Click here to join the effort!
Moses commands that, upon the approach of a battle, the priest should encourage the people; that the officers should dismiss from war those who had lately purchased a house, planted a vineyard, or betrothed a wife; that peace should be proclaimed to cities, before the besieging of them; and that fruit-trees should not be destroyed.
Before Christ 1451.
Ver. 1. And chariots— See Judges 4:3. These chariots were of iron, and sometimes armed with scythes, which rendered them very formidable.
Ver. 2. The priest shall approach, and speak unto the people— The Jews say there was a priest anointed for this purpose: his office was, to blow with the trumpets (Numbers 31:6.) when they were preparing for battle, and to exhort them, in the most persuasive manner, to a courageous and undaunted performance of their duty; to look upon their cause as God's own, and assure themselves of success under his divine aid and protection. See Selden de Success. in Pontif. lib. 2: cap. 1. The Romans, and the ancient Germans, had priests also with their armies for this purpose. See Valer. Max. lib. 1: cap. 2 sect. 2 and Tacit. de Mor. Germ. cap. 7: sect. 2. This was also the custom of many other pagan nations, as may be seen in Wagenseil's Addenda to his Sota, p. 1222.
Ver. 4. For the Lord your God is he that goeth with you— The ark, the symbol of God's presence, went sometimes before them, and sometimes in the midst of them; Joshua 3:10-11; Joshua 6:9. So that God was then properly said to go with them; and at all other times he was present to aid them, especially against the people of Canaan, their battles with whom were called the wars of the Lord. See Eusebius's Life of the Emperor Constantine, lib. 4: cap. 20. The word rendered tremble, in the 3rd verse, is the same which is elsewhere rendered to make haste, 2 Samuel 4:4.Psalms 48:5; Psalms 48:5. It signifies to be in haste, or hurry through fear.
Ver. 5. And the officers shall speak unto the people— The priest was to pronounce the words in the former verse; after which, the officers were to go and repeat them at the head of the battalions. This is the opinion of the rabbis, particularly Abarbanel. These officers, probably, were those who waited upon the magistrates, and acted as heralds in the army. See Calmet. They were to make proclamation, allowing an exemption from the war to such as had newly built houses and were not yet settled in them, had planted new vineyards, or were just married; not only left the thoughts of such men, continually hankering after their private affairs, might dispirit them for the business of war and the public good, but from a merciful and gracious disposition, which reasonably allowed to such persons, for some time at least, the enjoyment of what they could not but value: a disposition, which is discernible in a variety of particulars in the Mosaic law. St. Paul is thought to allude to this passage, 2 Timothy 2:4.
Built a new house, and hath not dedicated it?— That is to say, "hath not inhabited it?" For it was the custom of the Jews, before they took possession of a house, to give their friends a feast, which was called chanach, or, the dedication. What the rites of this dedication were among the Jews, is uncertain. It appears however, from the title of the thirtieth psalm, that a solemn hymn was sung at the dedication of David's house; and we learn from Nehemiah, chap. Deu 12:27 that festivity, together with singing of hymns, and certain rites of purification, were used at the dedication of the walls of Jerusalem. Some of the Jewish writers infer from chap. Deu 24:5 that, because a year is allowed a man to continue with his wife before he be obliged to go to the wars, the same time was also allowed in these other cases, for the enjoyment of a new house, &c. But all agreed, that these allowances were made only in those wars which were undertaken voluntarily; not in those which were carried on by the divine commandment against the seven nations of Canaan. Neither, I think, is this to be understood as any thing more than a bare concession to such persons, who, if they could sacrifice all private interests to the interest of their country, might remain in the camp, and go to battle. The expression, let him go, and return to his house, plainly shews, that though some persons were to be dispensed with, as to their attendance on the army for the service of war, yet they were to appear at the general muster, and to be excused there by the proper officers. See Lowman's Dissert. chap. 4: This custom of dedicating houses was not peculiar to the Jews, was frequent with the heathens, and the Romans especially were very particular in their attention to it. See Pliny's Epistles, lib. 1: Ephesians 5:0 and 11. Cicero, in Oral. pro Domo sua, and Dion, lib. 39: in Caligul.
