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DIRECTIONS CONCERNING WARFARE IN GENERAL, AND FOR THE BESIEGING OF CITIES IN PARTICULAR.
The instructions in this chapter are peculiar to Deuteronomy. As the people of God, Israel was not a warlike nation; they were rather to abstain from warfare, and as a general rule to cultivate the arts of peace. But they had before them at this time the prospect of a serious and protracted conflict before they could occupy the land which God had assigned to them; and they might in future years have to go to war to maintain their independence and repel aggression. In view of this, instructions are here given regarding the conducting of military service.
When they found themselves opposed by an army more numerous than their own, and better furnished with the material of warfare, they were not to be afraid or discouraged, for Jehovah their God, who had brought them out of Egypt, would be with them to protect and help them (cf. Psalms 20:7). Horses and chariots. In these, which constituted the main strength of the nations with which they would have to contend, the Israelites were deficient; and to them these were always objects of terror in war (Joshua 11:4; Joshua 17:16; Judges 1:19; Judges 4:3; 1 Samuel 13:5).
The priest. Not the high priest or any one of the priests, but the military priest, the priest appointed to accompany the army, "the anointed for the war;" משׁיח המלחמה, as the rabbins designate him (cf. Numbers 21:6; 1 Samuel 4:4; 2 Chronicles 13:12). His business was to exhort the people, and to encourage them by reminding them that the Lord was their Leader, and would help them in the conflict. The formula of his exhortation is given in Deuteronomy 20:3, Deuteronomy 20:4.
The officers; the shoterim, the keepers of the genealogical tables (Deuteronomy 16:18). It belonged to them to appoint the men who were to serve, and to release those who had been summoned to the war, but whose domestic relations were such as to entitle them to exemption. If there was one who had built a house, but had not dedicated it, i.e. by taking possession of it and dwelling in it; or if there was one who had planted a vineyard and had not eaten of the fruit thereof; or if there was one who had betrothed a wife, but had not yet married her;—such were to be allowed to return home, lest they should die in battle, and it be left to others to consummate what they had begun. According to Josephus, this exemption was for a year, according to the analogy of Deuteronomy 24:5. Dedicated; probably formal possession was taken of the house by some solemn ceremony, followed by a festive entertainment. Vineyard. The Hebrew word (כֶּרֶם) here used designates "a field or park of the nobler plants and trees cultivated in the manner of a garden or orchard" (Ges.); so that not vineyards alone, but also olive yards and plots of the more valuable fruit trees may be intended. Hath not eaten of it; literally, hath not laid it open, made it common, i.e. begun to use it, to gather its produce for common use (cf. Deuteronomy 28:30; Jeremiah 31:5). Trees planted for food were not to be used before the fifth year of their growth (Leviticus 19:23, etc.; of. Deuteronomy 24:5).
The shoterim were also to allow any that were naturally timid and fainthearted to return to their homes, lest, if they remained with the host, others, infected by them, should lose courage and become unfit for service. His brethren's heart faint; literally, flow down or melt (cf. Joshua 7:5). In Deuteronomy 1:28, this verb is rendered by "discouraged."
The next thing the shoterim had to do was to appoint captains to head the people who were going to war. The army was divided into bands or companies, and over each of these a captain was placed, whose it was to command and lead (cf. Numbers 31:14, Numbers 31:48; 1Sa 8:12; 1 Samuel 22:7; 2 Samuel 18:1). Captains of the armies. The phrase, "captain of a host" (שַׂר צָבָא), usually designates the general or commander-in-chief of the entire army (Gen 21:22; 2 Samuel 2:8; 1 Kings 16:16, etc.); but here the phrase is used in the plural of the chiefs of the companies or detachments of which the whole was composed.
