Chapter 22 (Gleaning) pages 355-367
North begins the chapter by quoting Lev 23:22 which he’ll try and expound in the remaining chapter. Unfortunately, the festivals of Israel which lie at the heart of the Levitical passage go largely uncommented on and he’s taken up with this minor verse in the midst of a passage addressed to the nation of Israel.
North states (page 355) that
‘This passage [Lev 23:22] comes in between sections on two required national feasts: Pentecost...and Tabernacles’
Although this is, strictly, true, the passage comes immediately before the Day of Trumpets (present day Rosh Hashanah) and then before Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), Tabernacles being mentioned as the last festival of the seven annual times.
He also states (page 355) that
‘Pentecost was the celebration of the harvest’
which is incorrect - it was Tabernacles that was the festival concerned with this as can be seen by reading Lev 23:39. Once the full harvest had been brought in, the final festival was commanded upon the Israelites for them to celebrate God’s goodness towards them through the abundance of the harvest. Pentecost was a first-fruits offering (see my notes on this festival), a sacrifice to God of the first ripe grain of the wheat harvest in the form of two loaves baked with leaven. As such, it marked the start not the completion of the wheat harvest so that it wasn’t a celebration of the completed event.
North is correct, however, when he goes on to state (page 356 - my italics) that
‘Pentecost was closely associated with the harvest’
North also comments (page 356) that
‘Pentecost was understood by the rabbis as the anniversary of the giving of the Ten Commandments...in terms of the sanctuary calendar, the law was given to Moses in the third month...on the third day of the week’
Although the rabbi’s belief could be correct, the accuracy of their belief is improbably correct, seeing as the children of Israel reached Sinai on the third new moon after they’d come out of Egypt (Ex 19:1). Therefore, as the first new moon would have occurred around 14 days after the nation left Israel (Passover was celebrated on 14th/15th Nisan and new moons always marked the beginning of the months) and the next two new moons would have been spaced by around 28 days, the minimum time period after which the Israelites would have arrived at Sinai would be 14+28+28 = 70 days.
But 50 days are required for Pentecost to coincide with the giving of the Law/Ten Commandments if, indeed, it was given on their first day of arrival (which it wasn’t - see, for instance, Ex 19:11) so the belief that the festival and the event coincided are incorrect.
North also comments (page 356) that
‘There were two overlapping systems used in Israel for measuring the year: sanctuary and ordinary’
but, at this time in Israel’s history, there’s only evidence for the one calendar - the secular calendar that begins on 1st Tishri (Rosh Hashanah or Trumpets) appears to be a later addition to Israelite life and, as far as I’m aware, no contemporary evidence exists for its observance. If there is any then it should be cited.
When North states (page 357) that
‘Leviticus 23:22 is a recapitulation of the gleaning law of Leviticus 19:9’
he’s about to embark on a detailed exposition of this verse at the expense of the contents of the rest of the twenty-third chapter of Leviticus. He begins by posing a question that, he says, is the question that must be asked concerning this verse (page 357), namely
‘Why did God here remind the Israelites of the landowners’ responsibility to the landless poor, at the end of the passage that set forth the laws governing Pentecost...?’
‘This question has baffled orthodox Bible commentators’
Unfortunately, though, his explanation is equally baffling. His conclusion to the chapter (page367), where we only really get a good understanding of the answer to his question, notes
‘The gleaning law was recapitulated in this section because gleaning was connected judicially to the Levites, the mandated participants and beneficiaries at the national feasts’
Throughout the chapter, North has attempted to use logic and modern day economic principles to ‘prove’ that it was the Levites who were responsible for enforcing the gleaning laws and not Israelite judges. Whether this was the case or not is hardly relevant - indeed, both Levites and Judges were rarely commanded to be law enforcement agents of God in the sense of our modern day police forces. I have previously shown that law enforcement was the responsibility of the entire nation and the idea of a police force in ancient Israel is a fallacy based upon no evidence in contemporary Scripture.