Ver. 6. Hath planted a vineyard, and hath not yet eaten of it?— By the law, Lev 19:24-25 they might not eat of the fruit of trees for three years; and in the fourth the fruit was sacred, and to be eaten nowhere but at the sanctuary: after which, the fruit of the fifth year was no longer sacred, but common [חלל chillel] for the owner's use. What is here said of a vineyard is to be understood, by parity of reason, of an orchard, olive-yard, or the like.
Ver. 7. Hath betrothed a wife— See Selden de Uxor. Heb. lib. 3: cap. 3 and Schickard, Jus. Reg. cap. 5 theor. 17. This was a law of no less policy and prudence than humanity. Josephus says: "Those who had built a house, betrothed a wife, &c. were not obliged to go to war; because the desire to preserve themselves for the enjoyment of these things, which must needs be dear to them, must have lessened their courage, and made them extremely careful of their lives." Antiq. lib. 4: cap. 8. Nor was any thing more reasonable, than that conjugal love should not be disturbed, but have time to knit in a firm and lasting affection.
Ver. 8. And the officers shall speak further— That is, "make this new proclamation throughout the camp." In consequence of this proclamation, when Gideon warred against the Midianites, there were only ten thousand of all the two-and-thirty thousand men that were with him, who stayed to fight, Judges 7:3. The proclamation ran, "What man is there that is fearful and faint-hearted?" &c. which the Jews understood not only of natural timidity, which is incident to some constitutions, but of the adventitious terrors of a guilty conscience: for the ancients did not, as is the modern custom, send the wickedest and most worthless into the wars; but if they knew any man to be a notorious villain, they thrust him out of the army, lest his example should discourage and corrupt the rest. We may remark from this passage, that though the Israelites had the promise of a peculiar interposition of Providence in their behalf, yet they are all along required to make use of the properest human means to compass their end. A learned author observes from Maimonides, that though cowards were dismissed before an engagement, they were not excused all service: they were still to assist the army, by supplying the camp with water, making or mending roads, &c. See Schickard as above. It is a generally received maxim among military men, that cowards do double mischief to an army; that is to say, by the bad example they set, and by the disorder they occasion. Hence we read in prophane history of some eminent generals who have used the same expedient before battle to get rid of them. Thus Polyaenus Stratagem. (lib. 3: cap. 19.) tells us, that Iphicrates had recourse successfully to this stratagem, before he entered upon action. Observing some of his men fail with fear, he ordered proclamation to be made, that as he was just about to engage, whoever had left any thing might go home, and return after he had gotten himself well equipped. We read the same of Alexander, Scipio, and several others; and Lucan has put into the mouth of Cato a beautiful speech to his soldiers to the same purpose, which the reader will find in the Pharsalia, lib. 9: ver. 379, &c.
Ver. 9. They shall make captains of the armies to lead the people— The captains of the armies shall take an account of the sum of the people. Waterland. In this version the Doctor follows Le Clerc. We follow the LXX, which Houbigant much approves. "Moses," says he, "orders, very appositely, that the commanders should not be appointed before the fearful were allowed to retire; for, had not that been the case, such commanders might have been chosen as were themselves fearful, and who certainly ought to be known before they were invested with command."
Ver. 11. If it make thee answer of peace— i.e. Accept of the conditions offered to them, which, we are told, were three: first, that they should renounce idolatry; secondly, become subjects to the Jews; and thirdly, pay them an annual tribute. See Selden de Jure N. & G. lib. 6: cap. 14. It is thought by some eminent critics, (Calmet, Le Clerc, Poole, &c.) that this offer could not be made to the devoted nations of Canaan. But Maimonides and many of the Jewish writers are of the contrary opinion; and assert, that Joshua sent three deputations to the people of Canaan, two with offers of peace, the third with a declaration of war. See Maimonides, as quoted by Cunaeus, de Rep. Heb. lib. 2: cap. 20.
Ver. 12, 13. If it will make no peace—thou shalt smite every male— To punish their obstinacy for rejecting peace, and for incurring all those horrors of war, which, no doubt, they were taught to expect if they refused the conditions offered.
