Deuteronomy 20:5 MEANING

Deuteronomy 20:5
(5) And the officers.--The shoterim of Deuteronomy 16:18; the civil magistrates apparently. The organisation of Israel was not military, but military leaders were to be appointed for special services, as appears by Deuteronomy 20:9, "they shall make captains of the armies." The captains of thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens were called shoterim (Deuteronomy 1:15).

(5-8) What man is there . . .--These questions show that, primarily, all Israelites of military age (20 to 50) were expected to attend the muster; then those who were unprepared for the campaign were suffered to depart. The only recorded instance of the observance of these rules is in Judges 7:3, at the muster of Gideon's army. The proclamation "Whosoever, is afraid let him depart," sent away 22,000 out of 32,000 on that occasion, or rather more than two-thirds of the army!

Verses 5-7. - The officers; the shoterim, the keepers of the genealogical tables (Deuteronomy 16:18). It belonged to them to appoint the men who were to serve, and to release those who had been summoned to the war, but whose domestic relations were such as to entitle them to exemption. If there was one who had built a house, but had not dedicated it, i.e. by taking possession of it and dwelling in it; or if there was one who had planted a vineyard and had not eaten of the fruit thereof; or if there was one who had betrothed a wife, but had not yet married her; - such were to be allowed to return home, lest they should die in battle, and it be left to others to consummate what they had begun. According to Josephus, this exemption was for a year, according to the analogy of Deuteronomy 24:5. Dedicated; probably formal possession was taken of the house by some solemn ceremony, followed by a festive entertainment. Vineyard. The Hebrew word (כֶּרֶם) here used designates "a field or park of the nobler plants and trees cultivated in the manner of a garden or orchard" (Ges.); so that not vineyards alone, but also olive yards and plots of the more valuable fruit trees may be intended. Hath not eaten of it; literally, hath not laid it open, made it common, i.e. begun to use it, to gather its produce for common use (cf. Deuteronomy 28:30; Jeremiah 31:5). Trees planted for food were not to be used before the fifth year of their growth (Leviticus 19:23, etc.; cf. Deuteronomy 24:5).

20:1-9 In the wars wherein Israel engaged according to the will of God, they might expect the Divine assistance. The Lord was to be their only confidence. In these respects they were types of the Christian's warfare. Those unwilling to fight, must be sent away. The unwillingness might arise from a man's outward condition. God would not be served by men forced against their will. Thy people shall be willing, Ps 110:3. In running the Christian race, and fighting the good fight of faith, we must lay aside all that would make us unwilling. If a man's unwillingness rose from weakness and fear, he had leave to return from the war. The reason here given is, lest his brethren's heart fail as well as his heart. We must take heed that we fear not with the fear of them that are afraid, Isa 8:12.And the officers shall speak unto the people,.... What these officers were is not easy to say; they seem not to be officers of the army, for they are distinguished from captains of the armies, Deuteronomy 20:9, unless they can be thought to be general officers; but the word for them is the same that is used of such that attended the judges and were ministers to them, Deuteronomy 16:18, and perhaps they were a sort of heralds that published and proclaimed what the anointed of war had said; and so the above writer (h) affirms, that what here follows was first spoken by him, and after that (what is said, Deuteronomy 20:3) the anointed of war speaks, saying:

what man is there,.... (to the end of Deuteronomy 20:7) thus far the anointed of war speaks, and then an officer causes all the people to hear it with an high voice, saying:

what man is there that hath built a new house, and hath not dedicated it? or perfected it, as the Targum of Jonathan, not quite finished it, has not, as that paraphrast says, fixed in it the door posts, or rather perhaps he means the Mezuzah, or writing, which the Jews thought themselves obliged to fasten to the door posts of their houses; see Deuteronomy 11:20 until this was done, an house was not thought to be completed; though Jarchi interprets this of inhabitation; of a man's having built a house, but has not yet dwelt in it; see Deuteronomy 28:30, so Josephus (i) explains it, of its not having been used and enjoyed by a man a full year; but there seems to be something more than all this in dedication; for though it does not signify a consecration or dedication of it to holy uses, as the dedication of the tabernacle and temple, yet there was something done, some ceremony used at entrance into a new house; a good man entered into it, no doubt, with prayer and praise, as the thirtieth psalm was composed by David at the dedication of his house; see Nehemiah 12:27 and perhaps it was usual to have their friends together, and make a cheerful entertainment on the occasion. Ben Melech on the place, assures us it was a custom to make a feast and merriment at eating the first meal in a new house:

let him go and return to his house, lest he die in the battle, and another man dedicate it; or perfect it, as the above Targum, or dwell in it, as well as have the pleasure of entertaining his friends in it at the first opening of it; this was either a command, enjoining a man, in such a circumstance, to return, and so the rest that follow, or a permission to him, allowing him to do it if he thought fit.

(h) Hilchot Melachim, c. 7. sect. 3.((i) Antiqu. l. 4. c. 8. sect. 41.

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