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Bible Commentaries

Grant's Commentary on the Bible

Deuteronomy 20

Verses 1-20

WARFARE REGULATED BY GOD

(vs.1-19)

God certainly never did approve the saying, "All's fair in love and war." Rather, God gave explicit instructions to Israel as to how to conduct their warfare. But first, he insists that no matter how strong the enemy appears to be, Israel was to have no fear of going to battle against them, for these were the enemies of God who was with Israel, and who was requiring Israel to drive them from the land (v.1).

As a battle was to take place, the priest (the high priest) was first to address the people, telling them to have no fear of the enemy, for the Lord was with them to fight for them and save them from defeat (vs.3-4). Let us remember that believers today are called to fight, not against flesh and blood, but against the deceit of satanic enmity that seeks to keep us from enjoying our heavenly inheritance (Ephesians 6:12). This conflict involves our learning and standing for the truth of the Word of God in the face of many attempts to undermine or degrade it.

After the priest had delivered his message, then the military officers were to exempt from service men for various reasons. If one had built a house, not having dedicated it to live in, he was to be excused, or if one had planted a vineyard and had not reaped its fruits as yet (vs.5-6). These two exemptions would not apply to any in Israel at the time Moses spoke this, for Israel was not yet in their land, but they would apply when in the land.

Also one who was engaged to be married was to be excused, lest he should die in battle and therefore never be married (v.7). These three cases show us that attachment to the present things of life will unfit us in some measure for the spiritual warfare that is attached to heaven. Today, it is possible for us to put the things of God first even when having to deal with questions of property, food and human relationships. In fact, it is not only possible, but it is spiritually moral.

But another test was to be taken, one not likely to be copied by any another nation. The officers were to ask if any man was fearful or fainthearted. If so he was told to return home, lest this fearfulness would infect other men too (v.8). To show fear before the enemy will only mean defeat. Most of us must admit that we do have fears, but courage will enable us not to show fear, for the Lord is greater than our fears. Confidence in the Lord will give courage to overcome fear.

The officers were then to appoint captains, thus organizing the army in an orderly way. When they approached a city to attack it, they were to proclaim an offer of peace to the city, and if the city received this offer, then the city was to be placed under tribute to Israel. If the offer was refused, God would give the city into the hands of Israel, who were told to kill every man in the city, but they keep the women alive, the children and livestock, and all would be considered as plunder for Israel (vs.13-14).

However, this applied only to cities far from the land of Canaan, not to any of the cities of the land. As to these, God had before commanded that men, women, children and livestock should all be killed (vs.16-17). The reason for this we have already seen. These nations had sold themselves to the service of demonism and idolatry: their cup of iniquity was full, and none were to be spared (Deuteronomy 18:9-12). God knew that if they were allowed to live they would teach Israel the same evils to which these idolaters had become accustomed (v.18).

In besieging a city, no fruit trees were to be cut down for use in the attack (v.19). Tree that did not bear fruit could be used for this (v.20). Fruit trees are for man's nourishment, not for judgment. So, in the Word of God there are truths for nourishing and building up. But there are other truths that require the pulling down of strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:4). It is important that we use the truth for the purpose that God intends, not to misuse it.

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Bibliographical Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 20". Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lmg/deuteronomy-20.html. 1897-1910.