When you reap the harvest of your land, you are not to reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest.
I. THAT THE FEAR OF GOD WILL SURELY LEAD TO THE LOVE OF MAN. That piety which begins and ends in acts of devotion is one that may be reasonably suspected: it is not of the scriptural order. True piety is in consulting the will of the heavenly Father (Matthew 7:21), and his will is that we should love and be kind to one another (Ephesians 4:32). Philanthropy is a word which may not have its synonym in the Old Testament, but the Hebrew legislator was not ignorant of the idea, and the Hebrew people were not left without incitement to the thing itself. Hence these injunctions to leave some corn in the corners of their fields, and the scattered ears for the reaping and gleaning of the poor (verse 9); to leave also some clusters of grapes which had been overlooked for needy hands to pluck (verse 10); to take no advantage of the weaker members of their society, the deaf and the blind (verse 14); and to show kindness to the stranger (verse 34).
II. THAT CONSIDERATENESS IS A GRACE WHICH IS PECULIARLY PLEASING TO GOD. The Jews were expressly enjoined to
(1) show kindness to the poor (verse 10);
(2) to be careful of those who suffered from bodily infirmity (verse 14);
(3) to interest themselves in the stranger (verses 33, 34).
There is something particularly striking in the commandment that they were to refrain from cursing the deaf. Even though there might be no danger of giving positive pain and exciting resentment, yet they were not to direct harsh words against any one of their more unfortunate brethren. This legislation for the weak and the necessitous presents a very pleasant aspect of the Law. It also reminds us of some truths which come home to ourselves. We may observe:
1. That power is apt to be tyrannical. The history of nations, tribes, individuals, is the history of assertion and assumption. The strong have ever shown themselves ready to take advantage of the weak. Hence the oppression and cruelty which darken the pages of human history.
2. That God would have us be just to one another. In most cases, if not in all, we can take no credit for our superior strength, and build no claim on it. In many cases, if not in most, we can impute no blame to others for their weakness: the unfortunate are not necessarily the undeserving, and we have no right to make them suffer.
3. But beyond this, God would have us be specially kind to the necessitous because they are reedy. Here are these statutes in respect of the poor, the afflicted, and the stranger. The devotional Scriptures speak more fully of this sacred duty (Psalm 41:1, 2; Psalm 62:13; 112:9, etc.). The prophets utter their voice still more forcibly (Isaiah 58:6-8; Ezekiel 18:7; Nehemiah 5:10-12; Jeremiah 22:16; Amos 4:1, etc.). Our Lord has, with strongest emphasis, commended to us considerateness toward the weak and helpless (Matthew 10:42; Matthew 18:6, 10, 14; Matthew 25:34-40, etc.). His apostles spoke and wrote in the same strain (Romans 12:15; 1 Corinthians 12:26, etc.). But that which, above everything, should lead us to be considerate toward the poorer and weaker members of our community is the thought that to do so is so truly and emphatically Divine. God himself has ever been acting on this gracious principle. He interposed to save the children of Israel because they were weak and afflicted. Again and again he stretched out his arm of deliverance, saving them from the strong and the mighty of the earth. On this Divine principle he deals with us all. He "knows our frame, and remembers that we are dust." "Like as a father pities his children, so he pities them that fear him." Our Saviour dealt with exquisite considerateness in all his relations to his undiscerning and unappreciative disciples; and now he is dealing with gracious forbearance toward us in all the weakness, poverty, shortcoming of our service. We are never so much like our merciful Master as when we speak and act considerately toward those who are poorer, weaker, and more helpless than ourselves. - C.
