Zion Church

How were God’s people to treat the poor?

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As the Israelites prepared to enter the Promised Land, Deuteronomy 15:4 has an interesting statement “except when there may be no poor.” Idealistically, there was the possibility that poverty would be eradicated in the land “for the LORD will greatly bless you in the land.” The fullness of that blessing, however, would be contingent on the completeness of Israel’s obedience. Thus, vv. 4–6 were an encouragement to strive for a reduction of poverty while at the same time they stressed the abundance of the provision God would make in the Promised Land.

God specifically warns them about hardening their hearts against the poor, but to “open your hand wide to him and willingly lend him sufficient for his need” (v. 8). The attitude of the Israelites toward the poor in their community was to be one of warmth and generosity. The poor were given whatever was necessary to meet their needs, even with the realization that such “loans” would never need to be paid back.

“For the poor will never cease from the land,” Moses adds (v. 11). Realistically (in contrast to v. 4), the disobedience toward the Lord on Israel’s part meant that there would always be poor people in the land of Israel. Jesus repeated this truism in Matthew 26:11. Even if a Hebrew was sold into a period of servitude for his debts, his master “shall not let him go away empty-handed” (Deut. 15:13). When a slave had completed his time of service, his former owner was to make ample provision for him so that he would not begin his state of new freedom in destitution.

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