Jehovah required of the nation of Israel that the firstfruits be offered to him, whether it be of man, animal or of the fruitage of the ground. (Ex. 22:29, 30; 23:19; Prov. 3:9) Devoting the firstfruits to Jehovah would be an evidence of the Israelites’ appreciation for Jehovah’s blessing and for their land and its harvest. It would be an expression of thankfulness to the Giver of “every good gift.”—Deut. 8:6-10; Jas. 1:17.
Jehovah commanded the nation, representatively, to offer firstfruits to him, especially at the time of the Festival of Unfermented Cakes. Then, on Nisan 16, the high priest waved before Jehovah at the sanctuary some of the firstfruits of the grain harvest, a sheaf of barley, the first crop of the year based on the sacred calendar. (Lev. 23:5-12) Again, at Pentecost, fifty days later, the firstfruits of the wheat harvest in the form of two leavened loaves made of fine flour were presented as a wave offering.—Lev. 23:15-17.
Besides these grain offerings by the high priest on behalf of the nation, the Israelites were required to bring the firstfruits of all their produce as offerings. Every firstborn male of man and beast was sanctified to Jehovah, being either offered or redeemed. (See FIRSTBORN, FIRSTLING.) The firstfruits of coarse meal were to be offered in the form of ring-shaped cakes. (Num. 15:20, 21) Fruitage of the soil was also put in baskets and taken by the Israelites to the sanctuary (Deut. 26:1, 2), where they then recited certain words recorded at Deuteronomy 26:3-10. The words were actually an outline of the nation’s history from their entering into Egypt to their deliverance and their being brought into the Promised Land.
It is said that the custom arose whereby each locality would send a representative with the firstfruits contributed by the inhabitants of the district in order that not all would have to undergo the inconvenience of going up to Jerusalem each time that the firstfruits were ripe. The quantity of these firstfruits to be offered was not fixed by the Law, it apparently being left to the generosity and appreciative spirit of the giver. However, the choicest portions, the best of the firstfruits, were to be offered.—Num. 18:12; Ex. 23:19; 34:26.
In the case of a newly planted tree, for the first three years it was considered impure as though uncircumcised. In the fourth year all its fruit became holy to Jehovah. Then, in the fifth year, the owner could gather in its fruit for himself.—Lev. 19:23-25.
Contributions of firstfruits to Jehovah by the twelve non-Levitical tribes of Israel were used by the priests and Levites, since they received no inheritance in the land. (Num. 18:8-13) The faithful offering of the firstfruits brought pleasure to Jehovah and a blessing to all parties involved. (Ezek. 44:30) A failure to bring them would be counted by God as robbing him of his due and would bring his displeasure. (Mal. 3:8) In Israel’s history at times this practice was neglected, being restored in certain periods by rulers zealous for true worship. In King Hezekiah’s reformation work, he held an extended celebration of the Festival of the Unfermented Cakes, and on this occasion Hezekiah instructed the people to fulfill their duty with respect to the contribution of firstfruits and tithes. Cheerfully the people responded by bringing in great quantities of the firstfruits of the grain, new wine, oil and honey and all the produce of the field, from the third month to the seventh. (2 Chron. 30:21, 23; 31:4-7) After the restoration from Babylon, Nehemiah led the people in taking an oath to walk in Jehovah’s law, including the bringing to him of firstfruits of every sort.—Neh. 10:29, 34-37.
FIGURATIVE AND SYMBOLIC USE
Jesus Christ was spiritually begotten at the time of his baptism, and resurrected from the dead to life in the spirit on Nisan 16, 33 C.E., the day of the year on which the firstfruits of the first grain crop were presented before Jehovah at the sanctuary. He is, therefore, called the firstfruits, being actually the first firstfruits to God. (1 Cor. 15:20, 23; 1 Pet. 3:18) The faithful followers of Jesus Christ, his spiritual brothers, are also a firstfruits to God, but not the primary firstfruits, being similar to the second grain crop, the wheat, which was presented to Jehovah on the day of Pentecost. They are numbered as 144,000 and are called the ones “bought from among mankind as a first fruits to God and to the Lamb” and “a certain first fruits of his creatures.”—Rev. 14:1-4; Jas. 1:18.
The apostle Paul also speaks of the faithful Jewish remnant who became the first Christians as being “first fruits.” (Rom. 11:16) The Christian Epaenetus is called the “first fruits of Asia for Christ” (Rom. 16:5), and the household of Stephanus “the first fruits of Achaia.”—1 Cor. 16:15.
Since the anointed Christians are begotten by the spirit as sons of God with the hope of resurrection to immortality in the heavens, they are said during their lifetime on earth to “have the first fruits, namely, the spirit . . . while we are earnestly waiting for adoption as sons, the release from our bodies by ransom.” (Rom. 8:23, 24) Paul says that he and fellow Christians with hopes of life in the spirit have “the token of what is to come, that is, the spirit,” which he also says is “a token in advance of our inheritance.”—2 Cor. 5:5; Eph. 1:13, 14; see FESTIVAL; OFFERINGS.