Deuteronomy 15:11 sits intriguingly in the midst of the context of Deuteronomy 15, which seems to hint in verse four of a time when there would be no poor among them.[i] It is noteworthy how well the statement in verse 11 intersects with the statement of Jesus in John 12:8.
First, as background, we understand that all Israelites became property owners after the conquest of Canaan and division of the land. Joshua divided the land of Canaan by lot to each of Israel’s twelve tribes (e.g. Joshua 19:51; see Joshua 13—21),[ii] as determined by God (Cf. Proverbs 16:33).
The first part of Deuteronomy 15 mentions the seven-year release. God placed this and other things within the legal system of the Law of Moses. The seven-year release and the year of jubile,[iii] in at least one of their effects, helped the poor and needy. These events recalibrated the scale to recreate just weights and balances and at least temporary relief. Verse 5 of Deuteronomy 15 suggests faithful adherence to these principles would fulfill that purpose.[iv] Yet God knew Israel would disobey the law of God, and that the poor would never cease out of the land. Verse 11 acknowledges that. It is a bare statement of fact, and makes inexcusable the attempt to excuse oneself from helping the poor and needy on prior grounds (verses 1-6). But for the nature of man, which we always have with us, poverty might be eradicated. So, like our sin nature, the poor we always have with us also.
[i] The Pulpit Commentary states, “This statement [v. 11] is not inconsistent with that in ver. 4, for there it is the prevention of poverty by not dealing harshly with the poor that is spoken of; here it is the continuance of occasion for the relief of the poor that is referred to.” John Gill says, “There would be always such objects to exercise their charity and beneficence towards, John 12:8, which is no contradiction to Deuteronomy 15:4 for had they been obedient to the laws of God, they would have been so blessed that there would have been none; so the Targums; but he foresaw that they would not keep his commands, and so this would be the case, and which he foretells that they might expect it, and do their duty to them, as here directed…”
[ii] Though the Levites did not have a political division of land, they received cities and land within the divisions of the other tribes.
[iv] There is difference of opinion whether the seven-year release meant a permanent release from the debt, or a year-long release for relief and rest from the debt. In comparison, the release of the land itself was only for the year, and was brought back into cultivation the next year (Cf. Exodus 23:10-11). Regardless, I don’t think the seven-year release or the year of jubile can be used to support the redistribution of wealth ideas that some think should be by secular governments. For example, the jubile return of the land was a fact known and accounted for in business dealings. The land could not, according to the Law of Moses, be sold in perpetuity (Cf. Leviticus 25:23-24). Most proposed current ideas for redistribution of wealth to alleviate “social injustice” would just create a different social injustice.