christine's bible study

The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever. Isa 40:8

deuteronomy 20:1-20, murder and warfare

Read Deuteronomy 20:1-20 at Bible Gateway.

Previously: deuteronomy 19:11-21, the murderer shall not find refuge

(Please review the teaching tools of scripture, especially the Hebrew paragraph divisions and chiastic structures. The paragraphs marked by an “s” at their close are weak paragraphs, which indicate a change of facet but not a change of theme or topic. The paragraphs marked by a “p” at their close are strong paragraphs, which indicate the completion of a theme or topic.)

Deu 20:1-20 is the third section explaining the sixth commandment, Do not commit murder. The sixth commandment is explained in Deu 19:1-21:9, and this is my summary of it. The Hebrew paragraph divisions are:

Deu 20:1-9 {s} Who shall serve in the army
Deu 20:10-18 {s} Waging just warfare
Deu 20:19-20 {p} Do not destroy fruit trees in warfare

The topic is still murder, but the venue changes from regular society to warfare. In warfare, the possibility of death increases dramatically, so the Lord has wisdom to reduce the number of unnecessary deaths on both sides of the conflict. The first paragraph in this sections decrees who is eligible to serve in the army. This question has already been addressed generally in Torah.

“Take a census of all the congregation of the children of Israel, by their families, by their fathers’ houses, according to the number of names, every male individually, from twenty years old and above—all who are able to go to war in Israel. You and Aaron shall number them by their armies.” Num 1:2-3

First of all, those who are eligible to serve begins with males twenty years old and above. Women and children (children defined as age 0-19) are not eligible to serve and are non- combatants. Now, males twenty years old and above: fear not! Fear and lack of courage go hand in hand. Fear paralyzes someone from acting, to either defend or attack. Therefore being faint of heart increases the chances of being killed in warfare. Therefore God instructs all those who are faint of heart to go home, not only for their own protection, but also for the protection of the men around them. A spirit of fear, or a spirit of courage, are both alike contagious, and the one must be discouraged and the other encouraged, to minimize death in warfare.

But also, those men whose hearts are divided, whose hearts have a reason to dwell with the life behind in society instead of the immediate future of the battle, those men are also to go home. Captains (men of courage with experience and wisdom) are then assigned to lead the men in battle.

You might say the first wisdom in reducing the amount of death through warfare, is to make your army fit for battle, and there is more to it than issuing rifles or going through physical training. The second wisdom in reducing the amount of death through warfare, is to offer a sincere peace before any hostilities have taken place. Everyone lives! Tribute is a kind of tax which conquered peoples paid to the conqueror. No one is removed from the city, no one is made a slave, nothing is destroyed. For the conquered, life continued on as before, except their tax rate increased.

This note of historical trivia might be of interest: the tax rate in most first world countries that is paid to our own governments today, is much higher than conquered peoples paid to their conquerors.

If the city offers battle instead of peace, then when the city is taken, the males are killed but the women and children spared. Warfare is directed only at enemy combatants, in other words. Non- combatants are spared being murdered by warfare. I know in our day and age we are shocked to read this, that enemy combatants forfeit their lives if they lose, but they knew this when the city decided to engage in battle instead of accepting the sincere peace. The enemy combatants of the ancient world did not ask for quarter or give it. However, this command was astonishing for the ancient world: non- combatants were not normally spared during warfare throughout history (we will find out what God’s commands are concerning the non- combatants coming up; this section of Torah is concerned with preserving the lives of the innocent). This command expresses mercy as well as justice.

The exception in all of the Old Testament is the seven nations of the Canaanites which Israel dispossessed from the Promised Land. Is God being unfair? No, we learned back in the beginning of Deuteronomy that out of all the pagan nations of the world who had rejected God, the seven nations of the Canaanites were the only nations who did so from an active and malicious hatred of God. It is probably not a coincidence that also in these nations only, the form of paganism practiced was unique in its depravity.

And finally, the command to spare fruit trees, and by extension, farms and fields which produce food. Causing the death of a city by famine is murder, as surely as if that city had been put to the edge of the sword.

Continued: deuteronomy 21:1-9, unsolved murder


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