“When you are harvesting your crops and forget to bring in a bundle of grain from your field, don’t go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigners, orphans, and widows. Then the LORD your God will bless you in all you do. … Remember that you were slaves in the land of Egypt. That is why I am giving you this command.Deuteronomy 24:19, 22
Because ancient Israel was an agricultural society, there are many laws that apply specifically to that type of culture. Gleaning of the vineyards is one of those unique instructions that we can still learn from today.
When a field was harvested, sometimes the fruit or grain that was not quite ripe was left on the vine or the tree, with the idea that the harvesters would come back through the field at a later time to ensure all of the harvest was brought in.
However, God instructs the Israelites to leave what remained for those less fortunate in the land. After the main harvest, the poor class without income, typically widows, orphans, and resident outsiders, would be allowed to enter the fields of the wealthy and essentially scrounge whatever was left for themselves. In this way, the wealthy in the land would be assisting in providing for the literal welfare of those who could not provide for themselves.
What is interesting about this command is that God also provides the reasoning behind it. They were to be obedient in this way as a reminder to themselves of their previous slavery in Egypt. This act of compassion was to prevent them from abusing the lowest class, because they had previously collectively been in that situation in Egypt. Therefore, as they practiced this compassion within their society, they would be honoring the memory of their ancestral bondage, and making a statement that they would not be repeating the class abuse they had suffered in a foreign country.
In like fashion, we should take this ideal to heart and practice its equivalent in our day and age.
Firstly, this command should encourage us to maintain a mentality that is supportive all classes of people in our society. Unless we are among the ultra-wealthy, as a working class we need to consider how slender the line is between being solvent and becoming bankrupt ourselves. For some there may only be a few months or weeks of hardship that can transition them to a similar status. This understanding should prompt us to act compassionately, as we ourselves could easily be in a similar situation. Yeshua’s command to “do unto others as you would have them do to you” should provide an appropriate response on our part.
Secondly, we should be intentional about contributing to those among the lowest classes of our culture. Whether it is through volunteering in local events or organizations designed to provide assistance, or whether it is contributing to those types of causes through our abundance, this command should prompt us to have an intentional plan of assisting others in need. We may not have agricultural fields that others can glean from, but we all have some source or sources of income which can be be apportioned thoughtfully and compassionately.
While our current status might not be based on a lineage that has been rescued out of actual slavery, as believers we have all come from a background of spiritual slavery of disobedience to God in one form or another. He showed compassion to us when we were spiritually bankrupt and had nothing to offer him. If nothing else, this compassionate love of our God with us should provide a recognition of our common bond with all others in the world. This bond should then spur us on to obedience. to be faithful to God’s command of demonstrating compassion with those who cannot provide for themselves.