First Fruits

Introduction to lesson three:

The ancient land of Israel is a testimony, an evidence if you will, of the greatness of what God did in that country. A testimony of the truth that we find in the pages of the Bible.

Israel is a country that is very mountainous. Because of that, there are not many places that a person can enter the land of Israel from the east. One of those place, one of the very few in fact, is a mountain pass near the northern end of the Dead Sea. Standing at the opening of that pass is the ancient tell of Jericho, the oldest city known in the history of the world. It was to that city that the Israelites first came when God gave them the land. As it were, a gate, a gate opening the way to the land, to the promise land.

I. The Site:

a) Its location:

We’re sitting on the highest spot on a large mound, or tell, named tell Jericho. There are several distinctive particularities that this city has.

One, it’s the lowest city in the world. It’s more than a 1,000 feet below sea level. That makes it the lowest city.

Second thing is it’s actually, as far as we know, the oldest city in the world. There’s a tower of there that’s dated at least 8,300 BC, maybe as much at 9,000 BC. Now the way to look at that, is by the time Abraham came through here, that tower was 7,000 years old already.

As you look around, I think you will understand why people came here. The climate is like this year around, lots of sunshine, there’s a source of water down here, a large spring, we refer to today as Elisha’s spring, runs just on the east side of the tell over here, and that provides the water for this lush area of a couple miles square that we refer to as the oasis of Jericho.

It was also significant because it’s a cross road sight. And you can hear the busy traffic going by on the road for a lot of the same reasons that the city stood here during ancient times. To the east of the River Jordon which is just out here a ways, you see in the distance the mountains that are Moab, the country of Jordon today. Just up above in those mountains, one of the alternatives of the trade route, called “The King’s Highway”. To the west of us, back behind these huge mountain cliffs, here, to our west, is the Via Maris, that great road that connected the two empires.

Now right in this spot, there is a place where those two spots can be joined, one of very few places in fact. So that city stands here. Now only because of the water and the lush, but the city stands here also because of the importance of this road.

b) Its history in the bible:

It has an interesting history, like I said it dates back to more than 8,000 BC, just an incredibly old city, and the remains around here represent that very old city. But it also enters into Bible stories, and Bible events, and can teach us some significant things I think, as we look at particular Bible stories.

The Israelite people had been wandering in the desert, to the south here, at the edge of the Negev Desert and back into the south of the Sini Peninsila. And they came upon the King’s highway, the Bible tells us, until they got across from Jericho. Then they came down to the river bed, out there in the middle of this Rift Valley here, and you know the miracle of crossing the river. And then they came up against Jericho. And it’s at that point that the Bible picks up with the story, in the context of those Israelites, coming down out of those mountains, and realizing that in front of them lay the land that God had promised to their ancestors, and the places where Abraham and Isaac and Jacob had taken care of their sheep, there in these hills. And they came here. The first story of course that the Bible picks up with is the story of Rahab. The two spies are sent out and they come here, probably looking for strategies. Why would they come here? Well, they’re going to try and get into the country, and this time, instead of coming from the south, they’re going to go here from the east. So they need this road, they need this entrance to the Judea Mountains just west of us here. And naturally Jericho stands in the way, so you send out your spies to discover what Jericho’s like.

Living in this city was a woman that from the best information indicates that she was a prostitute. But the spies felt it was best to go to her place, I’m not exactly sure why, but maybe it had to do with, no one was going to find that surprising. And when the king received word that the spies had come, at least strangers had come to town, he went asking for them and somehow ended up at Rahab’s house, and requested of her, “Where are the spies.” And she, “Well, they’re gone. They already left, and they went on looking for other things.” And she had hidden them on the roof of her house.

Because of her faith, there’s an interesting passage here. She said to the spies, “When we heard you were coming, our hearts sank, and everyone’s courage failed because of you. For the Lord your God is God in Heaven and on Earth. And here we’re back to that same theme that we heard so often. By their conduct, the Israelites where showing people that God is God. And Rahab caught it, and so did the people of Jericho. For her faith, she’s save. In the New Testament there’s a genealogy of Jesus, there are four women in it, kind of unusual in a way, in those days. One of those four women was Rahab.

c) Whose conquest it was:

The second thing I’d think about is, as I sit here, I need to remember whose struggle it is in impacting my world. God wants to reclaim His world. He made it, He created it, it’s His world, it’s His creatures that are in it, and I’m simply His tool, His instrument in that process. And that’s really helpful to me to understand that as Joshua discovers, the battle is the Lords.

I’d just like to have you reflect on that before we apply that in a faith lesson. You can see, the city isn’t very large, just a couple of archers, from the southern edge over there to the northern edge just on this side, and the width, you’re really looking across the entire width of the town. So you really can’t be talking about something too terribly enormous.

“Joshua was standing near Jericho. He looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a draw sword. Joshua said, ‘Are you for us, or for our enemies.’ ‘Neither,’ he replied, ‘But as commander of the Lord’s Army, I have now come.’ Then Joshua fell face down to the ground in reverence and asked him, ‘What message does my Lord have for His servant?’”

