Treatment of the Poor – Leviticus 19:9-10
This is my first post on what the Mosaic Law has to say regarding treatment of the poor (see “Christian Treatment of the Poor” for last week’s introduction). In preparation for this series of posts I went out and purchased the Concise Book of Mitzvoth (mitzvoth is Hebrew for commandment) so I could get a taste of Judaism’s understanding of the Mosaic Law.
I suppose that purchasing a book meant for those of the Jewish faith is a bit unusual for a Christian. In fact it is unusual enough that Amazon is now suggesting for me books for converts to Judaism. I think that’s kind of funny. At any rate I was a little disappointed in that the Concise Book of Mitzvoth (CBM) was more concise than I hoped for. The book does not try and explain any reasoning or purpose behind the commandments contained in the Mosaic Law. Rather, it reads like a series of legal statutes giving precise directions on how to meet the requirements of each of the commands. I suppose this shouldn’t surprise me. When you think about it, it makes sense that someone had to set down exactly how to follow the Mosaic Law so everyone would know how to keep from breaking the rules.
At any rate I am going to reproduce what the CBM says about each of the commandments about the poor and destitute along with analysis from a couple of different Christian commentaries on the same passages. I hope these will complement each other.
None the less the list of 613 Mitzvoth’s I found at Judaism 101’s web site has helped me identify which of the commands in the Mosaic Law apply to the poor. Of the thirteen commands that apply to the poor (Mitzvoths 40 through 52 in the list), eight of them deal with Leviticus 19:9-10. I am going to deal only with seven of those today because one of the eight (Mitzvoth 41) also references Leviticus 23:22 a which I will make a separate post about.
I am going to begin with quoting the seven Mitzvoth that are today’s topic.
Mitzvot 42 (CCI1)
1, 2, 3, 4. It is a positive commandment to leave an unreaped part of the crops of grain and trees; so too, to leave over the gleanings [single ears or fruits that fall aside during the harvest]; so also, to leave over ol’loth [small bunches of scattered grapes which do not overhang one another from the trunk, and have no arm connecting the stalk to the trunk], as well as peret, single fallen grapes, in a vineyard
for Scripture says, you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger (Va-yikra [Leviticus] 19:10), meaning the “gifts” mentioned previously [in the Writ]. They have to be left for the poor; and the owner has no right to benefit by choosing the poor. If indigent people do not come around for them, he is not commanded to leave them for untamed beasts and fowl; neither is he commanded to give their value in money to the poor.
By the law of the Torah, this is in effect in the Land [of Israel]; and by the law of the Sages, outside the Land [in other countries, as well]. But some hold that this means specifically the regions near the land, where there is the obligation of t’rumah and the tithe by the law of the Sages.
It applies to both man and woman.
Mitzvot 43 (CCI7)
7. It is a negative commandment that when a person reaps [grain] and makes bundles, he is not to gather the ears that fall away, but is to leave them for the poor
as Scripture says, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest (Va-yikra [Leviticus] 23:22). This means, though, if one or two ears fall; but if three ears fall together, all three belong to the owner.
For Mitzvoth 44 please see Mitzvoth 42.
Mitzvot 45 (CCI8)
8. It is a negative commandment that one should not gather the ol’loth of a vineyard, but should leave them for the poor
as Scripture says, And you shall not glean (th’olel) your vineyard (Va-yikra [Leviticus] 19:10). Now what are ol’loth? – The term denotes a small bunch which is not thick like a proper bunch, having “no shoulder” [no arm connecting the twigs to the trunk] and its grapes do not overhang one another directly [from the stem], but are scattered.
This applies only to the vineyard.
For Mitzvoth 46 please see Mitzvoth 42.
Mitzvot 47 (CCI9)
9. it is a negative commandment that one should not gather what has become singly separated from the grapes during the vintage (the grape-gathering)
for Scripture says, neither shall you gather the peret, the fallen grapes of your vineyard, you shall leave them for the poor and for the stranger (Va-yikra [Leviticus] 19:10). Now what is a peret? – one or two grapes that become separated from a bunch during the vintage; but if three grapes fell at one time, that is not peret.
This applies only to the vineyard.
For Mitzvoth 48 please see Mitzvoth 42.
Gary Kukis’ Commentary on Leviticus 19:9-10
For my first Christian commentary I am going to quote from Gary Kukis’ work. He is a Christian who was part of R.B. Thieme, Jr.’s ministry (as was I) and he does a good job of exegeting the Old Testament. His commentary on the Book of Leviticus can be found here.
