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Chapter 20:1-9 (ESV)

Posted on March 20, 2024  - By Chris LaBelle  

Chapter 20:1-9 (ESV) - “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. And when you draw near to the battle, the priest shall come forward and speak to the people and 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, for the LORD your God is he who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies, to give you the victory.’ 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. And 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. 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.’ And 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.’ And when the officers have finished speaking to the people, then commanders shall be appointed at the head of the people.”

Question to consider: Why did the LORD give so many reasons for someone to refrain from serving in His army?

Israel was about to go up against the greatest and most fearsome armies in the world. Not only were they tremendously outnumbered, but they were outsized since the people of Israel were descendants of Jacob, a man who was known for being small of stature and for hanging out with his mother in the family tent. Jacob’s brother, Esau, was the strong and rugged one who labored in the fields and hunted game, and even Esau would have been no match for the giants in the land of Canaan. Beyond the size and scope of their armies, Israel was told by God to invade cities which were fortified with high walls or protected by natural barriers like mountains.

Yet the LORD told Moses that the people need not fear them because He would be the one to battle for them. Israel would be witnesses to the glory of God, and the armies they faced would know it was the LORD of heaven and earth who was judging them. As Moses said of the LORD, “He will not be slack with one who hates him. He will repay him to his face.” (Deuteronomy 7:10)

Therefore, the size of Israel’s army did not matter. The LORD did not want anyone serving in it whose heart was not in it. Like the army God selected for Gideon, He dismissed those who may have cause to be double-minded: they just built a new house or were betrothed to be married or hadn’t yet enjoyed the fruit of their vineyard. He even dismissed those who were fearful or fainthearted about the battle.

Even though there would be those who would die in the battle, by the parameters God had set, they would all be men of faith. Throughout the Old Testament, God credited this faith as righteousness. Even though they die, their names were written in God’s book of remembrance, and they could look forward to the same holy city as was written of Abraham in Hebrews 11:10, “For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.”

Today, we battle not against flesh and blood but “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12) We have “beat [our] swords into plowshares, and [our] spears into pruning hooks.” Instead of being God’s sword, we are His harvesters of righteousness who “reap that for which [we] did not labor. Others have labored, and [we] have entered into their labor.” (John 4:38)

Our task is still not for the faint of heart or faithless, but in making disciples of all nations, Christ has promised that He is with us always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:20) When we proclaim the good news that Christ has reconciled us with God, we have the assurance that the Holy Spirit is convicting the world of sin and preparing them to receive the good news of Christ with joy.


Dear heavenly Father, please help us to see Your work in the world so that we may put down our swords and joyfully take part in Your harvest of righteousness. Please renew us and sustain us in the task and help us to receive and convey the word You have given us in scripture. Amen.