And when the LORD your God has delivered it into your hands, you shall smite every male thereof with the edge of the sword:
EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
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.
A just punishment of their obstinate refusal of peace offered.
And when the Lord thy God hath delivered it into thine hands,.... When, what with pressures without, and calamities within, the city is obliged to surrender: this is not to be imputed to the methods and arts of war used in besieging, or to the courage and skill of the besiegers; but to the power and providence of God succeeding means used, and sending famine or pestilence among the besieged, and inclining their hearts to deliver up their city:
thou shall smite every male thereof with the edge of the sword; the men in it, grown persons, as distinguished from little ones in the next verse; because it was owing to these it was not surrendered at once, when terms of peace were offered. And when the LORD thy God hath delivered it into thine hands, thou shalt smite every male thereof with the edge of the sword:
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)13
. when the Lord thy God delivereth it
] As to this D has no doubt.
thou shalt smite
, etc.] See on Deuteronomy 2:34
Moreover, the shoterim, whose duty it was, as the keepers of the genealogical tables, to appoint the men who were bound to serve, were to release such of the men who had been summoned to the war as had entered into domestic relations, which would make it a harder thing for them to be exposed to death than for any of the others: for example, any man who had built a new house and had not yet consecrated it, or had planted a vineyard and not yet eaten any of the fruit of it, or was betrothed to a wife and had not yet married her, - that such persons might not die before they had enjoyed the fruits of what they had done. "Who is the man, who," i.e., whoever, every man who. "Consecrated the house," viz., by taking possession and dwelling in it; entrance into the house was probably connected with a hospitable entertainment. According to Josephus (Ant. iv. 8, 41), the enjoyment of them was to last a year (according to the analogy of Deuteronomy 24:5
). The Rabbins elaborated special ceremonies, among which Jonathan in his Targum describes the fastening of slips with sentences out of the law written upon them to the door-posts, as being the most important (see at Deuteronomy 6:9
: for further details, see Selden, de Synedriis l. iii. c. 14, 15). Cerem is hardly to be restricted to vineyards, but applied to olive-plantations as well (see at Leviticus 19:10
). חלּל, to make common, is to be explained from the fact, that when fruit-trees were planted (Leviticus 19:23
.), or vines set (Judges 19:24
), the fruit was not to be eaten for the first three years, and that of the fourth year was to be consecrated to the Lord; and it was only the fruit that was gathered in the fifth year which could be applied by the owner to his own use, - in other words, could be made common. The command to send away from the army to his own home a man who was betrothed but had not yet taken his wife, is extended still further in Deuteronomy 24:5
, where it is stated that a newly married man was to be exempt for a whole year from military service and other public burdens. The intention of these instructions was neither to send away all persons who were unwilling to go into the war, and thus avoid the danger of their interfering with the readiness and courage of the rest of the army in prospect of the battle, nor to spare the lives of those persons to whom life was especially dear; but rather to avoid depriving any member of the covenant nation of his enjoyment of the good things of this life bestowed upon him by the Lord.
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