Philanthropy was practiced in ancient Israel—it was a part of their laws and traditions. Hebrew laws actually provided options to women who had fallen on hard times. Allowing gleaning during harvest is one such law—the corners of fields were to be left for the poor as well as any leavings in the fields after reaping was completed. A great place to explore these laws as they were practiced is in the Book of Ruth (the seventh book in the Old Testament of the Bible),
Ruth championed the law of gleaning by asking Boaz if his practices actually fulfilled the intent of the law in the spirit in which it was given by Yahweh. Traditional practice meant gleaners could gather only enough grain to eke by during harvest times—leaving them just one step away from starvation all the time. Ruth suggested that caring for the poor through this law could only be done by allowing people to glean enough to sustain themselves.
As I read the book of Ruth, I was amazed that a starving immigrant had the audacity to challenge a prince of the land. Was it only her desperation that gave her courage or was there something more? And why did Boaz listen and respond in the way he did?
Ruth’s gleaning challenge was a tremor in Bethlehem that warned of the earthquake to. In the same year she delved deeply into two more laws, disputed the way they were practiced, and made a place for herself in a culture that had cast her out as worthless and a burden.
What a woman! What a story!
If you want to read more about Ruth, look for the publication of Less Than a Widow early in the fall of 2014.