By Foothills DS Dennis Miller
At 1,300 feet below sea level, the Dead Sea region is one of the planet’s most inhospitable spots. This shimmering body of salt water boasts as the lowest point on earth. Archeologists and historians tell us that the oasis located near the Dead Sea’s northern shore is one of the oldest occupied areas of civilization. Here, approximately 3,400 years ago, God used Joshua to “fight the battle of Jericho and the city walls came tumbling down.”
My first visit to Jericho, known as the ancient “City of Palms”, took place in late 1995. It was only three weeks after the assassination of Israel’s Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in Tel Aviv by Israeli extremist Yigal Amir. As a result, security was extra tight in this already tense region. Throughout the West Bank, armed Israeli troops were commonplace. As I entered the outskirts of Jericho, my Israeli guide informed me that our entourage would be passing through a Palestinian police checkpoint. Two years prior to our visit, as a result of the Oslo Peace Accord, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) had acquired control over this region and the Gaza Strip.
After arriving in Jericho, while standing on Jericho’s ancient tell near Elisha’s spring, I found myself asking why would any orthodox Jew be willing to relinquish this beautiful portion of Israel’s inheritance to the PLO? (Some traditionalists believe this reclaimed territory is part of the land God gave to Israel in the Abrahamic land covenant of Genesis 13:14-17, 15:18, 17:3-8). The answer given was multi-leveled and quite complex. One simple reason, however, may be found in the story of Joshua.
After the historic battle of Jericho and the city was completely destroyed, God said through Joshua, “Cursed before the Lord is the man who undertakes to rebuild this city, Jericho. At the cost of his firstborn son will he lay its foundations; at the cost of his youngest he will set up its gates” (Joshua 6:26) God was saying to His people, “I am giving you the land I promised your forefather Abraham. Therefore, don’t rebuild the city. Leave this rubble here as an eternal reminder that I am the source of your present and future blessing."
Now allow me to push pause and ask: “Are you aware of the important Old Testament principle known as “first fruits”? The idea is this: When God begins to bless, as a way of saying, “God, I know You are the giver of the blessing. So even though You’ve only given the first part of the blessing, I will trust that You are going to give the rest in time. Therefore, to show that I really believe this, I’m going to give the first part of the blessing (the first-fruits) back to You. This principle was so important to Israel that an entire Jewish festival was dedicated to this concept (See Leviticus 23:9-14).
So back to our story . . . As the Israelites crossed the Jordan River and entered the land of milk and honey, they (being desert nomads) owned nothing. The first thing the Israelites conquered was the lush oasis of Jericho. And God said, “This is mine. I want you to show me that you realize who is giving you the entire land of Canaan. So you are going to have to trust that I will give you the rest.” Therefore, for the Israelites, Jericho being their “first-fruits” was to remain unoccupied for all eternity as a reminder that everything they possessed ultimately came from God. God would provide even if they returned to God their initial blessing.
In the story of Jericho, we find the secret to successful abundant living and blessing. God is the still the source in “whom all blessings flow.” Therefore, as persons called and claimed in covenant as God’s children through Jesus Christ, God desires us to acknowledge God’s supreme Lordship in a practical way. The true representation of our faith is not simply what we profess on Sunday morning, but how we respond to God’s Word on a daily basis.
October is the month many Foothills District congregations focus on Biblical stewardship and financial planning for the next year. During this season, many United Methodists will be challenged to personally apply God’s principle of “first-fruits” to their financial giving by saying, “God, I acknowledge that You are Lord of my life by giving You the first-fruits of my labor before I spend the rest on my lifestyle.” In doing so, they will be essentially saying, “God, you are the source of all I am and all I have. I place no other gods before you. I acknowledge that you shall meet all my needs, according to your glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). Therefore, I live by faith in obedience to Your Holy Word, applying Your guidelines of abundant living in every area of my life.”
It is in this instance that God’s shower of blessings begins to flow. And I’m not necessarily speaking of materialistic blessing! The “Principle of First Fruits” is not the “prosperity gospel” of “name it and claim it - believe it and receive it.” I remember six years ago visiting a Mekong Delta factory in southern Vietnam where faithful Christian workers made around 25 cents per hour. The factory was a dilapidated steel building with no air-conditioning. The workers lived there and slept on old wooden beds without mattresses. Yet, many of these very disciples of Jesus were living in complete victory! God’s anointing was upon them. Their lives consisted of rich blessing, joy and peace!
Are you ready for the floodgates to open in your life? No, I’m not speaking of a measly trickle, but a splashing tide of God’s glory pouring over the sapphire sill of heaven’s gate, gushing like a raging river to the immediate point of our need. Let me remind you that is wasn’t DS Miller who first said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).
This month of October, I encourage you to trust God in your personal finances and become obedient to God’s Holy commands. When our faithfulness aligns with what God already intends to do, God’s abundance will be released and we will experience a supernatural spiritual explosion. Let’s pray and work together as we look forward to witnessing God’s incredible blessings among us!