Israel’s Humble Narrative

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The reading this Shabbat is approaching the end of Deuteronomy which means that the High Holidays are quickly approaching. From the Torah we are reading from Deuteronomy 26:1 – 29:8 (9). The name of this Parasha is Ki Tavo (“when you enter the land”). The reading from the prophets is from Isaiah 60:1-22 and from the New Testament we will read from Acts 7:30-36.

In Parashat Ki Tavo there are some very important pearls that we all need to learn and take seriously. The first part of this reading is dealing with the procedures for each family when bringing their first fruits to the Tabernacle (Temple) and when presenting these first fruits to the priest.

This happened one time a year during the feast of Pentecost (Shavuot). The importance of this text is that we have for the first and last time the words that the worshiper says to the priests during the presentation of the first fruits.

This is of great importance for us today. We read so much about the sacrifices in the book of Leviticus, and also in the New Testament in the book of Hebrews, but we don’t have much of the dialogue that went on between the worshiper and the priest that received these first fruits.

Here is the dialogue between the worshiper and the Priest:

“Then the priest shall take the basket out of your hand and set it down before the altar of the Lord your God. And you shall answer and say before the Lord your God: ‘My father was a Syrian, about to perish, and he went down to Egypt and dwelt there, few in number; and there he became a nation, great, mighty, and populous. But the Egyptians mistreated us, afflicted us, and laid hard bondage on us. Then we cried out to the Lord God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice and looked on our affliction and our labor and our oppression. So the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and with an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders. He has brought us to this place and has given us this land, “a land flowing with milk and honey”; and now, behold, I have brought the firstfruits of the land which you, O Lord, have given me.’ Then you shall set it before the Lord your God, and worship before the Lord your God.” – Deuteronomy 26:4–10 [NKJV]

These words are short, but they contain the essence of the story of Israel then and now! Let me analyze the words of the worshiper to the priests.

First, confession of and revelation of our ancestors’ weakness: we did not come from a proud and aggressive family. We are not a people that takes pride in their origin. We didn’t come from a powerful and great nation. The origins of the Israelite nation are humble and totally dependent on the Lord’s grace.

Second, we became a nation in Egypt. This is no small detail, and it is of great importance. What does it mean that Israel became a nation in Egypt and on the way out of Egypt during the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. This point is important to me as a 21st-Century disciple of Yeshua.

What made a bunch of hostile and contrary cousins into a nation is the persecution and suffering that they had to pass through during the years of slavery in Egypt: “the Egyptians mistreated us, afflicted us, and laid hard bondage on us.” For the church of today this message ought to serve as medicine.

The race to make Christians more comfortable and to not offend the people who are sitting on the padded benches (pews) and to make the church services more user politically correct has not and will not produce stronger Christians and more unity, and more healthy growth.

The pattern of history for the growth of strong, convicted, fighting the enemy, disciples of the Messiah, has been and cannot be the more comfortable and more politically correct church.

Strength comes from pain, and dedication to the cause and exercising the muscles in resistance to the difficulties. A church without challenges, demanding sacrifice and the exercise of self-discipline, will become a despondent church and will become selfish and one that is seeking internal conflicts.

Each year that an Israelite came to the priest with his joy and pride, the first fruit, the best fruit, the products of his labor. He came with every reason to be proud and self-content with his great success.

The Torah tells us that the Israelite worshiper has to verbalize a humbling narrative that puts him back on the right track – I come from a poor background of suffering and degradation that forced me and my fellow Israelites to unite and become a nation, and it is all with gratitude and through the goodness of our Lord.

Only after these words are spoken does the priest accept the basket of first fruits and dedicates them to the Lord and blesses the worshipper with another year of prosperity.

I believe that we can all get so much from this narrative and can implement some of these principles in our lives: of humility, the confession of who we really are, of taking off our masks of being a successful and proud people, and of returning to the reality of our total dependence on the goodness and mercy of our Lord.

Then it will be the time to bring our first and last fruits to the Lord as an offering of our lives as a living sacrifice which is our reasonable service (see Romans 12:1).

This article originally appeared on Netivyah and is reposted with permission.