Posted: October 17th, 2013
What did it mean to the powerful landowners who viewed the powerless widows who would forage his property (Deut 23:24-25). Explain how widows are allowed to eat their fill of grapes but they cannot put any into a container, and they can pluck the grain with their hand, but they may not harvest it with a sickle.
What would motivate the powerful landowners to only allow the powerless widow to only eat so much from his property and not take enough to eat later, or to plant and harvest in another field, and what were the consequences if the powerless widow did take some?
In one aspect, a powerful landowner would not want any vagrants to be on his property foraging his harvest. At the other end of the spectrum, Hebrew men wanted the recognition as a man who gave to those in need, showing a sense of superiority especially over the powerless widow.
Yahweh gave instructions for caring for the oppressed and for the powerless widow. (Exodus 22:21-23) Yahweh also said that after the harvest the powerful landowners were to leave a little extra for the powerless widow (Leviticus 23:22). Deuteronomy seems to be proposing the idea of not letting the powerless widow take advantage of the powerful landowner as if the powerful landowner was watching her making sure she did not take more than required.
Don C. Benjamin, The Book of Deuteronomy, a feminist commentary
According to Don C. Benjamin, The Book of Deuteronomy, a feminist commentary, those who owned land were supposed to view foraging and gleaning in their farms by widows and the poor as the little amount of compensation that they were paying to Yahweh. According to the laws, widows benefited most from gleaning while those who were traveling were the ones to profit from foraging. However, according to the rules, widows, the poor and those who were traveling were restricted from exploiting this kindness offered to them. They were to eat only to their fill but avoid harvesting for later use. The landowners were seen as agents of Yahweh in his quest to help a section of His people who could not support themselves. It was a belief that upon helping others, God would help such compassionate individuals in acquiring more property, referred to as blessings, so that they would continue helping the people of God.
This was meant to make the widows to understand that as much as they were being helped, they had to leave some behind for the property owner since he had put in work and money to maintain his plantation. Widows had to understand that they had to respect those who were being compassionate to them. In addition, this measure was put in place to remind the widows that they also had to work hard to provide food for themselves and not just depend on the kindness of others. They were to leave some behind so that in case they did not find food elsewhere the following day, they could come back to the farm and get food. Such a law was also to guard against people harvesting too much food that would later on go bad and go to waste.
2. What Would Motivate the Powerful Landowners to Only Allow the Powerless Widow to Only Eat So Much from His Property and Not Take Enough to Eat Later?
By helping the widows in this way, the powerful landowners saw their influence over the people as growing. The widows who had fed on their farms would go and tell others of how generous the landowner was in helping them. This would in turn earn the landowner more respect from the people. The landowners also wanted such poor people to be dependent on them so that they would use them in some of their activities. According to the law, those who fed on these farms were expected to come and help in tilling the land in case the landowners needed such help. This means that come the next planting season, the landowner would just call on the poor who had fed in his farm to assist him. Normally, there were several people who owned such farms; therefore, the widows would go around several farms before coming back for food in a farm they had eaten from earlier. For those landowners who were religious, they perceived feeding the widows and poor people as a way of acquiring Yahweh’s blessings. For them, they were only carrying out Yahweh’s orders.
3. What Were The Consequences If The Powerless Widow Did Take Some?
There were consequences if the widows and the poor harvested food from the farms of the landowners. The scribes who made these laws stated that those who harvested from the farms of landowners without their permission would be treated as thieves and would be punished by Yahweh. However, women were to be treated a little differently from men as they were seen as more vulnerable than men are. Despite this perceive need for some sense of kindness towards women, if found in violation of the law, they were to be punished just as the men were. In the documents prepared by the lawmakers, the scribes and the Pharisees, it was stated that the punishment of such an act was not to be dispensed by men but by Yahweh Himself since he was trying to help his people by urging other people to be compassionate to them. That apart from Yahweh punishing such an act of violation of His laws, those found harvesting were not to be helped by anyone again in case they asked for food again. He or she who takes for granted the compassion Yahweh’s agent extends to them was to be punished by Yahweh Himself.
The ancient Israelites were compassionate people who cared for the less fortunate members of their community, especially the widows and the poor. Foraging was one of the ways through which the Israelites provided food for the less fortunate. Land owners were supposed to see forging as way of paying rent for the land they had to Yahweh while widows and the poor were to avoid exploit the kindness of land owner. Violation of foraging rules was tantamount to punishment y the laws and by Yahweh Himself.
Benjamin Don.C. The Book of Deuteronomy, a feminist commentary. Don C Benjamin, PhD, Biblical & Near Eastern Studies. http://www.doncbenjamin.com/books#ots
Benjamin Don C. Matthews Victor Harold. Old Testament parallels: laws and stories from the ancient Near East. New York: Paulist Press, 2006.
Benjamin Don.C. The Old Testament Story, an Introduction. 2004. Minneapolis. Fortress
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