Deuteronomy 20

1 When you go out to battle against your enemies, and see horses, chariots, and a people more than you, you shall not be afraid of them; for the LORD your God is with you, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. 2 It shall be, when you draw near to the battle, that the priest shall approach and speak to the people, 3 and shall tell them, “Hear, Israel, you draw near today to battle against your enemies. Don’t let your heart faint! Don’t be afraid, nor tremble, neither be scared of them; 4 for the LORD your God is he who goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you.” 5 The officers shall speak to the people, saying, “What man is there who has built a new house, and has not dedicated it? Let him go and return to his house, lest he die in the battle, and another man dedicate it. 6 What man is there who has planted a vineyard, and has not used its fruit? Let him go and return to his house, lest he die in the battle, and another man use its fruit. 7 What man is there who has pledged to be married a wife, and has not taken her? Let him go and return to his house, lest he die in the battle, and another man take her.” 8 The officers shall speak further to the people, and they shall say, “What man is there who is fearful and faint-hearted? Let him go and return to his house, lest his brother’s heart melt as his heart.” 9 It shall be, when the officers have finished speaking to the people, that they shall appoint captains of armies at the head of the people. 10 When you draw near to a city to fight against it, then proclaim peace to it. 11 It shall be, if it makes you answer of peace, and opens to you, then it shall be, that all the people who are found therein shall become forced laborers to you, and shall serve you. 12 If it will make no peace with you, but will make war against you, then you shall besiege it. 13 When the LORD your God delivers it into your hand, you shall strike every male of it with the edge of the sword; 14 but the women, the little ones, the livestock, and all that is in the city, even all its plunder, you shall take for plunder for yourself. You may use the plunder of your enemies, which the LORD your God has given you. 15 Thus you shall do to all the cities which are very far off from you, which are not of the cities of these nations. 16 But of the cities of these peoples, that the LORD your God gives you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes; 17 but you shall utterly destroy them: the Hittite, the Amorite, the Canaanite, the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite; as the LORD your God has commanded you; 18 that they not teach you to follow all their abominations, which they have done to their gods; so would you sin against the LORD your God. 19 When you shall besiege a city a long time, in making war against it to take it, you shall not destroy its trees by wielding an axe against them; for you may eat of them. You shall not cut them down; for is the tree of the field man, that it should be besieged by you? 20 Only the trees that you know are not trees for food, you shall destroy and cut them down. You shall build bulwarks against the city that makes war with you, until it falls.

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Questions about today’s reading? See if Matthew Henry can help.
Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary, 1706

Verses 1–9

In the wars wherein Israel engaged according to the will of God, they might expect the Divine assistance. The Lord was to be their only confidence. In these respects they were types of the Christian’s warfare. Those unwilling to fight, must be sent away. The unwillingness might arise from a man’s outward condition. God would not be served by men forced against their will. Thy people shall be willing, Ps 110:3. In running the Christian race, and fighting the good fight of faith, we must lay aside all that would make us unwilling. If a man’s unwillingness rose from weakness and fear, he had leave to return from the war. The reason here given is, lest his brethren’s heart fail as well as his heart. We must take heed that we fear not with the fear of them that are afraid, Isa 8:12.

Verses 10–20

The Israelites are here directed about the nations on whom they made war. Let this show God’s grace in dealing with sinners. He proclaims peace, and beseeches them to be reconciled. Let it also show us our duty in dealing with our brethren. Whoever are for war, we must be for peace. Of the cities given to Israel, none of their inhabitants must be left. Since it could not be expected that they should be cured of their idolatry, they would hurt Israel. These regulations are not the rules of our conduct, but Christ’s law of love. The horrors of war must fill the feeling heart with anguish upon every recollection; and are proofs of the wickedness of man, the power of Satan, and the just vengeance of God, who thus scourges a guilty world. But how dreadful their case who are engaged in unequal conflict with their Maker, who will not submit to render him the easy tribute of worship and praise! Certain ruin awaits them. Let neither the number nor the power of the enemies of our souls dismay us; nor let even our own weakness cause us to tremble or to faint. The Lord will save us; but in this war let none engage whose hearts are fond of the world, or afraid of the cross and the conflict. Care is here taken that in besieging cities the fruit-trees should not be destroyed. God is a better friend to man than he is to himself; and God’s law consults our interests and comforts; while our own appetites and passions, which we indulge, are enemies to our welfare. Many of the Divine precepts restrain us from destroying that which is for our life and food. The Jews understand this as forbidding all wilful waste upon any account whatsoever. Every creature of God is good; as nothing is to be refused, so nothing is to be abused. We may live to want what we carelessly waste.

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