Deuteronomy 20:19

Deuteronomy 20:19

When thou shalt besiege a city a long time, in making war
against it to take it
Before it will surrender; it holding out the siege a considerable time: the Hebrew text says, "many days" F3; which the Targum of Jonathan interprets of all the seven days, to make war against it, in order to subdue it on the sabbath day. Jarchi observes, that "days" signify two, and "many" three; hence it is said, they do not besiege cities of the Gentiles less than three days before the sabbath; and he also says it teaches that peace is opened or proclaimed two or three days first:

thou shall not destroy the trees thereof by forcing an axe against
that is, not cut them down with an axe, such trees as were without the city, and in the power of the besiegers: what sort of trees are meant appears by what follows:

for thou mayest eat of them;
the fruit of them, which shows them to be fruit trees, and gives a reason for not cutting them down, since they would be useful in supplying them with what was agreeable to eat:

and thou shalt not cut them down to employ them in the siege;
in building bulwarks and batteries, and making of machines to cast out stones, and the like, to the annoyance of the besieged; which might as well or better be made of other trees, as in the next verse:

for the tree of the field is man's life;
by the fruit of which, among other things, his life is supported and maintained: but some give a different version and sense of this clause, for the tree of the field is man F4, or is man's; it is his property; but this is not a sufficient reason why it should not be cut down, whether the property of the besieger, in whose hand it is, or of the besieged, to whom it belonged: or, "for, is the tree of the field a man" F5? that has given any reason of being thus used? no; it is no cause of the war, nor of the holding out of the siege; and had it a voice, as Josephus F6 observes, it would complain of injury done it, and apologize for itself. Some supply the negative, "for the tree of the field is not a man"; so the Targum of Onkelos, as well as makes it a comparative form of speech;

``for not as a man is the tree of the field, to come out against thee in a siege;''

the Targum of Jonathan is,

``for not as a man is the tree of the field, to be hid from you in a siege;''

or, as some in Aben Ezra express it,

``it is not as a man, that it should flee from before thee;''

it can neither annoy thee, nor get out of thy way; and therefore to lift up an axe against it, to cut it down, as if it was a man, and an enemy that stood in the way, is ridiculous and weak; though the sense of the said writer himself is the same with that of our version; but what seems best is to read the words, "for, O man, of the trees of the field" (there is enough of them) to bring "before thee for a bulwark" {g}; to make use of, without cutting down fruit trees: though some understand it metaphorically, that as the tree of the field is, so is man, or should be, bring forth fruit, that he may not be cut down; see ( Matthew 3:10 ) . Plutarch F8 relates, that it was forbidden the worshippers of Osiris to destroy garden trees.


F3 (Mybr Mymy) "diebus multis", Pagninus, Montanus, Tigurine version
F4 (hdvh Ue Mdah yk) "quia homo lignum agri", Montanus; "quoniam homo est arbor agri", Drusius.
F5 "An putas lignum agri esse hominem?" Munster; "num enim homo est arbor?" Fagius.
F6 Antiqu. l. 4. c. 8. sect. 42.
F7 Vid. Reinbeck de Accent. Heb. p. 326.
F8 De lside, p. 365.