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Bible Commentaries
Deuteronomy 20

Gray's Concise Bible CommentaryGray's Concise Commentary

Verses 1-20


THE JUDGE AND THE KING (Deuteronomy 17:0 )

In the preceding chapter, Deuteronomy 16:18 , provision was made for judges and other officers of the civil law. They were to hold court in the gates of the cities, the place of ingress and egress, for the cities were walled. This idea of judges sitting in the gates still lingers in the Orient and gives significance to the Mohammedan terms Ottoman Porte and Sublime Porte.

Review the preceding chapter and observe the charge laid on these judges to be just, straight, impartial and of clean hands. Then compare Deuteronomy 17:2-13 , and note the method of procedure in the courts.

What is the offense here treated of (Deuteronomy 17:2-3 )? How should they guard against hasty judgment (Deuteronomy 17:11 )? What was the punishment in such cases (Deuteronomy 17:5 )? The extent of the testimony (Deuteronomy 17:6 )? Who were the executioners of the penalty (Deuteronomy 17:7 )? (Compare Acts 7:58 .) The object of this requirement was to deter the witnesses from rash charges and to give a public assurance that the crime had met its due punishment.

Deuteronomy 17:8-13 can be explained thus: In all cases where there was difficulty in deciding, the local magistrates were to submit them to the Sanhedrin the supreme council, composed partly of civil and partly of ecclesiastical persons. “The priests and Levites” should be “the priests the Levites;” and who, forming one body, are called “the judge.” Their sittings were near the sanctuary, because in emergencies the high priest had to consult God by Urim (Numbers 27:21 ). From their judgment there was no appeal. If a person refused to obey the council, his conduct was punished as a capital crime.

What prophecy is made in verse 14 (compare 1 Samuel 8:7 )? What prohibition is laid on them in the matter (Deuteronomy 17:15 )? What prohibitions are laid upon the king himself (Deuteronomy 17:16-17 )? (Compare 2 Samuel 8:4 ; 1Ki 16:26 ; 2 Chronicles 1:16 ; Isaiah 31:3 .) Can you name a king who violated both these prohibitions? What command is laid upon the king and why (Deuteronomy 17:18-20 )?

THE MESSIANIC PROPHECY (Deuteronomy 18:0 )

This chapter is one of the most important in the Mosaic legislation. After touching on the Levitical dues elsewhere considered, abominations are dealt with which, under other names, are ripe in our own time exposing those under their influence to the divine curse.

Note the things warned against in Deuteronomy 18:10-11 ; the relation they bore to the cursing of Canaan, Deuteronomy 18:12 ; and the obligation resting upon Israel, and on us, to have nothing to do with them. (Compare the marginal references for former allusions to these matters.) The modern names of some of these are fortune telling, clairvoyance, astrology, mesmerism, palmistry, spiritualism and the like, all associated more or less with demonolatry, and although practiced sometimes by professing Christians, as much of an abomination unto God as they ever were. Deuteronomy 18:13 shows the reason. To be “perfect [or sincere] with the Lord thy God,” means to worship, and serve Him implicitly and without the intrusion of another god. But they who consult fortune tellers, mediums, etc., do so to be guided or comforted by what they reveal. And since that which they reveal, when it is fact and not fraud, comes through demoniac channels and from the powers of darkness, it is really worshipping and serving Satan when the lips are professing to worship and serve God.

The Israelites might plead that since Moses was to leave them before they entered Canaan, and they would be without a mediator between them and Jehovah, it might be necessary to cultivate these who were regarded as the gods of the land.

How is such a plea met before it could be advanced (Deuteronomy 18:15 )? Had they ever sought a mediator (Deuteronomy 18:16-17 )? How does this show that the successor to Moses, here referred to, was to have all his power and authority? What was the nature of that authority (Deuteronomy 18:18 )? And power (Deuteronomy 18:19 )? How might they be satisfied as to the divinity of such a prophet (Deuteronomy 18:21-22 )? This prophet, the immediate successor of Moses, we know to have been Joshua, but it is evident from John 1:45 , Acts 3:22-23 and other places that ultimately it is Jesus Christ.

What a solemn obligation is thus placed upon all Christians to hearken to Jesus Christ, and how awful the consequences to those who confess Him in lip, but in heart and in life deny Him! (Compare Hebrews 10:28-31 .)

