The process of gathering whatever portion of a certain crop the harvesters had intentionally or unintentionally left behind. God’s law to Israel specifically directed his people not to reap the edges of their fields completely, not to go over the boughs of the olive tree after having harvested the crop by beating the tree, nor to gather the leftovers of their vineyards. Even if a sheaf of grain was inadvertently left in the field, this was not to be retrieved. Gleaning was the God-given right of the poor in the land, the afflicted one, the alien resident, the fatherless boy, and the widow.—Le 19:9, 10; De 24:19-21.
The account of Ruth provides an outstanding example of the application of this loving provision of God’s law. Although having the right to glean, Ruth asked the one in charge of the harvesters for permission to do so, and this may have been the general practice of the gleaners. Ruth was treated kindly, Boaz even instructing his harvesters to pull out some of the ears from the bundles and leave them behind for her to glean. While this made it easier for Ruth, nevertheless it required effort on her part. She kept right on busily gleaning behind Boaz’ harvesters from morning to evening, sitting down in the house only a little while and taking time out to eat.—Ru 2:5-7, 14-17.
It is evident that this fine arrangement for the poor of the land, while encouraging generosity, unselfishness, and reliance on Jehovah’s blessing, in no way fostered laziness. It throws light on David’s statement: “I have not seen anyone righteous left entirely, nor his offspring looking for bread.” (Ps 37:25) By availing themselves of the provision made for them by the Law, even the poor, by virtue of their hard work, would not go hungry, and neither they nor their children would have to beg for bread.
Figurative and Illustrative Uses. When the Ephraimites accused Gideon of not calling them to the fight at the start of the battle against Midian, Gideon said: “Are not the gleanings of Ephraim better than the grape gathering of Abi-ezer [the house to which Gideon belonged]?” He interpreted his illustration by pointing out that Ephraim’s part (though it followed the initial battle) in capturing Midian’s princes Oreb and Zeeb was far greater than all that Gideon himself had done. (Jg 8:1-3; 6:11) The Scriptures also refer to the slaying of remaining ones in warfare, after the main portion of the conflict was over, as “a gleaning.” (Jg 20:44, 45) The ones left over after Jehovah’s execution of judgment are likened to “the gleaning when the grape gathering has come to an end,” and Micah speaks of the remnant of God’s inheritance in the midst of the morally corrupt people as “the gleaning of a grape gathering.”—Isa 24:13; Mic 7:1-8, 18; compare Jer 6:9; 49:9, 10.