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Bible Commentaries
Deuteronomy 20

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Verses 1-4


In this chapter we find a people who possess the promised land and want to conquer more (Deuteronomy 19:8). With this it acts according to God’s thoughts, for He wants to give expansion. But that, in turn, is linked to the responsibility of man. There will be no expansion if there is no fight. These are voluntary wars, there is no obligation. That is why some exemptions are given. Also to someone who is afraid is given the opportunity to go home. There are other wars which God commands, and from which no one should escape, as against the Canaanites.

We can apply this to the local church. We may ask ourselves how many believers have been added to the local church in recent years. Has the area been expanded? It has to do with our spiritual power, through which we can show what the church is according to God’s thoughts. If there is a real desire to make that happen, it is possible to win others.

Defending the truth is not only defensive, but also offensive. We can win souls through the gospel and bring them to the place God has chosen to make His Name dwell there. In New Testament language, this is the bringing of those who accepted the Lord Jesus to the local church of which the Lord Jesus said: “I am there in their midst” (Matthew 18:20).

Encouragement by the Priest

With a view to the battle, the priest first addresses the people. In Deuteronomy 20:5, the “officers” do so. The priest encourages the people. He points to the LORD their God, Who goes with them (Isaiah 41:10) to fight for them and to give them the victory. To know what it means that the LORD goes with them, Moses remind the people of the redemption from Egypt. The priest who speaks encourages is a picture of the Lord Jesus. He encourages by His word (John 16:33) and by His intercession (Luke 22:32; Hebrews 7:25).

The enemy shows himself in his power and strength and thereby tries to impress and deter God’s people. Horses and wagons are mainly the forces of hostile peoples with which Israel is dealing (Joshua 17:16; Judges 4:3; 1 Samuel 13:5; 2 Samuel 8:4; 1 Chronicles 18:4; 1 Chronicles 19:18). Inclined as Israel is to be impressed by that display of power, the priest gives a fourfold encouragement before the enemy
1. not to be fainthearted,
2. not to be afraid,
3. not to panic and
4. not to tremble.
The reason for this is the presence of the LORD. Together with the Lord, we need not fear the greatest and most powerful enemy (2 Chronicles 32:7), for he is a defeated enemy from the outset. Without the Lord we lose of the most insignificant enemy.

Believers who encourage us as true priests, thus from God’s presence, are urgently needed. There is no need for believers who want to impose on us a certain strategy or tactic, often derived from the model of the world. The gospel and the truth of God are not articles to be sold through management techniques. Believers who work with these means live more in the presence of the world and are under the influence of the thinking that reigns there, than in the presence of the Lord and under the influence of His thinking.

Verses 5-9

The Officers Speak to the People

After the priest, the officers speak to the people. The priest encourages in view of the battle. The officials discourage certain categories from taking part in the battle. They must ensure that only qualified soldiers take up the fight. A believer is qualified soldier if he can devote himself completely to the Lord, without having to deal with anything else (2 Timothy 2:4). This means that he goes into the battle in complete confidence on the Lord and only focused on Him.

The officers do not prohibit these categories from participating, but suggest that they first deal with the situation they have just found themselves in. These are people who have recently entered into a new situation with which certain expectations are connected, but have not yet enjoyed them. It is about those who
1. built a new house,
2. planted a vineyard and
3. are engaged to a woman.

Anyone who has built a new house, but has not yet lived in it, may first move into it. This can be applied to someone who has just been converted. He therefore has come to live in the house of God. Now such a person must learn how to behave in that house (1 Timothy 3:15). The saying that we are ‘saved to save’ may sound good, but doesn’t originate from the Word of God. A person must first learn to take his place in the local church. Only then can he go out.

Someone who has planted a vineyard, but has not yet enjoyed its fruit, does not have to go into the battle. He may wait for the first fruit to enjoy it. This waiting time can be as long as five years (Leviticus 19:23-Lamentations :). Wine is a picture of joy (Judges 9:13). Here is the lesson that first we can and must enjoy the blessings ourselves in order to be able to distribute them. We can’t testify to something we haven’t enjoyed ourselves.

