Deuteronomy 20

Instructions concerning warfare


Divisions of the chapter:

1.       Verse 1-9 – Instructions of a personal nature.

a.       Verse 1 – An admonition to not be afraid.

b.       Verse 2-4 – The message from the priest.

c.       Verse 5-8 – The message from the officers.

d.       Verse 9 – The appointment of captains of the armies.

2.       Verse 10-20 – Instructions of a national nature.

a.       Verse 10-15 – National instructions for capturing cities a long way off.

b.       Verse 16-18 – National instructions for capturing the cities of Canaan.

c.       Verse 19-20 – National instructions concerning trees.


I.    Verse 1-9 – Instructions of a personal nature.

A.     Verse 1 – An admonition to not be afraid.  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. 

1.       Israel must go to battle against their enemies, even though they have the promise of God that he will give them the land.

a.      Some believe if God promises a thing, we do not have to work for it.

b.      This is error, as the promises of God does not secure a thing for us.

c.      God’s promises make the thing sure for us if we will do whatever he desires us do.

2.       Do not look at outward circumstances.

a.      This is natural for us, and it was natural for Israel as well.

b.      Fear is natural for all when they do not think they will be victorious.

3.       God’s command is to not be afraid.

a.      God does not intend his children to “steel” themselves against fear.

b.      God intends his children to trust him when they are afraid.

c.      The word “for” means because – therefore because God is with us, we have no need of being afraid.

d.      When fear overtakes the people of God, he instructs them to think of the victory God gave them over Egypt.

e.      It is also good for us to remember past victories during present dire circumstances. 

B.     Verse 2-4 – The message from the priest.  And it shall be, when ye are come nigh unto the battle, that the priest shall approach and speak unto the people, 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; 4 For the LORD your God is he that goeth with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you.

1.       The priest first gives instructions of a spiritual nature, urging the warriors to trust God and be brave.

2.       One of the duties of the priest is to encourage the people spiritually – to think of God in the face of difficult physical circumstances. 

a.      When the Israelite warriors face the enemy, they are encouraged to think spiritually, not whether or not they can defeat this enemy.

b.      Each warrior must realize their strength is in the Lord, not in their armament, training, or overpowering numbers. 

3.       The speech of the priest.

a.      The priest should approach when the reality of the battle is near.

b.      This is the time when fear is most realized, just before the battle begins.

c.      Each Israelite is to stop his heart from fearing.

1.)    This is a command.

2.)    It is often thought that fear cannot be controlled, but according to this scripture, it can be. 

3.)    Fear can be controlled by what we are thinking.

4.)    If we think about good things, our fear will be manageable, but if we think about bad things, our fear will overtake us. 

5.)    Notice the command to stop fear:

a.)    …let not your hearts…

b.)    …fear not…

c.)    …do not tremble…

d.)    …neither be ye terrified…

d.      God goes before you – to fight for you.

1.)    Never forget that God is very aware of all our earthly circumstances, and controls each one. 

2.)    God fights for us, not against us. 

3.)    God fights for us to save us, not to defeat us. 

e.      They are not to think “positive” thoughts to aid in the victory.

4.       The message of the priest is about victory, not about possible defeat. 

a.      God’s children are often guilty of not trusting God for victory, instead so afraid of defeat and being defeated they cannot gain the victory. 

b.      God’s children (and this includes us) ought to always realize that God gives the victory, he never gives defeat, except to the enemies of God. 

5.       The main message of the priest is to cause the Israelite to think of God and his power over the enemy and how he can give them the victory.

C.     Verse 5-8 – The message from the officers.  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. 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.  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. 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. 

1.       The officers give instructions of a earthly nature, urging each man to consider himself and his household before he goes to war.

2.       It should be noted that all Israelite men go to war, but some are excused for one reason or another. 

3.       Reasons for not going to battle.

a.      A man has built a new house and not dedicated it.

1.)    God has enabled the man to have the house, and it is God’s will that he dedicate the house and live in it for a while.

2.)    If a man goes to war without enjoying the house God has given to him, it is likely he will have that pleasure on his mind and will not be able to fight as effectively in the battle. 

3.)    It would be appropriate for a man to live in his house for a while, then, after he is accustomed to it, he would be more able to leave it, knowing he has enjoyed God’s pleasure for a season. 

b.      A man has planted a vineyard and not eaten of it.

1.)    God desires his people to enjoy the fruit of their labour and does not begrudge them this pleasure.

2.)    Leviticus 19:23 states, And when ye shall come into the land, and shall have planted all manner of trees for food, then ye shall count the fruit thereof as uncircumcised: three years shall it be as uncircumcised unto you: it shall not be eaten of. 

3.)    Therefore it would be three years after a vineyard was planted that a man would not go to war. 

c.      A man is engaged to a wife, and not taken her to wife.

1.)    Deuteronomy 24:5 states, When a man hath taken a new wife, he shall not go out to war, neither shall he be charged with any business: but he shall be free at home one year, and shall cheer up his wife which he hath taken. 

2.)    God knows there is a vast difference between the hardness of fighting a war and the softness of being at home with a new wife, he allows that man to be at home for one year to enjoy that new relationship. 

d.      If a man is afraid and fainthearted. 

1.)    When Gideon make this application to his troops, 22,000 left, leaving only 10,000 troops. 

2.)    Those that remain would be unafraid, trusting God for the soon coming victory. 

3.)    Reasons to fear.

a.)    They did not hear, nor apply, the admonition of the priest to not be afraid. 

b.)    If men have an evil conscience before God, they might be afraid to trust him with their lives in the battle. 

c.)    I imagine there could have been some Israelites who were not fitted for war by their personalities, therefore they were afraid and could be dismissed from service. 

4.)    Dismissing the fearful and fainthearted keeps fear and faintheartedness from spreading to the rest of the troops.

a.)    Those men fully trusting God for the victory would be able to go to war, and not be concerned about the fearful person beside them. 

b.)    Their minds could be on destroying the enemy instead of looking out for a fellow soldier who was afraid, and might hurt them. 

c.)    Only those fully trusting the Lord should be allowed in the battle. 

D.     Verse 9 – The appointment of captains.  And it shall be, when the officers have made an end of speaking unto the people, that they shall make captains of the armies to lead the people. 

1.       The captains were not appointed until some went home.

2.       There was no need of appointing men to be captains who would go home, and the entire process be repeated. 


II.    Verse 10-20 – Instructions of a national nature.

A.     Verse 10-15 – National instructions for capturing cities a long way off.  When thou comest nigh unto a city to fight against it, then proclaim peace unto it. 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. 12 And if it will make no peace with thee, but will make war against thee, then thou shalt besiege it: 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: 14 But the women, and the little ones, and the cattle, and all that is in the city, even all the spoil thereof, shalt thou take unto thyself; and thou shalt eat the spoil of thine enemies, which the LORD thy God hath given thee. 15 Thus shalt thou do unto all the cities which are very far off from thee, which are not of the cities of these nations.

B.     Verse 16-18 – National instructions for capturing the cities of Canaan.  But of the cities of these people, which the LORD thy God doth give thee for an inheritance, thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth: 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: 18 That they teach you not to do after all their abominations, which they have done unto their gods; so should ye sin against the LORD your God.

C.     Verse 19-20 – National instructions concerning trees.  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: 20 Only the trees which thou knowest that they be not trees for meat, thou shalt destroy and cut them down; and thou shalt build bulwarks against the city that maketh war with thee, until it be subdued.