DIRECTIONS CONCERNING WARFARE IN GENERAL (vs. 1- 9)
The instructions in this chapter are peculiar to
Deuteronomy. As the people of
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.
1 “When thou goest out to battle against thine enemies, and seest horses, and
chariots, and a people more than thou, be not afraid of them: for the LORD thy
God is with thee,
which brought thee up out of the
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 (compare Psalm 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; 17:16; Judges 1:19; 4:3; I Samuel 13:5).
2 “And it shall be, when ye are come nigh unto the battle, that 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;” hmjlmh jyvm, as the
rabbins designate him (compare Numbers 21:6; I Samuel 4:4; II 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 here given in vs. 3-4 -“shall approach and speak unto the people,
3 And shall say unto them, Hear, O
against your enemies: let not your hearts faint, fear not, and do not tremble,
neither be ye terrified because of them; 4 For the LORD your God is He
that goeth with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you.”
War (vs. 1-4)
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
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.
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:
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.
exhortations of these verses to the spiritual warfare. The gospel summons
us to warfare.
Ø With evil within us.
Ø With the spiritual forces of evil around us.
Ø 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 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 (II Kings 6:15-20; I John 4:4). 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.
5 “And the officers” - the shoterim, the keepers of the genealogical tables
(ch.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 - “shall speak unto the people, saying, What man
is there that hath built a new house, and hath not dedicated it?” – probably
formal possession was taken of the house by some solemn ceremony, followed by
festive entertainment. - “let him go and return to his house, lest he die in the
battle, and another man dedicate it.” 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. 6 And
what man is he that hath planted a vineyard, and hath not yet eaten of it?
let him also go and return unto his house, lest he die in the battle, and another
man eat of it.” - or if there was one who had planted a vineyard and had not
eaten of the fruit thereof - Vineyard. The Hebrew word (μr,K,) here used designates
a field or park of the nobler plants and trees cultivated in the manner of a garden or
orchard, 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 (compare
ch.28:30; Jeremiah 31:5). Trees planted for food were not to be used before the
fifth year of their growth (Leviticus 19:23-25, compare ch. 24:5). 7 And what man is
there that hath betrothed a wife, and hath not taken her? let him go and return
unto his house, lest he die in the battle, and another man take her.” - 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 ch. 24:5.
8 “And the officers shall speak further unto the people, and they shall say,
What man is there that is fearful and fainthearted? let him go and return unto
his house, lest his brethren’s heart faint as well as his heart.” 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 (compare Joshua 7:5). In ch.1:28, this verb is rendered by
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.”
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 (Numbers 31:14, 48;
I Samuel 8:12; 22:7; II Samuel 18:1). Captains of the armies. The phrase, “captain of
a host” (ab;x; rc"), usually designates the general or commander-in-chief of the
entire army (Genesis 21:22; II Samuel 2:8; I Kings 16:16); but here the phrase is
used in the plural of the chiefs of the companies or detachments of which the whole
Exemptions (vs. 5-9)
Three classes were exempted from service in war, and one class was forbidden to take
part in it. The exempted classes were:
o He who had built a house, but had not dedicated it.
o He who had planted a vineyard, but had not eaten of its fruit.
o He who had betrothed a wife, but had not married her.
The class forbidden to engage in the war was the class of cowards (v. 8).
These regulations :
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.
They aimed at exempting those who, from their circumstances and prospects,
would feel most keenly the hardship of a call to service. V. 7 connects itself
with the importance attached in ancient nations to the perpetuation of the house.
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
Ø Those entering the Christian warfare need to count the cost
Ø In Christ’s service there are no exemptions.
Ø The danger of being entangled in spirit in Christ’s service
(II Timothy 2:4).
Ø The faint-hearted are no strength to a cause (Judges 7:3).
Ø Numbers are not the only thing to be considered in reckoning
The efficiency of a Church or of any body of spiritual warriors.
DIRECTIONS CONCERNING THE BESIEGING OF CITIES (vs. 10-20)
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 (compare 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
10 “When thou comest nigh unto a city to fight against it, then proclaim peace
unto it.” - i.e. invite it peaceably to surrender.
11 “And it shall be, if it make thee answer of peace, and open unto thee, then
it shall be, that all the people that is found therein shall be tributaries unto
thee, and they shall serve thee.” literally, shall be to thee for tribute and service.
The word rendered by “tribute” (μm") denotes properly tribute service, service
rendered as a tribute, whether for a season or in perpetuity (compare Genesis 49:15;
Judges 1:30, 33, 35; I Kings 5:13; 9:21; Isaiah 31:8 [Authorized Version,
“discomfited”]) 12 And if it will make no peace with thee, but will make war
against thee, then thou shalt besiege it: 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:”
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; and thou shalt eat the
spoil of thine enemies,” - consume it for thine own maintenance - “which the LORD
thy God hath given thee. 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.”
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
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.
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: 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: 18 That they teach you not to do after all
their abominations, which they have done unto their gods; so should ye
sin against the LORD your God. 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 by forcing an axe against them: for thou mayest eat of them, and
thou shalt not cut them down (for the tree of the field is man’s life) 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 is 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 (μd;a;h, instead of
μd;a;h;); 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
ch.24:6, the millstone is called a man’s life, inasmuch as it supplies the means
20 “Only the trees which thou knowest that they be not trees for meat, 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, That thou
mayest build a siege — he, an instrument for besieging, a rampart, or bulwark —
against the city, till it come down (compare ch. 28:52).
The Terrible Side of Human Duty (vs. 10-20)
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.”
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.
PEACEABLE MEANS IF MEN WILL SUBMIT TO GOD’S TERMS.
(v. 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. “What more could have been done more to my
vineyard, that I have not done in it? (Isaiah 5:4) - His will is our
sanctification; purity or perdition - here is the alternative!
REWARDED. “All the spoil thereof shalt thou take unto thyself” (v. 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
(Psalm 56:8). Blind unbelief may count Him an “austere Master”
(Luke 19:21), who requires irksome and painful work; but the man of filial
temper will run on most difficult errands, and his language, like the Master,
is uniformly this, “I do always the things that please Him” (John 8:29);
They who suffer with their Lord now shall be glorified by and by together.!
DESTRUCTION. Terms of peace were offered to less guilty nations lying
moral rottenness — there was no alternative but destruction. “Thou shalt
save alive nothing that breatheth” (v. 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” (II Corinthians
2:16). “With the breath of His mouth shall He slay the wicked”
(Isaiah 11:4; II Thessalonians 2:8). When the heart has become identified
with rebellion, when all feeling is averse from God, when TOTAL
DEPRAVITY SETS IN — then God abandons the man to his
gave them up to their own hearts’ lust” (Psalm 81:12; Romans 1:24).
THIS IS MAN’S BLACKEST DOOM! YET THERE IS MERCY
FOR ALL WHO WILL CONFESS THEIR SINS AND TRUST
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 a
wful 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
of your head are all numbered.” (Luke 12:7)
THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF THE CAUSE, AND NOT THE NUMBERS IN
THE FIELD, IS TO BE THE FOUNDATION OF TRUST. The Jews were going
sure to win. “If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31) - 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 (II Samuel 18:3).
David’s great sin was trusting in numbers and not in God (II Samuel 24:1-25).
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