"However, there should be no poor among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the LORD your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today." - Deuteronomy 15:4-5
"There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land." - Deuteronomy 15:11
These two statements appear to be contradictory, yet they are only separated by seven verses in the same chapter of Deuteronomy. How can we reconcile these? In the first statement, God says that the Promised Land, the “land flowing with milk and honey,” is a rich land in which God will lavish blessings on the people. Because of those blessings, there should be such an overflow of prosperity, and everyone will get their allotted inheritance, and crops will succeed, and harvests will be plentiful. As a result, there should be no needy people in their land.
But a few verses later He tells them that there will always be poor and needy in the land! Because of this, they should be generous and openhanded, giving freely and looking after the needs of the needy. Throughout the Law of Moses, there is consistent concern for the poor. Harvesters are commanded not to be too thorough in their work, leaving extras so the poor can glean behind them and have enough to survive (Deut. 24:21). God also commanded all farmers not to sow anything in their fields in the seventh year so the poor could come and eat what grew naturally (Ex. 23:11). God allowed the poor to pick with their hands and eat anything they wanted from anyone’s harvest field, just as long as they brought no bushel or sickle with them and ate immediately what they took (Deut. 23:24-25). These commands and others showed that God had a great concern for the poor and needy among His chosen people, even though He said there “should be no poor among you.”
Why then were the poor guaranteed to be there? Why did God say “There will always be poor people in the land”? The reason is that the first statement was conditional on God’s blessing in the land, and God’s blessing was conditional on the people’s obedience to His commands: He will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the LORD your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today. Poor people come from disobedience to the commands of God… but not necessarily by those who are poor themselves. A cycle of poverty is spurred on by ongoing disobedience to the commands of God. Thus the poor will always be with us. Furthermore, the cycle of poverty could be broken by the faith-filled obedience of godly people who give generously, but it frequently is not broken because people refuse to obey the commands to love our neighbor as ourselves.
"Poor people come from disobedience to the commands of God… but not necessarily by those who are poor themselves."
In the New Testament, Jesus Christ quoted this statement when rebuking the disciples for rebuking the woman who anointed Him with expensive perfume: The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want (Mark 14:7). The question is, how much do you want to help the poor? Our country is so lavishly blessed by God, that we should not have any poor among us. But we will always have poor among us because of sin. May the Lord grant us mercy not to be like the rich man who neglected poor Lazarus day after day at his gate.