Front Page

Series Theme: FRAMEWORKS: Deuteronomy

(Return to Old Testament Contents)



Part 3: Ch.12-20 Moses reminds them of Stipulations for a Holy Nation

Ch.12 – The One Place of Worship

Ch.13 – Beware Deception

Ch.14 – Food & Tithing

Ch.15 – Year Seven Changes & Firstborn Animals

Ch. 16 – Festivals, Justice & Worship

Ch. 17 – Worship, Justice & any Future King

Ch. 18 – Maintain Right Spiritual Practices   

Ch. 19 – Rules for Cities of Refuge

Ch. 20 – Rules for Going to War



FRAMEWORKS: Deuteronomy 20: Rules for Going to War


v.1-4 Priests to Encourage the army

v.5-8 Those to be Excused from Fighting

v.9-12 Offering Peace

v.13-18 Treating the Enemy in Victory

v.19,20 Sparing the Environment



v.1-4 Priests to Encourage the army


v.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.

v.2 When you are about to go into battle, the priest shall come forward and address the army.

v.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.

v.4 For the Lord your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory.”


[Notes: In a fallen world, there is the recognition that enemies will arise as will wars. For Israel it is different in that as the people of God, God will be on their side when they are attacked, and the role of the priest was to remind the army of that.]



v.5-8 Those to be Excused from Fighting


v.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.

v.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.

v.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.”

v.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.”


[Notes: Four valid reasons why a person may be excused fighting as part of the army.]



v.9-12 Offering Peace


v.9 When the officers have finished speaking to the army, they shall appoint commanders over it.

v.10 When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace.

v.11 If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you.

v.12 If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in battle, lay siege to that city.


[Notes: Israel's early history indicates they only fought when God directed and an enemy was going to come against them. Yet even in such circumstances, contrary to what often seems popular opinion, neither the Lord nor Israel looked to automatically destroy enemies. These verses indicate a need to allow the enemy opportunity to surrender without fighting and loss of life.]



v.13-18 Treating the Enemy in Victory


v.13 When the Lord your God delivers it into your hand, put to the sword all the men in it.

v.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.

v.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.

v.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.

v.17 Completely destroy [The Hebrew term refers to the irrevocable giving over of things or persons to the Lord, often by totally destroying them.] them—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the Lord your God has commanded you.

v.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.


[Notes: With a memory of two massive conflicts in the past hundred years and many lesser conflicts in that period, sometimes for dubious reasons, we in the twenty-first century should be slow to denounce the practices in war in these early times. One should always remember there was the opportunity of running away rather than surrender. The requirement to kill enemy soldiers is not surprising, a tactic to prevent them regrouping and coming back at you at a later date – which is what the Amalekites and Midianites did when Israel failed to do this. Everyone and everything else could be taken as plunder. However [v.16] in the Land that should not apply because all signs of the previous occupants should be removed or driven out (though that never fully happened – see later in Judges.) The reasoning is quite clear – if the pagan occupants remain they will lead Israel into worshipping ‘other gods' and undermine the nation.]



v.19,20 Sparing the Environment


v.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?

v.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.


[Notes: Wise use of the environment in war, bearing in mind it will be your land one day – only use non-fruit trees.]