Directions concerning the besieging of towns. In the case of a town at a distance, not belonging to any of the Canaanitish tribes, on advancing against it they were first of all to summon the inhabitants to a peaceable surrender and submission (cf. Judges 21:13). If this was complied with, the inhabitants were to become tributary to the Israelites and serve them; but if this was refused, the town was to be besieged, and, when taken, all the males were to be slain, and the women and children, as well as all the booty that was in the place, were to be taken as the prey of the conquerors, who were to appropriate the spoil to their own use.
Then proclaim peace unto it; i.e. invite it peaceably to surrender.
Shall be tributaries unto thee, and they shall serve thee; literally, shall be to thee for tribute and service. The word rendered by "tribute" (מַם) denotes properly tribute service, service rendered as a tribute, whether for a season or in perpetuity (cf. Genesis 49:15; Judges 1:30, Judges 1:33, Judges 1:35; 1 Kings 5:13; 1 Kings 9:21; Isaiah 31:8 [Authorized Version, "discomfited"])
Shalt eat the spoil; consume it for thine own maintenance.
This was for cities at a distance; it was to be otherwise with the cities of the Canaanites. To them no offer of peaceful submission was to be made, and when the city was taken, all the inhabitants without reserve were to be destroyed. This was in accordance with God's command to Israel (Exodus 23:31-2.23.33; Exodus 34:11-2.34.16; Deuteronomy 7:1-5.7.3), and as a precaution against the risk of the people being seduced into idolatry by the heathen should they be allowed to remain in the land. But whilst engaged in besieging a town, they were not to destroy the fruit trees that were outside the walls; but trees that were not for food they might cut down and use in their operations against the city.
To employ them in the siege; literally, to come, i.e. that they should come into the siege before thee, i.e. either as thine adversary or to be used by thee for the siege. For the tree of the field is man's life. This may mean that the tree supplies food for the sustenance of man's life. But as the words stand in the text, they can only be rendered thus: "For the man s a tree of the field." This gives no good sense, or indeed, any sense at all; and hence it is proposed to alter the reading of the text so as to produce a meaning that shall be acceptable. From an early period the expedient has been resorted to of reading the clause interrogatively, and, instead of regarding it as parenthetical, connecting it with the following words, thus: "Is the tree of the field a man to come into siege before thee?" So the LXX; Rashi, etc. It has been thought that only a very slight change in the punctuation is required to justify this rendering (הֶאָדָם instead of הָאָדָם); but more than this is acquired: the subject and object are hereby reversed, and this is more than can be allowed. From an early period also it has been proposed to read the clause as a negation, "For the tree of the field is not a man to come into siege before thee." So the Targum of Onkelos, Abarbanel, Vulgate, etc. The sense here is substantially the same as in the preceding, and the same general objection applies to both. To both also it may be objected that by this way of taking the passage Moses is made to utter a sentiment at once puerile and irrelevant; for what need to declare formally, or in effect, that a tree is not a man? and what reason is there in this for not cutting down fruit trees any more than other trees? In the margin of the Authorized Version an alternative rendering is proposed, "O man, the tree of the field is to be employed in the siege." But admitting this as a possible rendering, it is exposed to the objection, on the one hand, that it is improbable that in a prosaic address like this an explanatory appeal would be introduced; and on the other, that it is inconceivable that Moses would in this casual and startling way anticipate what he goes on in the next sentence to express deliberately and clearly. The passage has probably suffered at the hands of a transcriber, and the text as we have it is corrupt. The sense put upon it in the Authorized Version is that suggested by Ibn Ezra, and in the absence of anything better this may be accepted. The fruit tree is man's life, as it furnishes that by which life is sustained, just as, in Deuteronomy 24:6, the millstone is called a man's life, inasmuch as it supplies the means of life.
And thou shalt build bulwarks against the city … until it be subdued; literally, That thou mayest build a siege—he, an instrument for besieging, a rampart, or bulwark—against the city, till it come down (cf. Deuteronomy 28:52).
Wars to be regulated by Divine precepts.
