The Law of Gleanings
With the main players in the story now set forth, we can see that this is ultimately a story of the restoration of all things. On the surface, it is the story of one woman’s restoration from idolatry to the true God. On a deeper level, it is the story of Israel’s restoration from false gods under Egyptian rule to the Promised Land of the Kingdom. This in turn is rooted in a greater story of restoration from the bondage of Adam to freedom in Christ.
Within that overall context, it is also a story of how the nations are to be restored. As a Moabitess, Ruth represents the nations as a prophetic forerunner of all non-Israelite nations as they are restored to God through love. Hence, Israel’s entry into the Promised Land is a national type of the day all nations inherit the promises of God. So we read in Psalm 67:2-4,
2 That Thy way may be known on the earth, thy salvation among all nations. 3 Let the people praise Thee, O God; let all the peoples praise Thee. 4 Let the nations be glad and sing for joy; for Thou wilt judge the peoples with uprightness and guide the nations on the earth.
Ruth was drawn to God first through her love for Naomi, “My delight, pleasantness, beauty,” and finally through the kindness of Boaz. The story culminates with the birth of the son, Obed, showing us the lawful path to Sonship. The various details in the story contribute to this overall theme, pointing to various laws by which the sons of God are to be manifested in the earth.
The Right to Glean
Ruth 2:2, 3 says,
2 And Ruth the Moabitess said to Naomi, “Please let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after one in whose sight I may find favor [khane, “grace, favor, good-will”].” And she said to her, “Go, my daughter.” 3 So she departed and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers; and she happened to come to the portion of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech.
Ruth understood that she had the lawful right to glean during the time of harvest. It was one of the welfare laws by which the poor were supported. The law of gleanings is set forth in Lev. 19:9-11,
9 Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, neither shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger; I am the Lord your God. 11 You shall not steal….
In the flow of revelation, we see that the law of gleanings is linked to laws against theft: “You shall not steal.” This suggests that those who fail to leave gleanings “for the needy and for the stranger” are actually guilty of stealing from them. In other words, the needy and strangers (foreigners) are given the right to glean in the fields. The law establishes the rights of the people, and anyone violating those rights commits an injustice, an offence to the nature of the God of Love.
The law of gleanings is just the start of a longer section in the law, which shows us how to love our neighbor as ourselves. It culminates in Lev. 19:17, 18, which says,
17 You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart; you may surely reprove your neighbor but shall not incur sin because of him. 18 You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.
If any man believes that his rights have been violated, he may “reprove” his neighbor and attempt to settle the case out of court. If, after discussing the case with his neighbor, they remain in disagreement, they may take it to the gate of the city and present the case to the judge. But the neighbor does not have the right to “take vengeance,” that is, to bring judgment against his neighbor as if he were a judge. He is not even allowed to “bear any grudge” but is instructed to walk in the spirit of love. By walking in love, he “shall not incur sin.”
Ruth, of course, was not only needy but also a foreign immigrant who had come to worship the God of Israel and to change her citizenship by faith from Moab to Israel. We do not know if she had known about the law of gleanings previously through the witness of Naomi or if she discovered it when she arrived in Bethlehem. Nonetheless, she came to know this law and no doubt rejoiced in its benefits, giving thanks to God for His love and provision.
This is just one law that proves Jesus’ word in Matt. 22:37-40, when He responded to the lawyer’s question about which law was the greatest:
37 And He said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and foremost commandment. 39 The second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend the whole law and the prophets.”
The law is the expression of the God of Love. Those who violate the law do not yet know fully how to love God or their neighbor. The law of love does not negate the law; love is the basis for the entire law.
The law of gleanings is one such law that is based upon love for the needy and for foreigners. The fact that this law is specifically designed to bless foreigners proves that they ought to be included in our definition of “neighbor.”
In later centuries the rabbis rejected this and applied the term more exclusively to Jews only. But when a man asked Jesus in Luke 10:29, “who is my neighbor?” Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan. The conclusion was that a neighbor was one who was being neighborly, that is, showing love to those in need. The Samaritans in those days were viewed with hostility, but Jesus showed that Samaritans were “neighbors.”
The law of gleanings is based upon the second great commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” which summarizes the entire section of the law in Lev. 19:9-18. Somehow the later rabbis were overly influenced by narrow nationalism and so they justified their hatred of Samaritans by excluding them as “neighbors.” If they had made the connection between the law giving gleaning rights to foreigners and the summarized law about loving their neighbor, they would have taught the law as Jesus taught it.