Ver. 15. Thus shalt thou do unto all the cities, &c.— This clemency to the women and little ones was limited to those who were not inhabitants of the land of Canaan; the inhabitants are ordered in the following verses to be otherwise treated. It is generally thought, that by the little, or young ones, are meant all the young people under twenty years of age.
Ver. 16-18. But of the cities of these people—thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth— i.e. Neither man, woman, nor child: but this slaughter of all the people is to be understood only, as we observed above, in case they did not surrender when summoned, but rejected the conditions of peace offered to them; in which case, their condition was worse than that of any other people, whose males only were to be slain; ver. 14. The reason given for this severe execution of the Canaanites is, lest they should teach the Israelites their abominations, their filthy idolatries, their horrid and debasing superstitions. Leviticus 18:0. On account of which, God thought them not fit to live any longer upon the face of the earth: for, had they been spared after obstinately rejecting terms of peace, they would undoubtedly have sought to infect the Israelites with their idolatry; and it was mercy to the human race in general, not to suffer such a wicked and contagious generation to subsist; as it is mercy to destroy a person infected with the plague, to preserve a whole community from the distemper. We should just observe, that the Girgashites, who are mentioned in chap. 7: ver. 1 are omitted here, though they are mentioned both by the Samaritan and LXX. Bishop Patrick thinks that they were a people mixed among the rest, and did not live in a separate part of the country by themselves: they are thought, however, to have dwelt on the east of the sea of Tiberias.
Ver. 19, 20. (For the tree of the field is man's life) to employ them in the siege— The plain meaning of the passage, as appears from the context, is, that in case of a long siege, where they might want wood for raising batteries, they were to spare the fruit-trees as much as possible, and make use of others which were as fit for those purposes, and bare not fruit; and that too, not merely for waste and desolation, but for necessary occasions. In this view, perhaps, our translation is as justifiable as any other. But as there is nothing for life in the original, it would be equally as expressive, and nearer the Hebrew, if we read, for the tree of the field is for man.
REFLECTIONS.—As they would be engaged in other wars beside those with the seven devoted nations, 1. God commands them to give their enemies fair notice, and, before they declared war, to offer peace on condition of their renunciation of idolatry, and paying tribute. Note; (1.) God deals thus with sinners. The Gospel offers peace and reconciliation: if hereupon we accept the favour, and submit ourselves to God, all is well; if not, then justice unsheathes the sword, and we are treated as determined enemies. (2.) In our disputes, recourse should never be had to violent methods, till we have in vain tried every mode of peaceable accommodation. 2. In case the terms were rejected, then the war proceeded; God engaged to support them in their righteous quarrels, and give them victory: and all the men, at least all found in arms, are to be put to death, while the rest of the land and inhabitants are given them for spoil. Note; (1.) Those who will not hear the calls of Divine mercy must perish under the rod of vengeance. (2.) God will bless those who follow him. 3. The seven devoted nations must have neither offers of peace, nor any quarter. They are to suffer for their sins; and their utter extirpation is necessary, that Israel may not be ensnared by their idolatry. It is dangerous living among bad neighbours; we are more likely to learn their ill customs, than they of us to repent and forsake them. 4. In case of long sieges, they are forbidden to use fruit-trees for their bulwarks, because, as they were sure of taking the city, the loss would afterwards fall upon themselves. Note; God in his prohibitions consults our interest and happiness. All his restraints are only—Do thyself no harm.
Reflections on the destruction of the seven nations of Canaan.
The destruction of the seven nations of Canaan is a question of great difficulty and importance. To set which in its true light, we shall consider, first, The case of this destruction; and, secondly, the nature of the cherem, which does not always imply destruction.