The directions given by Moses in this chapter may serve to show the spirit in which wars should, if undertaken at all, be entered on and prosecuted. We are not called upon here to moot the question whether war is under any circumstances justifiable; since the principle on which the Hebrew lawgiver proceeds is that of tolerating for a while certain socially accepted customs, mitigating whatever in them is evil, and gradually educating people out of them altogether. In order to estimate the value of this chapter, it should be compared with the war customs of the nations round about. Dr. Jameson's "Commentary" has some valuable references thereon. Here are directions: First, as to the men who are to serve. They are to be sifted. In each of the four cases of exemption there is an obvious significance. Having been chosen, they are then to be organized. And their attitude and courage in the war were to be those of men who knew that the Lord their God was with them. Note: No war should be entered on in which the presence and help of God cannot be expected and implored. Secondly, as to the mode of carrying on or entering on war. The nations of Canaan are to be "stamped out," that a great pollution may be driven from the world. With this exception the Hebrews are to avoid war, if possible (Deuteronomy 20:10), and are only to engage in it if forced thereto by the people by whom they were opposed. When in war, no wanton destruction was to be allowed. They were to build bulwarks against invaders, but were not to destroy the subsistence of a people by cutting down fruit trees, etc. How wonderfully humane and even tender are these regulations compared with the customs of other nations at that time! By them, in fact, the old pagan war spirit is repressed, and a war policy discouraged. The main pursuits of their life are to be found in the tillage of the soil. A standing army was unknown among them. War was not to be encouraged by an indiscriminate levy of men, nor was it to be pursued at the cost either of the industrial pursuits or of the domesticities and sanctities of life. If even in those days the war spirit was to be kept in subjection, much more should it be so now! The preacher may at appropriate times and seasons develop here from Bible principles respecting war.
1. War itself, in any form, is regarded in the Word of God as but an accompaniment of a transition state of things. It is not to last always (Psalms 46:1-19.46.11.; Isaiah 2:1-23.2.22.; Luke 2:1-42.2.52.). Hence all should desire and pray that it may speedily come to an end.
2. Aggressive and unprovoked war for the mere purposes of conquest, finds no sanction whatever in the Word of God. Israel's wars of conquest were to be limited within assigned bounds.
3. War should never be resorted to except in a case of stern necessity. Israel was to make the effort to avoid war, if possible.
4. Supremacy in war should never be the chief care of a people. It should at all times regard war as but an occasional and awful necessity, and should see more glory in avoiding it than in conquest.
5. When war is engaged in simply from sheer necessity, its horrors should be mitigated by a humane regard for the enemy's welfare. There is more honor in kindly consideration for an enemy than there is in crushing him. To deprive him of the means of livelihood is a barbarity infinitely to be condemned.
6. When war becomes a stern necessity, so that it cannot righteously be avoided, it may then be invested with religious sanctions, and the blessing and help of God may be expected, asked for, and relied upon; then a people may say, "In the Name of our God we will set up our banners" (Psalms 20:1-19.20.9.). For success in such a war, a united people may look up to their God, and they will find that Jehovah hears. There can be no finer instance of this than the one recorded in 2 Chronicles 20:1-14.20.37. The prayer of Jehoshaphat is sublime. The answer came.
7. When thus a people can confidingly look up to the Most High, and in the full assurance of being right can ask his blessing, there should be no faintheartedness known among them. They may be strong and of a good courage. The Lord God goeth with their armies, and he will give them success.
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
The wars of the world form a large part of its history. Savage nations delight in war, revel in its bloodshed and barbarities. Their heaven is a Valhalla. Civilized communities, while averse from having wars waged on them, are not always so averse from waging war on others. Military ambition, lust of conquest, hope of enrichment by pillage, the wiping out of old grudges, may instigate them to this course. Wherever or however waged, wars are a source of incalculable misery. It may be said of them, "It must needs be that wars come, but woe to that man by whom the war cometh!" War is not to be sought, it is to be by every legitimate means avoided, but it may become a necessity. In this case it must be bravely undertaken, and our trust placed in God for his help.
