Following my previous post on the necessity of applying Biblical ethics to the modern world is this post on gleaning. The short study will be on a case law found in Leviticus. Many reading this may be curious as to what a case law is so before I begin allow me to explain. A case law is a theoretical situation laid out in Scripture which serves as a moral directive.
When the subject of Biblical ethics or God’s law arises many people think of only the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount, but they are unaware that the Bible contains hundreds of scenarios detailing what the Ten Commandments look like in practical application. These scenarios are called case laws and they are generally the subject of discussion concerning casuistry.
The case law which we will now examine is found in Leviticus 19:9-10 and it says,
“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 of 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.”
The first thing that should be pointed out is that this command is found in conjunction with laws concerning theft and falls under the eighth commandment of the Decalogue: thou shalt not steal. God’s command here is to all property owners and specifically farmers that they are not to harvest their crops totally but are to leave a small amount for the poor and needy to come and gather. Anyone reading this can see that this command is not readily applicable to our day in the specific way it is laid out.
This command was given over three thousand years ago, in a society in which almost everyone worked at least some piece of land and crops were gathered by hand. Wheat gleaning wouldn’t do the average poor person any good in our world today because the common person does not have the equipment or know-how to convert raw crops into useable foods. The job of the casuist is to translate these ancient commands to our day without damaging or altering their intent. And the intent here is clear, individuals must provide for the poor.
This realization immediately challenges the standards by which the poor are cared for today. For they are generally left up to the daily providence of the messianic state. This verse serves as an indictment for every Christian and Church which is content to allow their legitimate duty to be usurped by the government. Another factor presented is the way in which goods are provided for the poor.
Note that the command is not to pick or harvest all of the crops and then distribute them to poor people. Rather it is the recipients of the charity who must work for the gleanings. Laziness is not subsidized by the Bible’s commands to charity in the same way that the modern concepts of well fare spread sloth and petty crime.
Leaving behind the trappings of an antiquitous society the things which must be imported into modern times is that businesses are required to provide a way in which underprivileged individuals may be cared for as a byproduct of their economic outputs. This can be done in a variety of ways but the thing which cannot be lost is that the people which we are required to aid must be required to work in exchange for the charity they receive. One useful example of how this might work may be found in restaurants.
Restaurant owners could advertise that people who wish may come and aid in cleanup at closing time in exchange for leftovers. In many cases left over food at the end of the day is thrown out and wasted but to people who do not have the ability to purchase food from a store on a regular basis this would be a good way to earn at least one meal. And in this system the restaurant owner would not be getting a bad deal either; if someone came and washed dishes or mopped the floor for a half hour and left with enough food for a meal it is a relatively even trade.
If the average hour of labor in our economy is worth $14 and the average dinner meal is worth $ 8-12 than the tradeoff is fair on both sides. Not a bad deal for the business owner who is Biblically required to aid the poor in his area anyway. And for the unemployed, widow or orphan this is a reliable way to eat in exchange for a useful service. A second such example is readily available in automotive garages. Auto repair garages produce large quantities of used, damaged or old car parts, all of which may be salvaged in some way.
Instead of taking used motor oil to the landfill it could be turned over to an enterprising disabled person who, by collecting large quantities of used oil, could help provide for themselves by recycling it for uses in waste oil furnaces or other modern uses. Orphaned children could easily collect discarded car parts such as alternators and batteries and sell them to be recycled. Spare parts can often be resold, tires can be ground for mulch and sold and so on. Opportunities such as these would serve to connect businesses with the communities in which they operate, provide useful ways for the poor to better themselves and reduce waste in economic endeavors.
The thing that the Christian reader must remember is that applications such as these need not be left to academics. Rather it is the job and duty of every earnest Christian to pursue faithfulness to the Bible’s commands in their own lives. Study the Word, digest the things which it commands us to do, and act on those realizations. Pray for God’s guidance, He won’t neglect the efforts of anyone who is trying to live in accordance with His revealed will.