The food habits of the priests (Ezek 44:29-44:31)

“They shall eat

The grain offering,

The sin offering,

The guilt offering.

Every devoted thing

In Israel

Shall be theirs.

The first of all

The first fruits

Of all kinds

Shall belong

To the priests.

Every offering

Of all kinds,

From all your offerings,

Shall belong

To the priests.

You shall also give

To the priests

The first of your dough.

Thus,

A blessing may rest

On your house.

The priests shall not eat

Of anything,

Whether bird

Or animal,

That died of itself

Or was torn by animals.”

The Zadok Levitical priests had strict dietary habits that were very favorable to them. They were to eat all the various offerings that the people of Israel presented, the grain offerings, the sin offerings, the guilt offerings, or any devoted thing in Israel. They would also get the first fruits of all kinds, including the cooked dough. All these food items belonged to the priests. Giving them to the priests meant that your house would have a blessing. However, these priests were not allowed to eat any bird or animal that had died by itself or was mangled by another animal.

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The revolt against Aaron (Sir 45:18-45:22)

“Outsiders conspired against Aaron.

They envied him in the wilderness.

There was Dathan with his followers.

There was Abiram with his followers.

There was the company of Korah.

They were filled with wrath and anger.

The Lord saw it.

He was not pleased.

In the heat of his anger

They were destroyed.

He performed wonders against them.

He consumed them in a flaming fire.

He added glory to Aaron.

He gave him a heritage.

He allotted to him

The best of the first fruits.

He prepared bread of first fruits

In abundance.

They eat the sacrifices of the Lord.

He gave it to him

And his descendants.

But in the land of the people

He has no inheritance.

He has no portion

Among the people.

The Lord himself

Is his portion

The Lord himself

Is his inheritance.”

In this section Sirach is relying on Numbers, chapter 16, about a revolt of some Levi tribe members, particularly Korah, along with Dathan and Abiram from the tribe of Reuben. It was not clear why Sirach called them outsiders since there were about 250 of those Israelites in the desert who actually revolted against Moses and Aaron. This uprising was put down, when Moses called for an incense face-off. Then Yahweh made the ground catch fire and split up so that this fire swallowed up these trouble makers. Aaron was then given more glory. This is why he and his descendants receive the best of the first fruits of the harvest. However, the Levites were not given any territory in the new Promise Land like the other tribes. Their portion was the Lord himself. That was their inheritance. Once again, this was an attempt to explain the situation of the later Levitical priests.

The generous spirit of sacrifice (Sir 35:6-35:12)

“Do not appear

Before the Lord

Empty-handed!

All that you offer

Is a fulfillment of the commandments.

The offering of a righteous person

Enriches the altar.

Its pleasing odor

Rises before the Most High.

The sacrifice of the righteous

Is acceptable.

It will never be forgotten.

Be generous

When you worship the Lord!

Do not stint

The first fruits of your hands!

With every gift

Show a cheerful face!

Dedicate your tithe

With gladness!

Give to the Most High

As he has given to you!

Be as generous

As you can afford!”

Sirach wanted every Temple sacrificial offering to be generous. You should never appear before the Lord empty-handed. You should fulfill the commandments. Your offering should enrich the altar with a pleasing odor that reaches to the Most High God. The acceptable sacrifices of the righteous will never be forgotten. Thus, you should be generous when you worship the Lord. You should not be stingy with your offering of the first fruits. Every tithe gift that you bring should be with a cheerful glad face. Remember that you are giving to the Most High God as he has given to you. You should be as generous as you can afford to be.

Priests (Sir 7:29-7:31)

“With all your soul

Fear the Lord!

Revere his priests!

With all your might,

Love your Maker!

Do not neglect his ministers!

Fear the Lord!

Honor the priest!

Give him his portion,

As you have been commanded.

Give him

The first fruits,

The guilt offering,

The gift of the shoulders,

The sacrifice of sanctification,

The first fruits of the holy things.”

Once again, Sirach is absolute in his demands about the Israelite Levitical priests.   Listening to them was like listening to God. Obviously, you were to fear the Lord and love your Maker. You also were to revere God’s priests. Thus you should not neglect God’s ministers. They should have their portion as commanded by the law. In case there was any confusion, he specifically listed what the priests were to get, the first fruits, the guilt offerings, the shoulders, the sanctification sacrifice, and the first fruits of the holy things. I am not sure about the shoulders, but the others were common in the Torah.