I. RELIGIOUS COURAGE NEEDED IN WAR. It is a not uncommon idea that the influence of religion is adverse to the hardier elements in character. The Christian faith in particular is thought to inculcate a meek passivity of disposition, which, if not absolutely inconsistent with patriotism, courage, and other soldierly virtues, is at least unfavorable to their development. The man of spirit and the devout man are supposed to represent two opposite and incompatible types of character. This idea is strange, when we remember how largely the images and illustrations of the Christian life in Scripture are drawn from warfare. But it is sufficiently refuted by reference to facts. The meekness and unwearied forgivingness which is to characterize the Christian in his private relations is perfectly compatible with the most unflinching heroism in the discharge of public duty, and in the service of his country in her appeal to the God of battles. Christian meekness is not softness or effeminacy. On the contrary, it is an aspect of the highest courage, and develops moral qualities which make it easier to act courageously in any circumstances in which the individual may be placed. Civil liberty has seldom fared better than in the hands of God-fearing men. Instead of being the worst, they make the best soldiers. An army of soldiers, God-fearing and thoroughly disciplined, has usually proved more than a match for vastly superior forces of the enemy: Cromwell's Ironsides, the Scotch Covenanters, the Cameronians. As fine examples of the soldierly character, we may name Colonel Gardiner, Sir Henry Havelock, Captain Hedley Vicars. It would be the life and strength of our armies were they composed of such men from the top to the bottom of the scale.
II. WARLIKE COURAGE NEEDED IN RELIGION. We may apply the exhortations of these verses to the spiritual warfare. The gospel summons us to warfare.
1. With evil within us.
2. With the spiritual forces of evil around us.
3. With the hydra-headed incarnations of that evil in the institutions and customs, sins and follies of society.
It would be well if, in this campaign against evil, we could command in our ranks the same union, the same strict discipline, the same steadiness of action, above all, the same heroic bravery and endurance and preparedness to face the worst, which are often seen in earthly armies. Courage and readiness to sacrifice for Christ all that his cause demands, is a first condition of success in the spiritual warfare. There must be faith in the cause, devotion to the Leader, enthusiasm in his service, and the spirit of those who "love not their lives unto the death" (Revelation 12:11). Instead of this, how often, when the battle approaches, do our hearts faint, fear, tremble, and are terrified because of our enemies! Victories are not thus to be gained. We forget that he who is with us is more than they who are against us. The Lord is more to those in whose midst he is than all the horses and chariots and multitudes of people that can be brought against them.—J.O.
Three classes were exempted from service in war, and one class was forbidden to take part in it. The exempted classes were:
1. He who had built a house, but had not dedicated it.
2. He who had planted a vineyard, but had not eaten of its fruit.
3. He who had betrothed a wife, but had not married her.
The class forbidden to engage in the war was the class of cowards (Deuteronomy 20:8). These regulations—
I. HAD AN IMPORTANT BEARING ON THE STABILITY OF SOCIETY. War has naturally a disturbing effect on industry and commerce. It unsettles the public mind. It creates a feeling of insecurity. It prevents enterprise. These evils would be intensified in a state of society where, besides the danger of the country being overrun by hostile armies, each adult male was liable for service in the field. In such a condition of society there would obviously be a disinclination, when war was imminent, to acquire property, to institute improvements, or to enter into any new engagements. The man who built a house would not be sure that he would live to dedicate it; the man who planted a vineyard, that he would live to eat of it; the man who betrothed a wife, that he would be spared to take her. This provision of the Law was therefore calculated to have a reassuring and tranquillizing effect, and would so far counteract the tendency of warlike rumors to paralyze industry and the arrangements of domestic life.
