When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over them again. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not strip it afterward. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I command you to do this. Deuteronomy 24:19-22
What is gleaning? Gleaning, as described in the Old Testament, is the practice of leaving some of the grain or produce behind during harvest for the needy members of society. It’s different from charity or alms in that the excess is not just given away. Those who needed food would come to the fields after the harvest and gather for themselves. To an urbanized, post-Industrial society, this may seem very foreign. And yet, I wonder if there is anything we can learn from it.
The practice of gleaning provided work and food for those who lacked both. In the Deuteronomy passage, God gives two reasons for His people to do this. First, they are told that they should do this so that God may bless them in all they do. God’s people are to remember that all they have comes from the Lord. Because He has blessed them, they are to be a blessing to others, and God promises that He will continue to bless them. This is not a “health and wealth” doctrine. God’s blessings are not simply material, but all His blessings flow down like rain on His people. This is still true today.
My dad, who deserves credit for the basic idea of this article, has used a very helpful illustration of this concept. Imagine that someone is pouring out sand into your hands. If you close your hands to try to hold on to the sand, you can only hold a little bit. But if you open your hands and allow the excess to run over the sides, your hands hold more. I think that really shows the point here. God has given His people so much that they shouldn’t try to hold on to it all with a tight grasp, but rather allow His blessings to flow over and bless others.
The second reason God gives in the passage is that His people are to remember that they were once slaves in a foreign land. They are to remember that they have been the strangers in a strange land, the ones without means. God’s people should have tender hearts towards the people around them and not forget their own history. As Americans, almost all of us can trace our histories back to people who left their homelands to make a new way in a new land. As believers, we too have been set free from slavery and are living in a land that is not our ultimate home.
So what application can we make of these concepts today? Well, one thing might be to look at ways we can provide work for others so that they can support themselves and their families. By all means, we should continue to give to our churches and to charitable causes as we are led. But are there other ways we might be able to help people in need? While being a good steward of our finances, are there things I could hire someone else to do for us? Maybe I can hire someone to clean my house or mow my yard. Maybe I can have someone come do some work on my house that needs to be done. Maybe I can spend money at stores or at restaurants (within my budget, of course). Maybe I could have someone change the oil and rotate the tires on my car.
These are just ideas, of course. I’m not about to tell anyone that they must do any of the above. I’m sure all of us have ways that we can be a blessing to others out of the abundance that God has blessed us with. I’m also sure that most of us are already tenderhearted towards the needs of those around us. I don’t want anyone to read my words here as an attempt to guilt anyone. Far from it! But maybe there are others who have wondered about ways they can help people in need. I would love to hear your thoughts about modern day gleaning.