LANDMARKS AND WARFARE (Deuteronomy 19-20)

The first part of chapter 19 deals with the cities of refuge which we considered in our concluding lesson in Numbers. The only other matter claiming special attention is that of landmarks (Deuteronomy 19:14 ). Palestine in this respect was the same then as now. Gardens and vineyards were surrounded by hedges or walls, but tilled fields were marked by a little trench or a simple stone placed at certain intervals, hence a dishonest person could easily fill the trench and remove the stones. Thus he would enlarge his own field by stealing part of his neighbor’s.

The oft repeated question, “Is war ever justifiable?” is answered in this chapter. In a world of sin war must needs be. It is one of God’s methods of punishing sin in the present time. As the theocratic King of Israel He expected war and made ample provision for it, a consideration which should aid us in determining another question about the future retribution of the sinner. Thoughtless and ignorant men say He is too good to punish. But the fact is that He punishes because He is so good. As long as sin exists punishment must exist, and since Jesus Christ teaches that there is such a thing as eternal sin (Mark 3:29 RV), we may expect, alas! eternal punishment.

What words of encouragement are to be addressed to the army and by what officials (Deuteronomy 19:1-4 )? The presence of the priest in this case rather than an army officer is because in a theocratic government everything is done directly by God through His delegated ministers, the priests.

On what principles was the army to be sifted, or rather, what were the grounds of exemption from army service (Deuteronomy 19:5-8 )? The answer is: (1) The dedication of a new house which, as in all Oriental countries still, was an important event, and celebrated by festive and religious ceremonies (Nehemiah 12:27 ); in this case there was exemption for a year. (2) The planting of a vineyard. The fruit of the first three years being declared unfit for use, and the firstfruits being producible only on the fourth, the exemption in this case lasted at least four years. (3) The betrothal of a wife, which was a considerable time before marriage. It was deemed a hardship to leave a house unfinished, a new property half cultivated, and a recently contracted marriage; and the exemptions in these cases were founded on the principle that a man’s heart being engrossed with something at a distance, he would not be enthusiastic in the public service. (4) Cowardice. From the composition of the Israelitish army, which was an irregular militia, all above twenty years being liable to serve, many, totally unfit for war, must have been called to the field; and it was therefore a prudent arrangement to rid the army of such unwarlike elements persons who could render no efficient service, and the contagion of whose craven spirit might lead to panic and defeat.

“With the cities of those people which God doth give thee” in Canaan, it was to be a war of utter extermination (Deuteronomy 19:17-18 ). But when on a just occasion they went against other nations, they were first to make a proclamation of peace, in which case, if followed by a surrender, the people would become dependent, and in the relation of tributaries. The conquered nations would then receive the highest blessings from alliance with the chosen people; they would be brought to the knowledge of Israel’s God and of Israel’s worship, as well as a participation of Israel’s privileges. But if the besieged city, or nation, refused to be taken, a massacre was to be made of the males, while the women and children were to be preserved and kindly treated (Deuteronomy 20:13-14 ). By this means a provision was made for a useful connection between the captors and the captives; and Israel, even through her conquest, would prove a blessing to the nation.

In a protracted siege, wood would be required, both for military work and for fuel, but fruit bearing trees were to be carefully spared. In countries like India, where the people live much more on fruit than we do, the destruction of a fruit tree is a sort of sacrilege.


1. What significance attaches to the Oriental use of the word “Porte”?

2. What was the later name of the Jewish Supreme Court, and of whom was it composed?

3. Give modern names to some of the abominations mentioned in chapter 18.

4. Explain Deuteronomy 13:18 .

5. How can you prove the application of verses 15-22 to Jesus Christ?

6. Why the need of landmarks in Palestine?

7. What evidence of future retribution does the legislation concerning warfare suggest?

8. Name the grounds and give the reasons for exemption from army service.

9. How does this lesson magnify God’s attributes of righteousness and holiness?

10. Do you think God can ever overlook sin?

11. What provision has He made for satisfying Himself on the question of sin?

Bibliographical Information
Gray, James. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 20". Gray's Concise Bible Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jgc/deuteronomy-20.html. 1897-1910.
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