Deuteronomy 20

Laws of Warfare

20 “When you go out to battle against your enemies and see horses and chariots and people more numerous than you, do not be afraid of them; for the Lord your God, who brought you up from the land of Egypt, is with you. When you are approaching the battle, the priest shall come near and speak to the people. He shall say to them, ‘Hear, O Israel, you are approaching the battle against your enemies today. Do not be fainthearted. Do not be afraid, or panic, or tremble before them, for the Lord your God is the one who goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you.’ The officers also shall speak to the people, saying, ‘Who is the man that has built a new house and has not dedicated it? Let him depart and return to his house, otherwise he might die in the battle and another man would dedicate it. Who is the man that has planted a vineyard and has not [a]begun to use its fruit? Let him depart and return to his house, otherwise he might die in the battle and another man [b]would begin to use its fruit. And who is the man that is engaged to a woman and has not [c]married her? Let him depart and return to his house, otherwise he might die in the battle and another man [d]would marry her.’ Then the officers shall speak further to the people and say, ‘Who is the man that is afraid and fainthearted? Let him depart and return to his house, so that [e]he might not make his brothers’ hearts melt like his heart.’ When the officers have finished speaking to the people, they shall appoint commanders of armies at the head of the people.

10 “When you approach a city to fight against it, you shall [f]offer it terms of peace.11 If it [g]agrees to make peace with you and opens to you, then all the people who are found in it shall become your forced labor and shall serve you. 12 However, if it does not make peace with you, but makes war against you, then you shall besiege it. 13 When the Lord your God gives it into your hand, you shall strike all the [h]men in it with the edge of the sword. 14 Only the women and the children and the animals and all that is in the city, all its spoil, you shall take as booty for yourself; and you shall [i]use the spoil of your enemies which the Lord your God has given you. 15 Thus you shall do to all the cities that are very far from you, which are not of the cities of these nations [j]nearby. 16 Only in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, you shall not leave alive anything that breathes. 17 But you shall [k]utterly destroy them, the Hittite and the Amorite, the Canaanite and the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite, as the Lord your God has commanded you, 18 so that they may not teach you to do according to all their detestable things which they have done for their gods, so that you would sin against the Lord your God.

19 “When you besiege a city a long time, to make war against it in order to capture it, you shall not destroy its trees by swinging an axe against them; for you may eat from them, and you shall not cut them down. [l]For is the tree of the field a man, that it should [m]be besieged by you? 20 Only the trees which you know [n]are not fruit trees you shall destroy and cut down, that you may construct siegeworks against the city that is making war with you until it falls.

Here we see again the instruction to destroy all who lived in the land God promised to Israel, but something else quite different. He lays out different ground rules for the conquest of other cities and nations. They are not to kill everyone, but first offer terms of surrender.

But the most interesting part to me is the first passage, which reminds one of the army of Gideon later on in the book of Judges. Basically, if you had an excuse not to fight, you shouldn’t be in the battle. Even more so, if you were afraid, go home! The people were first told to trust in God for the victory, so if you couldn’t trust God, you didn’t belong in His battle, plain and simple.

I think that still applies to us today, when we “do battle” against whatever it might be, we need to trust God. Without that, we might as well give up already and go home. For with God, all things are possible, but without Him, the battle is not worth fighting.

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