Thou shalt not wholly reap the corners of thy fieldDeuteronomy 24. God sanctioned the practice, and commanded that some grain and olives and grapes should be left to be gleaned by the poor, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and thus He required the Jews to pay to those who are more immediately depending for support on His bounty, a sort of tribute in acknowledgment of the tenure under which they held their land. The Jews paid no rent, because God Himself was the owner, having given it to them without price or reward; and when He commanded them to leave something for the poor gleaners in harvest, He did so that He might be able to bless His people in all the work of their hands. The reason why the Almighty sanctioned the practice of gleaning is very similar to this notion. He commanded His people to allow their fields to be gleaned, that they might always be kept in remembrance that they had been bondmen in Egypt. The recollection of this slavery was also preserved among them by the Sabbath, and by the command to do strict justice between man and man, as if the Almighty intended that the people, after they had attained to national power and prosperity, should be continually reminded of "the rock from whence they were hewn, and of the hole of the pit from whence they were digged." The sight of poor persons gleaning in the fields always reminded the Jews that they had been in slavery in Egypt, and that like them they had been depending upon others for a hard and uncertain living. In' fact, both the gleaners and the owners of the fields had been bondmen, and both were alike the receivers of God's bounty, although in different ways and in different degrees. More than three thousand years have rolled past since this law was enacted, but the principle which it contains is just as applicable to gleaners now as it was then. The poor Jew, gleaning in the fields of his rich brethren, had been a slave, but after he got into the Promised Land he became free; and exactly so, every gleaner who now searches in the fields of the farmers for heads of grain is free. I mean to tell you that you are politically free, and that you do not owe obedience to any master, except you bind yourselves to serve him for some payment. You were never slaves, as the Jews had been in Egypt, when they were forced to serve in a cruel bondage. But, let me ask you, are you really free? When you were gleaning in the fields this harvest, could you say with truth that you had once been slaves, but that you were now free? A person gleaning in the fields in harvest may be free, but she is a slave, bound hand and foot, if sin have the dominion over her. A woman gathering heads of grain in the fields may be free, but she is a slave if she spend her hard-won earnings in the public-house, drinking out of the cup which cheers, but swallowing along with the drink liquid fire and death. That gleaner is free who goes out and comes in without any to forbid, but she is a slave to the custom of gleaning, which is otherwise lawful, if, for the sake of the trifle which she may obtain in this way, she neglects her children, her husband, and her home. Every gleaner is as free as the air of heaven, but they are all slaves to their own passions if they are unable to agree together in the same field, and begin to use abusive language, to quarrel about rights which have no existence, except in the goodwill of the farmer, exhibiting scenes which could only find a parallel in the fields of the degraded Canaanites before they were driven out by the Jews. There is not a gleaner in the land who is not absolutely free, but every one of them is bound in fetters far stronger than fetters of iron or of brass, if, with this privilege of gleaning in another man's fields at their command, they have thankless hearts, and entertain no gratitude to God for His mercy, nor to the farmers for their benevolence. This brings me in natural consequence to speak about the persons on whose behalf God made the law about gleaning. They are the poor, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow. I do not know whether those who go out to glean in the fields in these days could be arranged into these four classes; but they at least furnish a guide as to the persons to whom the Almighty especially extends His care. He told His people that the poor should never cease out of the land, therefore He commanded them, saying, "Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor and to thy needy in thy land." The poor are the objects of God's special protection, as long as they lead lives of holiness and humility, contented with their lot, and confident in the mercy of Heaven. If they are profligate and ungodly, dishonest and discontented, idle and careless, not one of the promises in Scripture will apply to them any more than they do to any of God's open and avowed enemies.
2. The next class of persons who were permitted to glean in the fields were strangers, from whatever country they might have come, as was Ruth, who was a daughter of Moab. God also made provision for them, knowing how unhappy is the lot of that man who is an exile from his native land. He commanded His people not on any account to do them an injury: "Thou shalt neither vex a stranger nor oppress him, for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt." God by His providence watches over strangers, and never fails to reward those who help them, whether by allowing them to glean in the fields in harvest-time, or in any other manner.
