Introduction 1-4 Encouragement by the Priest 5-9 The Officers Speak to the People 10-15 The Offer of Peace 16-18 Cities to Be Utterly Destroyed 19-20 Trees with Edible Fruit

In this chapter we find a people who possess the promised land and want to conquer more (Deu 19:88“If the LORD your God enlarges your territory, just as He has sworn to your fathers, and gives you all the land which He promised to give your fathers—). With this it acts according to God’s thoughts, for He wants to give expansion. But that, in turn, is linked to the responsibility of man. There will be no expansion if there is no fight. These are voluntary wars, there is no obligation. That is why some exemptions are given. Also to someone who is afraid is given the opportunity to go home. There are other wars which God commands, and from which no one should escape, as against the Canaanites.

We can apply this to the local church. We may ask ourselves how many believers have been added to the local church in recent years. Has the area been expanded? It has to do with our spiritual power, through which we can show what the church is according to God’s thoughts. If there is a real desire to make that happen, it is possible to win others.

Defending the truth is not only defensive, but also offensive. We can win souls through the gospel and bring them to the place God has chosen to make His Name dwell there. In New Testament language, this is the bringing of those who accepted the Lord Jesus to the local church of which the Lord Jesus said: “I am there in their midst” (Mt 18:2020For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”).

Encouragement by the Priest

1“When you go out to battle against your enemies and see horses and chariots [and] people more numerous than you, do not be afraid of them; for the LORD your God, who brought you up from the land of Egypt, is with you. 2When you are approaching the battle, the priest shall come near and speak to the people. 3He shall say to them, ‘Hear, O Israel, you are approaching the battle against your enemies today. Do not be fainthearted. Do not be afraid, or panic, or tremble before them, 4for the LORD your God is the one who goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you.’

With a view to the battle, the priest first addresses the people. In verse 55The officers also shall speak to the people, saying, ‘Who is the man that has built a new house and has not dedicated it? Let him depart and return to his house, otherwise he might die in the battle and another man would dedicate it., the “officers” do so. The priest encourages the people. He points to the LORD their God, Who goes with them (Isa 41:1010‘Do not fear, for I am with you;
Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you, surely I will help you,
Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’
) to fight for them and to give them the victory. To know what it means that the LORD goes with them, Moses remind the people of the redemption from Egypt. The priest who speaks encourages is a picture of the Lord Jesus. He encourages by His word (Jn 16:3333These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”) and by His intercession (Lk 22:3232but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”; Heb 7:2525Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.).

The enemy shows himself in his power and strength and thereby tries to impress and deter God’s people. Horses and wagons are mainly the forces of hostile peoples with which Israel is dealing (Jos 17:1616The sons of Joseph said, “The hill country is not enough for us, and all the Canaanites who live in the valley land have chariots of iron, both those who are in Beth-shean and its towns and those who are in the valley of Jezreel.”; Jdg 4:33The sons of Israel cried to the LORD; for he had nine hundred iron chariots, and he oppressed the sons of Israel severely for twenty years.; 1Sam 13:55Now the Philistines assembled to fight with Israel, 30,000 chariots and 6,000 horsemen, and people like the sand which is on the seashore in abundance; and they came up and camped in Michmash, east of Beth-aven.; 2Sam 8:44David captured from him 1,700 horsemen and 20,000 foot soldiers; and David hamstrung the chariot horses, but reserved [enough] of them for 100 chariots.; 1Chr 18:44David took from him 1,000 chariots and 7,000 horsemen and 20,000 foot soldiers, and David hamstrung all the chariot horses, but reserved [enough] of them for 100 chariots.; 19:1818The Arameans fled before Israel, and David killed of the Arameans 7,000 charioteers and 40,000 foot soldiers, and put to death Shophach the commander of the army.). Inclined as Israel is to be impressed by that display of power, the priest gives a fourfold encouragement before the enemy
1. not to be fainthearted,
2. not to be afraid,
3. not to panic and
4. not to tremble.
The reason for this is the presence of the LORD. Together with the Lord, we need not fear the greatest and most powerful enemy (2Chr 32:77“Be strong and courageous, do not fear or be dismayed because of the king of Assyria nor because of all the horde that is with him; for the one with us is greater than the one with him.), for he is a defeated enemy from the outset. Without the Lord we lose of the most insignificant enemy.

