The Poor and Unfortunate – Leviticus 23:22

I am continuing this week on the topic of how the Mosaic Law required Israel to treat the poor (see last week’s post here). Today I am going to post on only one of those mitzvots (commands) which is given in Leviticus 23:22. Following last week’s formula I will provide the command as treated in the Concise Book of Mitzvot (a Jewish book dealing with how to follow the Mosaic Law) followed by Christian commentaries on the passage by Gary Kukis and Matthew Henry. Since the Kukis and Henry quotes are short I am going to add two more sets of comments by Gary North and Lee Smith on this passage. Both of the additional sets of comments are interesting but speculative.

Mitzvot 41 (CCI6)

6. It is a negative commandment that one should not reap the whole field, entirely, but should leave a small part for the poor
as scripture says, you shall not reap the very last edge of you field in your harvesting (Va-yikra [Leviticus] 23:22).And just as this is to be left in afield, so with trees: When their fruit is gathered, a little is to be left for the poor. Its required amount, by the law of the Sages, is not less than one sixtieth; and whoever increases the leftover part, his [heavenly] reward will be increased.

This applies to every field that is grown from the soil and is guarded, and is harvested at one time and gathered to be kept. Some rule, though, that by the law of the Torah it applies to nothing but grain, wine and oil.

Gary Kukis commentary (link here) states the following about this passage:

“‘And when you reap the harvest of your land, you will not complete the corner of your field when you harvest and the gleanings after your harvest you will not gather—you will leave them for the poor and for the stranger. I am Yahweh, your God.'” [Lev. 23:22]

We have seen this before. God’s welfare system (and one did need to be in place) allowed those in need to harvest from the corners of the fields and from the produce which was not taken in the first sweep of a field. Therefore, the poor person did have to do some kind of work in order to eat.

Matthew Henry’s commentary (link here) says:

To the institution of the feast of pentecost is annexed a repetition of that law which we had before (Leviticus 19:9), by which they were required to leave the gleanings of their fields, and the corn that grew on the ends of the butts, for the poor, Leviticus 23:22. Probably it comes in here as a thing which the priests must take occasion to remind the people of, when they brought their first-fruits, intimating to them that to obey even in this small matter was better than sacrifice, and that, unless they were obedient, their offerings should not be accepted. It also taught them that the joy of harvest should express itself in charity to the poor, who must have their due out of what we have, as well as God his. Those that are truly sensible of the mercy they receive from God will without grudging show mercy to the poor.

Now for the additional commentary that I would like to add. The first one is by Gary North, a Calvinist economist, who wrote an “economic commentary” on the book of Leviticus (you can download the commentary at this link). I suppose that I should state up front that I don’t care much for some of Gary North’s writings. He makes no bones that he doesn’t like dispensationalism and, as far as I am concerned, hasn’t been too careful in painting dispensationalists with a very broad, and unflattering, brush. Being a dispensationalist I don’t like that very much.

Now that I have said that I will also state that Calvinists, like North, have spent time digging into Old Testament passages like this one that few others have bothered to study. Last week I posted on Leviticus 19:9-10 which is almost identical to this week’s passage of Leviticus 23:22. Why did the command get repeated? North seems to think he has the answer:

Leviticus 23:22 is a recapitulation of the gleaning law of Leviticus 19:9. The question is: Why did God here remind the Israelites of the landowners’ responsibility to the landless poor, at the end of the passage that set forth the laws governing Pentecost (“weeks”)? This question has baffled orthodox Bible commentators. S. H. Kellogg offers comments on Pentecost (vv. 15-21), but then skips verse 22 to begin commenting on the convocation of trumpets (vv. 23-25). Andrew Bonar refers back to Leviticus 19:9 and concludes: “In this manner, love to man was taught in these thanksgiving feasts, at the very time that love to God who so kindly gave them their plenty was called forth and increased.” He then goes on to offer an allegorical interpretation, with the gleaners as members of a remnant: gentiles in the Old Covenant, Jews in the New Covenant. “A feast is coming on that will unite Jew and Gentile in equal fulness.” But this does not explain why the gleaning law for the fields was repeated here, or perhaps more to the point, why it first appears in Leviticus 19:9 rather than here. Gordon Wenham thinks that the connection between Leviticus 19:9 and 23:22 may be the requirement to care for the poor: the Levites, the poor, and the stranger. There may be a link here: shared poverty. But why should the Levites and priests have been poor? They received the tithes and sacrifices of the tribes. They could also own real estate in the cities. The commentators are confused about the reason behind the recapitulation.

