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Rules for War

20 “When you go out to battle against your enemies, and you see horses, chariots, and many more people than you have, you must not be afraid of them. The Lord your God is with you—and he brought you out of Egypt.

“When you go to the battle, the priest must go to the soldiers and speak to them. The priest will say, ‘Men of Israel, listen to me! Today you are going against your enemies in battle. Don’t lose your courage. Don’t be troubled or upset. Don’t be afraid of the enemy. The Lord your God is going with you to help you fight against your enemies. He will help you win!’

“The Levite officials will say to the soldiers, ‘Is there any man here who has built a new house but has not yet dedicated it? That man should go back home. He might be killed in the battle, and then another person will dedicate that man’s house. Is there any man here who has planted a vineyard but has not yet gathered any of the grapes? That man should go back home. If that man dies in the battle, someone else will enjoy the fruit from his field. Is there any man here who is engaged to be married? That man should go back home. If he dies in the battle, another man will marry the woman he is engaged to.’

“These Levite officials must also say to the people, ‘Is there any man here who has lost his courage and is afraid? He should go back home. Then he will not cause the other soldiers to lose their courage too.’ Then, after the officers have finished speaking to the army, they must choose captains to lead the soldiers.

10 “When you go to attack a city, you must first offer peace to the people there. 11 If they accept your offer and open their gates, all the people in that city will become your slaves and be forced to work for you. 12 But if the city refuses to make peace with you and fights against you, you should surround the city. 13 And when the Lord your God lets you take the city, you must kill all the men in it. 14 But you may take for yourselves the women, the children, the cattle, and everything else in the city. You may use all these things. The Lord your God has given these things to you. 15 That is what you must do to all the cities that are very far from you—the cities that are not in the land where you will live.

16 “But when you take cities in the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you must kill everyone. 17 You must completely destroy all the people—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. The Lord your God has commanded you to do this. 18 So then they will not be able to teach you to sin against the Lord your God or to do any of the terrible things they do when they worship their gods.

19 “When you are making war against a city, you might surround that city for a long time. You must not cut down the fruit trees around that city. You may eat the fruit from these trees, but you must not cut them down. These trees are not the enemy, so don’t make war against them. 20 But you may cut down the trees that you know are not fruit trees. You may use these trees to build weapons for making war against that city. You may use them until the city falls.

Going to War

20 When you go to war against your enemies and see horses and chariots and an army greater than yours,(A) do not be afraid(B) of them,(C) because the Lord your God, who brought you up out of Egypt, will be with(D) you. When you are about to go into battle, the priest shall come forward and address the army. He shall say: “Hear, Israel: Today you are going into battle against your enemies. Do not be fainthearted(E) or afraid; do not panic or be terrified by them. For the Lord your God is the one who goes with you(F) to fight(G) for you against your enemies to give you victory.(H)

The officers shall say to the army: “Has anyone built a new house and not yet begun to live in(I) it? Let him go home, or he may die in battle and someone else may begin to live in it. Has anyone planted(J) a vineyard and not begun to enjoy it?(K) Let him go home, or he may die in battle and someone else enjoy it. Has anyone become pledged to a woman and not married her? Let him go home, or he may die in battle and someone else marry her.(L) Then the officers shall add, “Is anyone afraid or fainthearted? Let him go home so that his fellow soldiers will not become disheartened too.”(M) When the officers have finished speaking to the army, they shall appoint commanders over it.

10 When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace.(N) 11 If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject(O) to forced labor(P) and shall work for you. 12 If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in battle, lay siege to that city. 13 When the Lord your God delivers it into your hand, put to the sword all the men in it.(Q) 14 As for the women, the children, the livestock(R) and everything else in the city,(S) you may take these as plunder(T) for yourselves. And you may use the plunder the Lord your God gives you from your enemies. 15 This is how you are to treat all the cities that are at a distance(U) from you and do not belong to the nations nearby.

16 However, in the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes.(V) 17 Completely destroy[a] them—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the Lord your God has commanded you. 18 Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods,(W) and you will sin(X) against the Lord your God.

19 When you lay siege to a city for a long time, fighting against it to capture it, do not destroy its trees by putting an ax to them, because you can eat their fruit. Do not cut them down. Are the trees people, that you should besiege them?[b] 20 However, you may cut down trees that you know are not fruit trees(Y) and use them to build siege works until the city at war with you falls.

Footnotes

  1. Deuteronomy 20:17 The Hebrew term refers to the irrevocable giving over of things or persons to the Lord, often by totally destroying them.
  2. Deuteronomy 20:19 Or down to use in the siege, for the fruit trees are for the benefit of people.

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