Deuteronomy 20

Going to War

1 When you go to war against your enemies and see horses and chariots and an army greater than yours, do not be afraid of them, because the LORD your God, who brought you up out of Egypt, will be with you.
2 When you are about to go into battle, the priest shall come forward and address the army.
3 He shall say: “Hear, Israel: Today you are going into battle against your enemies. Do not be fainthearted or afraid; do not panic or be terrified by them.
4 For the LORD your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory.”
5 The officers shall say to the army: “Has anyone built a new house and not yet begun to live in it? Let him go home, or he may die in battle and someone else may begin to live in it.
6 Has anyone planted a vineyard and not begun to enjoy it? Let him go home, or he may die in battle and someone else enjoy it.
7 Has anyone become pledged to a woman and not married her? Let him go home, or he may die in battle and someone else marry her.”
8 Then the officers shall add, “Is anyone afraid or fainthearted? Let him go home so that his fellow soldiers will not become disheartened too.”
9 When the officers have finished speaking to the army, they shall appoint commanders over it.
10 When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace.
11 If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you.
12 If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in battle, lay siege to that city.
13 When the LORD your God delivers it into your hand, put to the sword all the men in it.
14 As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city, you may take these as plunder for yourselves. And you may use the plunder the LORD your God gives you from your enemies.
15 This is how you are to treat all the cities that are at a distance from you and do not belong to the nations nearby.
16 However, in the cities of the nations the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes.
17 Completely destroy[a] them—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the LORD your God has commanded you.
18 Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the LORD your God.
19 When you lay siege to a city for a long time, fighting against it to capture it, do not destroy its trees by putting an ax to them, because you can eat their fruit. Do not cut them down. Are the trees people, that you should besiege them?[b]
20 However, you may cut down trees that you know are not fruit trees and use them to build siege works until the city at war with you falls.

Deuteronomy 20 Commentary

Chapter 20

Exhortation and proclamation respecting those who went to war. (1-9) Peace to be offered, What cities were to be devoted. (10-20)

Verses 1-9 In the wars wherein Israel engaged according to the will of God, they might expect the Divine assistance. The Lord was to be their only confidence. In these respects they were types of the Christian's warfare. Those unwilling to fight, must be sent away. The unwillingness might arise from a man's outward condition. God would not be served by men forced against their will. Thy people shall be willing, ( Psalms 110:3 ) . In running the Christian race, and fighting the good fight of faith, we must lay aside all that would make us unwilling. If a man's unwillingness rose from weakness and fear, he had leave to return from the war. The reason here given is, lest his brethren's heart fail as well as his heart. We must take heed that we fear not with the fear of them that are afraid, Isa. 8:12 .

Verses 10-12 The Israelites are here directed about the nations on whom they made war. Let this show God's grace in dealing with sinners. He proclaims peace, and beseeches them to be reconciled. Let it also show us our duty in dealing with our brethren. Whoever are for war, we must be for peace. Of the cities given to Israel, none of their inhabitants must be left. Since it could not be expected that they should be cured of their idolatry, they would hurt Israel. These regulations are not the rules of our conduct, but Christ's law of love. The horrors of war must fill the feeling heart with anguish upon every recollection; and are proofs of the wickedness of man, the power of Satan, and the just vengeance of God, who thus scourges a guilty world. But how dreadful their case who are engaged in unequal conflict with their Maker, who will not submit to render him the easy tribute of worship and praise! Certain ruin awaits them. Let neither the number nor the power of the enemies of our souls dismay us; nor let even our own weakness cause us to tremble or to faint. The Lord will save us; but in this war let none engage whose hearts are fond of the world, or afraid of the cross and the conflict. Care is here taken that in besieging cities the fruit-trees should not be destroyed. God is a better friend to man than he is to himself; and God's law consults our interests and comforts; while our own appetites and passions, which we indulge, are enemies to our welfare. Many of the Divine precepts restrain us from destroying that which is for our life and food. The Jews understand this as forbidding all wilful waste upon any account whatsoever. Every creature of God is good; as nothing is to be refused, so nothing is to be abused. We may live to want what we carelessly waste.

Cross References 25

  • 1. Psalms 20:7; Isaiah 31:1
  • 2. S Numbers 14:9; Deuteronomy 31:6,8
  • 3. S Deuteronomy 3:22; S 1 Samuel 17:45; 2 Chronicles 32:7-8
  • 4. Isaiah 41:10
  • 5. 1 Samuel 17:32; Job 23:16; Psalms 22:14; Isaiah 7:4; Isaiah 35:4; Jeremiah 51:46; Joshua 23:10
  • 6. 2 Chronicles 20:14-22
  • 7. S Exodus 14:14; 1 Chronicles 5:22; Nehemiah 4:20; Deuteronomy 1:30; Deuteronomy 3:22; Joshua 23:10
  • 8. Judges 12:3; Judges 15:18; Psalms 44:7; Psalms 144:10
  • 9. Nehemiah 12:27
  • 10. Jeremiah 31:5; Ezekiel 28:26; Micah 1:6
  • 11. 1 Corinthians 9:7
  • 12. Deuteronomy 24:5; Proverbs 5:18
  • 13. Judges 7:3
  • 14. S Deuteronomy 2:26; Luke 14:31-32
  • 15. ver 15; 2 Kings 6:22
  • 16. 1 Kings 9:21; 1 Chronicles 22:2; Isaiah 31:8
  • 17. Numbers 31:7
  • 18. Joshua 8:2; Joshua 22:8
  • 19. S Numbers 31:11
  • 20. S Numbers 31:53
  • 21. S ver 11; Joshua 9:9
  • 22. Exodus 23:31-33; Numbers 21:2-3; S Deuteronomy 7:2; Joshua 6:21; Joshua 10:1; Joshua 11:14
  • 23. S Exodus 34:16; Deuteronomy 7:4; Deuteronomy 12:30-31
  • 24. S Exodus 10:7; Exodus 23:33
  • 25. Jeremiah 6:6

Footnotes 2

  • [a]. The Hebrew term refers to the irrevocable giving over of things or persons to the Lord, often by totally destroying them.
  • [b]. Or "down to use in the siege, for the fruit trees are for the benefit of people."

Chapter Summary


In this chapter rules are given to be observed in times of war. When a battle was near, a priest was to address the soldiers, and encourage them to fight, De 20:1-4, then the officers were to declare who might return home, De 20:5-9 when an enemy's city was approached, peace was to be proclaimed on certain conditions, which, if accepted of, the inhabitants were to be tributaries and servants, but if not, when taken, all were to be put to the sword, excepting women, children, and cattle, De 20:10-15, but those of the seven nations were to be utterly destroyed, De 20:16-18, and, during a siege, no trees bearing fruit fit for food were to be cut down, De 20:19.

Deuteronomy 20 Commentaries

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