In Old Testament times, God made laws providing for the poor and foreigners who had neither property of their own nor income. This was what God’s law commanded of farmers: “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 alien. I am the Lord your God” (Lev. 19:9-10 NIV). When the workers missed some of the crops, they were to leave them behind so the needy could gather food for their families. Those who gathered the food were called gleaners. This may seem strange today, with all the machinery and technology we have to make sure we don’t lose anything. But in those days there was no government welfare system, so God made sure everyone had food to eat. If our heavenly Father cares for even the birds of the air, are we not “much more valuable” (Mt. 6:25-27)?
The story of Ruth the Moabitess is a great example of how these Old Testament laws worked. Elimelech, his wife Naomi and their two sons left Bethlehem at a time of drought and famine to try to improve their situation in the land of Moab. But Elimelech and his two sons died, leaving Naomi and her two Moabite daughters-in-law in difficult circumstances. Naomi decided to return to Bethlehem where her husband’s relatives still lived (Ruth 1:7).
Ruth, one of the daughters-in-law, decided to go with Naomi and was prepared to not only accept the change of culture in moving to a town in Israel, but was also ready to accept and trust Naomi’s God (1:16-17). They arrived in Bethlehem just as the barley harvest was beginning and Naomi encouraged Ruth, an alien, to take advantage of God’s gleaning law so that the two of them would have food. By putting herself under God’s Law she demonstrated her trust and faith in Him. As she went out wondering which field she would glean in, “she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech” (2:3). Ruth acted on God’s promise (2:2); she worked diligently throughout the day (2:7); she gathered a large amount of grain and threshed it to separate the chaff from the grain (2:17); and she returned home that evening happy to have found God’s provision sufficient for their needs.
Of course there is more to this story because Boaz, the owner of the field where she was gleaning, was a near relative who took notice of this beautiful foreigner. When Ruth decided to obey God’s Word, God stepped up His work in her life.
Nothing happens by chance in the life of a believer who loves the Lord and who seeks to live by His Word. God’s gleaning provision became the basis for His guiding hand in Ruth’s life. She continued to work in Boaz’s field at his request and eventually became his wife. They had a son who became the great grandfather of King David, and through him she became part of the genealogy of the Lord Jesus (Mt. 1:5).
God made provision in His Word, and Ruth was blessed because she acted upon it. Her faith was evident in her obedience (Jas. 2:22). Her gleaning led her into special blessing. God wants to do the same for us today. His provision is there, if we obey Him and walk in His ways. But to know His will and have His direction in our lives, it is necessary to get into His Word and “glean” from it what He has left there especially for us. As we feed on what He gives us we will grow into a richer fuller relationship with Him, just as Ruth did with Boaz. Gleaning from God’s Word is God’s way of bringing us closer to Him.
By Ian Taylor
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org