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Bible Commentaries

John Trapp Complete Commentary

Deuteronomy 20

 

 

Verse 1

Deuteronomy 20:1 When thou goest out to battle against thine enemies, and seest horses, and chariots, [and] a people more than thou, be not afraid of them: for the LORD thy God [is] with thee, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.

Ver. 1. When thou goest out to battle.] It is not unlawful, therefore, to go to war, as Lactantius and some others held; whether it be pro religione vel pro regione: only because it is easier to stir strife than to stop and stint it, - non enim in eiusdem potestate est initium belli, eiusque finis, (a) - war is not rashly to be undertaken, lest it befall men as in the battle between the dragon and the elephant. The dragon sucketh out the blood of the elephant, and the weight of the falling elephant oppresseth the dragon, and so both perish. (b) St Augustine would never pray for such as had willfully and voluntarily thrust themselves into unnecessary wars. (c)

For the Lord thy God is with thee.] And how many reckonest thou him for? - as Antigonus said to his discouraged soldiers. "The Lord is a man of war"; [Exodus 15:3] or, as the Chaldee there expresseth it, "a victor of wars." [2 Chronicles 32:8] Si Deus pro nobis, &c. [Romans 8:31]


Verse 2

Deuteronomy 20:2 And it shall be, when ye are come nigh unto the battle, that the priest shall approach and speak unto the people,

Ver. 2. That the priest shall approach.] For some priests ordinarily went along with the army; not to be Tuba rebellionis, as the Papists said of Zuinglius, nor evangelium flammeum praedicare, as they said of Beza, as a common firebrand or fomenter of discord; but to blow the holy trumpets, "that the people might be remembered before the Lord, and saved from their enemies"; [Numbers 10:8-9 2 Chronicles 13:12] and to say unto them, as in 2 Chronicles 19:11, "Deal courageously, and the Lord shall be with the good." The valour of the Gauls was admired by the Romans. It proceeded from that instruction of the Druids, their priests, concerning the immortality of the soul, &c.


Verse 3

Deuteronomy 20:3 And shall say unto them, Hear, O Israel, ye approach this day unto battle against your enemies: let not your hearts faint, fear not, and do not tremble, neither be ye terrified because of them;

Ver. 4. For the Lord your God is he.] Quid metuit homo in sinu Dei positus, Deo armatus? Creatures of an inferior nature will be courageous in the presence of their masters: and shall not men, when they have God with them? Xerxes was wont to pitch his tent on high, and stand looking on his army when in fight, to encourage them. So God.


Verse 4

Deuteronomy 20:4 For the LORD your God [is] he that goeth with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you.

Ver. 5. And hath not dedicated it.] By prayers, hymns, and other holy solemnities then usual; [Nehemiah 12:27 Psalms 30:1 title} that "the house of David might be as God, as the Angel of the Lord before them." {Zechariah 12:8]


Verse 5

Deuteronomy 20:5 And the officers shall speak unto the people, saying, What man [is there] that hath built a new house, and hath not dedicated it? let him go and return to his house, lest he die in the battle, and another man dedicate it.

Ver. 6. That hath planted a vineyard.] This privilege might encourage men to build and plant, which is good and profitable for the commonwealth, as the apostle speaketh in a like case. [Titus 3:8]


Verse 6

Deuteronomy 20:6 And what man [is he] that hath planted a vineyard, and hath not [yet] eaten of it? let him [also] go and return unto his house, lest he die in the battle, and another man eat of it.

Ver. 7. That hath betrothed a wife.] A commendable custom, even among heathens also: Placuit, despondi; nuptiis hic dictus est dies, said he in Terence.


Verse 7

Deuteronomy 20:7 And what man [is there] that hath betrothed a wife, and hath not taken her? let him go and return unto his house, lest he die in the battle, and another man take her.