There is a reason for this recapitulation: a shared economic link. There is also a reason for the confusion of the commentators. The reason is their lack of knowledge about, or interest in, economic theory. This lack of knowledge has left gaps in our understanding of biblical law.

Leviticus: An Economic Commentary
pp 357-358

North then comes to this conclusion:

The gleaning law was recapitulated in this section because gleaning was connected judicially to the Levites, the mandated participants and beneficiaries at the national feasts. Gleaning pointed to the priests and Levites as God’s designated agents of enforcement for the gleaning law. There was a mutually beneficial relationship between the Levites and the gleaners. The gleaners could serve the Levites as monitors of the size of the landowner’s crop. This assured the priestly tribe of receiving a more honest tithe. The gleaners also had to pay the tithe, but they had allies in the Levitical priesthood. Their priestly beneficiaries possessed the authority to declare a person excommunicate, including a cheating landowner or a landowner who refused to honor the gleaning law.

Leviticus: An Economic Commentary
p 367

However, Lee Smith at the Old Doctrines New Light webpage disagrees with Gary North’s conclusion as to why the command to leave the fields ungleaned is repeated. The quote below provides Smith’s logic for rejecting North’s conclusion. Smith came up with his own reason for the “recapitulation” of the command not to harvest the entire field and he relates it to the Church (I have bolded the link to that discussion in the quote below). At any rate it is interesting to read such different interpretations of this passage:

After citing a few commentators and their interpretation of Lev 23:22, North concludes (page 358)

‘The commentators are confused about the reason behind the recapitulation…There is also a reason for the confusion of the commentators. The reason is their lack of knowledge about, or interest in, economic theory’

The subsequent problem here is that the theory proposed by North doesn’t interpret Scripture but adds to it! It takes Scripture beyond the bounds of what it plainly says, adds modern day economic laws to it and then reinterprets it in the light of present day knowledge – throw in the Levites which are never mentioned, either, and whatever the truth of the theory may be, it’s largely unprovable and has to remain supposition.

Instead of interpreting a Biblical passage in the light of other Biblical passages, what’s arrived at will suffer from being ungrounded within Scripture.

I’ve commented on this verse in the context of the festivals here where I’ve attempted to show the reason for the gleaning law insertion here – namely, that the Intermediate Festival which isn’t mentioned until much later in the Torah would have occurred in this gap between the two festivals. Not only this, but the bulk of the harvest took place at this time as well so a reminder to the nation (Lev 23:2 shows us that the laws were directed at all Israel not just a section within the nation) is appropriate.

So, the appropriateness of the verse isn’t in doubt even though modern day writers would probably have edited it out and consigned it to a footnote rather than interject it into a passage in which, at first glance, it appears to be out of context.

Chapter 22 (Gleaning) pages 355-367

Leviticus chapter 23 discusses the Jewish festivals and the recapitulation of the no gleaning rule occurs in the section discussing the ‘First Fruits’ festival. Mr. Smith believes that this is the key:

The Intermediate festival is indicative of the Church age in which all believers live, where they’re the ‘First Fruits’ of God’s new creation who lay their lives down before God to serve Him as He shows them Himself, through the revelation that’s given to them.

By rejecting the possibility of receiving fresh revelation from God (that is, revelation that’s not anti-Biblical and which, indeed, is, for the majority of times, revelation that has been given to believers in former generations), the Church stagnates and can’t worship and bring thanksgiving to God as He intends.

The entire christian life is based upon a direct and continued revelation of God to individuals. Therefore Jesus pointed out to Peter that it would be upon the revelation of who He is that His Church would be built (Mtw 16:15-18).

Who Make’s More Sense: North or Smith?

I included the North and Smith quotes because they are interesting and not at all typical of commentaries on Leviticus. However, I don’t think that either commenter has correctly interpreted this passage. First off I think that Smith’s critique of North’s commentary is solid. Nowhere in Leviticus 23 are the Levitical priests mentioned but Gary North has them being used as a police force who use the poor to inform on property owners. I have never heard of such a practice in ancient Israel. I’m not saying it couldn’t happen but I am deeply skeptical.

