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Consider Victory: Deuteronomy 20

In Summary:

Deuteronomy 20 is a chapter that is very tempting to skip over. It’s a summary of the laws of war for the people of Israel. They break down into the laws governing who should fight, how you should fight, and what to do in victory.

One of the major questions that arises from a chapter like this stems from the commands found in 20:13 and 20:16-17. In these passages, God commands that the Israelites kill either all the men of the city, or all the inhabitants of a city.

This bothers us. And it should. Human life is precious. All human life, even the lives of our enemies in war, should be valued and killing should be seen as the last resort, not the first response. To get to the bottom of this, we have to answer a question: Why do we think all human life is precious?

The answer might not be clear to you, but it’s this: all life is precious because God said so. (Genesis 9:5-6, Exodus 20, the Gospel all come to mind). Our cultural values are founded in God’s Word, but like the foundation of our homes, we often overlook that truth. We just know that our culture says killing is bad—and killing everyone is worse!

If we pay attention to our thinking, though, we realize that if life has value because God said so, then God is permitted to revoke that declaration. Those who have violated God’s laws, He is righteous when judgment falls. This is true whether it falls individually or corporately.

In Focus:

Let us put a slightly odd pair of verses in focus. Take a look at Deuteronomy 20:19-20. These verses about…trees.

That’s right, trees. The same chapter that provides Biblical support for massive siege warfare also points out that the Israelites were not at war with the trees. They should leave the trees alone.

Peeling back, though, we see that it’s not about all the trees. It’s just about the trees that produce food. The NASB uses “fruit tree” but the more literal rendering is “trees for food,” so nut trees would be in view as well.

The recognition here is that trees take time to grow. There is no purpose in setting the economy of a conquered area back at least three years just to win the battle.

In Practice:

Obviously, one practice that should come from this chapter is a prohibition of scorched-earth style warfare. What this says of how we have fought and won wars in the past as a nation needs a book-length treatment, but there’s something to consider there.

Second, though, we should examine how this applies into our interactions with other people. Most of us do not fight physical wars everyday, but we interact with others and have conflict.

There is conflict between Christians and the world we live in. Often, we engage in discussions and politics as if we have no concern for the long-lasting damage we are doing to people by our behaviors.

And if it’s possible to be worse, it’s worse within our own Christian churches. We strip mine everything around us just to win arguments.

Instead, we need to consider this question: what happens after we win? Is there anything left?

Truth matters and is worth fighting for. The method matters, though, and that’s what needs considered.

In Nerdiness: Consider the reality of fighting wars only with those who are not scared. What would that involve?


Then remember: fear, in this case, was due to lack of faith. As we stand forward for Christ, let us not be fearful due to lack of faith!

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