Bible Note #37 — Deuteronomy 23:24-25: Provision for Neighbors in Need

24 “If you go into your neighbor’s vineyard, you may eat your fill of grapes, as many as you wish, but you shall not put any in your bag. 25 If you go into your neighbor’s standing grain, you may pluck the ears with your hand, but you shall not put a sickle to your neighbor’s standing grain.”  Deuteronomy 23:24-25 [ESV]

An Orchard in Central New York; photo by GAC

These verses present us with an odd sense of private property.  This is a command spoken into an agricultural context.  The Israelites are – or will become – a community of farmers, people who make their living from working the land and harvesting its produce.

In terms of harvesting and providing for one’s self and one’s household over time, the fields and their produce belong to the farmer.  In terms of providing sustenance for people in the moment of need, the produce of that same field belongs to all.

Here God is making a distinction between gathering for an immediate need and full-scale harvesting.  Behind this distinction there lies, I believe, an unspoken assumption, namely, that the gatherer does so out of personal need and that is and must remain distinct from the economic process of full-scale harvesting

In terms of meeting physical needs of the body, the produce of the field belongs to all, not just the owner of the field.  In terms of generating income, the produce of the field belongs only to the farmer/owner.

The command aims to produce a society in which none will starve unless all are starving.  In a world with few socio-economic safety nets, these verses were meant to create a socio-economic safety net.  It aims to create a generous communal society, one in which neighbors who have are expected to share with neighbors who do not have.

©2019 Gary A. Chorpenning; all rights reserved.


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