However I just don’t believe Smith’s idea that the no gleaning rule, and the ‘First Fruits’ Festival, were foreshadowing the Church. The Church was a mystery that wasn’t revealed until after Christ’s ascension. For the Mosaic Law to foreshadow the Church just doesn’t make any sense to me.

Also, when Smith says that “By rejecting the possibility of receiving fresh revelation from God […] the Church stagnates” I think he is way off base. Why do we need the possibility of fresh revelation to prevent stagnation? Aren’t following the eternal truths found in scripture what makes us the salt of the earth? I probably need to read that section again (it is in the form of notes and is difficult for me to get a complete understanding of) but if I understand him correctly I reject that statement.

At any rate this is food for thought.

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7 Comments on “The Poor and Unfortunate – Leviticus 23:22”

  1. michael Says:

    SCRIPTURE IS NOT SUBJECT TO PRIVATE INTERPRETATION

    “True knowledge is [that which consists in] the doctrine of the apostles, and the ancient constitution of the Church throughout all the world, and the distinctive manifestation of the body of Christ according to the successions of the bishops, by which they have handed down that Church which exists in every place, and has come even unto us, being guarded and preserved without any forging of Scriptures, by a very complete system of doctrine, and neither receiving addition nor [suffering] curtailment [in the truths which she believes]; and [it consists in] reading [the word of God] without falsification, and a lawful and diligent exposition in harmony with the Scriptures, both without danger and without blasphemy; and [above all, it consists in] the pre-eminent gift of love, which is more precious than knowledge, more glorious than prophecy, and which excels all the other gifts [of God].” Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 4,33:8 (inter A.D. 180-199).

    • Glenn Says:

      Hello Michael,

      I believe that you are the first Roman Catholic to have commented on my blog. You are welcome but I am sure it will come as no surprise to you that I disagree with the quote you provided. Irenaeus was a brilliant man to be sure but the quote you provide is nothing more than his opinion. Why should I agree with his statement if he doesn’t back it up with scripture? Who should I believe, Irenaeus or the word of God?

      Do you believe that the Bereans were wrong to test what the Apostle Paul said versus scripture?

      10 As soon as it was night, the brothers sent Paul and Silas off to Berea. On arrival, they went into the synagogue of the Jews.
      11 The people here were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, since they welcomed the message with eagerness and examined the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.
      12 Consequently, many of them believed, including a number of the prominent Greek women as well as men.

      Acts 17:10-12

      Here are two short articles regarding how protestants disagree with Rome on the topic of scripture if you are interested.

      1. Is the Bible Alone Sufficient for Spiritual Truth?
      2. Are the Scriptures Sufficient?

      Thank you for stopping by.

      Glenn

  2. Lee Smith Says:

    The concept of foreshadowing is not meant to mean foreknowing. Many times in prophetic Scripture, what God spoke wasn’t understood or perceived until the events transpired that were being detailed – Isaiah 53 a decent enough example of the point. Had they understood the Scriptures, Jesus would have been seen to be the One who was to come.

    Therefore, when you speak about not accepting the verse being a foreshadowing of the Church Age because the Church hadn’t been revealed at that time, you’re not basing your objection on the principles contained in Scripture. Namely, that God speaks about things to come without giving the recipient the full understanding of what those matters are or mean.

    As to the rejection of the need for fresh revelation – if God does not continue to speak with men and women, then God has removed Himself from a personal relationship with mankind. Even the principles of ‘eternal truths’ themselves are not a matter of our own understanding – we need revelation to know what they *truthfully* mean. Without revelation, we *will* err in our interpretations.

    Having said that, you’ve provided a good discussion above – even if we disagree, people coming here have food to think about the issues.

  3. Lee Smith Says:

    And one point I forgot to mention (must remember to review my post before hitting ‘Post’!).

    I dealt with Lev 23:22 *in the context* of Leviticus Chapter 23. While commenting on North, my notes were somewhat limited in scope. I dealt with that Intermediate Festival on http://www.arlev.co.uk/intermed.htm because we have tended to use a single verse and interpret it regardless of the context in which it appears.

    It is my understanding of the Festivals that the foreshadowing of the feasts in Christ has been misunderstood because we forgot that there was another annual – but not fixed – celebratory occasion that the Jews were commanded.

  4. Glenn Says:

    Hello Mr. Smith!

