“When you harvest the ripe crops produced in your land, don’t harvest all the way to corners of your field, and don’t gather the ears of grain left by the harvesters. Likewise, don’t gather the grapes left on the vine or fallen on the ground after harvest; leave them for the poor and the foreigner; I am Adonai your God.”-Leviticus 19:9-10
Verses 9 and 10 deal with providing for the poor and the strangers who dwell together with the Israelites.
However, seeing that these two commands are directly referring to the practice of farming, they would seem to be irrelevant at this point in time.
Keep in mind that at this point in time, Israel is still dwelling out in the wilderness!
It’s not going to be until about a good 40 years pass before they enter into the Promised Land.
Let’s not forget these instructions we’re reading about given to Moses at Mount Sinai occurred less than a year after Israel escaped from Egypt.
A lot of the commands the Israelites were given wouldn’t take on their full meaning or have a direct function until the Israelites conquered the Promised Land.
Israel assumed their going into the Promised Land was but a few weeks away, but as we’ll see later, this was not to be.
The reason God is giving these commands ahead of time is to prepare them for when they will become an agricultural society.
In addition, as with many of His rules and commands, outside of their direct practical function, the PRINCIPLES they were based on could be applied immediately.
In this case, the principle is that we are to show mercy and care for those who are unable to take care of themselves.
With all of that in mind, let’s examine verse 9.
The Lord commands that we are not to reap all the way to the edges of one’s field.
In other words, when the owner of a field harvested his grain, he was to leave a certain portion of the field unharvested.
This would allow the poor to harvest it, a process usually called “gleaning” in our Bibles.
However, it wasn’t as simple as that.
The second part of the command referring to field crops is that the owner of the field is NOT to gather the “gleanings”.
Since we’re going to encounter several examples of “gleaning” in both the Scriptures and the New Testament, let’s examine this a bit more.
There were two types of portions of grain for the poor.
The first one was called PE’AH in Hebrew and means corner or edge.
This is the part of the field that was to remain unharvested.
According to the MISHNAH, a field owner was suppose to leave about about 1/16th or 6% to 7% of his field unharvested.
And even that changed depending on the economic circumstances.
If the harvest was particularly bad during a given season, a higher percentage of the farmer’s field was to be left unharvested.
The key thing to keep in mind here is that it was up to the poor to come to the fields themselves and harvest the grain.
It wasn’t like the grain wasn’t nicely gathered up and delivered to them by the farmer like a hot piping Dominoes pizza.
Laziness was not tolerated in God’s economy.
The second portion of grain for the poor was called LEKET.
LEKET specifically referred to the “gleanings” which were the part of the harvest that fell to the ground during the harvesting procedures.
In Bible days, the way a field worker would harvest the grain is in one motion catch multiple stalks of grain in one hand and then with the other hand, cut the stalks off at the ground using a sickle.
With each stroke of the sickle, it was inevitable that a small number of stalks fell out of the worker’s hand.
Per the TORAH law of LEKET, the field workers were prohibited from reaching down and picking up those stalks of grain that had fallen to the ground.
Those dropped stalks were to be left for the poor to “glean”.
We see a perfect example of this in the Book of Ruth.
“Now Naomi had a relative
on her husband’s side,
a man of standing
from the clan of Elimelek,
whose name was Boaz.
And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi,
“Let me go to the fields
and pick up the leftover grain
behind anyone in whose eyes I find favor.”
Naomi said to her,
“Go ahead, my daughter.”
So she went out, entered a field and
began to glean behind the harvesters.
As it turned out, she was working in a field
belonging to Boaz,
who was from the clan of Elimelek.”
The next time we meet, I want to talk a little about vineyards and the important role they played in Israel’s agricultural economy.
We’ll see that the vineyards were also to be dealt with along the same lines as grain fields.