Deuteronomy 20:19
Parallel Verses
New International Version
When you lay siege to a city for a long time, fighting against it to capture it, do not destroy its trees by putting an ax to them, because you can eat their fruit. Do not cut them down. Are the trees people, that you should besiege them?

King James Bible
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 tree of the field is man's life) to employ them in the siege:

Darby Bible Translation
When thou shalt besiege a city many days, in making war against it to take it, thou shalt not destroy the trees thereof by lifting up an axe against them; for thou canst eat of them; and thou shalt not cut them down, for is the tree of the field a man that it should be besieged?

World English Bible
When you shall besiege a city a long time, in making war against it to take it, you shall not destroy its trees by wielding an axe against them; for you may eat of them, and you shall not cut them down; for is the tree of the field man, that it should be besieged of you?

Young's Literal Translation
When thou layest siege unto a city many days, to fight against it, to capture it, thou dost not destroy its trees to force an axe against them, for of them thou dost eat, and them thou dost not cut down -- for man's is the tree of the field -- to go in at thy presence in the siege.

Deuteronomy 20:19 Parallel
Commentary
Clarke's Commentary on the Bible

(For the tree of the field is man's life) to employ them in the siege - The original is exceedingly obscure, and has been variously translated, כי האדם עץ השדה לבא מפניך במצור ki haadam ets hassadeh labo mippaneycha bammatsor. The following are the chief versions: For, O man, the trees of the field are for thee to employ Them in the siege - or, For it is man, and the tree of the field, that must go before thee for a bulwark - or, For it is a tree, and not men, to increase the number of those who come against thee to the siege - or, lastly, The tree of the field (is as) a man, to go before thy face for a bulwark. The sense is sufficiently clear, though the strict grammatical meaning of the words cannot be easily ascertained: it was a merciful provision to spare all fruit-bearing trees, because they yielded the fruit which supported man's life; and it was sound policy also, for even the conquerors must perish if the means of life were cut off.

It is diabolic cruelty to add to the miseries of war the horrors of famine; and this is done where the trees of the field are cut down, the dykes broken to drown the land, the villages burnt, and the crops wilfully spoiled. O execrable war! subversive of all the charities of life!

There are several curious particulars in these verses:

1. The people had the most positive assurances from God that their enemies should not be able to prevail against them by strength, numbers, nor stratagem, because God should go with them to lead and direct them, and should fight for them; and against his might none could prevail.

2. All such interferences were standing proofs of the being of God, of his especial providence, and of the truth of their religion.

3. Though God promised them such protection, yet they were to expect it in the diligent use of their own prudence and industry. The priests, the officers, and the people, had their respective parts to act in this business; if they did their duty respectively, God would take care that they should be successful. Those who will not help themselves with the strength which God has already given them, shall not have any farther assistance from him. In all such cases, the parable of the talents affords an accurate rule.

4. Their going to war against their enemies must not deprive them of mercy and tenderness towards their brethren. He who had built a house and had not yet dwelt in it, who had planted a vineyard and had not eaten of its fruits, who had betrothed a wife and had not yet taken her to his house, was not obliged to go to battle, lest he should fall in the war, and the fruits of his industry and affection be enjoyed by others. He who was faint-hearted was also permitted to return, lest he should give way in the heat of battle, and his example have a fatal influence on others.

Treasury of Scripture Knowledge

thou shalt not

Matthew 3:10 And now also the ax is laid to the root of the trees: therefore every tree which brings not forth good fruit is hewn down...

Matthew 7:15-20 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves...

Matthew 21:19 And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said to it...

Luke 13:7-9 Then said he to the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none...

John 15:2-8 Every branch in me that bears not fruit he takes away: and every branch that bears fruit, he purges it...

for the tree, etc. or, for, O man, the tree of the field is to be employed in the siege. The original is exceedingly difficult. The LXX. has it, `Is the tree in the field a man, to enter the trench before thee?' The Latin Vulgate:`For it is a tree, and not a man, neither can it increase the number of those who war against thee;' Onkelos, `For the tree of the field is not as a man, that it should come against thee in the siege;' and to the same purpose the Arabic, Philo, and Josephus who say, `If trees could speak, they would cry out, that it is unjust that they, who were no cause of the war, should suffer the miseries of it.' However rendered, the sense is sufficiently clear: and it is a merciful provision to spare all the fruit trees for the support of both the besieged and besiegers.

Deuteronomy 26:6 And the Egyptians evil entreated us, and afflicted us, and laid on us hard bondage:

to employ, etc. [heb] to go from before thee

Library
'Fit, Though Few'
'Then Jerubbaal, who is Gideon, and all the people that were with him, rose up early, and pitched beside the well of Harod: so that the host of the Midianites were on the north side of them, by the hill of Moreh, in the valley. 2. And the Lord said unto Gideon, The people that are with thee are too many for Me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel vaunt themselves against Me, saying, Mine own hand hath saved me. 3. Now therefore go to, proclaim in the ears of the people, saying, Whosoever
Alexander Maclaren—Expositions of Holy Scripture

Deuteronomy
Owing to the comparatively loose nature of the connection between consecutive passages in the legislative section, it is difficult to present an adequate summary of the book of Deuteronomy. In the first section, i.-iv. 40, Moses, after reviewing the recent history of the people, and showing how it reveals Jehovah's love for Israel, earnestly urges upon them the duty of keeping His laws, reminding them of His spirituality and absoluteness. Then follows the appointment, iv. 41-43--here irrelevant (cf.
John Edgar McFadyen—Introduction to the Old Testament

Cross References
Deuteronomy 20:18
Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the LORD your God.

Deuteronomy 20:20
However, you may cut down trees that you know are not fruit trees and use them to build siege works until the city at war with you falls.

Jeremiah 6:6
This is what the LORD Almighty says: "Cut down the trees and build siege ramps against Jerusalem. This city must be punished; it is filled with oppression.

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