When you shall besiege a city a long time, in making war against it to take it…
A fruit tree may be used for timber, or it may be kept for fruit. In the legislation of Moses there is a command which directs the Hebrews to spare the fruit trees of the Promised Land. Moses knew that the land would be occupied by conquest. The Hebrews would have to besiege many of its towns and cities before they could enter them. For the siege they would require timber, and would be apt to destroy the groves of olives and palms and oranges, which have always been the wealth of Palestine. Inasmuch as they were expecting to find their homes in these conquered towns and cities, it was very important that the fruit trees should be preserved.
1. Life's opportunities and institutions are our fruit trees. They may be used for timber, or they may be preserved for fruit. It is possible to exhaust their power and vitality now, or they may be protected and developed, and made to yield fruit from generation to generation. The law of Moses — and his words here, or elsewhere, are confirmed by other portions of Holy Scripture — commands men to regard the future. Life's advantages are designed for those who shall come after us, as well as for those who now enjoy them. We are only stewards. Our interest is but a life interest. The future most not be sacrificed to the present.
2. Yet how often this sacrifice is witnessed! When I see a man who is making a fortune by dishonest practices, I feel that he is converting fruit trees into timber; when I see a young Christian, who is absorbed in all the gaieties of social life, eager for the dance and the card party and the race, I feel that he is turning his fruit trees into timber; when I see a schoolboy who refuses the education which his father offers him, I feel that he is raising an axe against the fruit trees; when I hear a man say that his business will be ruined if he becomes a Christian, I look about me to see what he is building with the timber of his fruit trees; when I meet with individuals who are neglecting the salvation of their souls for the sake of worldly pleasure, I tremble for the fruit trees; when I hear distant nations calling in vain for the Gospel, and then realise that the Church has wealth and influence, I wonder if the fruit trees are used for timber.
3. There are many ways of violating this law. The axe is busy all the time. Our fruit trees are constantly sacrificed. For men too often prefer a present gratification to a future good; and they try and gain the whole world, even at the risk of losing their immortal souls. The rich man of the parable did so, and Lazarus did not. And by and by the one was comforted and the other was tormented.
4. In our regard for the Sabbath this principle has place and importance. The Sabbath is a fruit. tree. It may be converted into timber. If you have a journey to make, you can use the Sabbath; if yon have any work to accomplish, you can employ the hours of holy time; if you wish to live for pleasure, you can count the days of pleasure in a week seven instead of six. A present and temporary advantage may thus be gained. But how about the future? Is it right or wise to break in upon the sanctity of the Sabbath? Can we prosper, can the nation prosper, without this holy day? Yet if we secularise the day now, there will soon be no Sabbath left; and when the Sabbath disappears, will not freedom disappear also, and will not the comfort of our happy homes be gone?
(H. M. Booth.).
Parallel VersesKJV: 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:
WEB: 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?