Deuteronomy 20 (English Standard Version)
Laws Concerning Warfare
1“When you go out to war against your enemies, and see horses and chariots and an army larger than your own, you shall not be afraid of them, for the LORD your God is with you, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. 2And when you draw near to the battle, the priest shall come forward and speak to the people 3and shall say to them, ‘Hear, O Israel, today you are drawing near for battle against your enemies: let not your heart faint. Do not fear or panic or be in dread of them, 4for the LORD your God is he who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies, to give you the victory.’
Psalm 20:7 (New International Version)
Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.
5“Then the officers shall speak to the people, saying, ‘Is there any man who has built a new house and has not dedicated it? Let him go back to his house, lest he die in the battle and another man dedicate it. 6And is there any man who has planted a vineyard and has not enjoyed its fruit? Let him go back to his house, lest he die in the battle and another man enjoy its fruit. 7 And is there any man who has betrothed a wife and has not taken her? Let him go back to his house, lest he die in the battle and another man take her.’ 8And the officers shall speak further to the people, and say, ‘Is there any man who is fearful and fainthearted? Let him go back to his house, lest he make the heart of his fellows melt like his own.’ 9And when the officers have finished speaking to the people, then commanders shall be appointed at the head of the people.
The story of Gideon (Judges 7) is a powerful illustration of God wanting not so much a big army as an army with a big heart! Gideon started with an army of 32,000, but it was too big, so he sent home those who were afraid, and 22,000 left. But it was still too big, so God had him send home 7,700 more, so he only had an army of 300 to fight against a Midianite army of 135,000! Yet God gave him the victory.
Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys; look on them as your own beloved sons, and they will stand by you even unto death.
10“When you draw near to a city to fight against it, offer terms of peace to it. 11And if it responds to you peaceably and it opens to you, then all the people who are found in it shall do forced labor for you and shall serve you.
To fight and conquer in all our battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.
12But if it makes no peace with you, but makes war against you, then you shall besiege it.
He who wishes to fight must first count the cost. When you engage in actual fighting, if victory is long in coming, then men’s weapons will grow dull and their ardor will be dampened. If you lay siege to a town, you will exhaust your strength. Again, if the campaign is protracted, the resources of the State will not be equal to the strain. Now, when your weapons are dulled, your ardor dampened, your strength exhausted and your treasure spent, other chieftains will spring up to take advantage of your extremity. Then no man, however wise, will be able to avert the consequences that must ensue. In war, then, let your great object be victory, not lengthy campaigns.
13And when the LORD your God gives it into your hand, you shall put all its males to the sword,
It was simply understood in the ancient world that any surviving male would be a perpetual enemy of the people who had conquered his city. Prisoners of war were often not taken in ancient warfare; enemies were simply killed.
14 but the women and the little ones, the livestock, and everything else in the city, all its spoil, you shall take as plunder for yourselves. And you shall enjoy the spoil of your enemies, which the LORD your God has given you. 15Thus you shall do to all the cities that are very far from you, which are not cities of the nations here.
16″But in the cities of these peoples that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, 17but you shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the LORD your God has commanded, 18that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the LORD your God.
19“When you besiege a city for a long time, making war against it in order to take it, you shall not destroy its trees by wielding an axe against them. You may eat from them, but you shall not cut them down. Are the trees in the field human, that they should be besieged by you? 20Only the trees that you know are not trees for food you may destroy and cut down, that you may build siege-works against the city that makes war with you, until it falls.”
from New International Biblical Commentary: Deuteronomy
by Christopher Wright
Without a Geneva Convention, Deuteronomy advocates humane exemptions from combat; requires prior negotiation; prefers nonviolence; limits the treatment of subject populations; allows for the execution of male combatants only; demands humane and dignified treatment of female captives; and insists on ecological restraint.
“The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” written by Julia Ward Howe during the American Civil War, and sung HERE by the Robert Shaw Chorale.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.