Deuteronomy 20

Listen to Deuteronomy 20

Laws Concerning Warfare

1 "When you go out to war against your enemies, and see 1horses and chariots and an army larger than your own, you shall not be afraid of them, for the LORD your God is 2with you, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.
2 And when you draw near to the battle, 3the priest shall come forward and speak to the people
3 and shall say to them, 'Hear, O Israel, today you are drawing near for battle against your enemies: let not your heart faint. Do not fear or panic or be in dread of them,
4 for the LORD your God is he who goes with you 4to fight for you against your enemies, to give you the victory.'
5 Then the officers shall speak to the people, saying, 'Is there any man who has built a new house and has not dedicated it? Let him go back to his house, lest he die in the battle and another man dedicate it.
6 And is there any man who has planted a vineyard and has not 5enjoyed its fruit? Let him go back to his house, lest he die in the battle and another man enjoy its fruit.
7 6And is there any man who has betrothed a wife and has not taken her? Let him go back to his house, lest he die in the battle and another man take her.'
8 And the officers shall speak further to the people, and say, 7'Is there any man who is fearful and fainthearted? Let him go back to his house, lest he make the heart of his fellows melt like his own.'
9 And when the officers have finished speaking to the people, then commanders shall be appointed at the head of the people.
10 "When you draw near to a city to fight against it, 8offer terms of peace to it.
11 And if it responds to you peaceably and it opens to you, then all the people who are found in it shall do forced labor for you and shall serve you.
12 But if it makes no peace with you, but makes war against you, then you shall besiege it.
13 And when the LORD your God gives it into your hand, 9you shall put all its males to the sword,
14 10but the women and the little ones, the livestock, and everything else in the city, all its spoil, you 11shall take as plunder for yourselves. And 12you shall enjoy the spoil of your enemies, which the LORD your God has given you.
15 Thus you shall do to all the cities that are very far from you, which are not cities of the nations here.
16 But 13in the cities of these peoples that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes,
17 but 14you shall devote them to complete destruction,[a] the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the LORD your God has commanded,
18 that 15they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you 16sin against the LORD your God.
19 "When you besiege a city for a long time, making war against it in order to take it, 17you shall not destroy its trees by wielding an axe against them. You may eat from them, but you shall not cut them down. Are the trees in the field human, that they should be besieged by you?
20 Only the trees that you know are not trees for food you may destroy and cut down, that you may build siegeworks against the city that makes war with you, until it 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 17

  • 1. [Joshua 17:18; Psalms 20:7; Isaiah 31:1]
  • 2. Deuteronomy 31:6, 8; 2 Chronicles 13:12; 2 Chronicles 32:8
  • 3. [Numbers 10:8, 9; Numbers 31:6]
  • 4. Deuteronomy 1:30; Deuteronomy 3:22; Joshua 23:10
  • 5. Deuteronomy 28:30; Leviticus 19:23-25; [1 Corinthians 9:7]
  • 6. [Deuteronomy 24:5; Deuteronomy 28:30]
  • 7. [Judges 7:3]
  • 8. Judges 21:13; [Deuteronomy 2:26; 2 Samuel 20:18, 20]
  • 9. Numbers 31:7
  • 10. Numbers 31:9
  • 11. Joshua 8:2
  • 12. Joshua 22:8
  • 13. Deuteronomy 7:1, 2; Numbers 33:52; Joshua 11:14
  • 14. See Deuteronomy 7:2
  • 15. Deuteronomy 7:4; Deuteronomy 12:30, 31; Deuteronomy 18:9
  • 16. Exodus 23:33
  • 17. [2 Kings 3:19, 25]

Footnotes 1

  • [a]. That is, set apart (devote) as an offering to the Lord (for destruction)

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