Deuteronomy 20:10
When thou comest nigh unto a city to fight against it, then proclaim peace unto it.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
Deuteronomy 20:10-20. SIEGES.

(10) When thou comest nigh . . . proclaim peace.—Not as the children of Dan did, who massacred the inhabitants of Laish without warning (Judges 18:27-28). Even in the wars of Joshua, the cities that “stood still in their strength” were generally spared (Joshua 11:13).

(15) Thusi.e., sparing the women and the little ones.

(16-18) But of the cities of these people . . . thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth . . . that they teach you not to do after all their abominations.—Upon the inhabitants of these cities the Israelites executed the sentence of Jehovah. Their abominations are sufficiently indicated in Leviticus 18:24-28; Leviticus 20:23.

These verses (16-18) are parenthetical; Deuteronomy 20:19 returns to the previous subject.

(19) And thou shalt not cut them down (for the tree of the field is man’s life).—Literally, the passage seems rather to mean this, Is the tree of the field a man, that it should escape thee and enter into the siege? It will not run away and fight in the trenches as a man might do. What need is there to cut it down? This seems to be the view of the Targums, the LXX., and the Jewish commentators, besides modern authorities cited in the Variorum Bible. The destruction of the trees around Jerusalem was a notable feature of the Roman war.

20:10-12 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.Directions intended to prevent wanton destruction of life and property in sieges.10-20. When thou comest nigh unto a city to fight against it, then proclaim peace unto it—An important principle is here introduced into the war law of Israel regarding the people they fought against and the cities they besieged. With "the cities of those people which God doth give thee" in Canaan, it was to be a war of utter extermination (De 20:17, 18). But when on a just occasion, they went against other nations, they were first to make a proclamation of peace, which if allowed by a surrender, the people would become dependent [De 20:11], and in the relation of tributaries the conquered nations would receive the highest blessings from alliance with the chosen people; they would be brought to the knowledge of Israel's God and of Israel's worship, as well as a participation of Israel's privileges. But if the besieged city refused to capitulate and be taken, a universal massacre was to be made of the males while the women and children were to be preserved and kindly treated (De 20:13, 14). By this means a provision was made for a friendly and useful connection being established between the captors and the captives; and Israel, even through her conquests, would prove a blessing to the nations. This seems to be understood not of the cities of the Canaanites, as is manifest from Deu 20:16-18, who were under an absolute sentence of utter destruction, Exodus 23:32,33 Deu 7:1,2; whence they are blamed that made any league or peace with them, Judges 2:2; but of the cities either of other nations who injured or disturbed them, or commenced war against them, or aided their enemies, or oppressed their friends and allies; or of the Hebrews themselves, if they were guilty or abettors of idolatry or apostacy from God, or of sedition or rebellion against authority, or of giving protection and defence to capital offenders. See Ge 15 Jud 20 2Sa 20, &c.

When thou comest nigh unto a city to fight against it,.... This is to be understood of an arbitrary war, as Jarchi observes; which they engaged in of themselves, or were provoked to by their enemies; which was their own choice, and according to their own will and pleasure; and their conduct towards their enemies in it was different from that in a war with the seven nations, commanded by the Lord, and distinguished from it, Deuteronomy 20:15.

then proclaim peace unto it; that is, offer them terms of peace; which were, that the inhabitants of it should renounce idolatry, and become their tributaries and servants.

When thou comest nigh unto a city to fight against it, then proclaim peace unto it.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
10. When thou drawest nigh] Cp. Deuteronomy 20:2.

to fight against it] With another preposition the same vb is used of attacking or besieging a city, Jdg 9:45, 1 Samuel 23:1, etc.

proclaim peace unto it] Jdg 21:13. Negotiations between enemies on the eve of battle were frequent (e.g. Jdg 11:12-18, 1 Kings 20:2 ff.) and it cannot have been unusual for besiegers to offer to the besieged their lives on condition of surrender (2 Kings 18:28 ff.). For a case among the Arabs see Doughty Ar. Des. II. 429.

The humanity here enjoined by D must be estimated in the light of the ḥerem, according to which for religious reasons heathen enemies were never to be spared. The injunction therefore is not so much a mitigation of the rigours common in Semitic warfare as a qualification of the religious zeal with which Israel (like Islam) fought their foes. For an instance in which after a siege had begun a Jewish besieger listened favourably to the petitions of the besieged see 1Ma 13:43 ff. (Simon at Gezer).

10–18. Of the Capture of Heathen Cities

Before besieging a city Israel shall offer peace, and if it surrenders its people shall be subject to service (Deuteronomy 20:10 f.). But if it will not, Israel shall lay siege, and having taken it, shall slay every male, but reserve women, children, cattle and spoil for booty (Deuteronomy 20:12-14), a milder form of the ḥerem; so in the case of distant cities. But of the cities of the land, nothing that breathes is to be saved; to this severest form of the ḥerem must all the seven nations be put (Deuteronomy 20:15-17), so that they teach not Israel their abominations (Deuteronomy 20:18).—In the Sg. address except for Deuteronomy 20:18, possibly an addition from Deuteronomy 7:4; Deuteronomy 7:25, etc.

Cornill’s opinion (Einl.3 26) that all of 15–18 is secondary is too drastic: it is a fundamental principle of D not to allow mercy where there is any risk thereby to the purity of Israel’s religion. Steuern.’s milder suggestion, that the formulas in 14 which Jehovah thy God has given thee and 16 which … is to give thee for an inheritance and the list of nations in 17 (so too Meyer, ZATW i. 135) are editorial, is possible. On the question whether the law implies the survival of Canaanites when it was written see Introd. § 11.

Characteristically D enjoins less rigorous measures in war than were usual at the time, but only when there is no danger of Israel being tempted by them to the worship of other gods. In modern Arab raids women and children are never touched and no prisoners are made. The men are killed if they defend their property or are left unharmed if they have nothing or are defenceless (Jennings-Bramley PEFQ 1908, 33; confirmed by other travellers). But Islam, like Israel, when waging war against peoples of another faith has not observed these equities.

Verses 10-20. - Directions concerning the besieging of towns. In the case of a town at a distance, not belonging to any of the Canaanitish tribes, on advancing against it they were first of all to summon the inhabitants to a peaceable surrender and submission (cf. Judges 21:13). If this was complied with, the inhabitants were to become tributary to the Israelites and serve them; but if this was refused, the town was to be besieged, and, when taken, all the males were to be slain, and the women and children, as well as all the booty that was in the place, were to be taken as the prey of the conquerors, who were to appropriate the spoil to their own use. Verse 10. - Then proclaim peace unto it; i.e. invite it peaceably to surrender. Deuteronomy 20:10Instructions Concerning Sieges. - Deuteronomy 20:10, Deuteronomy 20:11. On advancing against a town to attack it, they were "to call to it for peace," i.e., to summon it to make a peaceable surrender and submission (cf. Judges 21:13). "If it answered peace," i.e., returned an answer conducing to peace, and "opened" (sc., its gates), the whole of its inhabitants were to become tributary to Israel, and serve it; consequently even those who were armed were not to be put to death, for Israel was not to shed blood unnecessarily. מס does not mean feudal service, but a feudal slave (see at Exodus 1:11).
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