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Bible Commentaries
Deuteronomy 20

Garner-Howes Baptist CommentaryGarner-Howes

Verses 1-4


Verses 1-4:

Israel was not primarily a warlike people. Their law, their social structure, and their religion were all directed toward peace. However, they faced some serious conflicts in their immediate future, with nations which were stronger and more adapted to warfare than they. These nations had superior armaments, and better-trained soldiers than did Israel. In this text, Moses encourages Israel not to fear when they faced an army stronger and better equipped than they. Jehovah Elohim would be there to defend them and save them from their enemies.

"Horses and chariots," the latest in military technology and armaments in that time. This would correspond to supersonic warplanes, missiles, and nuclear armaments today.

It was the ministry, of the priests to encourage the people to trust in Jehovah, as they faced the armies of their enemies. Military leaders could point to their armies and their equipment, as assurance of victory. But the man of God looks not to the strength of human armaments. Victory comes from God, Proverbs 21:31.

The strength of men is no match for the power of God, who has promised to be with His people, Psalms 20:7.

Verses 5-9

Verses 5-9:

Every able-bodied Israeli male above age twenty was obligated for military service. It was the work of the "officers," shoterim, "writers," or keepers of the genealogical tables (see Deuteronomy 16:18), to determine who would serve in the army, on any given occasion. Certain exemptions were allowed:

(1) One who had built a new house, and had not "dedicated" or taken possession of it to dwell therein.

(2) One who had planted a vineyard and had not begun to enjoy the first harvest from it.

(3) One who was engaged to be married, but who had not consummated the marriage.

Deuteronomy 24:5 implies that this exemption was for one year.

(4) One who was timid and faint-hearted. Such an one would cause others in the army to become fearful and discouraged.

After the roster of military service was complete, the officers, shoterim, were to appoint captains, sarim, to head the various companies into which the army was divided. For an example of this, see Numbers 31, for Israel’s campaign against the Midianites.

Verses 10-18

Verses 10-18:

The text regulates warfare against two classes of cities:

(1) Cities which were a distance from the Land, and not belonging to any of the Canaanite peoples, were to be given opportunity to surrender, and become "tributaries" of Israel. In such case, all inhabitants were to be spared, and no spoil was to be taken from the city. ’

"Tributaries," mas, "levy, burden," denoting a state or government that pays taxes or "tribute" to, or is under the control of, another government. Israel’s law demanded just treatment toward all captive or tributary people.

If one of these cities refused to surrender, then Israel was to lay siege against it. When Jehovah gave victory and the city fell, all the men were to be put to death. The women, children, livestock, and all personal property in the city then was regarded as Israel’s spoils of war.

(2) Canaanite cities, peopled by the nations designated here, and in Deuteronomy 7:1 q.v. No living human or animal was to be spared from any of these cities. The reason was two-fold:

(a) Canaanites allowed to survive and live among the Israelites would tend to lead Israel astray from the service of Jehovah God into idolatry.

(b) The judgment of Jehovah upon these wicked nations, for their abominations and excesses, see Deuteronomy 9:4-5.

In dealing thus with the Canaanite cities and their wicked inhabitants, Israel was God’s agent, carrying out the Divine sentence of judgment. They were not bloodthirsty fanatics, on a holy war to exterminate heretics.

Verses 19-20

Verses 19, 20:

Military siege tactics of that day involved construction of bulwarks or ramparts constructed of logs and stones. Nearby forests and orchards furnished a ready source of material for these bulwarks.

The text prohibits the use of fruit trees in constructing siege ramparts. The reason: fruit trees provide food for man’s life. Only non-fruit trees were allowed1o be used for military purposes.

Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 20". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghb/deuteronomy-20.html. 1985.
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