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This chapter relates to the military government of Israel among those who were more immediately appointed to fight the LORD'S battles. Here are directions for their conduct, inspiring them with courage and making provision for those whose hearts failed them. While this chapter may be read with much profit, if considered with an eye to our spiritual foes in the cause of GOD, soldiers, and those whose profession in arms calls them to warfare, may derive under the HOLY GHOST'S teaching, much to animate them in their conflicts, while fighting under the captain of their salvation, CHRIST JESUS.
Observe the two great arguments made use of in this verse to give confidence to the people, the presence of their GOD and the past experience the people had had of his power, exercised towards them in their deliverance from Egypt. Let the Reader consider this in a spiritual sense, and beg for grace to make use of it in all the circumstances of his warfare. If I have JESUS with me that's all I need, and if I can look back and behold his deliverance in past extremities, that becomes a sure pledge for all future occasions. See that sweet scripture: Isaiah 33:20-22 .
There appears a great propriety in the appointment of GOD'S priests to encourage GOD'S people. They who are supposed to be most frequent at a throne of grace may be supposed to know most of the mind of the LORD. And are not ministers peculiarly called upon amidst the spiritual army of the LORD JESUS, to be always forward in animating the faithful soldiers of JESUS, to be strong in the LORD and in the power of his might. Reader! do you not look beyond both ministers and people to contemplate JESUS in all this, as the great High Priest of our profession, going on before, conquering and to conquer, and calling upon his holy army to follow him to glory? Hebrews 12:1-2 .
The cases here stated of exception, to disqualify from war, seem to have been intended in great mercy, that men of timid minds might find excuse from war, and yet not incur the reproach of their brethren. But is there not a spiritual sense veiled under it? We cannot follow JESUS in the regeneration to the holy war, unless we deny self in every point of view, and take up his cross. See that Scripture of the LORD'S own words upon this subject: Luke 14:25-27 .
Observe the grace of GOD beautifully set forth in the proclamation made to sinners, in the gospel of salvation. If sinners will throw down their arms and receive the LORD JESUS all shall be well. It is only the incorrigible and contumacious on whom ruin will fall. How ought the ministers of JESUS to be unceasingly employed as his ambassadors, in beseeching sinners to be reconciled, and to be at peace with GOD? 2 Corinthians 5:20 .
Is not this total destruction of the enemies of the church, a lively emblem of the everlasting overthrow of the ungodly in the day of GOD'S vengeance? 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9 .
The nations here excepted from mercy, are evidently types of the open and determined foes of the church of JESUS. There can be no coalition, no agreement between CHRIST and Belial. The seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent have an everlasting war. LORD! grant that under the supposed idea of mercy, I may never fancy myself more charitable than my GOD, and thus be found cherishing in my bosom the sworn foes to GOD and his CHRIST. Reader! is there not another instruction of a spiritual nature to be gathered from this passage? Instead of looking wholly without to the enemies of JESUS for the destruction of the Canaanites, may not you and I look within, and behold in the lusts of our nature both the foes of GOD and of our own souls also? And shall you and I give quarter to these deadly enemies of our peace, and which have nailed JESUS to the cross? Shall we wish to save any alive of this kind that breatheth? Oh my GOD! root them out and utterly destroy them, and do then reign alone in my heart, the LORD of every passion.
There seems much mercy in this precept, and it is not confined we may suppose to trees only, but of a general tendency, in war to preserve all that can be consistently done, that there may be no waste of any of the good things of GOD'S providence. It is one of the distinguishing characters of the gospel church, that neither violence nor destruction shall be heard within her borders: Isaiah 60:18 .
READER! let us not shut the book after the perusal of this Chapter, without first looking up for grace to bless the LORD for our happy lot, in being brought within the peaceable kingdom of JESUS who hath gone before us, and driven out the enemies of our salvation before our face. But while we bless his holy name for the privileges we enjoy as a people, in the consciousness that in our own hearts enemies are found, which too often oppose our way in the path of grace; let us see that we give no truce to those everlasting foes which wage war against our GOD and against his CHRIST. Yes, dearest JESUS! I would say, do not I hate them, O LORD, of every description and character that hate thee, and am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee? Yea I hate them with perfect hatred, I count them mine enemies. Let the military character, and especially the ministers of JESUS, learn from this chapter where their strength and confidence is to be found, and in the sure presence of a gracious covenant GOD in CHRIST, and long experience of his faithfulness always derive courage to animate themselves and the holy army of GOD'S people in their warfare with the enemies of their salvation. If the LORD of hosts be with us, the GOD of Jacob will be our refuge.
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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 20". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Sixth Week after Easter