כִּי־תֵצֵא לַמִּלְחָמָה עַל־אֹיְבֶיךָ וְרָאִיתָ סוּס וָרֶכֶב עַם רַב מִמְּךָ לֹא תִירָא מֵהֶם כִּי־יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ 20:1
עִמָּךְ הַמַּעַלְךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם
Deut. 20:1 “When you will go forth to battle against your enemies and see horse and chariot, a people greater than you, you need not be afraid because of them, for the Lord, your God, Who brought you up from the land of Egypt will be with you.”
This verse contains all singular second-person pronouns, so it relates to the people as a whole. Many but not all of the second-person pronouns in the remaining verses are singular. I will highlight where the number is significant.
On another point -- important in its own right -- is that the first fifteen verses of this chapter apparently apply not to the entering of the Israelites into the Promised Land, but instead to later times after they are settled in their land. Why this is so becomes obvious in several verses that I will remark on later.
וְהָיָה כְּקָרָבְכֶם אֶל־הַמִּלְחָמָה וְנִגַּשׁ הַכֹּהֵן וְדִבֶּר אֶל־הָעָם 20:2
Deut. 20:2 “And it shall be, when He will be bringing you near to the battle, that the priest shall approach and speak to the people,
The one second-person pronoun, you, in this verse is plural. This pattern of plural number continues in the next two verses. Note the following: This verse ends with a phrase that continues into the first phrase in the next verse. It says “... the priest shall ... speak to the people, and say to them....” The use of the term them, a plural pronoun referring to the people, normally a singular noun, hints to us that the priest is to address the individuals of the people. And sure enough, the words the priest is to say include plural second-person pronouns.
וְאָמַר אֲלֵהֶם שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל אַתֶּם קְרֵבִים הַיֹּום לַמִּלְחָמָה עַל־אֹיְבֵיכֶם אַל־יֵרַךְ לְבַבְכֶם אַל־תִּירְאוּ 20:3
וְאַל־תַּחְפְּזוּ וְאַל־תַּעַרְצוּ מִפְּנֵיהֶם
Deut. 20:3 and say to them, ‘Hear O Israel, you will be drawing near today to battle against your enemies; let your heart not be faint; you need not fear or be alarmed or awed because of their appearance.’
כִּי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם הַהֹלֵךְ עִםָּכֶם לְהִלָּחֵם לָכֶם עִם־אֹיְבֵיכֶם לְהֹושִׁיעַ אֶתְכֶם 20:4
Deut. 20:4 ‘For the Lord your God will be going with you to fight for you with your enemies to save you.’”
וְדִבְּרוּ הַשֹּׁטְרִים אֶל־הָעָם לֵאמֹר מִי־הָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר בָּנָה בַיִת־חָדָשׁ וְלֹא חֲנָכֹו יֵלֵךְ וְיָשֹׁב לְבֵיתֹו פֶּן־ 20:5
יָמוּת בַּמִּלְחָמָה וְאִישׁ אַחֵר יַחְנְכֶנּוּ
Deut. 20:5 “And the officers shall speak to the people saying, ‘Who is the man who has built a new house and has not dedicated it? Let him go so that he returns to his house, lest he would die in the battle and another man would dedicate it.’
This verse offers strong support for my belief that these fifteen verses are for the later future once the Israelites are settled in their land. At the point in time described by this scribe, as Moses was speaking to the people, no one had yet built a house. None will have built a house until they were settled. The next verse is of a similar nature -- no one had yet planted a vineyard.
וּמִי־הָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר־נָטַע כֶּרֶם וְלֹא חִלְּלֹו יֵלֵךְ וְיָשֹׁב לְבֵיתֹו פֶּן־יָמוּת בַּמִּלְחָמָה וְאִישׁ אַחֵר יְחַלְּלֶנּוּ 20:6
Deut. 20:6 ‘And who is the man who has planted a vineyard and has not gathered its fruit? Let him go so that he returns to his house, lest he would die in the battle and another man would gather its fruit.’
וּמִי־הָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר־אֵרַשׂ אִשָּׁה וְלֹא לְקָחָהּ יֵלֵךְ וְיָשֹׁב לְבֵיתֹו פֶּן־יָמוּת בַּמִּלְחָמָה וְאִישׁ אַחֵר יִקָּחֶנָּה 20:7
Deut. 20:7 ‘And who is the man who has betrothed a wife and has not taken her? Let him go so that he returns to his house lest he would die in the battle and another man would take her.’”