Believers who encourage us as true priests, thus from God’s presence, are urgently needed. There is no need for believers who want to impose on us a certain strategy or tactic, often derived from the model of the world. The gospel and the truth of God are not articles to be sold through management techniques. Believers who work with these means live more in the presence of the world and are under the influence of the thinking that reigns there, than in the presence of the Lord and under the influence of His thinking.

The Officers Speak to the People

5The officers also shall speak to the people, saying, ‘Who is the man that has built a new house and has not dedicated it? Let him depart and return to his house, otherwise he might die in the battle and another man would dedicate it. 6Who is the man that has planted a vineyard and has not begun to use its fruit? Let him depart and return to his house, otherwise he might die in the battle and another man would begin to use its fruit. 7And who is the man that is engaged to a woman and has not married her? Let him depart and return to his house, otherwise he might die in the battle and another man would marry her.’ 8Then the officers shall speak further to the people and say, ‘Who is the man that is afraid and fainthearted? Let him depart and return to his house, so that he might not make his brothers’ hearts melt like his heart.’ 9When the officers have finished speaking to the people, they shall appoint commanders of armies at the head of the people.

After the priest, the officers speak to the people. The priest encourages in view of the battle. The officials discourage certain categories from taking part in the battle. They must ensure that only qualified soldiers take up the fight. A believer is qualified soldier if he can devote himself completely to the Lord, without having to deal with anything else (2Tim 2:44No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier.). This means that he goes into the battle in complete confidence on the Lord and only focused on Him.

The officers do not prohibit these categories from participating, but suggest that they first deal with the situation they have just found themselves in. These are people who have recently entered into a new situation with which certain expectations are connected, but have not yet enjoyed them. It is about those who
1. built a new house,
2. planted a vineyard and
3. are engaged to a woman.

Anyone who has built a new house, but has not yet lived in it, may first move into it. This can be applied to someone who has just been converted. He therefore has come to live in the house of God. Now such a person must learn how to behave in that house (1Tim 3:1515but in case I am delayed, [I write] so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.). The saying that we are ‘saved to save’ may sound good, but doesn’t originate from the Word of God. A person must first learn to take his place in the local church. Only then can he go out.

Someone who has planted a vineyard, but has not yet enjoyed its fruit, does not have to go into the battle. He may wait for the first fruit to enjoy it. This waiting time can be as long as five years (Lev 19:23-2523‘When you enter the land and plant all kinds of trees for food, then you shall count their fruit as forbidden. Three years it shall be forbidden to you; [it] shall not be eaten.24But in the fourth year all its fruit shall be holy, an offering of praise to the LORD.25In the fifth year you are to eat of its fruit, that its yield may increase for you; I am the LORD your God.). Wine is a picture of joy (Jdg 9:13a13But the vine said to them, ‘Shall I leave my new wine, which cheers God and men, and go to wave over the trees?’). Here is the lesson that first we can and must enjoy the blessings ourselves in order to be able to distribute them. We can’t testify to something we haven’t enjoyed ourselves.

Also someone who is engaged to a woman does not have to join the battle (Deu 24:55“When a man takes a new wife, he shall not go out with the army nor be charged with any duty; he shall be free at home one year and shall give happiness to his wife whom he has taken.). He can first marry and rejoice his wife, which includes sexual intercourse. The joy of sexual intercourse in marriage is also associated with the conception of offspring. It is the experience of the intimacy of love with the resulting fruit. This can be applied to the experience of the fellowship with the Lord Jesus and the fruit that this produces for Him. The exercise of fellowship with the Lord Jesus must come first. Then there can be set of to the battle.

Another category is mentioned in verse 88Then the officers shall speak further to the people and say, ‘Who is the man that is afraid and fainthearted? Let him depart and return to his house, so that he might not make his brothers’ hearts melt like his heart.’. Everyone has been afraid in the fight once. However, if someone is marked by a spirit of fear, the Lord cannot use him. Such a person may go back home. Paul acts as an officer when he sends John Mark back home (Acts 15:3838But Paul kept insisting that they should not take him along who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work.). Mark spent some time with Paul, but the hardships have become too much for him (Acts 13:1313Now Paul and his companions put out to sea from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia; but John left them and returned to Jerusalem.). Being a Christian cost him too much. Taking someone with you like him means a burden that is detrimental to the work of the gospel.

