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Laws Concerning War with Distant Enemies

20 When you go to war against your enemies and see chariotry[a] and troops[b] who outnumber you, do not be afraid of them, for the Lord your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt, is with you. As you move forward for battle, the priest[c] will approach and say to the soldiers,[d] “Listen, Israel! Today you are moving forward to do battle with your enemies. Do not be fainthearted. Do not fear and tremble or be terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you to fight on your behalf against your enemies to give you victory.”[e] Moreover, the officers are to say to the troops,[f] “Who among you[g] has built a new house and not dedicated[h] it? He may go home, lest he die in battle and someone else[i] dedicate it. Or who among you has planted a vineyard and not benefited from it? He may go home, lest he die in battle and someone else benefit from it. Or who among you[j] has become engaged to a woman but has not married her? He may go home, lest he die in battle and someone else marry her.” In addition, the officers are to say to the troops, “Who among you is afraid and fainthearted? He may go home so that he will not make his fellow soldier’s[k] heart as fearful[l] as his own.” Then, when the officers have finished speaking,[m] they must appoint unit commanders[n] to lead the troops.

10 When you approach a city to wage war against it, offer it terms of peace. 11 If it accepts your terms[o] and submits to you, all the people found in it will become your slaves.[p] 12 If it does not accept terms of peace but makes war with you, then you are to lay siege to it. 13 The Lord your God will deliver it over to you,[q] and you must kill every single male by the sword. 14 However, the women, little children, cattle, and anything else in the city—all its plunder—you may take for yourselves as spoil. You may take from your enemies the plunder that the Lord your God has given you. 15 This is how you are to deal with all those cities located far from you, those that do not belong to these nearby nations.

Laws Concerning War with Canaanite Nations

16 As for the cities of these peoples that[r] the Lord your God is going to give you as an inheritance, you must not allow a single living thing[s] to survive. 17 Instead you must utterly annihilate them[t]—the Hittites,[u] Amorites,[v] Canaanites,[w] Perizzites,[x] Hivites,[y] and Jebusites[z]—just as the Lord your God has commanded you, 18 so that they cannot teach you all the abhorrent ways they worship[aa] their gods, causing you to sin against the Lord your God. 19 If you besiege a city for a long time while attempting to capture it,[ab] you must not chop down its trees,[ac] for you may eat fruit[ad] from them and should not cut them down. A tree in the field is not human that you should besiege it![ae] 20 However, you may chop down any tree you know is not suitable for food,[af] and you may use it to build siege works[ag] against the city that is making war with you until that city falls.


