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Chapter 20:10-20 (ESV)

Posted on March 21, 2024  - By Chris LaBelle  

Chapter 20:10-20 (ESV) - “When you draw near to a city to fight against it, offer terms of peace to it. And 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. But if it makes no peace with you, but makes war against you, then you shall besiege it. And when the LORD your God gives it into your hand, you shall put all its males to the sword, 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. Thus you shall do to all the cities that are very far from you, which are not cities of the nations here. 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, but 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, that 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.

“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? Only the trees that you know are not trees for food you may destroy and cut down, that you may build siegeworks against the city that makes war with you, until it falls.

Question to consider: Why did the LORD offer terms of peace to cities outside of the land of Canaan but not to those in it?

It is worth noting that all of the laws presented by Moses in these chapters separate Israel from the surrounding nations. Yesterday’s passage contained laws dealing with those who would serve in the LORD’s army. All other nations would compel their men of fighting age to fight regardless of whether they had a new house or field or betrothal. All other nations would force men to fight who were filled with fear and dread in doing so. The other nations’ strength was in the size of their armies and the cruelty of their kings whereas Israel’s strength was in the LORD.

The LORD had set aside the land of Canaan for Israel, for it was made up of nations who were specifically set aside for judgment. However, the LORD was not interested in having Israel expand their territory beyond this land despite the fact that He is LORD of all the heavens and the earth. The other nations sought to expand the territory of their gods and so there would be cities where Israel would be forced to fight to protect what God had given them. Even in these cases, the LORD had them offer terms of peace. I seriously doubt these cities would take these terms since they involved complete surrender and service to Israel, but they were to be offered nonetheless because these nations had no chance of victory against God. Even though a city may refuse these terms of peace, Israel was to show mercy to the women, children and livestock.

The same mercy, however, was not extended to those in the land of Canaan, for they had been set aside for destruction because of their abominable worship practices. Even so, the LORD showed mercy to those who repented. If the LORD had no desire to show such mercy, He would have wiped out the nations of the land of Canaan all at once. Instead, He called Israel to do so a little at a time with each conquered nation serving as a call to repentance for the others. Once it came time for a nation to be judged, it was deserving of that judgment. People who are critical of this fact speak out of ignorance of the long-suffering of God and of the wickedness of those being judged. In cutting out the cancer of wickedness, the LORD was saving the lives of many others who would have been deceived by them.

When nations invaded other nations, it was common practice to go “scorched earth”, eating their fill from harvests and then destroying crops, cutting down trees, and burning vineyards. Groves of fruit trees and vineyards took generations to cultivate, and so the LORD did not allow Israel to decimate the land He was giving them. The nations, ruled by demons, sought only to steal, kill and destroy whereas the LORD sought to purge sin from the land so that there could be peace and abundance.


Dear heavenly Father, we long for the day in which there will be no more sin and death. Thank You for giving us an abundance of joy and peace in Christ Jesus even in the midst of a world that wars against us. Amen.