Remembering our own refugee status.
By Melak Alemayehu
As the book of Ruth portrays the account, Ruth’s life clearly captures the sorrows as well as the joys that one may encounter as a refugee. Starting life as a poor widow in a foreign land was a seemingly insurmountable challenge. Yet, as the journey continued, the Lord “under whose wings” (Ruth 2:12) she had come to take refuge filled her empty basket through the generosity of Boaz. Indeed, Boaz was a tangible refuge for Ruth and epitomized the ultimate Refuge—the Lord Himself.
Interestingly, the image of God as a refuge is found in the book of Psalms nearly 50 times. In fact, as part of His covenant laws, God clearly revealed how His people should treat the refugee (or stranger) in their midst. One of these laws is the law about the firstfruits ceremony in Deuteronomy 26:1-11.
The principles underlying this ceremony help us discover God as the ultimate Refuge for any refugee. Perhaps she had an empty basket in her hand and the following question on her mind. Will I, a foreigner, be able to find favor in someone’s sight and fill my basket today?
In it we find a basket; a basket filled with the firstfruits of the harvest; a basket brought to be presented before the Lord first, and later to be eaten together with the priests and strangers.
Certainly the principles underlying this ceremony help us discover God as the ultimate Refuge for any refugee. Commenting on this law, Ellen White writes, “These directions, which the Lord gave to His people, express the principles of the law of the kingdom of God, and they are made specific, so that the minds of the people may not be left in ignorance and uncertainty. These scriptures present the never-ceasing obligation of all whom God has blessed with life and health and advantages in temporal and spiritual things.”*
The following paragraphs point out some of these principles:
RECOGNIZE. The law about the offering of the first fruits begins by indicating when it should be done, i.e., “when you come into the land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, and you possess it and dwell in it” (Deut. 26:1). This was the time sojourners finally reached the Promised Land. All their hopes and dreams and wishes were about to become a reality in their own land.
Unfortunately, in moments like these many of us tend to forget the journey we took to reach the pinnacle of our success. But the opportunity this ceremony offers to reflect on our life’s journey helps us to remember two important things: (1) who we were; and (2) how we reached the place we find ourselves. This will ultimately lead us to recognize that “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning” (James 1:17).
EXPRESS. This ceremony highlights the important concept that recognition must be more than mere mental assent. The recognition was expressed by offering a basket full of the firstfruits. Apart from being the first chronologically, firstfruits symbolize a desirable product quality. Hence, no matter how eager a farmer is to test the fruits of his labor, yielding the first of his harvest is a fitting expression of putting first things first. Just as the Lord abhors a heartless offering, He appreciates a sacrifice that overflows from a grateful heart (see Luke 7:36-50).
FOCUS. The focus of this ceremony should be on God. The name Yahweh (or “Lord”) appears 14 times in this section, depicting Him as the focal point of all the details of the ceremony. It should be noted that the basket was first placed in front of “the altar of the Lord your God” (Deut. 26:4). Here is a crucial lesson: any religious practice should be focused on God if we hope for a lasting impact.
UTTER. With the presentation of the basket before the Lord the participant had to utter what is known as the “firstfruits recitation” (verses 3, 5-10). These utterances that God prescribed are loaded with important messages. Worshippers recall publicly the dismal state wherein their ancestors found themselves as foreigners. This is an experience with which all humanity under the bondage of sin can identify. In addition, the utterance mentions how the oppressed cried to the Lord and how the Lord heard their voices and looked on their affliction. This divine intervention put a ray of hope on the horizon. As the redeemed continue to utter the praises of Him who called them out of darkness into His marvelous light, they become reflectors and allow the same light to shine into the darkness that many others around them experience (1 Peter 2:9).
GLORIFY. After presenting the basket of the firstfruits and uttering the testimonies, the participant would worship (literally, “prostrate”) before the Lord (Deut. 26:10). This worship gesture demonstrates the attitude of humility and self-denial that we have to experience when we truly want to glorify God. As we worship in humility we are reminded that we were created from the ground; nothing in us warrants pride. In reality, only a life lived for the glory of God by sharing His blessings with others has lasting worth.
EMBRACE. Celebration marks the end of this ceremony. Participants rejoice by sharing their blessings with family and two specifically mentioned groups of people—Levites and strangers. It is important to note how strangers are embraced in this celebration. They are what the host of the feast used to be. During the presentation of the basket before the Lord, the stranger’s physical, emotional, social, and spiritual needs are addressed. They too now have the opportunity to experience the blessing of Yahweh as their refuge.
Where Is Our Basket?
There are many baskets out there. Some are full of the “firstfruits” of fortunes, while others are empty in the hands of the unfortunate. Recognizing the true source of our blessing and expressing our gratitude by focusing on the Lord, uttering His testimony, glorifying His name, and embracing the unfortunate will place the overflowing basket and the empty one on the same table.
Remember, we are called to be a refuge for refugees.
* Ellen G. White, “ ‘How Much Owest Thou?” Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Dec. 25, 1900.