When you reap your harvest in your field and have forgotten a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow, in order that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat your olive tree, you shall not go over the boughs again; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not go over it again; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow.
There is a conversation — a sometimes loud and none too civil conversation — about welfare and what Americans often call Entitlement Programs. Believers are divided on the subject and I think that we might do well to come back to what God has to say to the Israelites on the subject.
There are many tidbits in The Law about how to treat one’s countrymen. There are laws about whether or not to charge interest (not) and what to do with the collateral for a loan (make sure the poor person has anything that is necessary in hand when it is needed) and there is this morning’s instruction to leave something behind for the foreigner, the widow, and the orphan.
The three harvests called out are the staples of the time. The field generally referred to the grains that were grown and was an instruction to leave behind whatever you did not get on the first go around. This would provide grain that the needy could harvest for themselves and make bread. The olive tree was both a source of food (olives are delicious) as well as a source of a necessary ingredient (olive oil used in the breads and for cooking and flavoring things). Again, the needy were required to do the same work as the one getting the olives off the tree the first go around. The grapes were again a food source as well as the source of another staple: wine. To get olive oil or wine, the needy person would still need to press the fruit and do the same manual labor as those who were not in need.
There are a couple things I note about this provision. First, it is commanded by God of believers. There is no such requirement in the Ten Commandments and this is, therefore, not a general command to all of humanity. Second, it is a command given to the individual. This is not a case of everyone bringing in a percentage of their harvest and that being given out to others, but a case of those who have excess individually and voluntarily leaving that excess for those in need. There were tithes and offerings brought into the temple, but those were to have fellowship with God and one’s fellow believer and to provide for the supply and maintenance of the temple and the priests.
This has a couple of very practical applications for me.
On a personal level, there needs to be a recognition of where God has provided me with more than I need. Where this is true, I need to be ready and willing to be directed by God as to where He wants that excess. I want God to bless [me] in all the work of [my] hands. Not just the work that brings material gain, but in the labor of love that is trying to be a good husband and a good father and a good friend and a good steward of the things that God has entrusted to me like house and car and whatnot. If I want to invite God’s blessing on all my works (and I do), then I need to be mindful of where I can supply the needs of others.
There is a social application which boils down to me not supporting any program or plan that aims to help those in need without addressing their fundamental human need to earn their wage. Help those in need, absolutely. But do so in a way that respects their human dignity and gives them a chance to maintain that human dignity by earning what they get.
Father, thank You for supplying all my needs and for sometimes giving more than I need. Please keep me mindful of those times when I have an excess and to be attentive to You to know how You want that excess used. Please give me a heart that is willing and ready to help those in need and to do so in a way that respects the dignity You have afforded them as a person made in Your image.