Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God.
Leviticus 19 is a very well known passage, even if few people know the significance of the chapter. It is a passage of commandments – 31 laws, 27 ‘do not’s. In fact, the ten commandments that were first listed in Exodus 20 are also repeated here. There are many laws, in fact – various laws of all things in the various aspects of life. However, we’re simply going to focus on a rather obscure law, the law of not picking up the fallen fruit during the harvests, but instead leaving them for those who need them. God wants us to understand the matters of compassion. This is a law that reveals God’s compassionate heart for his people. In today’s study, we will examine this command from God and stand in awe at the magnitude of God’s heart.
I am the Lord your God – let us work from the back and look at this declaration first. In this chapter especially, we see a lot of this phrase – in fact, I counted 15 times just in Lev 19 alone. Surely the people knew that Lord was God, and these laws were given by him? Even if not, once is more than enough for all these laws, no? There is a special, intended emphasis and repetition of this phrase, the identity of the origin of these laws – the Lord your God. It’s like a signature – a stamped seal of authority on every single one of these laws. Even down till today, even when these laws are no longer actively in practise for us, when we read these verses individually, we cannot leave out the stamp of authority of God.
Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen – a significant proportion of the Bible is made up of commands (laws), and a majority of these laws are warnings – they tell us what we should not do first. Now, I’m a city kid that has never seen a proper farm in my life, so pardon me if I am mistaken. But I suppose whenever there’s a harvest in the vineyard, or if there is a harvest in a wheat field or what not, the harvesters will go and pick, and because they are ripe, some grapes will fall off the branches.
It is human nature to pick what has fallen. No, maybe not human nature, but it is instinctive, habitual, it was taught into us. It is a virtue, even, to prevent wastage. But God commands it as a law, for the vineyard owners to not allow their harvesters to pick up what was fallen, but instead, to leave it there. Not to waste, not at all.
Leave them for the poor and the alien – Leave it there for the needy. Which also means, they are to allow the poor and the alien to enter their vineyards and to allow them to pick up these fallen grapes, so that they can survive and make a likelihood. It is a strange system to us moderners, but it was a system beyond its time and depth in those days – back then, this was the welfare plan for the poor and the aliens. And it worked. It was successful. We see a fantastic example in Naomi and Ruth – that was how they survived when they first returned to Bethlehem, by picking the fallen grains in the barley fields of Boaz – Ruth 2:2 They were poor, and Ruth was a moabitess – a foreigner, or in other words, an alien. Two women without any way of living, without a man in the household, without even much hope for the future, with much bitterness for the past. Yet Boaz followed the law, which allowed him to show his compassion as well. Note that when Ruth told Naomi of her intention to go pick up fallen grains, she said, “Let me go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain behind anyone in whose eyes I find favor.” – apparently, it was a culture back in those days. It was a unofficial welfare package that –note– only certain people practise. After all, what she was effectively not saying was that there would be people whose eyes she cannot find favor, and their fields would not be open to her.
We are never the origin of wealth and blessings. when we bless others, we too in turn are blessed – Blessed are those who have regard for the weak; the Lord delivers them in times of trouble [Psalm 41:1]. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ [Acts 20:35|Article]. This is a constant promise from the Lord.
It’s not just about vineyards and grapes, though. This law was mentioned several times in the Old Testament Bible in various forms:
- Of course, there’s Leviticus 19:10, the verse of note today, where the subject is vineyards (and grapes)
- Leviticus 23:22, about all kinds of harvests – 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.Leave them for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you. I am the Lord your God.
- Deuteronomy 24:19, about sheaves, most likely wheat, corn or barley – 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.
- Deuteronomy 24:20, about olives – 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.
Are you rich, or are you poor? You probably do not have a vineyard or a barley field, but even if you do, it may not be very wise to open your fields up to outsiders as there are no laws to protect you from sinister characters anymore. But despite that, and despite the fact that most of us are probably not Boaz and do not have much wealth to speak of, we can still show compassion through the things that God has blessed us with. God is the origin of our wealth and blessings. If we acknowledge that, and we acknowledge that He has great compassion on those who are in need, then let us give and bless to the best of our abilities with the faith that God will provide. Paul reminds us to share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality [Romans 12:13].
And even if you really have absolutely nothing to give, then just give a few more smiles a day – in fact, I honesty think some people need a bit more of that than money. At the end of the day, what’s perhaps most important is for us to identify what is our vineyards, what are our grapes, and ask ourselves this question:
Are our fields open?