Also someone who is engaged to a woman does not have to join the battle (Deuteronomy 24:5). He can first marry and rejoice his wife, which includes sexual intercourse. The joy of sexual intercourse in marriage is also associated with the conception of offspring. It is the experience of the intimacy of love with the resulting fruit. This can be applied to the experience of the fellowship with the Lord Jesus and the fruit that this produces for Him. The exercise of fellowship with the Lord Jesus must come first. Then there can be set of to the battle.

Another category is mentioned in Deuteronomy 20:8. Everyone has been afraid in the fight once. However, if someone is marked by a spirit of fear, the Lord cannot use him. Such a person may go back home. Paul acts as an officer when he sends John Mark back home (Acts 15:38). Mark spent some time with Paul, but the hardships have become too much for him (Acts 13:13). Being a Christian cost him too much. Taking someone with you like him means a burden that is detrimental to the work of the gospel.

Also with Gideon we see the effect of this verse. He receives from the LORD the instruction to act according to the directions of this verse. As a result, no less than twenty-two thousand men have dropped out of his already small army (Judges 7:3).

After everyone has had the opportunity to make a personal decision not to take part in the battle, the battle can begin. The army is provided with army commanders. They go first and are examples for the soldiers who follow. They do not define the way of fighting. God does.

Verses 10-15

The Offer of Peace

In previous verses we have prepared the fight. From Deuteronomy 20:10 onwards we have the actual battle. Yet the battle does not immediately ensue. The first thing to do is to offer peace to a city that one wants to conquer. Listening to this results in a covenant relationship. In this way what has been in the realm of the world is brought into the realm of God’s people and put into their service. Not all cities submit so quickly. In case of resistance, the judgement must be exercised.

The full counsel of God is also contained in the proclamation of the gospel. Where that truth is presented, we often encounter resistance. That resistance must be broken. This is necessary, so that others can be won: the men are killed, the women remain alive.

In the life of the believer there are different kinds of struggles. We must distinguish between our struggle and God’s struggle. Our struggle stems from the fact that sin still dwells within us (Galatians 5:17). This struggle often prevents us from fighting God’s struggle.

If the flesh is kept down, we can put on the full armor of God and fight God’s fight (Ephesians 6:12-1 Chronicles :). This battle is fought in propagating and proclaiming and defending what God has entrusted to us. Thus Paul can say that he fought the good fight (2 Timothy 4:7). That is the battle for what God has delivered to him, the gospel of peace.

‘Battle’ and ‘service’ are the same word in Hebrew. The proclamation of the Word is Levite service and it is also battle. We have to go out in that service. God sees the people as in the land. Thus He sees the Christian as seated in Christ in the heavenly places. From that established position, in full awareness thereof, we may proclaim God’s truth.

Verses 16-18

Cities to Be Utterly Destroyed

Nothing can be spared from the enemies mentioned in these verses. They should not be offered peace. The offer of peace applies only to cities outside the land. The cities of the nations of the land represent the strongholds of evil in which the wickedness in the heavenly places is expressed (Ephesians 6:12).

Verses 19-20

Trees with Edible Fruit

In a besieged city, elements may be present that are useful to the people of God. That is why we must work with distinction in the fight. Whatever is created by God as food and therefore good (1 Timothy 4:4-Deuteronomy :), we must save. Here we must distinguish between the things of the world and the things of the earth or creation. For example, we may use the things from creation for spiritual purposes, thinking of things like buildings and technique.

Trees do no harm to people. On the contrary, there are trees that bear fruit for the benefit of man. Only trees that do not produce fruit, that occupy the ground without any use, should be cut down. However, the destruction of soulless things must also be dealt with due consideration. The Lord Jesus makes His disciples “gather up the leftover fragments so that nothing will be lost” which serves the maintenance of the life of man (John 6:12).

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Deuteronomy 20". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/deuteronomy-20.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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