Like most kids, my three always loved to lick the mixing bowl. Whenever I baked a cake or brownies, at least one of them would show up in the kitchen with puppy dog eyes and a sugary “please.” On the rare occasion that I got all the batter out of the bowl and into the pan before they showed up, they were highly upset. But usually, I left a little extra in the bowl on purpose so they had plenty to “clean up.” (Of course, now that they’re all grown up I get to “clean” the bowl all by myself!)
The principle of gleaning, depicted in the second chapter of Ruth, is a little like leaving some batter in the bowl. “Gleaning,” which means “to pick up; to collect, gather,” was one of God’s provisions for the poor. (See Leviticus 19:9-10 and Deuteronomy 24:19-22.) God commanded His people not to go through their fields a second time when they harvested and not to harvest the very edges.
This “extra” belonged to the orphans, widows, and foreigners. God’s hunger solution allowed the poor to pick up the crops the harvesters dropped or missed. God provided, but they had to work for it.
This law highlights God’s concern for the poor. It even comes with a promise for the farmer: “Leave it for the alien, the fatherless and the widow that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands” (Deut. 24:19). God even tells them why they should obey: “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt” (Deut 24:22). Since God rescued them, they should in turn rescue others.
Unfortunately, contrary to God’s command, the poor were often denied the right to glean. The needy had to gain permission by “finding favor” with the land owner or harvesters. This is the position in which Ruth and Naomi find themselves after arriving in Bethlehem. They are definitely “needy.” In fact, Ruth meets two of the criteria for the gleaning law – she is both a widow and an alien. So Ruth, taking initiative to feed herself and her mother-in-law, asks Naomi for permission to glean in the fields.
But will Ruth find favor? The phrase in Ruth 2:3, which reads “as it turned out” in the NIV, could also be translated something like “as luck would have it…” The author of Ruth doesn’t really believe the positive outcome is a result of luck. He says this tongue in cheek with a wink and a nudge:
- As luck would have it… Ruth and Naomi arrived in Bethlehem at the time of the barley harvest.
- As luck would have it… Ruth stumbled onto a field that belonged to her father-in-law’s relative.
- As luck would have it… Ruth found favor with the relative, Boaz. (On Tuesday, Julie shared more about their first meeting.)
This had nothing to do with luck. God’s handiwork is unmistakable! He orchestrated circumstances to provide for Ruth and Naomi. And His plans included the obedience of Boaz. Because Boaz obeyed God’s gleaning law Ruth and Naomi did not go hungry.
I don’t have a barley field – or any other kind of field for that matter – but God still expects me to allow the needy to “glean my crops.”
“Share with God’s people who are in need” (Romans 12:13).
“If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” (1 John 3:17).
Most of us in America have more than we truly need. God reminds me over and over that I keep too much for myself and give too little away.
What about you? Do you know someone today in physical need? What are some ways you practice a little “gleaning?”