Deuteronomy 20:8
And the officers shall speak further to the people, and they shall say, What man is there that is fearful and fainthearted? let him go and return to his house, lest his brethren's heart faint as well as his heart.
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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.See the margin and references. The fruit of newly-planted trees was set apart from common uses for four years. 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. No text from Poole on this verse. And the officers shall speak further unto the people,.... According to Maimonides (n), the priest the anointed of war spoke to the end of Deuteronomy 20:7 and which the officers repeated after him to the people aloud, as before observed; and then after that an officer speaks of himself, or in his own words, and not in those of the priest, as follows:

what man that is fearful, &c. and then another officer causes all the people to hear it:

and they shall say, what man is there that is fearful and fainthearted? that has not courage to face his enemies, to whom the terrors of war, and especially of death, are dreadful; the Targum of Jonathan adds,"because of his sin;''whose sins stare him in the face, and lie heavy on his conscience; so that he is afraid he shall die in battle, and in his sins, and suffer divine vengeance; both these senses are observed in the Misnah (y). According to R. Akiba, a fearful and fainthearted man is one"that cannot stand in battle array, or behold a drawn sword; but R. Jose the Galilean says, he is one that is afraid of the transgressions he has committed; and therefore the law joins to this all those things for which a man may return;''as having built a new house, planted a vineyard, and betrothed a wife; that so it might be thought it was on account of one or other of these that he returned, and not through faintheartedness, either because of the terrors of war, or of his own conscience for his sins:

let him go and return to his house, lest his brethren's heart faint as well as his heart; lest, by his pale looks and trembling joints, his fainting fits and swoons, he discourage the rest in the same company with him, and by his example make them unfit for war also.

(n) Ut supra. (Hilchot Melachim, c. 7. sect. 3.) (y) Misn. Sotah, c. 8. sect. 5.

And the officers shall speak further unto the people, and they shall say, What man is there that is fearful and fainthearted? let him go and return unto his house, lest his brethren's heart faint as well as his heart.
8. shall speak further] The change in the formula is no proof that this is a later addition to the law (as Steuern. avers).

fearful and fainthearted] It is true that such were also supposed to be possessed by evil spirits (Schwally). For a Celtic analogy see Scott’s Fair Maid of Perth, in which Conacher’s timidity is attributed by his foster-father to possession. But there is no evidence of such a superstition here. The rule is rather in sympathy with this Book’s constant insistence upon whole-hearted devotion in the service of God. In no direction of life is He content with less. Cp. Jdg 7:3.

lest his brethren’s heart, etc.] ‘Fear is catching.’ (M. Henry.)Verse 8. - The shoterim were also to allow any that were naturally timid and fainthearted to return to their homes, lest, if they remained with the host, others, infected by them, should lose courage and become unfit for service. His brethren's heart faint; literally, flow down or melt (cf. Joshua 7:5). In Deuteronomy 1:28, this verb is rendered by "discouraged." If they were thus drawing near to war, i.e., arranging themselves for war for the purpose of being mustered and marching in order into the battle (not just as the battle was commencing), the priest was to address the warriors, and infuse courage into them by pointing to the help of the Lord. "The priest" is not the high priest, but the priest who accompanied the army, like Phinehas in the war against the Midianites (Numbers 31:6; cf. 1 Samuel 4:4, 1 Samuel 4:11; 2 Chronicles 13:12), whom the Rabbins call המלחמה משׁיח (the anointed of the battle), and raise to the highest dignity next to the high priest, no doubt simply upon the ground of Numbers 31:6 (see Lundius, jd. Heiligth. p. 523).
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