I. It is granted, that the seven nations were to be destroyed, and their polity utterly abolished: but this does not imply a total destruction, or putting to death of every man, woman, and child among them. The nations were to be destroyed as nations, i.e. their polity and government were to be extinguished; but there was not any such massacre as some have imagined. It is plain, that neither Joshua, nor any of the judges, nor Samuel, nor David, nor Solomon, nor others after him, ever understood these words of the law in such a sense, as to imagine that they were obliged to cut off every soul of these nations whenever they became subject to them. Nay, those nations, or at least several of them, continued quite down to Solomon's time, and long after. For, as the sacred writer observes, 1 Kings 9:20-21. Upon all the people that were left of the Amorites, &c. which were not of the children of Israel, and whom they were not able utterly to destroy, did Solomon levy a tribute of bond-service. If therefore Solomon, when he had these nations subject to him, levied only a tribute of bond-service upon them, he could not apprehend himself obliged by the law of Moses to massacre them, or put them to death. Suppose the children of Israel were not able to destroy these people before the days of Solomon, yet, when this king had them in subjection, he might have done it, instead of making them either tributaries of money, or of service: and, supposing him to have been antecedently obliged by the law of Moses to put them to death, I do not see how he could have changed the command of death into a mere tribute of service, or money, or both. The case of Uriah the Hittite, 2Sa 11:12 is well known. David's crime, in causing him to be slain, was severely censured, condemned, and punished by God himself. Though Uriah was of those nations which were devoted to destruction, yet had David no right to murder him; nor did the law, that commanded not to spare any one that breathed of the seven nations, justify or excuse the sinister contrivance to take him away. One part of the law in question itself very manifestly supposes, that all, universally, were not to be destroyed. It is said, thou shalt not make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give to his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take to thy son. See chap. Deuteronomy 7:3. Now, what occasion for this injunction, if it be supposed that nothing that breathed was to be spared alive, but all were to be utterly destroyed? Or, what end could it serve to forbid intermarriages with a people supposed not at all to be? If the known reason and end of the law could be obtained without this absolute destruction of the people, then it might fairly be concluded, that such deletion was not absolutely required, unless it were impossible to attain the end otherwise. A certain end is proposed and declared, and this end may be obtained by various means. It cannot be argued, therefore, that these people are to be destroyed in order to such end, because, consistent with their not being destroyed, that end may be secured. It could not indeed be obtained without the destruction of them as a polity, or as nations, but might very well be secured consistent with their lives. The reason given for their destruction was, they will turn away thy son from following me, that they may serve other gods. Deuteronomy 7:4. If, then, these nations were to forsake their idolatry, and become converts to the religion of the Jews, they would, in that case, be what God required them to be, penitents, and proper objects of forgiveness, not of punishment. This is a rule laid down in Scripture, and founded in equity:—At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy; if that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them, Jeremiah 18:7-8. But in case these nations did not repent, but continued the objects of displeasure, the command was, utterly to destroy their cities, Deu 20:16-17 and to smite those nations, and to destroy their altars, and break down their images, and cut down their groves, and burn their graven images with fire, Deuteronomy 7:2. Whilst they continued bodies politic, with power and influence, they might, by intermarriages or leagues, keep up idolatry; and even when the nations, as such, were destroyed, their altars, images, groves, and pictures, might tempt men to false worship: and therefore it was not proper to spare even such things. But when the nations were subdued, the surviving captives, made so by right of war, might reject the worship of false gods; the occasions of seducing the Jews might be removed; and those very people might be brought to the acknowledgment of the one true God, and thus be saved alive, and the reason of the severity be at the same time observed.
That this was in fact the case, may further be urged, from the instances of persons all along spared from this great destruction. Rahab, her father, mother, brethren, and all her kindred, were preserved alive: not only she herself, but all her kindred and family were saved from destruction. Now, if the law was to be interpreted as implying an unlimited command, in no case or circumstances to save alive any thing that breathed of these seven nations, then neither could the spies have promised to deal kindly and truly with her, nor could Joshua, without a manifest breach of the law, have performed the promise which they had made. Joshua 2:14; Joshua 6:22. So again we find it particularly remarked in Joshua 16:10. The children of Ephraim drave not out the Canaanites that dwelt in Gezer; but the Canaanites dwell among the Ephraimites unto this day, and serve under tribute: and, in like manner, Jdg 1:25 it is observed concerning the city of Bethel, when the house of Joseph took it, that they let a man and his family, who shewed them the way into the city, go free; and again, ver. 28. It came to pass when Israel was strong, that they put the Canaanites to tribute, and did not utterly drive them out. As Ephraim did not drive out the Canaanites in Gezer, so neither did Asher drive them out in many other places; and as to Zebulun, Naphtali, and the house of Joseph, they made the Canaanites and Amorites become tributaries to them, ver. 27-35.
