Deuteronomy 20:1
When thou goest out to battle against thine enemies, and seest horses, and chariots, and a people more than thou, be not afraid of them: for the LORD thy God is with thee, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.
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(1) When thou goest out to battle—i.e., generally; not only in the immediate conquest of Canaan. Yet it may be observed that in the writings of Moses it is foreseen that the completion of the conquest will be gradual, and that Israel will have to go to battle many times before all enemies are overcome.

Horses and chariots.—The Israelitish army was chiefly, or rather entirely, composed of infantry, in most of the great victories won by them.

Deuteronomy 20:1. When thou goest out to battle against thine enemies — The land of Canaan being to be gained by conquest, in a war of God’s special appointment; and the Israelites, after their settlement in it, being likely to be exposed to invasions from, or quarrels with the neighbouring nations, Moses judged it necessary to leave them some standing rules for their conduct in both these kinds of war. The first and great rule was, to commit their cause to God, depending with entire confidence upon that divine power which had so often and so wonderfully delivered them, without the least fear or discouragement at the superior force or terrible appearance of their enemies. And seest horses and chariots — The armies of the Israelites consisted wholly of foot, and their law seems to have obliged them to continue so, in order that their reliance might be entirely on God, Deuteronomy 17:16. But the Egyptians, Canaanites, and other nations, had the advantage of horses and chariots, in which they placed their confidence. Thus the psalmist: “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we will remember the name of the Lord our God.” These chariots were sometimes armed with scythes, to rush in among the foot, and cut them down like grass, which made them very formidable. These are the chariots of iron, mentioned Jdg 4:3.

20:1-9 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, Ps 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.Horses, and chariots - The most formidable elements of an Oriental host, which the Canaanites possessed in great numbers; compare Joshua 17:16; Judges 4:3; 1 Samuel 13:5. Israel could not match these with corresponding forces (compare Deuteronomy 17:16 note and references), but, having the God of battles on its side, was not to be dismayed by them; the assumption being that the war had the sanction of God, and was consequently just. CHAPTER 20

De 20:1-20. The Priests' Exhortation to Encourage the People to Battle.

1. When thou goest out to battle against thine enemies—In the approaching invasion of Canaan, or in any just and defensive war, the Israelites had reason to expect the presence and favor of God.The priest’s exhortation to encourage the people to fight their enemies, Deu 20:1-4. The officers’ proclamation who are to be dismissed from the war, Deu 20:5-9. A proclamation of peace to be made to besieged cities, Deu 20:10, and to deal with them as they accept or refuse it, Deu 20:11-18. What trees were to be cut down for the siege, and what not, Deu 20:19,20.

When thou goest out to battle, upon a just and necessary cause, as upon great provocation, or for thy own defence.

When thou goest out to battle against thine enemies,.... There were two sorts of war the Israelites were engaged in, one commanded and another permitted, as Maimonides (c) distinguishes; one was by the order and appointment of God, as against the seven nations of Canaan; the other was voluntary and arbitrary, which was left to their own discretion and will, as they saw fit, when they were provoked or distressed, or were invaded by their enemies, or they saw reason to go out against them, and either act the offensive or defensive part, or both; and of each of these some things are said in this chapter:

and seest horses and chariots, and a people more than thou; the Israelites had no horses, and so no chariots, their armies were all infantry; but their neighbouring nations that made war with them had a large cavalry, and multitudes of chariots, which made them very formidable; thus Shishak, king of Egypt, in the times of Rehoboam, came against Jerusalem with 1200 chariots and 60,000, horsemen, and people without number; and Zerah the Ethiopian, in the times of Asa, came against him with an host of 100,000 men, and three hundred chariots, 2 Chronicles 12:2.

be not afraid of them; because of the strength of their cavalry, the terrible approaches of their chariots, and the number of their men:

for the Lord thy God is with thee; hence, as Hezekiah says, more would be with them than with their enemies, with whom was an arm of flesh, but with them the Lord their God, 2 Chronicles 32:7 and so the Targum of Jonathan,"for all of them shall be reckoned as one horse and one chariot before the Lord your God;''with whom numbers are nothing; and which adds,"for his Word shall be your help;''the eternal Logos, or Word of God; so Onkelos; and if God and his Word, his only begotten Son, are on the side of his people, they have nothing to fear from enemies, though ever so many and mighty:

which brought thee out of the land of Egypt; which is observed for the encouragement of their faith and confidence in him; for he that did that for them, what is it he cannot or will not do?

(c) Hilchot Melachim, c. 7. sect. 1.