But, more than this, the subject of the Levites springs out of North’s chapter from almost nowhere. On page 358, he uses Wenham’s commentary to state that
‘Gordon Wenham thinks that the connection between Leviticus 19:9 and 23:22 may be the requirement to care for the poor: the Levites, the poor, and the stranger. There may be a link here: shared poverty’
citing page 305 in Wenham’s commentary to substantiate his assertion. But the link is tenuous. What Wenham is trying to say is that the needs of the Israelites are provided for in both instances of the gleaning law and that the needs of the Levites are also provided for in the passages which precede them. North goes on to read the Levites into the Lev 23:22 passage and sees them as law enforcement agents - the church police - but they’re never mentioned, either here or in the first passage in Lev 19:9-10.
Indeed, Levites aren’t mentioned throughout Leviticus chapter 23 - a fact that should steer us away from adding this section of society into a passage which is aimed directly at the nation of Israel (Lev 23:2) rather than the Levites or priests who do have chapters devoted to themselves elsewhere.
In my original quote of North, I noted that he stated that the Levites were ‘mandated participants and beneficiaries’ but the entire nation of Israel were also the former and the label is used here to make it sound as if there was something special that the Levites had to attend and observe at a specific time of the year that the multitudes of the nation did not.
That they were beneficiaries of the festivals isn’t in doubt - but insofar as they were beneficiaries throughout the year whenever sacrifice was offered, their provision isn’t unusual. Wenham (who North follows here) speaks of the provision of the Levites only in connection with the sacrifices mentioned in Lev 23:17-21 which are simply additional sacrifices offered at the times of the festivals.
After citing a few commentators and their interpretation of Lev 23:22, North concludes (page 358)
‘The commentators are confused about the reason behind the recapitulation...There is also a reason for the confusion of the commentators. The reason is their lack of knowledge about, or interest in, economic theory’
The subsequent problem here is that the theory proposed by North doesn’t interpret Scripture but adds to it! It takes Scripture beyond the bounds of what it plainly says, adds modern day economic laws to it and then reinterprets it in the light of present day knowledge - throw in the Levites which are never mentioned, either, and whatever the truth of the theory may be, it’s largely unprovable and has to remain supposition.
Instead of interpreting a Biblical passage in the light of other Biblical passages, what’s arrived at will suffer from being ungrounded within Scripture.
I’ve commented on this verse in the context of the festivals here where I’ve attempted to show the reason for the gleaning law insertion here - namely, that the Intermediate Festival which isn’t mentioned until much later in the Torah would have occurred in this gap between the two festivals. Not only this, but the bulk of the harvest took place at this time as well so a reminder to the nation (Lev 23:2 shows us that the laws were directed at all Israel not just a section within the nation) is appropriate.
So, the appropriateness of the verse isn’t in doubt even though modern day writers would probably have edited it out and consigned it to a footnote rather than interject it into a passage in which, at first glance, it appears to be out of context.
Beginning with the section heading ‘Laws of Inheritance’ (page 358), North will proceed to develop a theory that the Levites were to be enforcers of the gleaning laws. I don’t intend commenting on these pages (358-366) in any great detail as I’ve previously stated that the theory that’s built up here is neither provable nor disprovable – it’s so loosely based upon Scripture as to be a theory devoid of Biblical proof.
There are, however, a few points that can be made, the most important of which is that North’s inclusion of the Levites into Lev 23:22 is supposed. The Levites are never mentioned throughout the chapter and it would be strange if they should even be commanded here to enforce the gleaning law, seeing as the entire passage is laid upon the nation of Israel (Lev 23:2) - not the Levites and neither the priests.
This should warn us against going on to use them as part of an exposition that sees them as the central part of the reason for the verse’s inclusion when there’s a better, simpler, explanation that fits the context of the festivals (see above).
Above all, verses should be interpreted in context wherever possible - and this verse does benefit from this method seeing as it comments on the time in-between the end of Pentecost and the beginning of Trumpets.
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