Since therefore, as has been remarked, neither David with all his power, nor Solomon, did destroy these people; since they subsisted in the country, from the days of Moses, for upwards of four hundred and fourscore years; since they were so far subdued as to become tributaries of service, as well as of money; and since they might therefore have been absolutely destroyed, because conquered, and yet were kept alive; it follows, that these people were not to be absolutely and entirely cut off, men, women, and children, without mercy, but only were to be destroyed as nations; and that if they submitted, and became subject to the Jews, and relinquished their idolatry, they were not to be deprived of life. For can it be supposed, that none of the Jews in all this time understood the command? Did none of their generals or successful warriors understand that their business was to destroy all these people? Had they no opportunity, no power? not even when they made them tributaries? And was Joshua, was Samuel, was David such strangers to the law?
But what then is the meaning of those words—Thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth, but shalt utterly destroy them? It may be answered, the seven nations were that people whose land the Jews were to possess, and in whose place they were to dwell. They were to be expelled, to make way for these new inhabitants; consequently, they, as nations, were to be destroyed: all power was to be taken from them, and they were so far to be conquered and reduced, as not to have it in their power to teach the Israelites to do after all their abominations, which they had done to their gods, so as to make them sin against the Lord. No alliance was to be made with them; no treaties of peace were to be concerted; no peace to be proclaimed unto them: but they were to be pursued and smitten without mercy, that the Israelites might have the inheritance which had been all along promised to them. The Hivites were certainly one of the seven nations with whom no league was to have been made; yet, by their art, Joshua made peace with them on the condition of servitude, which they themselves offered; Joshua 9:11-15. In the event of things, we read there was not a city that made peace with the children of Israel, save the Hivites:—For it was of the Lord to harden their hearts, that they should come against Israel in battle, that he might destroy them utterly, and that they might have no FAVOUR, but that he might destroy them, as the Lord commanded Moses. Joshua 11:20. The conclusion from which seems very natural, that, as they chose to oppose themselves, and try their success in battle, and would not surrender nor accept any terms of submission, they were cut off: but, had they submitted, they might have had favour, though they were not to have been received as allies and friends, whereby to have had the power of making Israel sin against God: For, if thou serve their gods, it will surely be a snare unto thee. See Exodus 23:32-33.Deuteronomy 7:4; Deuteronomy 7:4. The law in Lev 27:29 which says, None devoted—shall be redeemed, but shall surely be put to death, and which has been quoted as an objection against the present exposition of the injunction to destroy the Canaanites, certainly does not relate to the putting to death any devoted person; nor is there an instance of any person devoted to the Lord, who was ever, in virtue of being devoted, put to death. See the note on the place.
To prove this, it will be proper to consider, as we proposed,
II. The exact nature and meaning of the word cherem, and to what it is applied in the Old Testament, Le Clerc observes, that the verb charan in the Arabic signifies to forbid, to be unlawful; and the substantive from it, a thing prohibited: and this he takes to be the original meaning of the word. Agreeable to which derivation, it signifies in the books of the law, first, a thing absolutely prohibited, as an idol, or the gold of an idol; see Deuteronomy 7:26. Secondly, As nothing unlawful was to be kept, or used, it came to signify generally to destroy. Thirdly, To destroy without mercy, as in the above passage of Deuteronomy 7:26. Neither shalt thou bring an abomination into thine house, lest thou be CHEREM; i.e. a thing to be destroyed, like that: and Exodus 22:20. He that sacrificeth to any God, save unto the Lord only, shall be utterly destroyed: icherim; i.e. shall be certainly put to death without favour or mercy. Fourthly, Because what was given to the Lord was declared unlawful to be used, and what was given in perpetuity could not be redeemed; hence, whatever was in this manner devoted to the Lord, had the name of cherem; as Leviticus 27:21. The field, when it goeth out in the jubilee, shall be holy unto the Lord, as a field devoted: the possession thereof shall be the priest's; i.e. it could never be redeemed by the proprietor, but was to continue in the possession of the priests for ever. Here devoted means absolutely given in perpetuity to the Lord. And hence, fifthly, It signifies what was appointed to destruction by God, as, Isaiah 11:15. The Lord shall utterly destroy the tongue of the Egyptian sea; and so Isa 2:5 in which places it is applied as an act of God himself, to destroy things, as well as persons. Sixthly, Whatever was forfeited, or addicted to the sacred treasury, by way of punishment, was called cherem; as in Ezr 10:7-8 where we find a proclamation was made, that whosoever would not come within three days,—all his substance should be forfeited. Seventhly, From the general signification to destroy, instruments of destruction to fish and beasts, as nets, were called by the name of cherem; see Ecclesiastes 7:26. I find more bitter than death, a woman whose heart is snares and [cheremim] nets. Eighthly and lastly, Inasmuch as people who merited destruction were justly liable to contumely and reproach, though they were not destroyed; they are therefore called cherem, as in Isa 43:28 where cherem doth not seem to signify a total destruction, but such abuse and contempt as is consistent with their being not destroyed. From all these passages, there appears not the least reason to imagine, that persons given, or devoted by cherem, were ever slain, or made sacrifices. See Dr. Sykes's Connection of Natural and Revealed Religion.
