When you come near to a city to fight against it, then proclaim peace to it.…
If these rules embody a severity happily rare in modern warfare, they also exhibit a forbearance which many modern nations might well learn from. We have here -
I. WAR'S HORRORS MITIGATED.
1. Peace was invariably to be offered before attack to a foreign city (vers. 10, 11). It is presumed that the war was just, and undertaken with the sanction of Jehovah. If peace was accepted, no one was to be injured, but only tribute imposed. The peacemaking spirit is pleasing to God (Matthew 5:9; Romans 12:18).
2. In the case of a city taken by storm, no women, children, or cattle were to be destroyed (ver. 14). The amount of self-restraint which this implies can only be appreciated after reading the accounts of warfare as anciently conducted. But we may get some light upon it by studying the horrors of the sack of a city, even in modern times, and under European, or even British, generalship (see histories of the Peninsular wars).
3. In the sparing of trees useful for food (ver. 19). War conducted on these principles, however severe in certain of its aspects, cannot be described as barbarous.
II. WAR'S SEVERITIES EXEMPLIFIED.
1. The resisting city, if foreign, was to be punished by the slaughter of its adult males (ver. 13). This, which sounds so harsh, was perhaps a necessity from the circumstances of the nation. It certainly typifies the "utter destruction" which shall fall on all resisting God's will, and placing themselves in an attitude of hostility to his kingdom on the earth.
2. The Canaanites were to be completely exterminated (vers. 16-18). This case differs from the other in being the execution of a judicial sentence, as well as an indispensable means to their own preservation against corruption (ver. 18). A general type of the fate which shall overtake the ungodly. - J.O.
Parallel VersesKJV: When thou comest nigh unto a city to fight against it, then proclaim peace unto it.