II. WERE AN IMPORTANT ALLEVIATION OF THE EVILS OF WAR. They aimed at exempting those who, from their circumstances and prospects, would feel most keenly the hardship of a call to service. Deuteronomy 20:7 connects itself with the importance attached in ancient nations to the perpetuation of the house. "According to modern notions, a forlorn hope would naturally be composed of men who had not given hostages to fortune. Such, however, was not the light in which the matter presented itself to the Greek mind. The human plant had flowered. The continuance of the house was secure. It was therefore comparatively of little moment what befell the man whose duty to his ancestors had been fulfilled" (Renouf). The sentiment here expressed was that of ancient nations generally.
III. WERE OF GREAT IMPORTANCE IN SECURING EFFICIENCY IN THE ARMY. The army was plainly better without the cowards than with them. One coward may do harm to a whole company. But, besides these, it was likely that persons serving by compulsion, in a spirit of discontent at disappointed prospects, and for the sake of their prospects unwilling to part with their lives, would prove but inferior soldiers. At any rate, there was policy in recruiting the army only from those who had a fixed stake in the welfare of the nation. The man with house, wife, and vineyard was more likely to be ready to shed the last drop of his blood in defense of his treasures than one wholly unattached, or attached only in hope.
1. Those entering the Christian warfare need to count the cost (Luke 14:25-42.14.34).
2. In Christ's service there are no exemptions.
3. Nevertheless, consideration should be shown in the work of the Church for those who are peculiarly situated.
4. The danger of being entangled in spirit in Christ's service (2 Timothy 2:4).
5. The faint-hearted are no strength to a cause (Judges 7:3).
6. Numbers are not the only thing to be considered in reckoning the efficiency of a Church or of any body of spiritual warriors.—J.O.
Forbearance and severity.
If these rules embody a severity happily rare in modern warfare, they also exhibit a forbearance which many modern nations might well learn from. We have here—
I. WAR'S HORRORS MITIGATED.
1. Peace was invariably to be offered before attack to a foreign city (Deuteronomy 20:10, Deuteronomy 20:11). It is presumed that the war was just, and undertaken with the sanction of Jehovah. If peace was accepted, no one was to be injured, but only tribute imposed. The peacemaking spirit is pleasing to God (Matthew 5:9; Romans 12:18).
2. In the case of a city taken by storm, no women, children, or cattle were to be destroyed (Deuteronomy 20:14). The amount of self-restraint which this implies can only be appreciated after reading the accounts of warfare as anciently conducted. But we may get some light upon it by studying the horrors of the sack of a city, even in modern times, and under European, or even British, generalship (see histories of the Peninsular wars).
3. In the sparing of trees useful for food (Deuteronomy 20:19). War conducted on these principles, however severe in certain of its aspects, cannot be described as barbarous.
II. WAR'S SEVERITIES EXEMPLIFIED.
1. The resisting city, if foreign, was to be punished by the slaughter of its adult males (Deuteronomy 20:13). This, which sounds so harsh, was perhaps a necessity from the circumstances of the nation. It certainly typifies the "utter destruction" which shall fall on all resisting God's will, and placing themselves in an attitude of hostility to his kingdom on the earth.
2. The Canaanites were to be completely exterminated (Deuteronomy 20:16-5.20.18). This case differs from the other in being the execution of a judicial sentence, as well as an indispensable means to their own preservation against corruption (Deuteronomy 20:18). A general type of the fate which shall overtake the ungodly.—J.O.
