Gleanings in the Modern World


God tells the Israelites in the Mosaic Law:

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God. (Lev. 19:9–10; sim. in 23:22)

What characteristics of gleanings can we seek to replicate in our society, which is no longer primarily agrarian and rural?

  1. The owner of the field leaves unreaped some of what he put in his own labour to cultivate – and I am sure, because of what God says about the Sabbatical years (Deut. 15:7–10), that it is wrong for the owner to be lazy about the edges of the field merely because he doesn’t benefit directly from them.
  2. The law about gleanings is separate from the tithe to the Lord.
  3. Those who glean from the fields are anonymous, and only social pressure, not the owner of the field, can keep someone who is not actually poor from gleaning.
  4. The gleanings were for both poor Israelites and aliens.

Thus, we should have a predetermined amount forfeit and set aside as a minimum amount to give away, separate from any amount of money we decide to give to the Lord as a tithe, and we must not fixate our attention upon how those who benefit will only indulge their gluttony (or their “irresponsible” reproduction or their greed or whatever) by eating out of the labour of others. We also cannot limit our giving to mostly believers to the neglect of the other people in our midst.

I believe it is essential to resolve the application of this command if we are not to neglect our responsibility to the poor and, ultimately, to God.

3 thoughts on “Gleanings in the Modern World

  1. I agree, but I would add one more consideration. Yes, the commandment is certainly a requirement to be generous to the poor, but it is even more than that. I view the limitation on gleaning from the fields and the corresponding requirement that the vineyards not be gone over twice as a commandment to the owners that they are to rein in their own pursuit of wealth. The implications for our society would be twofold.

    First, we should view our businesses and our jobs as not simply self-enriching occupations, but also as community-developing. In other words, we might consider more than the bottom line in the decision to close an underperforming plant. As noted in my article for the last issue of the journal, this does not mean that we never close the plant: It simply means that we consider more than one variable when we are making our decision. As some have termed it, we should consider the “triple bottom line”: profits, people, and the planet.

    Second, we should place proper limitations on how much we should work, on how much we should study. If it takes 10 hours of studying to get a “A,” but we could get an “A+” with 20 hours of studying, we may want to reconsider how we spend those last 10 hours. If we spend them at the expense of our relationships or our community, we have not spent them well. In the world of business, if we can get the job done in five days but are working seven days just for the extra profit, we should question ourselves. One caveat: I am not saying that we should not work hard or that we should not do an excellent job. We should to both, but there is a limit and there is balance. May God grant us the wisdom, as we ask Him, to show us where this balance is.

  2. Indeed: a profession, an occupation, should actually contribute to society and not ultimately just enrich a few while poisoning the environment for everyone. Wealth alone is barren; productivity goes beyond profit measurable in the short term.

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