The penitential assembly at Mizpah (1 Macc 3:46-49)

“Then they gathered together. They went to Mizpah, opposite Jerusalem, because Israel formerly had a place of prayer in Mizpah. They fasted that day. They put on sackcloth and sprinkled ashes on their heads. They tore their clothes. They opened the book of the law to inquire into those matters about which the gentiles were consulting the images of their gods. They also brought the vestments of the priesthood, the first fruits, and the tithes. They stirred up the Nazirites who had completed their days.”

The troops of Judas Maccabeus assembled at Mizpah, where Samuel had gathered the Israelites for repentance in 1 Samuel, chapter 7. Mizpah was close to Jerusalem. Like at the time of Samuel, they fasted, put on sackcloth, and tore their clothes in repentance. The Jewish people consulted their book of the law rather than the images of the divine oracles of the Greek gentiles. They had a cultic experience by bringing the vestments of the priests, even though there was no mention of any Levite priests here. They also brought first fruits and tithes. It is difficult to see what they did with these things since the Temple at Jerusalem had been destroyed. They also stirred up the Nazirites who had finished their obligations. Obviously this revolutionary group was inspired by the Nazirite movement as outlined in Numbers, chapter 6.

Judith reveals the situation of the Israelites (Jdt 11:9-11:15)

“As for Achior’s speech in your council,

We have heard his words.

The people of Bethulia spared him.

He told them all he had said to you.

Therefore, lord and master, do not disregard what he said.

Keep it in your mind.

It is true.

Indeed, our nation cannot be punished.

The sword cannot prevail against them,

Unless they sin against their God.

Now, in order that my lord may not be defeated

That his purpose may not be frustrated,

Death will fall upon them.

A sin has overtaken them,

By which they are about to provoke their God to anger,

When they do what is wrong.

Since their food supply is exhausted,

Their water has almost given out,

They have planned to kill their livestock.

They have determined to use all

That God by his laws has forbidden them to eat.

They have decided to consume

The first fruits of the grain,

The tithes of the wine and oil,

That they had consecrated.

They had set aside for the priests

Who minister in the presence of our God in Jerusalem.

These are things not lawful for any of the people,

Even to touch with their hands.

Since even the people in Jerusalem have been doing this,

They have sent messengers there,

To bring back permission from the council of the elders.

When the response reaches them

They will act upon it.

On that very day,

They will be handed over to you to be destroyed.”

Judith revealed that the people of Bethulia knew everything that Achior had said to him. What he said was true. Only God can defeat them if they sin. However, because of the famine and thirst, they are about to sin. They were going to eat the forbidden foods. They are going to take the first fruits and tithes of wine and oil that had been set aside for the priests, and consume it. They are going to break the law of God. It was forbidden to even touch these things. Now they have sent messengers to Jerusalem to get permission from the elders there. As soon as their response reaches them, they will act on it and destroy themselves.

The first fruits (Deut 26:1-26:11)

“When you come into the land that Yahweh your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it and settle in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground. That is you harvest from the land that Yahweh your God is giving you. You shall put it in a basket. You shall go to the place that Yahweh your God will choose as a dwelling for his name. You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time. You shall say to him. ‘Today I declare to Yahweh your God that I have come into the land that Yahweh swore to our ancestors to give us.’ When the priest takes the basket from your hand, and sets it down before the altar of Yahweh your God, you shall make this response before Yahweh your God. ‘A wandering Aramean was my ancestor father. He went down into Egypt. He lived there as an alien, few in number. There he became a great nation, mighty, and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to Yahweh, the God of our ancestors. Yahweh heard our voice. He saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. Yahweh brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders. He brought us into this place. He gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground, that you, Yahweh, have given me.’ You shall set it down before Yahweh your God. You shall bow down before Yahweh your God. Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that Yahweh your God has given to you and to your house.”

Everything that is the first fruits belongs to Yahweh. This is a long confession of faith in Yahweh. You present the first fruits of this new good land in a basket to the priest at the place to be chosen. You retell the story of how you came out of Egypt with the hand of Yahweh. You bow to the altar and to Yahweh, and then you celebrate with your family, the Levites, and the aliens. The aliens keep coming up. There must have been a lot of them.