Deuteronomy 20

Laws Concerning War with Distant Enemies

1When you go to war against your enemies and see chariotry
Heb “horse and chariot.”
and troops
Heb “people.”
who outnumber you, do not be afraid of them, for the Lord your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt, is with you.
2As you move forward for battle, the priest
The reference to the priest suggests also the presence of the ark of the covenant, the visible sign of God’s presence. The whole setting is clearly that of “holy war” or “Yahweh war,” in which God himself takes initiative as the true commander of the forces of Israel (cf. Exod 14:14–18; 15:3–10; Deut 3:22; 7:18–24; 31:6, 8).
will approach and say to the soldiers,
Heb “and he will say to the people.” Cf. NIV, NCV, CEV “the army”; NRSV, NLT “the troops.”
3“Listen, Israel! Today you are moving forward to do battle with your enemies. Do not be fainthearted. Do not fear and tremble or be terrified because of them, 4for the Lord your God goes with you to fight on your behalf against your enemies to give you victory.”
Or “to save you” (so KJV, NASB, NCV); or “to deliver you.”
5Moreover, the officers are to say to the troops,
Heb “people” (also in vv. 8, 9).
“Who among you
Heb “Who [is] the man” (also in vv. 6, 7, 8).
has built a new house and not dedicated
The Hebrew term חָנַךְ (khanakh) occurs elsewhere only with respect to the dedication of Solomon’s temple (1 Kgs 8:63 = 2 Chr 7:5). There it has a religious connotation which, indeed, may be the case here as well. The noun form (חָנֻכָּה, khanukah) is associated with the consecration of the great temple altar (2 Chr 7:9) and of the postexilic wall of Jerusalem (Neh 12:27). In Maccabean times the festival of Hanukkah was introduced to celebrate the rededication of the temple following its desecration by Antiochus IV Epiphanes (1 Macc 4:36–61).
it? He may go home, lest he die in battle and someone else
Heb “another man.”
dedicate it.
6Or who among you has planted a vineyard and not benefited from it? He may go home, lest he die in battle and someone else benefit from it. 7Or who among you
Heb “Who [is] the man.”
has become engaged to a woman but has not married her? He may go home, lest he die in battle and someone else marry her.”
8In addition, the officers are to say to the troops, “Who among you is afraid and fainthearted? He may go home so that he will not make his fellow soldier’s
Heb “his brother’s.”
heart as fearful
Heb “melted.”
as his own.”
9Then, when the officers have finished speaking,
The Hebrew text includes “to the people,” but this phrase has not been included in the translation for stylistic reasons.
they must appoint unit commanders
Heb “princes of hosts.”
to lead the troops.

10 When you approach a city to wage war against it, offer it terms of peace. 11If it accepts your terms
Heb “if it answers you peace.”
and submits to you, all the people found in it will become your slaves.
Heb “become as a vassal and will serve you.” The Hebrew term translated slaves (מַס, mas) refers either to Israelites who were pressed into civil service, especially under Solomon (1 Kgs 5:27; 9:15, 21; 12:18), or (as here) to foreigners forced as prisoners of war to become slaves to Israel. The Gibeonites exemplify this type of servitude (Josh 9:3–27; cf. Josh 16:10; 17:13; Judg 1:28, 30–35; Isa 31:8; Lam 1:1).
12If it does not accept terms of peace but makes war with you, then you are to lay siege to it. 13The Lord your God will deliver it over to you
Heb “to your hands.”
and you must kill every single male by the sword.
14However, the women, little children, cattle, and anything else in the city – all its plunder – you may take for yourselves as spoil. You may take from your enemies the plunder that the Lord your God has given you. 15This is how you are to deal with all those cities located far from you, those that do not belong to these nearby nations.

Laws Concerning War with Canaanite Nations

16 As for the cities of these peoples that
The antecedent of the relative pronoun is “cities.”
the Lord your God is going to give you as an inheritance, you must not allow a single living thing
Heb “any breath.”
to survive.
17Instead you must utterly annihilate them
The Hebrew text uses the infinitive absolute for emphasis, which the translation seeks to reflect with “utterly.” Cf. CEV “completely wipe out.”
The Hebrew verb refers to placing persons or things so evil and/or impure as to be irredeemable under God’s judgment, usually to the extent of their complete destruction. See also the note on the phrase “the divine judgment” in Deut 2:34.
– the Hittites,
Hittite. The center of Hittite power was in Anatolia (central modern Turkey). In the Late Bronze Age (1550–1200 b.c.) they were at their zenith, establishing outposts and colonies near and far. Some elements were obviously in Canaan at the time of the Conquest (1400–1350 b.c.).
Amorite. Originally from the upper Euphrates region (Amurru), the Amorites appear to have migrated into Canaan beginning in 2200 b.c. or thereabouts.
Canaanite. These were the indigenous peoples of the land of Palestine, going back to the beginning of recorded history (ca. 3000 b.c.). The OT identifies them as descendants of Ham (Gen 10:6), the only Hamites to have settled north and east of Egypt.
Perizzite. This probably refers to a subgroup of Canaanites (Gen 13:7; 34:30).
Hivite. These are usually thought to be the same as the Hurrians, a people well-known in ancient Near Eastern texts. They are likely identical to the Horites (see note on “Horites” in Deut 2:12).
and Jebusites
The LXX adds “Girgashites” here at the end of the list in order to list the full (and usual) complement of seven (see note on “seven” in Deut 7:1).
Jebusite. These people inhabited the hill country, particularly in and about Jerusalem (cf. Num 13:29; Josh 15:8; 2 Sam 5:6; 24:16).
– just as the Lord your God has commanded you,
18so that they cannot teach you all the abhorrent ways they worship
Heb “to do according to all their abominations which they do for their gods.”
their gods, causing you to sin against the Lord your God.
19If you besiege a city for a long time while attempting to capture it,
Heb “to fight against it to capture it.”
you must not chop down its trees,
Heb “you must not destroy its trees by chopping them with an iron” (i.e., an ax).
for you may eat fruit
Heb “you may eat from them.” The direct object is not expressed; the word “fruit” is supplied in the translation for clarity.
from them and should not cut them down. A tree in the field is not human that you should besiege it!
Heb “to go before you in siege.”
20However, you may chop down any tree you know is not suitable for food,
Heb “however, a tree which you know is not a tree for food you may destroy and cut down.”
and you may use it to build siege works
Heb “[an] enclosure.” The term מָצוֹר (matsor) may refer to encircling ditches or to surrounding stagings. See R. de Vaux, Ancient Israel, 238.
against the city that is making war with you until that city falls.

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