HOMILIES BY R.M. EDGAR
We have in this chapter an instructive direction about the prosecution of a religious war. For, after all, war may be the only way of advancing the interests of nations. Disputes become so entangled, and great principles become so staked in the disputes, that war is welcomed as the one way to peace and progress. It is an awful expedient, but there are worse things than war. "Cowardice," said Rev. F. W. Robertson, of Brighton, "is worse. And the decay of enthusiasm and manliness is worse. And it is worse than death, ay, worse than a hundred thousand deaths, when a people has gravitated down into the creed that 'the wealth of nations' consists, not in generous hearts—'Fire in each breast, and freedom on each brow'—in national virtues, and primitive simplicity, and heroic endurance, and preference of duty to life;—not in men, but in silk and cotton and something that they call 'capital.' Peace is blessed. Peace arising out of charity. But peace springing out of the calculations of selfishness is not blessed. If the price to be paid for peace is this, that 'wealth accumulate and men decay,' better far that every street in every town of our once noble country should run blood!" From the directions in the chapter before us, we learn such lessons as these—
I. THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF THE CAUSE, AND NOT THE NUMBERS IN THE FIELD, IS TO BE THE FOUNDATION OF TRUST. The Jews were going into Palestine as the Lord's host, and, even though a minority sometimes, they were sure to win. "If God be for us, who can be against us?" was to be their ground of confidence. And our Lord contemplated the victory of a minority in his illustration about calculating the cost. "Or what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand?" (Luke 14:31). A good cause, like a good king, is worth ten thousand soldiers (2 Samuel 18:3). David's great sin was trusting in numbers and not in God (2 Samuel 24:2, etc.).
II. A RIGHTEOUS CAUSE ADMITS OF THE WAR BEING ENTERED UPON RELIGIOUSLY. The priest was to give them an oration before the battle, showing that they were going to fight the Lord's battles, and that he would be with them (verses 2-4). Of course, this has been imitated often by those who had not right on their side. Yet the hypocrisy of a party or people is in itself a testimony to the need for a religious spirit characterizing combatants. The most depraved feel somehow in the tremendous game of war that they are appealing to the God of battles, and should at least acknowledge him in entering the contest.
III. THE ARMY SHOULD BE WEEDED OF THE CAREFUL AND THE COWARDLY. Provision is here made for the dismissal home of those who are careworn about an undedicated habitation (verse 5), or about a newly acquired vineyard (verse 6), or about a betrothed wife (verse 7), and also for the dismissal of those who are faint-hearted (verse 8). The combatants should be as free as possible from care, and from the infection of cowardice. They might have sung, with the modem minstrels—
"We want no cowards in our band,
That from their colors fly;
We cell for valiant-hearted men,
Who're not afraid to die."
IV. IN ORDINARY CONQUESTS, PEACEFUL PROPOSALS ARE FIRST TO BE TRIED. (Verses 10-15.) If these are entertained, well and good; if not, then the conquest will be all the surer of having shown the preliminary consideration. This was to regulate any foreign conquest into which they might be forced. When the victory was won, the male adult population were to be put to the sword, because they had forfeited their lives by rejecting the peaceful proposals; but the women and children and property were to be the prey of the invaders. We have here the suggestion of arbitration, from which much is properly hoped in mitigation of war.
V. BUT IN THE CONQUEST OF THE IDOLATROUS NATIONS OF CANAAN, EXTERMINATION WAS THE ONLY SAFETY FOR THE INVADING HOST. By their abominable idolatries they had forfeited all right to life, and their continued existence would only have been a snare to Israel. Children and women as well as adult males were to be included in the desolation. This apparently harsh decree has its counterpart still in the government of the world. A storm or pestilence does not respect children any more than men. It shows that the Great Ruler does not intend the present state of things to be final. A judgment to come is surely the logical lesson of such a feature of war and of providence. The innocent who suffer with the guilty shall get their compensation in the other life.
VI. THE RAVAGES OF WAR ARE TO BE KEPT WITHIN AS NARROW LIMITS AS POSSIBLE. This seems to be the lesson in this arrangement about the protection of fruit trees in the siege (verses 19, 20). The future peaceful and prosperous state of things is to be considered, and no more harm done by the stress of war than is absolutely unavoidable.