The extirpation of the Canaanites appears to have been predetermined in the counsels of heaven; Gen 9:25-27 yet was their national wickedness the only cause of their national ruin: for notwithstanding the assurance given to Abraham, that his posterity should be settled in the room of the Canaanites, it is expressly declared, that this event should not take place for several generations, till the iniquity of the nations should be full; (Genesis 15:16.) till their incorrigible wickedness had baffled all the gentler means of Providence, which, during the course of some hundred years, had been employed for their reformation: for it is agreeable to the procedure of a benevolent Deity, in similar instances, first to use the milder means of mercy and forbearance towards a people, to see if they can be reformed upon the principles of filial love, gratitude, and generous remorse; but if, instead of being reformed thereby, they only become hardened, presumptuous, and insensible to every motive of honour or generosity, then the sword of justice awakes to strike the long-suspended blow. That this was the unhappy case of the Canaanites before they were given up to utter destruction, that they were sunk into the deepest degeneracy, we have various testimonies, particularly in Leviticus 18:0 whence it appears, that the period destined for their extirpation was arrived; that their iniquities were full, and that they brought down destruction upon themselves. The extirpation of this people, thus sunk into idolatry and wickedness, was also a most awful and instructive example to the Jews, whose proneness to idolatry in that age of the world was such, that nothing seemed effectual for the restraining them from it, but impressing them with the most horrid idea of that crime, as rendering men accursed in the sight of God and man.
The extraordinary commission given to the children of Israel for extirpating the Canaanites can justify none in the imitation of their example, but such as shall be in like circumstances with the Jews. It is impious and absurd even to suppose, as some have done, that Christians are capable of receiving any such commission as that in question; which is, indeed, repugnant to the very genius and essential principles of Christianity. The Christian religion inspires nothing but love, and peace, and universal benevolence: the weapons which it authorises its adherents to employ are not fire, and sword, and desolation, but argument and persuasion; the soft, the inviting motives of forbearance, condescension, and instruction in meekness: it allows us to hold no man, or nation of men, unclean and accursed; but, on the contrary, teaches that in Christ Jesus there is neither Jew nor Greek; that in every nation, he who feareth God, and worketh righteousness, is accepted of him. Our Lord sufficiently intimates, how opposite to the spirit of Christianity is the fury of bigotry, and the rage of persecution, by his reply to those disciples who would have called down vengeance on the Samaritans, for rejecting him and his doctrines: Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of; the Son of man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them. And after he has foretold the persecutions which should arise in the times of Christianity, when bigots should blindly imagine they did God good service, by putting their fellow-creatures to death on account of difference in religion, he adds, these things will they do, because they have not known me, nor my Father. If ever, therefore, any professed Christian should pretend a commission from God to propagate religion by violence and persecution, a holy war, or a crusade; should he even vouch miracles and prophecies fulfilled in attestation of such commission, he would deserve as little regard as a Jewish prophet or wonder-worker, who sought to seduce the Israelites from their allegiance to the true God; Deu 13:1 for "idol-worship is not more opposite to the Jewish religion, than persecution is to the spirit of Christianity." See Jameson's Dissert.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 20". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany