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Bible Commentaries
Deuteronomy 20

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

Verses 1-20

Deuteronomy 20:5 . Hath not dedicated it. David composed the xxxth Psalm for the dedication of his new palace. Good men warmed a new house by devotion.

Deuteronomy 20:9 . The officers shall make captains. The sense of this verse is difficult to gather. The readings vary; but Le Clerc’s translation is to be preferred. “When the heralds have made an end of speaking, the officers in front of the army shall number the troops.” The original word is rendered number in 1 Samuel 13:15; and muster in Isaiah 13:4.

Deuteronomy 20:10 . Proclaim peace to it. In the Jugurthine war, Sallust names a city of Africa that had but two hours’ notice of the approach of the Roman armies, and they put every soul to the sword. While Sallust blushes to relate this, he palliates the carnage by saying, it was for the good of the Roman people! This cruelty is common enough in many wars; but the Hebrew lawgiver could not endure it. If the city refused the terms, then the war was placed on equal ground. Yet the spirit of the Messiah’s kingdom is evidently, according to all the prophets, a spirit of concord and peace. Isaiah 9:0. Micah 4:0. Zechariah 9:0. Its aim is to make the earth one family, and Messiah the universal king.

Deuteronomy 20:19 . The tree of the field is man’s life, and must not be destroyed. Alexander the Great restrained his army from hurting trees and houses by saying, they are your own property.


The encouragement afforded to Israel, in this chapter, is equally encouraging to the church of God. They were not to be afraid of their enemies who should exceed them in number, in chariots, and in horses; for the covenant presence of God would ensure success. So if the Lord be for us, what have we to fear from the multitude of our foes? The frowns and smiles of the world, the incitements of the flesh, and the temptations of Satan shall try us in vain, while we retain the Lord on our right hand.

The Israelites, having God for their defence, had no need of severity in raising the levies of war. The heralds, on addressing the army, were to request those to retire who had built a house, and not consecrated it; who had betrothed a wife, as we elsewhere find, and not consummated the marriage; or had planted a vineyard, and had not eaten of its fruits. The fearful and fainthearted were next requested to withdraw; for the man who had not a martial soul was not fit to be intrusted with the defence of his country. In those heralds, ministers of the gospel may learn the duty of exhorting believers to courage and constancy in religion. Let those who love house or land, wife or children more than Christ, keep within the shade of worldly prudence. The man who is not willing, through the strength of grace, to devote his life to God, is not worthy to bear the banner of the cross, and to be intrusted with the honour and glory of the Saviour’s cause.

The nation or host assembled in arms, was next to be enlightened concerning the equity of the war; for God is on the side of equity. A nation may indeed allege equity in the cause of war, and yet be deeply guilty in other views; or it may be the design of providence to suffer a weak people to be for awhile oppressed by the mighty. Be that as it may, those who commence a war should be cautious that their claims are just, and that all amicable endeavours to adjust the disputes have failed before recourse is had to arms. War must in all cases be the dernier resort, or it is hateful to God.

However aggravating the aggressions may be which provoke a nation to vengeance, the war must nevertheless be conducted with humanity. The city when approached must be summoned to surrender: then if the armed men preferred a siege to submission, the contest became life for life: and if the city was taken by assault, the casting away of arms, the bending of knees, the most piercing cries for mercy would have no effect on the furious assailants: they would put them all to the sword, and spare only the women and children. Such are the bitter laws of war, when the contest comes to extremities. In like manner, all daring sinners who despise the overtures of grace, may see the sad situation to which they will shortly be reduced. While they are proceeding in a course of dissipation and insolence against heaven, the God of vengeance approaches, and death is in his train. But his ministers first blow the gospel trumpet; they expostulate; they offer pardon and privilege; they pray and beseech the enemy in Christ’s stead to be reconciled to God. But all overtures of grace are rejected, religion is hooted, and the terrors of justice are despised. Alas, only a small number listen to the gospel, and imbibe its spirit. Well, God is neither weak in power, nor intimidated by the multitude of his foes. He resolutely besieges the wicked by terror of conscience, by affliction of body, and the menaces of future judgment; and if the longsuffering of God which leadeth to repentance be still despised, his arrows shall strike through the heart of his enemies; and because they despised his counsel, and would have none of his reproof, he also will laugh at their calamity, and mock when their fear cometh. Then, in a spiritual view, shall be realized the horrors of a city taken by assault. God will avenge the quarrel of his covenant, and the dissipation of an ungodly age shall end in tragedy of the most instructive kind.

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 20". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jsc/deuteronomy-20.html. 1835.
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