The Basket of Firstfruits
James M. S. Tait, Lerwick
The vessels of Scripture make an interesting study. Mary's "alabaster box," so carefully kept (John 12. 7), yet "broken" with such holy abandon (Mark 14. 3); the "cup" in which the careful butler preserved the wine for Pharaoh; the "wicker baskets" from which the careless baiter suffered his master's portion to be stolen away; Gideon's "empty pitchers," with the lights within obscured until the pitchers were broken; the "water-pots of stone," destined to be as brimful of wine as before they had been brimful of water; all these are familiar to everyone, and yield their precious spiritual lessons to the child of God. Another receptacle of great interest is the "basket " in which the grateful Israelite was to bring his offering of firstfruits to the Lord (Deut. 26. 2).
The picture suggested by the passage is one of great beauty. The way-worn pilgrim, after long wandering through the "waste, howling wilderness," has come at last into a land of almost unbelievable fertility and fruitfulness. Wherever he looks, he sees ripening around him, in ever-increasing abundance, the lavish provision of God's grace for His people. Not by their own strength or by their own wisdom had they come into possession of all this. It was God's free gift to them, the bounty of His sovereign good pleasure; and it was but right and fitting, therefore, that before ever the Israelite himself partook of this harvest of unearned blessing, he should take the very first of all the fruits to the altar of the Lord.
But the fruits were in the orchards on the hill-sides and valleys, and the altar stood in the place where the Lord had chosen to place His name. If the fruit was to he brought to the place of offering, there must be a receptacle in which it could be brought. "Thou shalt put it in a basket." There was nothing valuable about the basket itself; it was not itself part of the offering; and yet without that vehicle, the offering could not be brought to the altar.
The worshipper of this present day must have his 'basket,' too; the vehicle by which the pout-up worship of his spirit finds expression. The writer to the Hebrews doubtless had the offering of firstfruits in mind when be spoke of "the fruit of lips giving thanks to His name"; and the audible utterance of the lips is one of the most obvious (although not the only) vehicle for bringing our worship to Him today. There are some dear brethren who never, from year's end to year's end, open their lips publicly in worship to the Lord. It cannot be that the Lord has given them no fruit in the vineyards of their inheritance. Can it be that they are failing to " put it in a basket " ; failing to make use of their powers of utterance as a vehicle for definitely "bringing" and "setting before the Lord " the worship which is His due (v. 10)?
It may be that in some cases the powers of utterance are very deficient; but for all of us who are conscious of limitations of that kind, there is special comfort in a very significant omission from this passage, We art all aware how carefully and exactly the furnishings of the Sanctuary were measured, and the materials of each article prescribed. But there is no specification as to the Size, shape or materials of the Israelite's basket. H might be large or small, round or square, ornate or plain. The style of the basket, in fact, did not matter at all; what did matter was that it was being used to convey something to the Lord.
If the spiritual lesson of this were learned, it would perhaps deliver some of the "silent brethren" from their fear of being unable to express themselves suitably. It might also save ns from the sin of criticising one another's worship. How often when something is said or done which we would not say or do ourselves, or when the phraseology of the worshipper is not as correct as might be desired, we would fain he censorious and even sarcastic. When Mary poured the ointment on the Lord's feet, when the little children sang their Hosannas in the temple, and when the disciples spread their garments in the way before the Lord, they were all doing unprecedented things, for which they were harshly criticized; hut in every case the Lord justified the worshippers and condemned the critics. The critics would have been far wiser if they had sought to appreciate the fruit which the basket contained, instead of finding fault with the basket.
For the real test is not what the onlookers may think, but what the Priest does with the offering. "The priest shall take the basket out of thine hand, and set it down before the altar of the Lord thy God" (v. 4). "By Him therefore let us offer" (Heb. 13. 18). No one who is truly a worshipper will ever feel satisfied with the vehicle. The more often he approaches the 'altar' the more will he feel the unworthiness and imperfection of the 'basket'; and the more will he rejoice in thy knowledge that there is a great "High Priest over the house of God," Heb. 10. 21; a holy Intermediary who will take the offering, basket and all, out of the worshipper's hand, and set it down, acceptable and accepted, before the Altar of the Lord.