“When you harvest your land, don’t harvest right up to the edges of your field or gather the gleanings from the harvest. Don’t strip your vineyard bare or go back and pick up the fallen grapes. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am God, your God.” Leviticus 19:9-10 (MSG)
It is spring in Iowa and as I drive down the highway I can see the perfectly planted rows of corn and soybeans emerging in bright green dotted lines on a canvas of thick, espresso and black soil. Farmers have planted their fields wisely to get as many seeds in each row and as many rows in each field to ensure, God willing, a high yield and a measureable profit. Come harvest, they will gather as much grain as they possibly can for market.
I found it an interesting contrast to read God’s command to the farmers in the days of Moses. Poverty was as much a social issue and economic reality for people in the days of Moses as it is today. What I find fascinating in today’s chapter is that God’s prescription was for individuals to take personal responsibility for giving of their own means to the poor in their own community. The farmer left some of his field unharvested so that the poor in his community could eat and have a little to trade for their needs. There was a direct transaction of goods between people who knew one another and lived together in community. I also note that God did not command the farmer to harvest the crop and give some his profits to the poor, not did he command Moses and his cabinet of elders to take grain from farmers and administrate a system of distribution among the poor. The crop was left standing and the gleanings left so that the poor had to go to the field and do the work of harvesting it for themselves. It was a constant reminder to those of fewer means that the harder they worked, the more they had to eat and trade. There were no food stamps in the law of Moses, only food available for those who were willing to do the work to harvest it.