Deuteronomy 20:19
When you shall besiege a city a long time, in making war against it to take it, you shall not destroy the trees thereof by forcing an ax against them: for you may eat of them, and you shall not cut them down (for the tree of the field is man's life) to employ them in the siege:
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Deuteronomy 20:19. Thou shalt not destroy the trees — Which is to be understood of a general destruction of them, not of cutting down some few of them, as the convenience of the siege might require. Man’s life — The sustenance or support of his life.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.The parenthesis may he more literally rendered "for man is a tree of the field," i. e., has his life from the tree of the field, is supported in life by it (compare Deuteronomy 24:6). The Egyptians seem invariably to have cut down the fruit-trees in war. 19. thou shalt not destroy the trees thereof by forcing an axe against them—In a protracted siege, wood would be required for various purposes, both for military works and for fuel. But fruit-bearing trees were to be carefully spared; and, indeed, in warm countries like India, where the people live much more on fruit than we do, the destruction of a fruit tree is considered a sort of sacrilege. The trees thereof, to wit, the fruit trees, as appears from the following words; which is to be understood of a general destruction of them, not of the cutting down of some few of them, as the conveniency of the siege might require.

Man’s life, i.e. the sustenance or support of his life, as life is taken Deu 24:6. But this place may be otherwise translated, as it is in the margin of our English Bibles: For, O man, (the Hebrew letter he being here the note of a vocative case, as it is Psalm 9:7)

the tree (or trees, the singular number for the plural, as is common) of the field is (or ought, as the Hebrew lamed is used Esther 9:1 Psalm 62:10) to be employed in the siege; or, as it is in the Hebrew, to go before thy face, i.e. to make fences for thy security, in the siege.

The trees of the field: I here understand not its general signification of all trees, including fruit-bearing trees, as that phrase is commonly used, but in its more special and distinct signification, for unfruitful trees, as it is taken Isaiah 55:12; or such as grow only in open fields, such as are elsewhere called the trees of the wood, 1 Chronicles 16:33 Isaiah 7:2, or the trees of the forest, Song of Solomon 2:3 Isaiah 10:19, which are opposed to the trees of the gardens, Genesis 3:2,8 Ec 2:5 Ezekiel 31:9; as the flower of the field, Psalm 103:15 Isaiah 40:6, and the lilies of the field, Matthew 6:28, are opposed to those that grow in gardens, and are preserved and cultivated by the gardener’s art and care. And so it is a very proper argument to dissuade from the destroying of fruit trees, because the wild and unfruitful trees were sufficient for the use of the siege. And this sense fitly agrees with the following words, where the concession or grant, which here is delivered in more ambiguous terms, of the tree of the field, is repeated and explained concerning the trees which thou knowest that they be not trees for meat. When thou shalt besiege a city a long time, in making war against it to take it,.... Before it will surrender; it holding out the siege a considerable time: the Hebrew text says, "many days" (c); which the Targum of Jonathan interprets of all the seven days, to make war against it, in order to subdue it on the sabbath day. Jarchi observes, that "days" signify two, and "many" three; hence it is said, they do not besiege cities of the Gentiles less than three days before the sabbath; and he also says it teaches that peace is opened or proclaimed two or three days first:

thou shall not destroy the trees thereof by forcing an axe against them; that is, not cut them down with an axe, such trees as were without the city, and in the power of the besiegers: what sort of trees are meant appears by what follows:

for thou mayest eat of them; the fruit of them, which shows them to be fruit trees, and gives a reason for not cutting them down, since they would be useful in supplying them with what was agreeable to eat:

and thou shalt not cut them down to employ them in the siege; in building bulwarks and batteries, and making of machines to cast out stones, and the like, to the annoyance of the besieged; which might as well or better be made of other trees, as in the next verse:

for the tree of the field is man's life; by the fruit of which, among other things, his life is supported and maintained: but some give a different version and sense of this clause, for the tree of the field is man (d), or is man's; it is his property; but this is not a sufficient reason why it should not be cut down, whether the property of the besieger, in whose hand it is, or of the besieged, to whom it belonged: or, "for, is the tree of the field a man" (e)? that has given any reason of being thus used? no; it is no cause of the war, nor of the holding out of the siege; and had it a voice, as Josephus (f) observes, it would complain of injury done it, and apologize for itself. Some supply the negative, "for the tree of the field is not a man"; so the Targum of Onkelos, as well as makes it a comparative form of speech;"for not as a man is the tree of the field, to come out against thee in a siege;''the Targum of Jonathan is,

"for not as a man is the tree of the field, to be hid from you in a siege;''or, as some in Aben Ezra express it,"it is not as a man, that it should flee from before thee;''it can neither annoy thee, nor get out of thy way; and therefore to lift up an axe against it, to cut it down, as if it was a man, and an enemy that stood in the way, is ridiculous and weak; though the sense of the said writer himself is the same with that of our version; but what seems best is to read the words, "for, O man, of the trees of the field" (there is enough of them) to bring "before thee for a bulwark" (g); to make use of, without cutting down fruit trees: though some understand it metaphorically, that as the tree of the field is, so is man, or should be, bring forth fruit, that he may not be cut down; see Matthew 3:10. Plutarch (h) relates, that it was forbidden the worshippers of Osiris to destroy garden trees.

