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Bible Commentaries
Deuteronomy 20

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary



These rules of war have their application to nations other than the Canaanitish.

Verse 1

1. Seest horses, and chariots Of the military resources of the Oriental nations, with whom the Israelites would be likely to be brought in hostile contact, cavalry constituted an important part. The Egyptians and the Syrians are especially mentioned for the abundance of their cavalry.

Be not afraid The Israelites are to call to mind their past history, when Jehovah overthrew the horse and the rider when he so triumphantly brought up his people out of Egypt.

Verse 2

2. The priest shall approach and speak unto the people According to the rabbins, the priest who thus accompanied the army was called the “Anointed for the war.” He held a high rank. See Numbers 31:6.

Verse 5

5. The officers The shoterim, for that is the Hebrew term, were to be the keepers of the genealogical tables, and in that capacity would know who were the men bound to render military service.

Verse 6

6. Planted a vineyard The word כרם is not to be restricted to vineyards. The same term is applied to olive groves.

Hath not yet eaten of it The Hebrew term חלל , to make common, is here used in the sense of to apply to common use. The fruit of the vine, or of fruit trees in general, was not to be gathered for use for the first three years. In the fourth year the fruit was to be consecrated to Jehovah. It was not till the fifth year that the fruit could be gathered for common use.

Verse 7

7. What man… hath betrothed a wife The exemption from military service to the betrothed is, in Deuteronomy 24:5, also applied to the newly married man, who was free from obligation to serve in the army for a year.

Verse 8

8. Fearful and fainthearted These were to leave the army. Only the valorous were to constitute the force that was to go forth to battle.

Verse 9

9. Captains of the armies to lead the people The shoterim, or officers, after the elimination of the above-ordered army, are to appoint captains to lead the force that is now ready for the contest.

Verse 10

10. Proclaim peace unto it The meaning of the passage seems to be, summon it to surrender without contest.

Verses 10-20

10-20. In these verses are given directions designed to prevent unnecessary destruction of life and property.

Verse 11

11. If… answer of peace,… tributaries If the city opened its gates and peacefully surrendered, all the inhabitants were to be spared, but they were to be tributaries of the Israelites.

Verse 12

12. If it will make no peace If the city does not submit without fighting, then it is to be besieged, and, when taken by storm, the armed men are to be put to death, the women and children spared.

Verse 15

15. Cities… not of… these nations The directions from Deuteronomy 20:10-15 are designed to apply to the nations with whom in the future wars may be waged. The nations of Canaan were to be utterly destroyed.

Verse 16

16. Of these people The Canaanites and kindred nations.

Thou shalt save alive nothing Not a human being was to be left alive. The abominations of these idolatrous nations were such that only by obliterating them wholly could the Israelites be exempt from their corruptions. The punishment of the Canaanites seems severe, but shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?

Verse 19

19. Not destroy the trees In the besieging of cities there was to be no wanton destruction of property. The fruit trees in the gardens of the environs were not to be cut down. War, as anciently carried on, was terrible. Life and property, except so far as they could be of service to the conqueror, were to be destroyed. Moses, with these stern laws prevalent, aims to introduce a gentler and more lenient usage into the military code.

For the tree… is man’s life The Hebrew expression is difficult of translation. Ewald, Knobel, Keil, and others render it as a question, Is the tree of the field a man, that it come in siege before thee? But this translation, which follows the Septuagint, requires a different pointing of the Hebrew text. The literal rendering of the passage is, Man is the tree of the field that is, he lives and is supported by the fruits of trees. Our Authorized Version gives the substantial sense.

Verse 20

20. Not trees for meat This verse suggests such acquaintance with laying siege to fortified places as might have been learned from the Egyptians.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 20". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/deuteronomy-20.html. 1874-1909.
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