Chapter 20


Rules for War

        • When you go to war with your enemies and you are faced with horses, chariots, and an army that is greater than yours, don’t be afraid because the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt is with you.

          • Guzik writes, “Israel, a small nation surrounded by great empires, was rarely in a strategically superior position. In battle, they usually saw horses and chariots and people more numerous than you. Despite the clear danger, they also had a clear command from God to not fear. Israel was commanded to not fear what any logical military man would fear: superior numbers, superior technology, and superior equipment. Yet, Israel was given a reason to not fear. God did not deny that the enemies of Israel would usually have more horses, chariots, and people than Israel. But God asked them to recognize a greater fact: That the LORD your God is with you. As Paul said it in Romans 8:31: If God is for us, who can be against us? One with God makes an unbeatable majority. Israel was also given evidence for faith. God didn’t ask Israel to have a “blind” trust in Him. They could trust Him as they went into battle because He had proven Himself mighty and faithful before. He had a track record which could be trusted.”

        • HCSB adds this notation, “The Lord’s presence with his people in their warfare does not mean He sanctions every war or takes an active role in it. The passage is describing ‘holy war’ (sometimes called Yahweh war), a conflict initiated by the Lord, empowered by Him, and resulting in His appropriation of its spoils. Such warfare was undertaken to destroy peoples who were irretrievably beyond redemption and were likely to contaminate Israel’s faith with their idolatrous practices (see Deuteronomy 1:30; 7:2, 16; 19:1).”

        • When you are about to go into battle, the priest is to deliver the following address to the troops: “Listen to me, Israel: Don’t be afraid to go out and fight your enemies today! Don’t lose heart or be alarmed by them because the Lord your God is going with you to fight your enemies and give you victory over them.”

        • The officers of the army are to address the troops and say: “Has anyone here just built a new house, but hasn’t dedicated it yet? If so, you may go home because you could potentially be killed in battle and someone else would dedicate your house. Has anyone planted a vineyard, but not yet enjoyed its fruit? If so, you may go home because you could potentially be killed and someone else would enjoy the fruit from your vineyard. Has anyone just become engaged to be married? If so, you may go home and marry because you could potentially be killed and someone else would marry the woman you’re engaged to marry. Is anyone here afraid to go into battle? If so, you may go back home so that you don’t cause any of your fellow troops to become afraid also.” After the officers have finished this address to the troops, they will appoint unit commanders.

        • HCSB writes, “These various exemptions from military service may seem unfair to other fighters, but they are in the interest of the whole army. Any soldier distracted by thoughts of home, occupation and family is unable to give full attention to his military duties, and can become more of a liability than an asset to the cause. The mention of houses and fields is an indication that the complete conquest of Canaan would not be instantaneous, but would occupy a period of time during which some Israelites would be able to establish themselves in the land; the book of Joshua reveals this to be the case.”

          • Guzik adds, “The story of Gideon (Judges 7) is a powerful illustration of this; Gideon started with an army of 32,000, but it was too big – so he sent home those who were afraid, and 22,000 left! But it was still too big, so God had him send home 7,700 more, so he only had an army of 300 to fight against a Midianite army of 135,000! Yet God gave him the victory.”

        • The following instructions apply to your treatment of the cities that are located far away from you, but do not apply to the cities of the nearby nations: When you come to a city to attack, you must first make an offer of peace to its people. If they accept your offer of peace and open their gates to you, the city’s inhabitants will become your forced laborers to serve you. However, if they refuse your offer of peace and engage you in battle, you are to lay siege to the city. When the Lord your God gives you victory over the city, you must kill every male with your swords. You may take the women, children, animals, and all the city’s spoil for yourselves and enjoy the plunder the Lord your God has given to you.

          • NLT Illustrated Study Bible clarifies, “Places described as distant towns were outside the boundaries of the Promised Land.”

        • HCSB notes, “Cities outside of Canaan were granted a certain leniency because they were not among the nations under God’s ‘ban’ (mandate for total destruction). Apparently, unlike the Canaanites proper, they were not considered irredeemably hardened against the Lord and his people. If they surrendered they would not be exterminated but would become vassals (subservient peoples) of Israel…”

          • Guzik adds, “It was simply understood in the ancient world that any surviving male would be a perpetual enemy of the people who had conquered his city. Prisoners of war were often not taken in ancient warfare; enemies were simply killed. “

        • However, regarding the cities located within the lands that the Lord your God is giving you as your inheritance, you must not allow any living thing in these cities to survive. You must completely destroy the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites as the Lord has commanded you to do so that they won’t teach you to imitate the detestable customs they engage in to worship their gods, which would cause you to sin against the Lord your God.

        • Guzik writes, “The previous commands regarding warfare did not apply to the upcoming conquest of Canaan. There, not only was Israel not to offer peace to the cities, but they were also to destroy everything, not only the adult males. This was a unique war of judgment, more than a war of conquest or defense. This explains why such a complete destruction was commanded. The culture of the Canaanites was so corrupt – socially, morally, and spiritually – that God considered it irredeemable, and ripe for judgment. In this unique war, the armies of Israel were to bring that judgment upon the Canaanites.”

        • When you have laid siege to a city in order to capture it, and the siege is taking a long time, don’t cut down any of the city’s trees that are good for food. After all, are the trees your enemies? However, you may cut down trees that don’t produce food for use in the building of equipment to assist in your siege against the city until it falls.

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible notes, “Ordinarily, trees might be cut down during a war so the enemy could not benefit from them. However, since the Israelites were occupying the enemy’s former land, the trees could be of use to them.”

          • As Guzik puts it, the Israelites were “to take a long-term view…and see that their immediate need for wood was less important than the long-term good of the area.”

Click here to go to chapter 21