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Deuteronomy 26: Living the Old Story

Having been married seven years, it is only in the last few months that my husband discovered I can cook apple crumble. It’s been a fun revelation in our household because (a) he likes it a lot and (b) it’s easy to cook (and takes much less time than the holiday special coconut cream pie). If you’ve not had an English crumble, it’s much like a cobbler, but the crust is a little different. Traditionally it’s flour based, but I throw some oats in there too for good measure. Eating a bowl of apple crumble, together with the obligatory custard, reminds me of my home and where I’m from. It recalls a very real part of my identity–that I’m British. The same goes for beans on toast, bangers and mash and any other meal I make that I enjoyed when I lived back in blighty. It awakens something in me that can otherwise lie dormant, or even be forgotten after living in Texas for so long.

Read Deuteronomy 26:1-11
These 11 verses give instructions for how to express thanks come harvest. The Israelite living in Canaan was to take the first fruits of his crop (probably wheat, olives and dates) and offer it to God in His sanctuary. At the time of presentation, he was to recite a creed of sorts–words that recall the story of God’s deliverance of his people out of slavery in Egypt. After recalling the story and presenting the gift, the Israelite could then return home to celebrate and rejoice with his community.

The thing about these instructions, if we take a closer look, is that it wasn’t just for the first generation that entered Canaan and had firsthand experience of God’s provision. It was for every generation. Yet the language to which the descendants were accustomed was as if they were the ones who had just been delivered. Notice v. 3’s words the Israelite was to say to the priest at the sanctuary: “Today I declare… that I have come into the land that the LORD swore to our ancestors to give us.” Even though the person offering the first fruits might be from a generation centuries after the people entered the Promised Land, they were to speak as if it was they themselves that had just entered the land.

So what’s going on? In many ways, we live in an excessively individualistic world, far removed from the sentiment expressed here. What we have is a reminder for God’s followers to identify themselves with their ancestors–the ones He delivered out of slavery. Even if it happened long before their birth, they are still recipients of God’s protection and are blessed by it. They would never have the life they had without God’s deliverance. And the time-gap is irrelevant to God: the person living in the land centuries later was just as much a part of God’s covenant than the first to find a home in Canaan. In remembering they realize (literally) that they interconnected part of a much bigger ‘whole’ which starts with God’s deliverance of and provision for His people, which formed the basis of His covenant with them.

This physical act and ritual of remembrance was a tangible and real way in which the people of God would learn their part in God’s story. It was important that it not be something that was mental recollection and brief verbal expression of gratitude or thanks. The act of going to the sanctuary, offering a real and personal gift, and positioning themselves in the story of God’s deliverance all contributed to them schooling themselves in the truth of God’s goodness, grace, compassion for his people and ongoing presence and provision in their lives. They would learn again that their God was who hears the voices of those enslaved and in distress cry to Him (vv. 6-7) and delivers them to safety (vv. 8-9). In physically remembering these things, they would inevitably recall their part in this story–their identity as part of the people of God, called to respond with gratitude and faithfulness.

Questions for Reflection
  • What things do you do intentionally to remember the stories in your life? As well as typical things (anniversaries, birthdays, etc.), are there any unique rituals you have to remember certain things?
  • In a time when we cannot be together as a church and do those things that embody the story of our faith, what can you do at home to actively remember and express these events?
  • What are the dangers of not actively living the story of God’s saving work through Jesus? How can pride result if we don’t remember how God has delivered us from slavery to sin?
  • Why is presenting the ‘first fruits’ so important as part of living the story? What might be the equivalent gift that we could give as a reminder of God’s provision and protection of us?
  • How does remembering God’s deliverance in the past give us hope for His provision for us today (Clue: Hebrews 13:8)?
  • Try rewriting the story of God’s saving the Israelites from slavery in Egypt (vv. 6-9) to reflect God sending Jesus to save us from slavery, from sin. Be specific about what this has looked like in your own life. Read it aloud to God as a prayer of thanks.

A Prayer for this Week
Heavenly Father, thank You that You are a God who delivers His people from slavery and brings them into a new life of promise. Even when that slavery feels like it was long ago and our life is different now, help us to actively remember and live the story of what You have done in our lives and spur us on to seek more of Your deliverance from slavery to sin today. May we never forget who we are and whose we are through Your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.
The Rev. Dr. Suse E. McBay
Associate for Adult Christian Education and Prayer Ministries