God instructed His people to gather the first of all the produce of the Land. These firstfruits were brought before the LORD, in recognition and honour of Him who is the Gracious Provider, the Giver of all good things. Since the LORD their God had given them the land, then all the produce which came from it was also a gift from Him.

In bringing the basket of firstfruits before the LORD, to the place where His Name dwelt, the pilgrim would declare to the priest " . . . that I have come to the country which the LORD swore to our fathers to give us." (Deuteronomy 26:3). The LORD had given and the basket of fruit was evidence of the gift.

The priest would then take the basket place it beside the Altar, at which point, the pilgrim would recite the history of Israel -- dispersed and mistreated -- and then proclaim, yet the LORD "has brought us to this place and has given us this land, 'a land flowing with milk and honey'." (Deuteronomy 26:9) Though his fathers had lived among the Gentiles, and had survived even becoming "prosperous people", yet he had come home and had been richly blessed -- completely fulfilled.

Historically, Israel has been battered and bruised by the nations. As strangers in foreign lands the descendants of Jacob have been unwelcomed guests, living Gentile-approved lives.

The Land of Israel is different because it has been intentionally given to the People of Israel to possess and dwell in. The LORD is abundant in mercy and He demonstrates His goodness toward His People. The Land is rich and fertile; the proving ground of His faithfulness toward them, and is foundational in the outworking of His covenant with them.

The firstfruit celebrations were not only confined to the individual, but purposefully linked to the whole community; the rich with the poor, the elderly with the young. Even the stranger among you was to recognize the Giver of Life.

"So you shall rejoice in every good thing which the LORD your God has given to you and your house, you and the Levite and the stranger who is among you." (Deuteronomy 26:11)

Tithes were also an important part of "the first of all the produce".

"When you have finished laying aside all the tithe of your increase in the third year -- the year of tithing -- and have given it to the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless and the widow, so that they may eat within your gates and be filled." (Deuteronomy 26:12)

The focus of the Children of Israel was to give. The tithes were holy, set aside for "the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow . . . " The commandments of God cater for the needy in the community. Imitating their Father in Heaven, the Children of Israel were to be a community of givers, showing mercy to those in need and extending justice to the powerless. The Law of God instructed the community of God in the paths of His righteousness and justice. According to the commandments, the tithes were set aside as gifts for the needy.

The "Levite" because the tribe of Levi was set aside as priests to serve the LORD on behalf of the people of Israel, and the gift honoured their station in the community. The "stranger" because the Children of Israel were strangers in the land of Egypt, where they suffered injustice and abuse. The "fatherless" because the orphan needed to experience the love of God through the support of the wider family, and the "widow" because her means of support had ceased since the loss of her husband and she could not survive without gifts.

Those who were in need received an abundance of gifts "so that they may eat within your gates and be filled." Their hunger satisfied, their mouths would be filled with praise and thanksgiving to the LORD God who had provided for them. Together, the giver and the receiver of the gift would rejoice in the Giver of Life.

" . . . then you shall say before the LORD your God: 'I have removed the holy tithe from my house, and also have given them to the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, according to all your commandments which you have commanded me; I have not transgressed your commandments, nor have I forgotten them." (Deuteronomy 26:13)

In all this the commandments of God are the supervising guide providing the correct path leading to a network of community awareness and support. " . . . (I) have given them . . . according to all your commandments which you have commanded me . . . " (Deuteronomy 26:13)

This was the pattern of daily conduct for Israel in all their dealings with each other. Loving one's neighbor as yourself; thinking of others, being concerned for your neighbour's well-being was the channel to giving, which enabled the giver to bless others, to show mercy to whoever was in need. With such an honourable lifestyle, they would be empowered to ask the LORD their God to bless His people and the Land which He had given them.

"Look down from your holy habitation, from heaven, and bless your people Israel and the land which you have given us, just as you swore to our fathers, 'a land flowing with milk and honey.'" (Deuteronomy 26:15)

The Land was a gift. The first of all the produce was a gift. The tithe was a gift. The entire crop was a gift. Those in need received gifts. This is God's pattern. The Land of Israel is the Land of the giver. Unlike any other, the Land of Israel raises the standard for all nations. In this way the Land of Israel is "the glory of all the lands" (Ezekiel 20:15).

Today Jewish people are reluctant to make Aliyah (immigrate) to the Land of Israel. Issues over who owns the Land and who should possess it, and who should live where, have become international disputes and obstacles to return to Israel. Should Israel possess and dwell in the Land of Israel? What about the Palestinian people? Some associate the Land as belonging to the Palestinians (Arab and Muslim peoples), leaving many confused and in doubt.

However, the Scripture is clear. The Word of God is certain and contains promises. "And it shall be, when you come . . . " (Deuteronomy 26:1) Coming to Israel is an integral part of the giving, because when you come, it shall be.

Coming is essential to the experience, but there is much more. This is the Land which God has given and where the Jewish person will reach his or her potential.

Significantly, the reason for the coming is not determined by world views or popular opinion. The sole reason for Aliyah is one's view of the Land. "And it shall be, when you come into the land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance . . . " -- it is a gift. The Land has been given by God to the people of Israel to possess and to reside.

Some people may object protesting that the Land is already occupied. But this is the wrong view of the Land because it will only lead to further debate and uncertainty.

Since the Land is a gift to the people of Israel, then any present occupier who is not Jewish, a Gentile, is considered a temporary resident. Government and administration are the responsibility of the State of Israel. The non-Jewish resident, "the stranger in the land" , like all other residents must be willing to abide by the righteous rule of God's commandments.

"And it shall be, when you come into the land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, and you possess it and dwell in it . . . and you shall answer and say before the LORD your God . . . He has brought us to this place and has given us this land, 'a land flowing with milk and honey'" (Deuteronomy 26:1, 5, 9)

Welcome to the Land of Israel!