When {a} thou goest out to battle against thine enemies, and seest horses, and chariots, and a people more than thou, be not afraid of them: for the LORD thy God is with thee, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.

(a) Meaning, upon just occasion: for God does not permit his people to fight every time it seems good to them.

1. When thou goest forth to war, etc.] So Deuteronomy 21:10, cp. Deuteronomy 23:9 (10). On go forth see Deuteronomy 13:13 (14). Enemies, so Sam. LXX; Heb. enemy (but collective).

and seest horses, and chariots] Foreign to early Israel, see on Deuteronomy 17:16 Joshua 17:16, Jdg 1:19; Jdg 4:3.

and a people more than thou, thou shalt not, etc.] So Sam. LXX, Heb. omits and. On the rest see Deuteronomy 7:17 ff.

the Lord thy God is with thee] Cp. Deuteronomy 1:30; Deuteronomy 1:42, Deuteronomy 7:21, Isaiah 7:14; Isaiah 8:8.

which brought thee up] instead of the usual brought thee forth, Deuteronomy 7:19, etc. Was it on the strength of this verse that Josiah adventured on his fatal encounter with Pharaoh-Necoh in 612 b.c.?

1–9. Of War and Exemptions from Service in it

When Israel goes to war with a foe more numerous and having horses and chariots they shall not fear; Jehovah is with them (Deuteronomy 20:1). On the eve of the campaign a priest shall exhort the people (Deuteronomy 20:2-4). Officers shall discharge every man who has built a house and not dedicated it (Deuteronomy 20:5), or planted a vineyard but not completed the rites opening its fruits to common use (Deuteronomy 20:6), or betrothed a wife but not taken her (Deuteronomy 20:7); and all who are faint-hearted (Deuteronomy 20:8). This done captains shall be appointed (Deuteronomy 20:9).—In the Sg. address except for Deuteronomy 20:2 a, where, however, LXX has Sg. and the Heb. Pl. is due to the attraction of the vbs in the priest’s speech to the ranks, in which the Pl. address is natural.

Thus Steuern.’s allotment of this part to his. Pl. author loses one of its reasons. His other, the use in Deuteronomy 20:2 of the people instead of Israel, common in Sg. passages, is not relevant to a quotation which besides has not the usual Pl. phrase for fearing (see on Deuteronomy 1:29); while his suggestion that Deuteronomy 20:1 is borrowed from Deuteronomy 21:10, Deuteronomy 23:9 (10), and Deuteronomy 7:17 and so editorial, is ungrounded. It is more natural to take Deuteronomy 20:2-4 as secondary (so Berth. and Marti) because of the Plurals, because they repeat Deuteronomy 20:1, and because the priest appears in them alone (Berth.: from a time when there was no king but a high-priest in Israel). Yet even this is doubtful; for (as we have seen) the Pl. in Deuteronomy 20:2 a is accidental, while the presence of a priest at the opening of a campaign, attended by sacrifices and oracles, was to be expected, and is confirmed for the time of the Judges and early Monarchy by such passages as Jdg 20:26, 1 Samuel 4:3 f., 1 Samuel 14:18 f., etc.

I see, therefore, no reason for doubting the unity and originality of the whole passage.

Exemptions from war-service are granted by most Asiatic powers, but their range varies much from time to time. In Palestine the Turks used to let an only son and widows’ sons go free, and for a time every married man. Later service was obligatory upon all except Christians and the tent-dwelling Arabs (Baldensperger PEFQ, 1906, 18). Recently Christians have been obliged to serve.

Verse 1. - When they found themselves opposed by an army more numerous than their own, and better furnished with the material of warfare, they were not to be afraid or discouraged, for Jehovah their God, who had brought them out of Egypt, would be with them to protect and help them (cf. Psalm 20:7). Horses and chariots. In these, which constituted the main strength of the nations with which they would have to contend, the Israelites were deficient; and to them these were always objects of terror in war (Joshua 11:4; Joshua 17:16; Judges 1:19; Judges 4:3; 1 Samuel 13:5). Deuteronomy 20:1Instructions Relating to Military Service. - If the Israelites went out to battle against their foes, and saw horses and chariots, a people more numerous than they were, they were not to be afraid, because Jehovah their God was with them. Horses and chariots constituted the principal strength of the enemies round about Israel; not of the Egyptians only (Exodus 14:7), and of the Canaanites and Philistines (Joshua 17:16; Judges 4:3; 1 Samuel 13:5), but of the Syrians also (2 Samuel 8:4; 1 Chronicles 18:4; 1 Chronicles 19:18; cf. Psalm 20:8).
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