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Seed, Flesh and Skin

The Fruit of Righteousness

“In this shedding of immaturity, in obedience to the Covenant, Man is to outdo both tree and serpent.”

When you come into the land, and have planted all kinds of trees for food, then you shall count their fruit as uncircumcised. Three years it shall be as uncircumcised to you. It shall not be eaten. But in the fourth year all its fruit shall be holy, a praise to the Lord. And in the fifth year you may eat its fruit, that it may yield to you its increase: I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 19:23-25 NKJV)

For many skeptics, a strange command like this exposes an invented, self-contradicting and capricious god. In reality, moderns are brute beasts when it comes to the true nature of Creation. It is sacrificial.

This post is a chapter from God’s Kitchen: Theology You Can Eat & Drink.

Even Bible commentators don’t often see beyond the fact that the early fruits of a tree are bitter and small. Keil and Delitzch, however, understand that this command concerning new fruit in the Land is Covenantal:

The reason for this command is not to be sought for in the fact, that in the first three years fruit-trees bear only a little fruit, and that somewhat insipid, and that if the blossom or fruit is broken off the first year, the trees will bear all the more plentifully afterwards, though this end would no doubt be thereby attained; but it rests rather upon ethical grounds.1Keil and Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament.

The Land of Canaan belonged to Israel by Covenant. This command concerning fruit from new plantings was instructive, just like the one in Eden. Israelites were to understand that trees were images of men (Mark 8:24). They were being transplanted into the Land as Adam was placed in the Garden. God desired the fruits of righteousness, under the cultivation of the Law, just as He did with Adam. So this command was both practical and ethical.

GodsKitchen-COVERWhat is “uncircumcised” fruit? The ESV renders the word as “forbidden,” which obscures the Covenantal intent of the directive. It is one thing to treat new fruit as inedible but quite another to consider it as a foreskin!—unless, of course, we consider fruit as a symbol of Man just as we considered animal sacrifices to be so.2After reading this chapter, Steven Opp commented, “The idea of uncircumcised fruit helps make sense of the notion that Eve was being ‘seduced’ by the devil, allowing the uncircumcision to come into her, with its seed. It also supports the suggestion that Jesus was the fruit being put back on the tree. Along with being the serpent on the pole, serpents always being the picture of uncircumcision, he was the uncircumcised fruit on the tree, where he was cut off, circumcised.”

Like Man, fruit has a seed, flesh and skin. Hidden inside, there are “tablets” containing the Law of the Fruit, the information required for abundance. The flesh surrounding and protecting them is designed to pass away, either rotting or giving life to birds, beasts and Man. Fruit is not naked but covered, robed in glory—already complete—a glory which attracted the eye of Eve. The skin is a public testimony.

Tying the triune structure of fruit to the investiture of Man in the Garden reveals the same ethical pattern in all Creation. The “first skin” is to be considered as nakedness, as “uncovering.” It is not inherently sinful but turns into rebellion when we resist a call to greater glory. Putting off the flesh allows God to provide a greater, more glorious covering. After obedience, Adam was intended to be clothed in righteousness. The natural would be clothed with the spiritual. The temporary flesh, “eaten by God’s Law,” would be given back eternal. We see this reflected in the fact that each Israelite male was circumcised, but all Israelites were to wear a robe with tassels to remind them of God’s Law. We see this in the fact that under the Law of Moses, plagued skin that revealed the flesh was unclean, yet once completely white it was “holy.” As with Naaman the Syrian, an obedient “peeling” led to a better skin. Even in this shedding of immaturity, in obedience to the Covenant, Man is to outdo both tree and serpent.

Leviticus 19:23-25 even has a Covenantal shape. By describing the intent of the Israelite farmers, the first stanza prefigures in miniature the shape of the whole.

When you (Light – Sabbath)
come into (Waters – Passover)
the land, (Land – Firstfruits)
and have planted (Rulers – Pentecost)
all kinds (Swarms – Trumpets)
of trees (Mediators – Atonement)
for food, (Rest – Booths)

You can see both the Creation week and Israel’s annual feasts reflected in this single sentence.3See pages 12 and 13 of God’s Kitchen: Theology You Can Eat & Drink. Here, the farmers were just like God planting trees in the Garden. It seems strange that fruit from the old trees planted by Canaanites was not to be considered uncircumcised and yet fruit from these new trees was. The answer is that mature, fruitful trees are all Israelites! They have been cultivated and God is pleased with the result.4The oak trees planted by Abraham would have been enormous by the time Israel took possession of Canaan.

Now, we can see this pattern in the entire passage and make some observations by corresponding the microcosm of the first stanza with the macrocosm of the complete command.

TRANSCENDENCE
Sabbath – “When you come into the land, and have planted all kinds of trees for food,
(Genesis – Creation)
HIERARCHY
Passover – then you shall count their fruit as uncircumcised.
(Exodus – Division)
ETHICS GIVEN
Firstfruits – Three years it shall be as uncircumcised to you. It shall not be eaten.
(Leviticus – Ascension)
ETHICS OPENED
Pentecost – But in the fourth year all its fruit shall be holy, a praise to the Lord.
(Numbers – Testing)
ETHICS RECEIVED
Trumpets – And in the fifth year you may eat its fruit,
(Deuteronomy – Maturity)
SANCTIONS
Atonement – that it may yield to you its increase:
(Joshua – Conquest)
SUCCESSION
Booths – I am the Lord your God.”
(Judges – Glorification)

The first cycle is revealed as a miniature Genesis, and we see the “firstborn” of the tree under the sword at Exodus. Leviticus gives us an Altar and a forbidden Table.

The fruit of the fourth year was a “firstfruits meal” for God and His priests. The sacrifice of their first mature fruit would allow God to pour out a “Pentecost,” a greater harvest, upon each tree. Then we have the fruit given a new name, a sacrifice transformed from bloody Moriah to shiny Zion, from external Law to internal Law, from skinny “blood” to tasty “praise.” The trees had become “bridal” in nature and would be granted Succession.

Israel is granted the fruit of the Covenant as the Ethics “received.” The Covenant vow is taste and tongue. This allows God to pour out the blessing at Sanctions. The obedient “head” gives abundance to the harvest “body.”

This peculiar little passage not only reflects the great themes of the Bible, it supports the idea that the prohibition upon the Tree of Knowledge in Eden was only temporary. In Israel’s “liturgical farming” we see each new tree mature from priest to king. In bearing godly fruit, every tree was a prophet in Israel. When God came looking for fruit, He would be pleased to find more than fig leaves (Genesis 3:7; Mark 11:12-14) and the curse would be broken. He would discover the right kinds of seed, flesh and skin—an Israelite indeed (John 1:47-49; Hebrews 12:11).

If you are new to this method of interpretation, please visit the Welcome page for some help to get you up to speed.

References   [ + ]

1. Keil and Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament.
2. After reading this chapter, Steven Opp commented, “The idea of uncircumcised fruit helps make sense of the notion that Eve was being ‘seduced’ by the devil, allowing the uncircumcision to come into her, with its seed. It also supports the suggestion that Jesus was the fruit being put back on the tree. Along with being the serpent on the pole, serpents always being the picture of uncircumcision, he was the uncircumcised fruit on the tree, where he was cut off, circumcised.”
3. See pages 12 and 13 of God’s Kitchen: Theology You Can Eat & Drink.
4. The oak trees planted by Abraham would have been enormous by the time Israel took possession of Canaan.

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