Deuteronomy 20:5
And the officers shall speak to the people, saying, What man is there that has built a new house, and has not dedicated it? let him go and return to his house, lest he die in the battle, and another man dedicate it.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(5) And the officers.—The shôterim of Deuteronomy 16:18; the civil magistrates apparently. The organisation of Israel was not military, but military leaders were to be appointed for special services, as appears by Deuteronomy 20:9, “they shall make captains of the armies.” The captains of thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens were called shôterim (Deuteronomy 1:15).

(5-8) What man is there . . .—These questions show that, primarily, all Israelites of military age (20 to 50) were expected to attend the muster; then those who were unprepared for the campaign were suffered to depart. The only recorded instance of the observance of these rules is in Judges 7:3, at the muster of Gideon’s army. The proclamation “Whosoever, is afraid let him depart,” sent away 22,000 out of 32,000 on that occasion, or rather more than two-thirds of the army!

Deuteronomy 20:5-6. What man is there — This and the following exceptions are to be understood only of a war allowed by God, not in a war commanded by God, not in the approaching war with the Canaanites, from which even the bridegroom was not exempt, as the Jewish writers note. Hath planted a vineyard — This and the former dispensation were generally convenient, but more necessary in the beginning of their settlement in Canaan, for the encouragement of those who should build houses or plant vineyards, which were chargeable to them, and beneficial to the commonwealth. Eaten of it — Hebrew, made it common; namely, for the use of himself, and family, and friends, which it was not till the fifth year.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.The officers dedicated it - See Exodus 5:6 note.

Compare the marginal references. The expression is appropriate, because various ceremonies of a religious kind were customary among the Jews on taking possession of a new house. The immunity conferred in this verse lasted, like that in Deuteronomy 20:7 (compare Deuteronomy 24:5), for one year.

5-8. And the officers shall speak unto the people—literally, Shoterim, who are called "scribes" or "overseers" (Ex 5:6). They might be keepers of the muster-roll, or perhaps rather military heralds, whose duty it was to announce the orders of the generals (2Ch 26:11). This proclamation (De 20:5-8) must have been made previous to the priest's address, as great disorder and inconvenience must have been occasioned if the serried ranks were broken by the departure of those to whom the privilege was granted. Four grounds of exemption are expressly mentioned: (1) The dedication of a new house, which, as in all Oriental countries still, was an important event, and celebrated by festive and religious ceremonies (Ne 12:27); exemption for a year. (2) The planting of a vineyard. The fruit of the first three years being declared unfit for use, and the first-fruits producible on the fourth, the exemption in this case lasted at least four years. (3) The betrothal of a wife, which was always a considerable time before marriage. It was deemed a great hardship to leave a house unfinished, a new property half cultivated, and a recently contracted marriage; and the exemptions allowed in these cases were founded on the principle that a man's heart being deeply engrossed by something at a distance, he would not be very enthusiastic in the public service. (4) The ground of exemption was cowardice. From the composition of the Israelitish army, which was an irregular militia, all above twenty years being liable to serve, many totally unfit for war must have been called to the field; and it was therefore a prudential arrangement to rid the army of such unwarlike elements—persons who could render no efficient service, and the contagion of whose craven spirit might lead to panic and defeat. Houses were dedicated by feasting and thanksgiving to God. See Psalm 30:1 Nehemiah 12:27. Heb. hath initiated it, i. e. entered upon it, taken possession of it, dwelt in it.

Let him return to his house, lest his heart be set upon it, and thereby he be negligent or timorous in the battle, to the scandal and prejudice of others.

Another man dedicate it; and so he should lose and another get the fruit of his labours, which might seem unjust or hard. And God provides even for men’s infirmities. But this and the following exceptions are to be understood only of a war allowed by God, not in a war commanded by God, not in the approaching war with the Canaanites, from which even the bridegroom was not exempted, as the Jewish writers note. And the officers shall speak unto the people,.... What these officers were is not easy to say; they seem not to be officers of the army, for they are distinguished from captains of the armies, Deuteronomy 20:9, unless they can be thought to be general officers; but the word for them is the same that is used of such that attended the judges and were ministers to them, Deuteronomy 16:18, and perhaps they were a sort of heralds that published and proclaimed what the anointed of war had said; and so the above writer (h) affirms, that what here follows was first spoken by him, and after that (what is said, Deuteronomy 20:3) the anointed of war speaks, saying:

what man is there,.... (to the end of Deuteronomy 20:7) thus far the anointed of war speaks, and then an officer causes all the people to hear it with an high voice, saying:

what man is there that hath built a new house, and hath not dedicated it? or perfected it, as the Targum of Jonathan, not quite finished it, has not, as that paraphrast says, fixed in it the door posts, or rather perhaps he means the Mezuzah, or writing, which the Jews thought themselves obliged to fasten to the door posts of their houses; see Deuteronomy 11:20 until this was done, an house was not thought to be completed; though Jarchi interprets this of inhabitation; of a man's having built a house, but has not yet dwelt in it; see Deuteronomy 28:30, so Josephus (i) explains it, of its not having been used and enjoyed by a man a full year; but there seems to be something more than all this in dedication; for though it does not signify a consecration or dedication of it to holy uses, as the dedication of the tabernacle and temple, yet there was something done, some ceremony used at entrance into a new house; a good man entered into it, no doubt, with prayer and praise, as the thirtieth psalm was composed by David at the dedication of his house; see Nehemiah 12:27 and perhaps it was usual to have their friends together, and make a cheerful entertainment on the occasion. Ben Melech on the place, assures us it was a custom to make a feast and merriment at eating the first meal in a new house:

let him go and return to his house, lest he die in the battle, and another man dedicate it; or perfect it, as the above Targum, or dwell in it, as well as have the pleasure of entertaining his friends in it at the first opening of it; this was either a command, enjoining a man, in such a circumstance, to return, and so the rest that follow, or a permission to him, allowing him to do it if he thought fit.

(h) Hilchot Melachim, c. 7. sect. 3.((i) Antiqu. l. 4. c. 8. sect. 41.

And the officers shall speak unto the people, saying, What man is there that hath built a new house, and hath not {c} dedicated it? let him go and return to his house, lest he die in the battle, and another man dedicate it.

(c) For when they first entered to dwell in a house, they gave thanks to God, acknowledging that they had that benefit by his grace.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
5. officers] shoṭerîm, Deuteronomy 1:15, Deuteronomy 16:18.

a new house … not dedicated] The vb is used of the dedication of the Temple, 1 Kings 8:63 = 2 Chronicles 7:5, but nowhere else in the O.T. is there any mention of the dedication of a private house. (A.V. of title to Psalms 30 is misleading.) At the present day in Syria, when a house is built a goat or sheep is slain and the blood stamped (often by the open hand) on the door or walls, as the present writer has seen in Moab and elsewhere: cp. Doughty Ar. Des. i. 136, W. R. Smith Rel. Sem. 133 f., Musil, Moab, 372, Ethn. Ber. 417. The sacrifice propitiates the spirits of the disturbed soil. To leave for war without fulfilling such rites was regarded as fatal; see Schwally, 91 f., who quotes as parallel Iliad ii. 698 f.: Protesilaus, the first Greek slain by the Trojans, had left his house unfinished. That such a superstition prevailed in Israel is probable, but by the addition and another man dedicate it, D’s motive for this law is shown to be rather one of humanity.Verses 5-7. - The officers; the shoterim, the keepers of the genealogical tables (Deuteronomy 16:18). It belonged to them to appoint the men who were to serve, and to release those who had been summoned to the war, but whose domestic relations were such as to entitle them to exemption. If there was one who had built a house, but had not dedicated it, i.e. by taking possession of it and dwelling in it; or if there was one who had planted a vineyard and had not eaten of the fruit thereof; or if there was one who had betrothed a wife, but had not yet married her; - such were to be allowed to return home, lest they should die in battle, and it be left to others to consummate what they had begun. According to Josephus, this exemption was for a year, according to the analogy of Deuteronomy 24:5. Dedicated; probably formal possession was taken of the house by some solemn ceremony, followed by a festive entertainment. Vineyard. The Hebrew word (כֶּרֶם) here used designates "a field or park of the nobler plants and trees cultivated in the manner of a garden or orchard" (Ges.); so that not vineyards alone, but also olive yards and plots of the more valuable fruit trees may be intended. Hath not eaten of it; literally, hath not laid it open, made it common, i.e. begun to use it, to gather its produce for common use (cf. Deuteronomy 28:30; Jeremiah 31:5). Trees planted for food were not to be used before the fifth year of their growth (Leviticus 19:23, etc.; cf. Deuteronomy 24:5). The two men between whom the dispute lay, the accused and the witness, were to come before Jehovah, viz., before the priests and judges who should be in those days - namely, at the place of the sanctuary, where Jehovah dwelt among His people (cf. Deuteronomy 17:9), and not before the local courts, as Knobel supposes. These judges were to investigate the case most thoroughly (cf. Deuteronomy 13:15); and if the witness had spoken lies, they were to do to him as he thought to do to his brother. The words from "behold" to "his brother" are parenthetical circumstantial clauses: "And, behold, is the witness a false witness, has he spoken a lie against his brother? Ye shall do," etc. זמם, generally to meditate evil. On Deuteronomy 19:20, see Deuteronomy 13:12.
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