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Bible Commentaries

The Popular Commentary

Deuteronomy 20

Verses 1-9

The Selection of Soldiers For a Campaign

v. 1. When thou goest out to battle against thine enemies, and seest horses and chariots, an equipment which Israel did not possess at that time, and which always made the impression of superior power on the part of the enemy, and a people more than thou, be not afraid of them, for the battle would not be to the stronger and more numerous by human calculation; for the Lord, thy God, is with thee, as He showed so often in later times, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt, thereby showing the extent of His power.

v. 2. And it shall be when ye are come nigh unto the battle, when they are mobilized for war and drawn up in order, to advance to the battle, that the priest, one specially commissioned for that purpose, shall approach and speak unto the people,

v. 3. and shall say unto them, Hear, O Israel, ye approach this day unto battle against your enemies; let not your hearts faint, be weak and tender, fear not and do not tremble, be not stirred up with consternation, neither be ye terrified because of them, the expressions purposely being multiplied in order to emphasize the foolishness of fear;

v. 4. for the Lord, your God, is He that goeth with you to fight for you against your enemies, to save you, to effect a rescue from all enemies and to insure the victory.

v. 5. And the officers, the keepers of the genealogical records and of the tribal rolls, whose duty it also was to keep account of the soldiers mustered, shall speak unto the people, saying, What man is there that hath built a new house, and hath not dedicated it? Let him go and return to his house, lest he die in the battle, and another man dedicate it.

v. 6. And what man is he that hath planted a vineyard, and hath not yet eaten of it, for, by God's command, there could not be a common use of fruit until the fifth year, Leviticus 19:23-Lamentations :? Let him also go and return unto his house, lest he die in the battle, and another man eat of it.

v. 7. And what man is there that hath betrothed a wife, and hath not taken her, the formal marriage not yet having taken place? let him go and return unto his house, lest he die in the battle, and another man take her Independent human life is here recognized in its three beginnings: "house-building as the first foundation; the planting of the vineyard as the first enlargement of the relations of life; the betrothal as the first completion of the independent position in life. " The Lord did not want the social and economic order disorganized by war; He did not want to take away from His people the enjoyment of any of the blessings which He had supplied.

v. 8. And the officers shall speak further unto the people, and they shall say, What man is there that is fearful and faint-hearted? let him go and return unto his house, lest his brethren's heart faint, literally, melt, dissolve, as well as his heart. A single weak soldier, whom the very thought of going into battle filled with the direst misgivings and with terror, was likely to infect the entire army with his attitude.

v. 9. And it shall be when the officers have made an end of speaking unto the people, that they shall make captains of the armies to lead the people, men who were to have the actual command in the campaign and during the battles. All this was done under the direction of Jehovah, who always retained supreme command of His host, just as He is the only Ruler and Leader in His Church to the end of time.

Verses 10-20

Manner of Dealing With a Besieged City

v. 10. When thou, in the course of a campaign during a war, comest nigh unto a city to fight against it, then proclaim peace unto it, by inviting the people of the city to submit peacefully, to surrender without resistance.

v. 11. And it shall be, if it, the city, make thee answer of peace, agree to the conditions as offered, and open (its gates) unto thee, then it shall be that all the people that is found there in shall be tributaries unto thee, and they shall serve thee, being held in vassalage and obliged to pay tribute, also in personal service, as a return for the sparing of their lives. The purpose of this ordinance was, of course, to avoid unnecessary bloodshed.

v. 12. And if it, the city in question, will make no peace with thee, refusing to consider the conditions as proposed, but will make war against thee, then thou shalt besiege it;

v. 13. and when the Lord, thy God, hath delivered it into thine hands, thou shalt smite every male thereof with the edge of the sword, Numbers 31:7;

v. 14. but the women, and the little ones, and the cattle, and all that is in the city, even all the spoil thereof, shalt thou take unto thyself, as well-earned booty; and thou shalt eat the spoil of thine enemies, use it for the maintenance of life, which the Lord, thy God, hath given thee.

v. 15. Thus shalt thou do unto all the cities which are very far off from thee, which are not of the cities of these nations, of the people living in Canaan proper.

v. 16. But of the cities of these people which the Lord, thy God, doth give thee for an inheritance, thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth, neither man nor beast, for it was to be a war of extermination.

v. 17. But thou shalt utterly destroy them; namely, the Hittites, and the Amorites, the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, as the Lord, thy God, hath commanded thee;

v. 18. that they teach you not to do after all their abominations which they have done unto their gods, the idolatrous and immoral customs connected with their worship; so should ye sin against the Lord, your God, as later history abundantly shows.

v. 19. When thou shalt besiege a city a long time, in making war against it to take it, thou shalt not destroy the trees thereof, the various trees bearing fruits and nuts, by forcing an ax against them, by chopping them down with the customary swinging motion; for thou mayest eat of them, their fruit is able to sustain life, and thou shalt not cut them down (for the tree of the field is man's life), he depends upon it for food, to employ them in the siege, in the building of breastworks and trenches. The children of Israel were to remember that war should be waged with men only, not with trees whose fruit served for food. They were not to practice vandalism and ruthlessness.

v. 20. Only the trees which thou knowest that they be not trees for meat, whose fruit could not be used for food, thou shalt destroy and cut them down; and thou shalt build bulwarks against the city that maketh war with thee until it be subdued, literally, until it (the walls) falls down from its fortified height and is thus overthrown. With the Lord on their side, the children of Israel were always sure of victory.

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Bibliographical Information
Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 20". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kpc/deuteronomy-20.html. 1921-23.