We have thus great principles applicable to all the warring period of human progress. Wars are still desperate remedies. A time is coming when "the war-drum shall throb no longer;" but meanwhile, let wars be prosecuted in a religious spirit and with all religious precautions, when they must be engaged in. A noble illustration of what may be done in war-time by Christian men is afforded by the "Christian Commission" in the United States. Its 'Annals,' written by Rev. Lemuel Moss, Home Secretary of the Commission, Philadelphia, 1868, form a handsome volume of 752 pages, which amply repay perusal. We must fight for principle, if we cannot secure its triumph by more peaceful means; but one day all will submit to it, and war be needed no longer. May God hasten the happy day!—R.M.E.
HOMILIES BY D. DAVIES
Military service to be voluntary.
In war, forced service is worse than useless; it is a source of weakness—a cause of defeat. For successful warfare, all the skill and energy of every soldier is demanded; and unless the hearts of the warriors are in the conflict, no triumph can be anticipated.
I. TO BE LOYAL FRIENDS OF GOD, WE MUST SOMETIMES TREAT MEN AS FOES. If we are truly God's children, we must count God's friends to be our friends, God's foes to be our foes. We are not our own. We cannot expend life according to our personal will We are the property of another—the Supreme King. Therefore we must do his work and fight his battles. Our notion of what is right and just must be made subordinate to his. Our minds are often too much biased with selfish feeling to judge what is right, if left to ourselves; but we shall not err if we closely follow the precepts of our God. The interests of God's kingdom are to be held by us as paramount over the interests of man's kingdom.
II. GOD'S PRESENCE IN BATTLE OUTMATCHES ALL HUMAN FORCES. The source of conquest is not in the visible material of war. Victory is not on the side of the largest battalions. This is the creed of the infidel. If there were no God, it might be true. Mere numbers of combatants have as often hindered triumph as helped it. If God be ranged on the one side, it is a most unequal contest. The issue is a foregone event. Multiply human weapons or develop human skill as much as you please; let all the powers of arithmetic be exhausted in the computation; and still the finite is confronted by the Infinite. "Before him the inhabitants of the world are as grasshoppers." "If God be for us," vain is all opposition. Simple faith is the best equipment.
III. GOD'S PRIEST IS THE INSPIRER OF TRUE COURAGE. The sanctions and the inspirations of religion may be obtained for the business of war. The true priest will not heedlessly lend his sanction to any emprise of war, nor will he withhold his benediction from a righteous contest. By virtue of his office, he is the messenger from God to the royal court, as well as to the people. If ever the oracle of the sanctuary should be consulted, it is when war is imminent. It is not the business of the priest to initiate war; but if war becomes a duty, it is the business of the priest to encourage and 'respire the host of God's elect. The true priest is in close accord with God. God's heart beats within his heart; God's will finds prompt response in him. Hence the priest's voice is the human exponent of God's thought. God's strength is through hint conveyed to the mailed warriors, for he speaks with just authority.
IV. GOD WILL ACHIEVE VICTORY ONLY THROUGH THE RIGHT-HEARTED. Unless the soldier's mind and heart and soul be in the conflict, he had better tarry by his fireside. A few earnest, ardent warriors are preferred to mere array of numbers. If any soldier found more delight in his habitation or in his vineyard than in the success of battle, he might forthwith return. With the double-minded and the half-hearted God does not work. The channel must be emptied of self if Divine energy is to pass through it. We are not to conclude that God prefers the few to the many. But he will have the right kind of agents, or he will not work through them. The thirsty man does not prefer one drop of water to ten; but he does prefer one drop of wholesome water to a gallon of poisonous beverage. God works according to wise methods, and sends help through fitting channels. The best media through which he conveys military conquest is unselfish devotion to his cause. The consecrated soldier is the predestined conqueror.
V. LEADERS IN GREAT ENTERPRISES ARE TO BE SELECTED FROM THE COURAGEOUS FEW. Men will most faithfully follow those leaders whom they have themselves chosen. As the faint-hearted were unfit to go to the battle, so were they unfit to choose captains over the host. The courageous are also the most judicious. Accurately measuring the work that has to be done, they can the better judge who are the most competent to do it. The brave heart and the clear eye go together. These captains, so appointed, would be strong in the consciousness that they enjoyed the esteem and support of the troops. Such an arrangement gives the best guarantee for efficient leaders. On the same ground, the rulers of the Church should be chosen on the ground of spiritual fitness—solely on the ground of moral qualification.—D.