Jesus did not put away the law. He taught it correctly, putting away men’s traditions. In this way Jesus defined true biblical love.
Armed with Jesus’ view of the law, we can see how the story of Ruth contributes to the overall theme of the restoration of the nations. The nations worship false gods because they know nothing better. They know nothing better because those who claim to worship the God of the Bible have yet to manifest Christ to them and to teach them the art of love as expressed in the law. As long as men present God as being unequal, holding that God loves a particular group more than others, the world will fail in some way to know the full extent of God’s Love.
The law of gleanings shows God’s concern for foreigners as well as for Israelites. He is benevolent toward all nations. The harvest itself was given to the owner of the field as a reward for his labor—minus the ten percent tithe that was given to God for His labor. The gleanings were also claimed by God, who then gave it to the needy and to foreigners.
There was no requirement in the law to export the gleanings or even to do the work of gathering it and dispersing it to the needy. The needy were required to labor to gather the gleanings for themselves. Yet the overall law of love would take into consideration the indigent who were incapable of such labor. Love would motivate others to donate their time and labor to benefit such people as well.
Prophetic Applications of the Law of Gleaning
In Isaiah 17:1 the prophet begins a prophecy about the destruction of Damascus and also the judgment upon the tribe of Ephraim (Isaiah 17:3). In Isaiah 17:4, 5 he compares this judgment to a harvest, much like Jesus did later in Matt. 13:39, when He said, “the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are the angels.”
In Isaiah 17:6, 7 he speaks also of the gleanings, saying,
6 Yet gleanings will be left in it like the shaking of an olive tree. Two or three olives on the topmost bough, four or five on the branches of a fruitful tree, declares the Lord, the God of Israel. 7 In that day man will have regard for his Maker, and his eyes will look to the Holy One of Israel.
This is a reference to another gleanings law in Deut. 24:20, 21,
20 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. 21 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.
Isaiah applies this law prophetically to the judgment of nations, for He said to Judah in Jer. 11:16, “The Lord called your name a green olive tree.” When the olive tree is beaten to shake the tree and harvest the olives, it speaks prophetically of divine judgment upon the nation. In that judgment, God reserves a gleanings company for Himself, a surviving remnant. The remnant are those under God’s direct covering, because they have no earthly covering and have no “avenger of blood,” or kinsman redeemer, to advocate for them in a court of law.
The gleanings are given to those who have no covering—widows, orphans, and foreigners—and so there is also a gleanings company who are orphaned from the church and are under God’s direct protective covering. These are the ones who are submitted to God, rather than men—those who submit to men only insofar as those leaders are submitted to God (1 Cor. 11:1). God is their priority.
These are the surviving remnant of Isaiah 17 in the day that God shakes the olive tree nation. They are illustrated prophetically in Isaiah’s first son, She’ar-jashub, “the remnant will return” (Isaiah 7:3; 10:21). The remnant is an Old Testament word for the overcomers.
Isaiah expands the scope of his gleanings prophecies in Isaiah 24, where he speaks of judgment upon the whole earth (Isaiah 24:1, 3, 4, 5). Isaiah 24:13 then says,
13 For thus it will be in the midst of the earth among the peoples, as the shaking of an olive tree, as the gleanings when the grape harvest is over.
Hence, there are gleanings (a remnant of overcomers) not only from the olive tree (Israel) but also of the grape harvest, which represents the whole earth—all nations.
When Ruth gleans in the barley field of Boaz, the story sets forth its underlying theme of restoring all the nations specifically through the barley company, which is the overcoming remnant. Ruth herself, being both a widow and a foreigner, was eligible to glean, because she was under God’s direct covering. Gleanings were God’s provision for the overcomers.
Later she also gleans in the time of wheat harvest after Pentecost (Ruth 2:23), which speaks of a secondary step in the restoration of all things. Wheat represents Pentecost and the church that is under the Pentecostal anointing. The story does not include the gleanings of the grape harvest, but we may infer the restoration of all the nations simply by the fact that Ruth was from a foreign nation.
The bottom line is that the gleaning laws show a prophetic progression in the salvation of the world—first the overcoming barley remnant, next the wheat company of the church, and finally the grape harvest of all nations.