Before we can achieve great things we have to be able to picture great things. Someone whose parents constantly fought doesn’t know that family life can be conducted in pleasant and calm tones. A person who only knows hourly wage-earners can’t imagine acquiring a position with a large monthly salary. Accepting your current circumstances as your normal, ongoing reality is a terrible trap.
Who would have blamed the Israelites for accepting their nomadic lifestyle as normal? After two hundred years of slavery, followed by forty years wandering around a desert, how could they picture themselves becoming independent landowners?
Every Israelite should have dismissed the words of Moses as hopeless fantasy when he said to them:
And it shall be when you come into the land that the
Lord your God gives you as an inheritance…
What made them accept the vision of their own Promised Land without skepticism?
The secret is that Moses presented them with a vision, not a fantasy. He didn’t promise a utopian future divorced from reality; he let them know that with blessing comes challenge and responsibility. That was believable. He not only promised them their Promised Land and its abundant harvests, but he also revealed the duties and obligations that would be theirs along with the abundance.
In the future, they will take their first fruits, put them into a basket, and take them on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. In other words, as recipients of God’s blessing they must acknowledge Him as the source of that blessing and welcome the obligation to follow His ways.
That first fruits ceremony is described in Deuteronomy 26:1-11. A real attention-getter jumps off the Hebrew page—a rare word for basket. The word ‘basket’ appears about twenty times throughout Scripture and most times the Hebrew word used is sahl.
L ← ha ← S
…and the birds were eating them from the basket…
In our first fruits passage, the word basket appears twice (Deuteronomy 26: 2&4) but the word used is not sahl but the very unusual word, teneh.
ט נ א
he ← N e ← T
The letter samech, pronounced ‘S’ in the first word, sahl (basket) is shaped like a closed circle. Not only is the word sahl missing in the first fruits passage but amazingly, there is no appearance of the letter samech in all those eleven verses. The verse immediately preceding contains a letter samech (Deuteronomy 25:19) and a few verses later (Deuteronomy 26:18) we spot a samech. While samech is not one of the most frequently used letters, here an unusual Hebrew word is employed in order to avoid introducing the letter samech in the more common word for basket. Why is it so important that the whole first fruits passage should not contain that letter?
Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that the fully enclosed circular shape of the letter samech hints of boundaries and limitations. These have no place in a passage filled with God’s promise of limitless abundance. For this reason, teneh replaces sahl to signify a veritable cornucopia of plenty. But along with being able to envision God’s ability to deliver abundance, one has to recognize that responsibility accompanies that gift, signified by the bringing of the first fruits.
Never view your today as your inevitable tomorrow. But merely fantasizing about a tomorrow with health, wealth, and love is unrealistic and entraps you in an unchanging today. Envision your promised land without limits but with accompanying obligations. Make a specific plan with strategic steps, each of which is another obligation on the road to a better future, but don’t limit your picture of that future. Convert hopeless fantasies into energizing visions by eagerly anticipating the responsibilities that will accompany God’s bounty.
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