Deuteronomy 15:4—How can this passage say there would be no poor among them when 15:11 says the poor will always be in the land?

Problem: According to Deuteronomy 15:4, God promises that there will not be any poor among the people. However, 15:11 clearly states, “For the poor will never cease from the land.” How can one passage say there would be no poor among the people while another says that the poor will never cease from the land?

Solution: Careful consideration of the context shows that there is no contradiction here. The promise of verse 4 is conditioned upon the people “carefully obey[ing] the voice of the Lord your God, to observe with care all these commandments which I command you today” (Deut. 15:5). One of the commandments was that if there was a poor man in Israel, the people were not to harden their hearts. Rather, they were to open their hands and lend him money and goods sufficient for his needs—“whatever he needs” (Deut. 15:8). Obviously, if this commandment were to be fulfilled by the people, then, for every poor person there would be one who was not poor. Conversely, if they did not obey God’s command to supply for all the needs of every poor person in the land, then the poor would never cease to be in the land. There is no contradiction here. God promised that if the people would obey His command to supply for the poor, then there would be no poor among them. Each time the circumstances overcame someone, so that they lost everything and were left in poverty, the people of the land would come to their aid and supply their needs.

Verse 11 can be understood as a statement that there would always be individuals in need of assistance and that others would be required to supply their needs. If the people obeyed God in this, He would so prosper the land that there would always be an abundant supply to enable some to care for the needs of others. Verse 11 may also be viewed as a prophetic pronouncement of Israel’s failure to obey God and the consequent continual presence of the poor in the land. In either case, there is no contradiction.

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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.