Ver. 8. That is fearful and faint hearted.] This cowardly passion dispirits a man, expectorates his manliness, and exposeth him to the cruel mercy of an enemy. Better be temerarious than timorous! "Ye fugitives of Ephraim," is no small brand of dishonour; [ 12:4] besides that melting and trying judgments follow such at heels as account one pair of heels worth two pair of hands. [Jeremiah 9:3-7] The French fled so fast before the English at the battle of Terwin, that it was called the battle of Spurs. (a)

Lest his brethren’s hearts.] Cowardice is catching, and shows that men, like stags, have great horns, but want hearts.


Verse 8

Deuteronomy 20:8 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.

Ver. 9. Captains of the armies to lead the people.] As Hannibal did, of whom Livy (a) reports, that Princeps proelium inibat, ultimus, conserto proelio, excedebat; he was first in the battle, and last out. And the same is storied of Albert, marquess of Brandenburg: In congressibus prior pugnam iniit, victor h praelio excessit ultimus. (b)


Verse 10

Deuteronomy 20:10 When thou comest nigh unto a city to fight against it, then proclaim peace unto it.

Ver. 10. Then proclaim peace unto it.] Heb., Shall call unto it for peace. This hath been the practice of most nations. The Romans sent their caduceum et hastam. The herald was commanded to throw his weapons on the enemy’s ground, with this speech: Ego populusque Rom. hominibus Hermundulis bellum dico facioque: I and the people of Rome bid battle to the Hermunduli. (a) Alexander the Great, when he besieged any city, would send his herald into it with a burning torch in his hand, to proclaim, that if any man would repair and submit himself unto him while that torch continued burning, he should be safe; otherwise they should expect nothing but fire and sword. Tamerlane, when he came against any place, first he hung out a white flag of grace, then a red, and lastly a black flag, to show that now there was no hope of mercy for them. (b) φιλει ο Yεος προσημαινειν; God loves to give warning, saith Herodotus, a heathen. And the Turks are of opinion that God would not prosper them in their assaults, except they first make to their enemies some offer of peace, how unreasonable soever, it forceth not. So they did at the last fatal siege of Constantinople. (c)


Verse 11

Deuteronomy 20:11 And it shall be, if it make thee answer of peace, and open unto thee, then it shall be, [that] all the people [that is] found therein shall be tributaries unto thee, and they shall serve thee.

Ver. 11. And open unto thee.] As Tournay in France did to our Henry VIII, with ten thousand pound sterling for the citizens’ redemption; yet was it ever till then counted so invincible, that this sentence was engraven over one of the gates, Iannes ton me a perda ton pucellage, thou hast never lost thy maidenhead. (a)


Verse 13

Deuteronomy 20:13 And when the LORD thy God hath delivered it into thine hands, thou shalt smite every male thereof with the edge of the sword:

Ver. 13. Thou shalt smite every male thereof.] Let them pay for their pervicacy. So Caesar answered the Adviatici, that he would have spared their city if they had yielded before he had assaulted. (a) And so the Duke of Alva much blamed Prosper Columnus, for receiving a castle upon condition after he had beaten it with the cannon. (b) Howbeit in the Lord Protector’s expedition into Scotland in the reign of Edward VI, one castle, when they understood they were not able to hold out, and that their obstinacy had excluded all hope of pardon, they made petition that they might not presently be slain, but have some time to recommend their souls to God, and afterwards be hanged. This respite being first obtained, their pardon did the more easily ensue. (c)


Verse 17

Deuteronomy 20:17 But thou shalt utterly destroy them; [namely], the Hittites, and the Amorites, the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; as the LORD thy God hath commanded thee:

Ver. 17. The Hivites and the Jebusites.] The Girgashites are not reckoned among the rest, as neither are they in Joshua 9:1, haply because they accepted of conditions of peace.


Verse 19

Deuteronomy 20:19 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:

Ver. 19. Thou shalt not cut them down.] Fruit trees might not be destroyed. Doth God take care for trees? It was to teach us, that if we bring forth fruit fit for God’s taste and relish, sanctifying God and Christ in our hearts, we shall not be destroyed. Oaks bring forth apples, such as they are, and acorns, but not fit for meat.

 


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Bibliography Information
Trapp, John. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 20:4". John Trapp Complete Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/jtc/deuteronomy-20.html. 1865-1868.

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