(c) "diebus multis", Pagninus, Montanus, Tigurine version, &c. (d) "quia homo lignum agri", Montanus; "quoniam homo est arbor agri", Drusius. (e) "An putas lignum agri esse hominem?" Munster; "num enim homo est arbor?" Fagius. (f) Antiqu. l. 4. c. 8. sect. 42. (g) Vid. Reinbeck de Accent. Heb. p. 326. (h) De lside, p. 365.

When thou shalt besiege a city a long time, in making war against it to take it, thou shalt not destroy the trees thereof by forcing an axe against them: for thou mayest eat of them, and thou shalt not cut them down (for the {g} tree of the field is man's life) to employ them in the siege:

(g) Some read: For man shall be instead of the tree of the field, to come out in the siege against you.

19. besiege … a long time] From this and build bulwarks in Deuteronomy 20:19, we see that Israel were already familiar with siege-operations and did not depend on carrying a city by immediate storm, as the nomad Semites were obliged to do or retire.

in making war against it to take it] Curiously redundant.

by wielding an axe against them] The vb as in Deuteronomy 19:5.

for thou mayest] Or, but. Even here a utilitarian reason is given.

for is the tree of the field man …?] or human. So according to LXX and other versions. The Heb. pointing, which omits the interrogative, gives no sense.

that it should be besieged of thee] Lit. that it should come into siege before thee: the technical phrase, 2 Kings 24:10; 2 Kings 25:2. Cp. our state of siege.Verse 19. - To employ them in the siege; literally, to come, i.e. that they should come into the siege before thee, i.e. either as thine adversary or to be used by thee for the siege. For the tree of the field is man's life. This may mean that the tree supplies food for the sustenance of man's life. But as the words stand in the text, they can only be rendered thus: "For the man s a tree of the field." This gives no good sense, or indeed, any sense at all; and hence it is proposed to alter the reading of the text so as to produce a meaning that shall be acceptable. From an early period the expedient has been resorted to of reading the clause interrogatively, and, instead of regarding it as parenthetical, connecting it with the following words, thus: "Is the tree of the field a man to come into siege before thee?" So the LXX., Rashi, etc. It has been thought that only a very slight change in the punctuation is required to justify this rendering (הֶאָדָם instead of הָאָדָם); but more than this is acquired: the subject and object are hereby reversed, and this is more than can be allowed. From an early period also it has been proposed to read the clause as a negation, "For the tree of the field is not a man to come into siege before thee." So the Targum of Onkelos, Abarbanel, Vulgate, etc. The sense here is substantially the same as in the preceding, and the same general objection applies to both. To both also it may be objected that by this way of taking the passage Moses is made to utter a sentiment at once puerile and irrelevant; for what need to declare formally, or in effect, that a tree is not a man? and what reason is there in this for not cutting down fruit trees any more than other trees? In the margin of the Authorized Version an alternative rendering is proposed, "O man, the tree of the field is to be employed in the siege." But admitting this as a possible rendering, it is exposed to the objection, on the one hand, that it is improbable that in a prosaic address like this an explanatory appeal would be introduced; and on the other, that it is inconceivable that Moses would in this casual and startling way anticipate what he goes on in the next sentence to express deliberately and clearly. The passage has probably suffered at the hands of a transcriber, and the text as we have it is corrupt. The sense put upon it in the Authorized Version is that suggested by Ibn Ezra, and in the absence of anything better this may be accepted. The fruit tree is man's life, as it furnishes that by which life is sustained, just as, in Deuteronomy 24:6, the millstone is called a man's life, inasmuch as it supplies the means of life. If the hostile town, however, did not make peace, but prepared for war, the Israelites were to besiege it; and if Jehovah gave it into their hands, they were to slay all the men in it without reserve ("with the edge of the sword," see at Genesis 34:26); but the women and children and all that was in the city, all its spoil, they were to take as prey for themselves, and to consume (eat) the spoil, i.e., to make use of it for their own maintenance.
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