So Joshua discovers that the battle that he was in, to reclaim this part of God’s world, that was to begin on this very square inch, was really God’s battle. And that too is part of our faith lesson here. That the struggle we’re in, to bring the value system of God to our culture, to confront the alternatives to God’s way, is really God’s battle. And we’re a part of that process. We adopt His battle plan of course, but it’s not ours. We help him with it; it’s what it’s all about.

At that point, this messenger from God gives the strategy of how to conquer the city. He says it this way, “I’ve delivered Jericho into your hands, march around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. Have seven priests carry trumpets of ram’s horns in front of the Arc. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have all the people give a load shout. Then the wall of the city will collapse, and the people will go up, ever man straight into it.”

And then the writer concludes the story like this. He says, “On the seventh day they got up at day break and marched around the city in the same manner. Except that on that day they circled the city seven times. The seventh time around, when the priests sounded the trumpets, Joshua commanded the people, ‘Shout! For the Lord has given you the city.’ The trumpets sounded, the people shouted and at the sound of the trumpet and the people shouted, the wall collapsed. So every man charged straight in, and they took the city.”

d) The curse upon it:

And then God says, through Joshua, “Cursed, before the Lord, is anyone who undertakes to rebuild this city, Jericho. At the cost of his first born son shall he lay its foundations; at the cost of his youngest son shall he set up its gates. So the Lord was with Joshua and his fame spread.” God says, “Don’t rebuild it. Leave this pile here. Don’t rebuild it. And if you rebuild it, it’s going to cost you your oldest son when you start, your youngest son when you finish.” And the idea is that all of the sons and children in-between will go in the process.

Now I’d like to comment on that because that I think is an important part of the faith lesson here as well.

II. Lessons we draw from it:

a) The first fruit principle

There’s a principle in the Old Testament called first fruits. And the idea is this: when God gives someone something, as a way of saying to God, we know that you are the giver, and we trust that even though you’ve given only part, yet, you’re going to give us all of it. To show you that we believe that, we’re going to give you a little piece, the first little piece.

In fact there was a holy feast, the third feast in the Jewish calendar. First you go to Passover, then to Unleavened Bread, then to First Fruits and the idea was, “I only have a little bit ripe yet in my vineyard, just the first olives, the first grapes, and I pick those, and bring them to God. As a way of saying, “God this is all I’ve got, if I get a rain storm, or a hail storm next week, I’m going to loose it all. But to show you God, that you’re the giver, and I know that, and that I trust you to give me the rest, I’m going to give you all I’ve got.”

Now the Israelites came here, they own nothing, not a square inch, not a piece of real-estate at all. They’re just starting in the process. The first thing they manage to conquer of any size, at least on this side of the Jordan, is this gorgeous oasis, and there it lies. God says, “Nope, that’s mine. I want you to show me, that you know who’s giving it to you and that you’re going to trust me, that I give you the rest.” That’s a very, very important principle. So this city was suppose to stand here, ruined liked this through out history. As an indication that the people where reminded that everything they had came from God and they were to trust God that He would provided even if they gave Him the first part.

b) Give some time during your youth:

If I can speak to the students in the group. It seems to me that God is saying to you, at the beginning of your career, “Give me yourself, and I’ll take care of the rest. I’ll take care of the occupation, I’ll take care of the money, and I’ll take care of the debt, or whatever. Put yourself in my hands.

We discover in the book of Kings, that a certain man came down here, his name was Hiel, he lived in Bethel which is just up in the Judea Mountains, not very far from here. And he rebuilt this place. He took what belonged to God, and he said, “No God it’s not yours it’s mine. I’m going to take what belongs to the Lord and I’m going to use it for myself.” And he laid the foundations at the cost of his oldest son and he set up the gates at the cost of his youngest son, just as the Lord has spoken by Joshua. And I think it would come as no surprise to you that the king who allowed this to happen had the name Ahab. And Ahab gave permission, apparently, for this Hiel to come down here. It’s listed by the way in Kings as part of the Ahab story. So Ahab said, “I’m going to take what’s God’s. And I’m going to use it for myself.” And he commissioned the rebuilding of this city.

c) Give who you are:

If you’ve been set aside for God, the New Testament says, “We are a holy people.” Holy means to be set aside for God’s use. If you’ve been set aside for God to use who you are and what you are, but then live your life just for yourself, it seems to me, it breaks the first fruits concept.

d) Give what you have:

We have not been given and gifted simply for ourselves, more that that, I think we have been given what we’ve been given to be used in God’s service. And I think the sin of taking “my money”, “my talents”, “my time”, and serving myself is close to the sin of Hiel coming here and saying, “So, God wanted this for Himself, I want it for me.”

God’s called us to be a very special kind of people. And we show that I think by the practical ways every day that we serve God. I like to think that that’s the lesson of Jericho.