The terrible side of human duty.
Sin has made such fatal havoc in our world, that the most severe remedies have to be applied. In the administration of these remedies God has chosen to employ men. Thus he allies himself with us and makes us partners with him in the administration of his kingdom. "Such honor have all his saints."
I. THE AIMS OF THE DIVINE GOVERNMENT MUST BE ACCOMPLISHED. Every aim which is formed in God's mind is a seed of righteousness. Therefore it must grow and come to perfection. Necessity enters into its very essence. No power on earth or in hell is able to hinder its accomplishment. Who shall withstand the will of Omnipotence? Righteousness shall, sooner or later, be triumphant. All opposition to Jehovah's will shall eventually be crushed out. He who created is able also to destroy. For the present his patient love provides other remedies; and if remedial measures fail, then fell destruction shall sweep into eternal darkness all opposition to his supreme will.
II. THE ENDS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS MAY BE ATTAINED BY PEACEABLE MEANS IF MEN WILL SUBMIT TO GOD'S TERMS. (Deuteronomy 20:10.) Terms of peace were to be offered by the Hebrews in their wars with outlying nations. The main condition of peace and friendship was the relinquishment of idolatry. If men will fear and serve God, they shall live. To know God as our God is life eternal. If men will turn their backs upon the sun, they must dwell in shadow; so if men will sever themselves from the Source of life, they inevitably die. Not once, but often, does God offer to us reconciliation, blessing, peace. By every method of persuasion and entreaty the Father of our spirits has endeavored to win us to paths of righteous obedience. His will is our sanctification; purity or perdition—here is the alternative!
III. THE EXECUTORS OF JEHOVAH'S WILL, SHALL BE AMPLY REWARDED. "All the spoil thereof shalt thou take unto thyself" (Deuteronomy 20:14). The harder the work, the more abundant shall be the reward. God's remuneration is ever ample and munificent. Most carefully does he weigh every hardship we endure for him. Our every tear he puts into his bottle. Blind unbelief may count him an "austere Master," who requires irksome and painful work; but the man of filial temper will run on most difficult errands, and his language is uniformly this, "I do always the things that please him;" "They who suffer with their Lord now shall be glorified by-and-by together."
IV. EXCESSIVE WICKEDNESS INVOLVES MEN IN COMPLETE DESTRUCTION. Terms of peace were offered to less guilty nations lying in Israel's vicinity, but for the inhabitants of Canaan—such was their moral rottenness—there was no alternative but destruction. "Thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth" (Deuteronomy 20:16). It is well for us to learn that there is a stage in our moral disease when the remedy of mercy ceases to take effect. It becomes "a savor of death unto death." "With the breath of his mouth shall he slay the wicked." When the heart has become identified with rebellion, when all feeling is averse from God, when total depravity has set in,—then God abandons the man to his inevitable doom. "Israel would have none of him … so he gave them up to their own hearts' lust." This is man's blackest doom. Yet this is mercy for others.
V. THE WORK OF DESTRUCTION SHOULD BE BLENDED WITH PRUDENT KINDNESS. In laying siege against a city, not an axe was to be laid upon any fruit tree. Here we have a sample of' God's thoughtful and generous love for men! Whatever can minister to the need and comfort of his servants shall be secured to them. Though engaged in the awful work of destruction, he does not forget mercy; he is planning all the while for his servants' good. Though a frown is upon his face, tenderest love is active within his heart. More careful is he for us than we are for ourselves. Not a want, however minute, is by him overlooked. The desolating flood is upon the earth, but an ark is provided for Noah. The rain of fire is consuming Sodom, but Lot is safe in Zoar. "Even the hairs of your head are all numbered."—D.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 20". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany