The Principle of Gleaning

Leviticus 19:9-10: When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen.Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God.

Deuteronomy 24:19-22: When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt. That is why I command you to do this.


I love the principle of gleaning. God commanded the Israelites to leave the edges of their fields unharvested to meet the needs of widows, orphans, foreigners, and the poor. There is so much to learn from this principle:

  1. Gleaning requires you to leave margin in your life: To obey this command, the Israelites had to plan to live on less than 100% of their earnings. Every spring they planted their fields, sowing precious seed grain all the way to the edge of their fields while knowing that they would not get the full return on that investment. They planted that grain for the sake of the widows, orphans, foreigners, and poor who would need it.How can we leave margin in our lives and invest in those in need? – We have to live within our means. Know the difference between things you need and the things that would be nice to have. Make donations a line item in your budget and work toward growing that bottom line.
  2. Gleaning does not replace the tithe: When the Old Testament law established the tithe, there was no “if” or “or.” The tithe, the first 10%, given to the maintenance of the priesthood and the church, is discussed separate from the principle of gleaning. The Israelites were expected to leave the edges for the needy to glean and give the first fruits to God.I’ve heard preaching that suggests charitable donations can replace tithing. I disagree. The principle of gleaning suggests that we are to tithe and give to the needy. I’m going out on a limb here, but if you don’t trust your church, or don’t believe in their mission enough to tithe, you need to prayerfully consider what you’re doing there. If you can’t afford to do both, you need to evaluate your budget and work toward change. And don’t forget that you can give things other than money. Your time spent volunteering and mentoring is a great way to invest in others!
  3. Gleaning is not a handout, but an opportunity for dignified work: The law didn’t say, “when you harvest your field, pick up every crumb and give some of them to people in need.” Instead, it instructed the Israelites to leave an opportunity for dignified employment that allowed the widows, orphans, foreigners, and poor a chance to provide for themselves.There are so many ways that we can give, but the most meaningful, and the gifts that make the biggest, long-term, life-changing difference are gifts that provide opportunity. Fair trade employment, microfinance loans, education and job training, and legal advocacy do more than just fill a hungry stomach for a day or two. They actually produce opportunities for dignified employment and change that provides more than a temporary fix.

Old Testament law has a lot to teach us about God and what He values. The principle of gleaning is an example of that, revealing how God sees our responsibilities to our fellow man, and what we can do to love others!

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