  1. Deuteronomy 20:1 tn Heb “horse and chariot.”
  2. Deuteronomy 20:1 tn Heb “people.”
  3. Deuteronomy 20:2 sn The reference to the priest suggests also the presence of the ark of the covenant, the visible sign of God’s presence. The whole setting is clearly that of “holy war” or “Yahweh war,” in which God himself takes initiative as the true commander of the forces of Israel (cf. Exod 14:14-18; 15:3-10; Deut 3:22; 7:18-24; 31:6, 8).
  4. Deuteronomy 20:2 tn Heb “and he will say to the people.” Cf. NIV, NCV, CEV “the army”; NRSV, NLT “the troops.”
  5. Deuteronomy 20:4 tn Or “to save you” (so KJV, NASB, NCV); or “to deliver you.”
  6. Deuteronomy 20:5 tn Heb “people” (also in vv. 8, 9).
  7. Deuteronomy 20:5 tn Heb “Who [is] the man” (also in vv. 6, 7, 8).
  8. Deuteronomy 20:5 tn The Hebrew term חָנַךְ (khanakh) occurs elsewhere only with respect to the dedication of Solomon’s temple (1 Kgs 8:63 = 2 Chr 7:5). There it has a religious connotation which, indeed, may be the case here as well. The noun form (חֲנֻכָּה, khanukkah) is associated with the consecration of the great temple altar (2 Chr 7:9) and of the postexilic wall of Jerusalem (Neh 12:27). In Maccabean times the festival of Hanukkah was introduced to celebrate the rededication of the temple following its desecration by Antiochus IV Epiphanes (1 Macc 4:36-61).
  9. Deuteronomy 20:5 tn Heb “another man.”
  10. Deuteronomy 20:7 tn Heb “Who [is] the man.”
  11. Deuteronomy 20:8 tn Heb “his brother’s.”
  12. Deuteronomy 20:8 tn Heb “melted.”
  13. Deuteronomy 20:9 tn The Hebrew text includes “to the people,” but this phrase has not been included in the translation for stylistic reasons.
  14. Deuteronomy 20:9 tn Heb “princes of hosts.”
  15. Deuteronomy 20:11 tn Heb “if it answers you peace.”
  16. Deuteronomy 20:11 tn Heb “become as a vassal and will serve you.” The Hebrew term translated slaves (מַס, mas) refers either to Israelites who were pressed into civil service, especially under Solomon (1 Kgs 5:13; 9:15, 21; 12:18), or (as here) to foreigners forced as prisoners of war to become slaves to Israel. The Gibeonites exemplify this type of servitude (Josh 9:3-27; cf. Josh 16:10; 17:13; Judg 1:28, 30-35; Isa 31:8; Lam 1:1).
  17. Deuteronomy 20:13 tn Heb “to your hands.”
  18. Deuteronomy 20:16 tn The antecedent of the relative pronoun is “cities.”
  19. Deuteronomy 20:16 tn Heb “any breath.”
  20. Deuteronomy 20:17 tn The Hebrew text uses the infinitive absolute for emphasis, which the translation seeks to reflect with “utterly.” Cf. CEV “completely wipe out.”sn The Hebrew verb refers to placing persons or things so evil and/or impure as to be irredeemable under God’s judgment, usually to the extent of their complete destruction. See also the note on the phrase “the divine judgment” in Deut 2:34.
  21. Deuteronomy 20:17 sn Hittite. The center of Hittite power was in Anatolia (central modern Turkey). In the Late Bronze Age (1550-1200 b.c.) they were at their zenith, establishing outposts and colonies near and far. Some elements were obviously in Canaan at the time of the Conquest (1400-1350 b.c.).
  22. Deuteronomy 20:17 sn Amorite. Originally from the upper Euphrates region (Amurru), the Amorites appear to have migrated into Canaan beginning in 2200 b.c. or thereabouts.
  23. Deuteronomy 20:17 sn Canaanite. These were the indigenous peoples of the land of Palestine, going back to the beginning of recorded history (ca. 3000 b.c.). The OT identifies them as descendants of Ham (Gen 10:6), the only Hamites to have settled north and east of Egypt.
  24. Deuteronomy 20:17 sn Perizzite. This probably refers to a subgroup of Canaanites (Gen 13:7; 34:30).
  25. Deuteronomy 20:17 sn Hivite. These are usually thought to be the same as the Hurrians, a people well-known in ancient Near Eastern texts. They are likely identical to the Horites (see note on “Horites” in Deut 2:12).
  26. Deuteronomy 20:17 tc The LXX adds “Girgashites” here at the end of the list in order to list the full (and usual) complement of seven (see note on “seven” in Deut 7:1).sn Jebusite. These people inhabited the hill country, particularly in and about Jerusalem (cf. Num 13:29; Josh 15:8; 2 Sam 5:6; 24:16).
  27. Deuteronomy 20:18 tn Heb “to do according to all their abominations which they do for their gods.”
  28. Deuteronomy 20:19 tn Heb “to fight against it to capture it.”
  29. Deuteronomy 20:19 tn Heb “you must not destroy its trees by chopping them with an iron” (i.e., an ax).
  30. Deuteronomy 20:19 tn Heb “you may eat from them.” The direct object is not expressed; the word “fruit” is supplied in the translation for clarity.
  31. Deuteronomy 20:19 tn Heb “to go before you in siege.”
  32. Deuteronomy 20:20 tn Heb “however, a tree which you know is not a tree for food you may destroy and cut down.”
  33. Deuteronomy 20:20 tn Heb “[an] enclosure.” The term מָצוֹר (matsor) may refer to encircling ditches or to surrounding stagings. See R. de Vaux, Ancient Israel, 238.