Also with Gideon we see the effect of this verse. He receives from the LORD the instruction to act according to the directions of this verse. As a result, no less than twenty-two thousand men have dropped out of his already small army (Jdg 7:33Now therefore come, proclaim in the hearing of the people, saying, ‘Whoever is afraid and trembling, let him return and depart from Mount Gilead.’” So 22,000 people returned, but 10,000 remained.).

After everyone has had the opportunity to make a personal decision not to take part in the battle, the battle can begin. The army is provided with army commanders. They go first and are examples for the soldiers who follow. They do not define the way of fighting. God does.

The Offer of Peace

10“When you approach a city to fight against it, you shall offer it terms of peace. 11If it agrees to make peace with you and opens to you, then all the people who are found in it shall become your forced labor and shall serve you. 12However, if it does not make peace with you, but makes war against you, then you shall besiege it. 13When the LORD your God gives it into your hand, you shall strike all the men in it with the edge of the sword. 14Only the women and the children and the animals and all that is in the city, all its spoil, you shall take as booty for yourself; and you shall use the spoil of your enemies which the LORD your God has given you. 15Thus you shall do to all the cities that are very far from you, which are not of the cities of these nations nearby.

In previous verses we have prepared the fight. From verse 1010“When you approach a city to fight against it, you shall offer it terms of peace. onwards we have the actual battle. Yet the battle does not immediately ensue. The first thing to do is to offer peace to a city that one wants to conquer. Listening to this results in a covenant relationship. In this way what has been in the realm of the world is brought into the realm of God’s people and put into their service. Not all cities submit so quickly. In case of resistance, the judgement must be exercised.

The full counsel of God is also contained in the proclamation of the gospel. Where that truth is presented, we often encounter resistance. That resistance must be broken. This is necessary, so that others can be won: the men are killed, the women remain alive.

In the life of the believer there are different kinds of struggles. We must distinguish between our struggle and God’s struggle. Our struggle stems from the fact that sin still dwells within us (Gal 5:1717For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.). This struggle often prevents us from fighting God’s struggle.

If the flesh is kept down, we can put on the full armor of God and fight God’s fight (Eph 6:12-1312For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual [forces] of wickedness in the heavenly [places].13Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.). This battle is fought in propagating and proclaiming and defending what God has entrusted to us. Thus Paul can say that he fought the good fight (2Tim 4:77I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith;). That is the battle for what God has delivered to him, the gospel of peace.

‘Battle’ and ‘service’ are the same word in Hebrew. The proclamation of the Word is Levite service and it is also battle. We have to go out in that service. God sees the people as in the land. Thus He sees the Christian as seated in Christ in the heavenly places. From that established position, in full awareness thereof, we may proclaim God’s truth.

Cities to Be Utterly Destroyed

16Only in the cities of these peoples that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, you shall not leave alive anything that breathes. 17But you shall utterly destroy them, the Hittite and the Amorite, the Canaanite and the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite, as the LORD your God has commanded you, 18so that they may not teach you to do according to all their detestable things which they have done for their gods, so that you would sin against the LORD your God.

Nothing can be spared from the enemies mentioned in these verses. They should not be offered peace. The offer of peace applies only to cities outside the land. The cities of the nations of the land represent the strongholds of evil in which the wickedness in the heavenly places is expressed (Eph 6:1212For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual [forces] of wickedness in the heavenly [places].).

Trees with Edible Fruit

19“When you besiege a city a long time, to make war against it in order to capture it, you shall not destroy its trees by swinging an axe against them; for you may eat from them, and you shall not cut them down. For is the tree of the field a man, that it should be besieged by you? 20Only the trees which you know are not fruit trees you shall destroy and cut down, that you may construct siegeworks against the city that is making war with you until it falls.

In a besieged city, elements may be present that are useful to the people of God. That is why we must work with distinction in the fight. Whatever is created by God as food and therefore good (1Tim 4:4-54For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude;5for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer.), we must save. Here we must distinguish between the things of the world and the things of the earth or creation. For example, we may use the things from creation for spiritual purposes, thinking of things like buildings and technique.

Trees do no harm to people. On the contrary, there are trees that bear fruit for the benefit of man. Only trees that do not produce fruit, that occupy the ground without any use, should be cut down. However, the destruction of soulless things must also be dealt with due consideration. The Lord Jesus makes His disciples “gather up the leftover fragments so that nothing will be lost” which serves the maintenance of the life of man (Jn 6:1212When they were filled, He *said to His disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments so that nothing will be lost.”).

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