3. The next class who were allowed to glean were the fatherless, whose parent was dead. If the Jew drove off from his fields in harvest a poor fatherless child, who wanted to glean some heads of corn, I have no doubt that he was guilty of a sin and a crime. There is no obligation upon any Christian man to allow such a one to search over his fields at this season of the year, but when he does permit the fatherless to glean up what the reapers have left behind, I make no doubt that he does that which is pleasing in the sight of God, and he will be able to understand, from the description of the judgment in the twenty-fifth chapter of St. Matthew, that the reward will far outbalance the kindness.
4. The only other class whom God allowed to be gleaners were widows. Like the poor, the stranger, and the fatherless, God always remembers them. Let them always remember, that, whether they may be in a cornfield among other gleaners, like Ruth in the field of Boaz, or, like the woman of Sidon, alone in a cottage with scarce enough food to eat, or, like the widow of Nain, following in tears an only son to the grave, God watches over them, and commands His angels to give them an invisible but effectual protection. There is little more to be said on this subject of gleaning, beyond one other consideration, which we shall do well to lay seriously to heart. We reflected upon the great harvest of men, which is to be gathered in by the angelic reapers at the end of this dispensation. That will be a harvest after which there will be no gleaning.
(O. B. Courtenay, M. A.)
2. The equalisation of the atonement money for poor and rich, thus establishing the value of the poor as equal to the rich (Exodus 30:12).
3. The same minute directions for the poor man's offerings, showing God's equal interest in his sacrifice (chap. 2. &c.)
4. And here the command that the harvest and vintage gleanings should be left (vers. 9, 10). Notice —
I. THAT THE HUMANE LAWS OF MODERN TIMES, respecting gleaning privileges, are all based upon this Mosaic command. Everywhere there is a popular feeling that the farmer should allow, and was not entitled to prevent the poor from gathering what the reaper left behind. In England the custom of gleaning had very nearly passed into a legal right, for there is an extra judicial dictum of Lord Hall, in which he says that those who enter a field for this purpose are not guilty of trespass; and Blackstone (3:12) seems to adopt his opinion. But that has since been twice tried, and decided in the negative in the Court of Common Pleas; the Court finding it to be a practice incompatible with the exclusive enjoyment of property, and productive of vagrancy and many mischievous consequences. "It is still, however, the custom all over England to allow the poor to glean, at least after the harvest is carried" (Chambers).
II. THAT A BENEVOLENT HELPFULNESS IN RESPECT OF THE POOR IS A SPECIAL OBLIGATION OF THOSE WHO ENJOY PLENTY.
1. With God in thought the rich will spare of their abundance that the poor may be fed. You owe all to Him, especially in harvest; and, therefore, share with the needy His gifts to you.
2. Amid harvest rejoicings, gratitude should incite to generosity. "As ye have received, give!" Seek occasion to gladden others — those in need. God is lavish; let your "hands be open" also (Psalm 145:16).
III. THAT THIS GENEROUS CONSIDERATION FOR THE POOR IS A TOKEN OF GOD'S REGARD FOR THE LOWLY.
1. Their maintenance engaged the Divine attention. For them "the corner" of the field was claimed from the reapers, and to them was assigned the right to clear the ground. It was their part in the national soil, the poor had this heritage in the land. And God enjoins on His Church now to "care for the poor." They are Christ's bequeathment to His disciples. "The poor always ye have with you."
2. Their salvation is prominently sought in the gospel. "To the poor the gospel is preached." And "God hath chosen the poor rich in faith." He who showed concern for their physical supply and maintenance, as emphatically manifests His desire that they be "blessed with all spiritual blessings" in Christ. Therefore —(1) The poor should cherish a grateful and trustful hope in their God.(2) They should value the high mercies of redemption in Christ beyond all the kindnesses of His providence. For the favours of providence only affect them temporally, but "the riches of His grace" are of eternal consequence.(3) Let none, because of lowliness or poverty, despond of God's favour. All His regulations prove that "He careth for you." Look unto Him with assurance.
(W. H. Jellie.)
(J. Cumming, D. D.)
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