Verses 20:5 and 20:6 are peculiar in the context in which they appear. I have to assume that these exemptions are addressed to the men of Reuben, Gad, and the half tribe of Menasseh; none of the other tribes have yet had the opportunity to do these things. Yet I don’t believe these two and a half tribes have had the time to do these things either. Therefore, I have to conclude that these three verses are primarily provided here as guidelines, not for the impending battle, but for battles the Israelites will be fighting in the future. I also assume that these guidelines are meant to be valid to this day. I must further assume that such exemptions would have to be given at a time when a battle was imminent, not as a general rule in a military draft when a battle was not impending.
וְיָסְפוּ הַשֹּׁטְרִים לְדַבֵּר אֶל־הָעָם וְאָמְרוּ מִי־הָאִישׁ הַיָּרֵא וְרַךְ הַלֵּבָב יֵלֵךְ וְיָשֹׁב לְבֵיתֹו וְלֹא יִמַּס 20:8
אֶת־לְבַב אֶחָיו כִּלְבָבֹו
Deut. 20:8 “And the officers shall continue to speak to the people and say, ‘Who is the man who is fearful and faint of heart? Let him go so that he returns to his house and will not melt the heart of his brother to be like his heart.’”
This verse is a bit different from the previous three. It seems rather unlikely that anyone, faint-hearted or not, would step forward to be exempted for this reason. These young fighting men were not like their fathers. So I must assume that the purpose for this verse is to issue a warning to the future faint-hearted of any time to not volunteer for a battle unless they fully intended to fight bravely.
וְהָיָה כְּכַלֹּת הַשֹּׁטְרִים לְדַבֵּר אֶל־הָעָם וּפָקְדוּ שָׂרֵי צְבָאֹות בְּרֹאשׁ הָעָם 20:9
Deut. 20:9 “And it shall be when the officers will be ceasing to speak to the people, that they shall appoint captains of companies at the head of the people.”
כִּי־תִקְרַב אֶל־עִיר לְהִלָּחֵם עָלֶיהָ וְקָרָאתָ אֵלֶיהָ לְשָׁלֹום 20:10
Deut. 20:10 “When you will draw near to a city to fight against it, then you shall call to it for peace.”
From this verse forward, all but three (in v. 20:18) of the second-person pronouns are singular.
וְהָיָה אִם־שָׁלֹום תַּעַנְךָ וּפָתְחָה לָךְ וְהָיָה כָּל־הָעָם הַנִּמְצָא־בָהּ יִהְיוּ לְךָ לָמַס וַעֲבָדוּךָ 20:11
Deut. 20:11 “And it shall be, if it will answer you ‘peace,’ and will open itself up to you, then it shall be that all the people found in it shall be yours for a tribute and they shall serve you.”
וְאִם־לֹא תַשְׁלִים עִמָּךְ וְעָשְׂתָה עִמְּךָ מִלְחָמָה וְצַרְתָּ עָלֶיהָ 20:12
Deut. 20:12 “But if it will not make peace with you and will do battle with you, then you shall lay siege on it,
וּנְתָנָהּ יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ בְּיָדֶךָ וְהִכִּיתָ אֶת־כָּל־זְכוּרָהּ לְפִי־חָרֶב 20:13
Deut. 20:13 and the Lord, your God, shall deliver it into your hand, and you shall smite all its males with the edge of the sword.”
רַק הַנָּשִׁים וְהַטַּף וְהַבְּהֵמָה וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר יִהְיֶה בָעִיר כָּל־שְׁלָלָהּ תָּבֹז לָךְ וְאָכַלְתָּ אֶת־שְׁלַל אֹיְבֶיךָ אֲשֶׁר 20:14
נָתַן יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ לָךְ
Deut. 20:14 “But the women and the children and the cattle and all that will be in the city, all its spoil, you may take away for yourself, and you shall consume the spoil of your enemies that the Lord, your God, has delivered to you.”
This verse and the next offer further proof that these verses are for the future inhabitants of the Promised Land.