    I am very glad you stopped by my blog and commented. Your distinction between foreknowing and foreshadowing is certainly valid and I’m glad you pointed it out. I am not stating categorically that you are wrong but it is difficult for me to believe that the Church was being foreshadowed by the festival of First Fruits and the no gleaning rule.

    I understand that there are many passages in the Old Testament that foreshadow future events with Isaiah 53 being an example. Isaiah 53 was speaking about the Messiah and the Jews of Isaiah’s day understood that. The church was not revealed until national Israel rejected the Messiah. It is just hard for me to believe that the Church was being foreshadowed in the Mosaic Law.

    I still don’t believe that the Church needs fresh revelation to keep the Church from stagnating. However it does occur to me that I might be misinterpreting what you mean by fresh revelation. Do you mean that God is continuing to reveal new truths to us in this day and age? That is the way I took your statement. The truths God revealed to us are sufficient for us to fulfill our calling here on earth.

    I don’t think our relationship with God here and now depends on new revelation. We are indwelt by God the Holy Spirit, are in union with Christ, the Holy Spirit is constantly praying for us, Christ is constantly interceding for us with the Father, etc. There is a tremendously dynamic relationship there but I don’t believe that new revelation, as I understand it, is part of it at this time.

    If you think I came across as being too abrasive or harsh regarding your position then let me know and I will soften my editorial comments.

    Thank you for stopping by.

    Glenn

    • Lee Smith Says:

      Just a snippet reply to you Glynn – please excuse the points:

      1. No, you weren’t being ‘abrasive or harsh’ – you have to state your point (even if I disagree with it!).

      2. I have to leave it with you that you find it ‘hard to believe’ that the Church was foreshadowed in the Law. Actually, you seem to have difficulty with believing that God ‘foreknew’ that the Jews would reject Messiah and, therefore, the Church composed primarily of Gentiles would come about. Nothing takes God by surprise – so, if He foreknew, He can also Foreshadow in Scripture.

      3. I have to disagree with the assumption that the Church only came about when the Jews rejected Messiah. The Jews accepting Messiah would have made them be primarily (or substantially more of the population of) the Church. The Law was a custodian, a schoolmaster until Christ and, therefore, until the Church.

      4. ‘Revelation’ is, as the word suggests, a ‘revealing’. We cannot know God in Truth if God does not reveal Himself. Scripture points but, seeing how many incorrect interpretations have come from Scripture, it’s clear that God must reveal Himself in the Scriptures for men to know Him in Truth. Just as the travellers on the way to Emmaus understood the Scriptures but Christ had to reveal Himself in them. But we must walk by ‘God revealing’ or we serve under Law, an observance to a written code – albeit the NT rather than the OT. And, further, there are many matters upon which we need to know God’s mind – we need fresh revelation. Scripture does not contain a full assessment of all things that occur or all matters. When the Internet came to prominence, many many multitudes of believers pronounced against it as being the spawn of satan. Had they had the revelation to see what a tool it could be in reaching the world and got involved, we would have coped better.

      5. Not to know God in reality but only by a legal code is not a relationship with God. In the same way as me reading a biography is not a living dynamic relationship with the subject. I have to talk, converse, experience, watch and learn from the subject if I’m ever to get to know them.

  5. Glenn Says:

    Hi Lee,

    Thank you for the response. I will leave your points up and anyone who reads the post can read them. I think it makes a nice addition to the post and some readers will be interested.

    Actually I don’t have a hard time believing that God foreknew that the Jews would reject Messiah and the Church would be ushered in. In fact I have come to believe that Molinism is probably the best description of God’s omniscience and how He works in history. God not only knows what will happen but what would have happened if we, or He, made different decisions.

    Even though God knew how the Jews, as a nation, were going to decide about Jesus being the Messiah, the offer of The Kingdom was a real one (the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand). God didn’t begin instituting the Church (or foreshadowing it) until the actual offer was rejected in real time.

    I think that scripture is a lot more than just a legal code and that it has provided for a much more dynamic relationship here and now than you are allowing for. This life is a transitional period for us. We will have the kind of relationship with the Lord that you describe once we are in the eternal state. Unfortunately the fall broke the personal fellowship that mankind had once enjoyed with God and it is now only in the process of being repaired.

    Thank you again for stopping by.

    Glenn


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