But there will be no poor among you; for the LORD will bless you in the land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess– 5 if only you will strictly obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all this commandment that I command you today. (Deuteronomy 15:4-5 ESV)
For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’ (Deuteronomy 15:11 ESV)
If is a tiny word with a much bigger impact. When I first read these verses I thought there was a contradiction. If you only read verse 4 of Deuteronomy 15 and compare it with verse 11 of the same chapter the apparent contradiction is obvious. First God says, “there will be no poor among you” and then He says, “there will never cease to be poor in the land.” When all the verses are read in context there is no contradiction. Instead, there is a clear statement of God’s desire and His expectation.
If the people kept the Law and remained in covenant relationship with God, then God would provide them with abundant crops. The Law also provided a community system that ensured that everyone received their fair share of this abundance. God’s desire, expressed in His covenant, was for the people of Israel to live abundant lives that would provide them with the opportunity to be generous to the nations around them.
This was God’s desire. God’s expectation was that people would be selfish and disobedient. Some would be irresponsible and lose their land and with it their ability to provide for their family. The covenant would be broken, and some would become rich while others became poor. God didn’t give up on His desire and provided clear direction to those with abundance to share with those who were in need.
Jesus has much to say on this topic and I do not think that God’s desire has changed. He wants the poor to be cared for. From the perspective of the Old Testament work is a clear part of that care, whether in gleaning or serving. In the early church only elderly widows with no other means of support were to receive charity. Everyone else was expected to work in some way. Our generous God expects generosity from everyone. God has provided plenty, and in many cases abundance. Our responsibility is to be generous stewards of what He has provided.
For my grandchildren:
Work hard and share what God provides.