כֵּן תַּעֲשֶׂה לְכָל־הֶעָרִים הָרְחֹקֹת מִמְּךָ מְאֹד אֲשֶׁר לֹא־מֵעָרֵי הַגֹּויִם־הָאֵלֶּה הֵנָּה 20:15
Deut. 20: 15 “Thus you shall do to all the cities very far from you that are not one of the cities of these nations.”
רַק מֵעָרֵי הָעַמִּים הָאֵלֶּה אֲשֶׁר יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לְךָ נַחֲלָה לֹא תְחַיֶּה כָּל־נְשָׁמָה 20:16
Deut. 20:16 “But from the cities of these peoples, the inheritance that the Lord, your God, will be giving you, you shall not let anything breathing live.” [Return to Deut. 21:13]
כִּי־הַחֲרֵם תַּחֲרִימֵם הַחִתִּי וְהָאֱמֹרִי הַכְּנַעֲנִי וְהַפְּרִזִּי הַחִוִּי וְהַיְבוּסִי כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוְּךָ יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ 20:17
Deut. 20:17 “But you shall utterly destroy them, the Hittite, and the Amorite, the Canaanite, and the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite, as the Lord, your God, commanded you,
לְמַעַן אֲשֶׁר לֹא־יְלַמְּדוּ אֶתְכֶם לַעֲשֹׂות כְּכֹל תֹּועֲבֹתָם אֲשֶׁר עָשׂוּ לֵאלֹהֵיהֶם וַחֲטָאתֶם לַיהוָה 20:18
Deut. 20:18 so that they cannot teach you to do like all their abominations that they do for their gods and you would sin toward the Lord, your God.”
As I mentioned above, the three second-person pronouns in this verse are plural.
כִּי־תָצוּר אֶל־עִיר יָמִים רַבִּים לְהִלָּחֵם עָלֶיהָ לְתָפְשָׂהּ לֹא־תַשְׁחִית אֶת־עֵצָהּ לִנְדֹּחַ עָלָיו גַּרְזֶן כִּי 20:19
מִמֶּנּוּ תֹאכֵל וְאֹתֹו לֹא תִכְרֹת כִּי הָאָדָם עֵץ הַשָּׂדֶה לָבֹא מִפָּנֶיךָ בַּמָּצֹור
Deut. 20:19 “When you will lay siege to a city many days to make war against it to capture it, you shall not ruin a tree of it by wielding an ax against it if you can eat from it; so you must not cut it down, for is a tree of the field a man to fall upon by you within the siege?”
רַק עֵץ אֲשֶׁר־תֵּדַע כִּי־לֹא־עֵץ מַאֲכָל הוּא אֹתֹו תַשְׁחִית וְכָרָתָּ וּבָנִיתָ מָצֹור עַל־הָעִיר אֲשֶׁר־הִוא 20:20
עֹשָׂה עִמְּךָ מִלְחָמָה עַד רִדְתָּהּ
Deut. 20:20 “Only a tree which you will know surely is not a food tree, it you may destroy and cut down so you may build a bulwark against the city which will have been making war with you, until its fall.”
This chapter contains a couple of verses that the sages included among the commandments, vss. 20:16 and 20:17. However, I find it difficult to accept these as representing commandments. They are simply instructions for the one period of taking over the Promised Land. No other Torah commandment is restricted to a single event or series of temporary events. They are perpetual or intended to be so. On the other hand, I consider vss. 20:5 to 20:8 to be commandments that are not recognized by the sages.
Torah Commandments in this Chapter
485. When you are preparing to go into battle the priest shall remind the
warriors of God's being with them. V. 20:2 - 20:4
486. When preparing for battle the officers shall excuse those with new
homes not lived in, those having planted vineyards not yet harvested,
those who have not consecrated their marriage, and those who are
faint-hearted. V. 20:5 - 20:8
487. When you will approach a far away city to fight it, you shall first make it
an offer of peace. V. 20:10
488. If a city responds with peace, all of its people shall be tribute for you
and shall serve you. V. 20:11
489. If a city fights with you, you shall lay siege on it and you shall smite all
its males. V. 20:
490. The women, children, and cattle and all that is in the conquered city
shall be spoil for you. V. 20:12, 20:13
491. From the cities of these peoples, the inheritance that the Lord, your God,
will be giving you, you shall not let anything breathing live. V. 20:16
492. When you lay siege to a city you shall not destroy any fruit trees. V. 20:19
493. When you lay siege to a city you may cut down only trees that will
bear no fruit. V. 20:20
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