“‘When you reap the harvest of your land, you will not complete the corner of your field to harvest; you will not complete the gleanings after your harvest. [Lev. 19:9]
What is said here is that a person has an entire field planted in corn, but he is not to harvest his entire field. He is to keep one corner of this field un-harvested.
“‘And your vineyard, you will not strip bare [or, glean]; and neither will you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you will leave them for the poor and for the immigrant [or, the one traveling through]. [Lev. 19:10]
We find this particular law being followed in Ruth 2:2–7 where Ruth goes out to the field of Boaz and gathers a few ears of corn after the reapers had gone through. In this way, Ruth and Boaz met and, as Thieme often said, the key to right man, right woman is not finding the right person but being the right person. Ruth 2:11 tells us that Ruth had a very favorable reputation, which attracted Boaz to her. They were King David’s great grand parents who met and fell in love because of this law.
God would bring people through the land under all kinds of pretenses, but primarily to expose them to His Word and to the gospel. These people had to have their basic needs met in order to be responsive to the gospel. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it (Heb. 13:2). If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for [their] body, what use is that? (I Peter 2:15–16). Note that there is a time to give a person an outright handout and there is a time to allow that person the chance to work for his food. The remaining portion of the field still requires that the poor person or the one who is traveling through to go to the field and pick the corn or the grapes in order to be able to eat. This requires the person to work. Related Scripture can be found in Deut. 24:19–21. Whoever has the world’s goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth (I John 3:17). One of the great works of believers are the local missions found in almost every town which deal with the lost souls. There are those who live on the streets, who have allowed themselves to be conquered by alcohol and drugs, who are cold, desperate and alone. These missions provide them with a hot meal and with food and clothing—and, far more importantly, with the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, who loves them and gave Himself for them.
You may be concerned here about the owner of the field. Won’t everyone just go into their neighbor’s field and get what they need? God set up laws for those who take what remains in the field. When you enter your neighbor’s vineyard, then you may eat grapes until you are fully satisfied, but you will not put any in your basket. When you enter your neighbor’s standing grain, then you many pluck the heads with your hand, but you will not wield a sickle in your neighbor’s standing grain (Deut. 23:24–25). So the indigent was allowed to take from the field of a neighbor, but he was neither allowed to harvest nor to carry away what he had harvested in a basket. He was allowed to pluck with his hands and carry away whatever his hands could carry. Furthermore, note the timing of this particular verse. They Jews are in the desert right now, and will be wandering in the desert for another 38–39 years. They do not have vineyards nor do they have fields; God knew the future and devised laws for their future. This is another reason some experts do not like the idea that Leviticus was written when it claims to be written. It implies that (1) God knows the future and that (2) Moses had a relationship with God. In the eyes of the expert, this cannot be, so they must find alternative explanations for prophecies and for laws which were fully developed prior to their need.
Matthew Henry’s Commentary
I found a large number of commentaries on the Book of Leviticus at this site. If you are interested I would recommend going through them. I like Matthew Henry’s commentary on this passages and have decided to share it.
V. That they should leave the gleanings of their harvest and vintage for the poor, Leviticus 19:9,10. Note, Works of piety must be always attended with works of charity, according as our ability is. When they gathered in their corn, they must leave some standing in the corner of the field; the Jewish doctors say, “It should be a sixtieth part of the field;” and they must also leave the gleanings and the small clusters of their grapes, which at first were overlooked. This law, though not binding now in the letter of it, yet teaches us, 1. That we must not be covetous and griping, and greedy of every thing we can lay any claim to; nor insist upon our right in things small and trivial. 2. That we must be well pleased to see the poor supplied and refreshed with the fruit of our labours. We must not think every thing lost that goes beside ourselves, nor any thing wasted that goes to the poor. 3. That times of joy, such as harvest-time is, are proper times for charity; that, when we rejoice, the poor may rejoice with us, and when our hearts are blessing God their loins may bless us.
Items of Note for Me
I particularly liked the way Gary Kukis tied several passages together. The poor and indigent of Israel had food provided for them but they had to do some work for it. By the same token a land owner could not refuse to allow the poor to gather the gleanings.
If a person was willing to work there was always food (at least during harvest time). No landowner could turn the indigent away.
If a person was not willing to work the land owners were not commanded to feed them. The food was there for the taking and it was up to the poor to take it.
I also like what Gary said about the Bible allowing Christians to give handouts to the poor. I do give the homeless money on occasion. I have also seen some of the people begging for money pull out more expensive cell phones than I own and I won’t give to them. Biblically both of those decisions are within my rights which I was glad to know.