We have come to Deuteronomy chapter 20, as Moses covers some laws regarding battle and wars...
The Israelites were about to enter into the land of Canaan, where they would see many battles. The Canaanites had larger armies and more advanced technologies. But the Lord is telling them not to be afraid, because God is on their side. It is as Paul the apostle asked rhetorically,
Rom. 8:31 ...If God is for us, who is against us?
Right before each battle, the high priest was supposed to remind them of this truth.
After the priests had told the people to trust in the Lord and not be afraid, there would be those who didn't take the priests' advice, those who were still afraid. Plus, there would be those who were not fully committed to the battle because of worldly concerns like houses, vineyards, and women. If they were on their way to battle, they would be filled with thoughts of regret if they were to die. The officers needed to send these men home.
Gideon followed this command when, in Judges 7, he had an army of 32,000 men and announced,
Judg. 7:3 ..."Whoever is afraid and trembling, let him return and depart from Mount Gilead." So 22,000 people returned, but 10,000 remained.
In God's strategizing, a small but fully dedicated army is more desirable than one three times as large when some of the soldiers are afraid. As Jonathan told his armor bearer,
1Sam. 14:6 "...the LORD is not restrained to save by many or by few."
Regardless of how small the army may be, God simply wants 100% commitment from 100% of the people.
It was only after the fearful and preoccupied people left that the officers were to appoint commanders. Now this might seem like common sense, but it is a mistake many make, even in the Lord's army of the church today.
Often, we meet people that seem too good to be true. They seem mature in the Lord, and on fire for service, but then burn out and are gone as quickly as they came. That's one of the reasons Paul warned Timothy,
1Tim. 5:22 Do not lay hands upon anyone too hastily...
We have to be patient. We have to wait. When we see who doesn't bail out early, who is willing to serve, who is here for the duration, then we appoint.
I have known pastors who appoint people as commanders in hopes that it will inspire those people to be diligent and unafraid. They think, "Maybe if I plug this person into a position, their walk will stabilize." But it never works. This is why Paul said of appointing men as deacons, "Even after you see that they meet the spiritual and personal requirements...
1Tim. 3:10 These men must also first be tested...
The Lord specified that there were two different ways to deal with cities they were going to war with. In the conquest of Canaan, they were to utterly destroy certain groups of people, which God was judging.
But once they were established in the land and had wars with neighboring countries, they were to offer terms of peace before going to battle.
The same standards are to be followed in the believer's life regarding our battle against sin.
When we are in conflict with the world, the flesh, and the devil, God desires them to be utterly cut off. Whatever causes us to sin must be completely eliminated (Matt. 5:30), the devil must not be allowed to retain any foothold (Eph. 4:27).
But when we are in conflict with our neighbors, with people, though they be unbelievers, the Lord wants us to pursue peace (Heb. 4:12; Rom. 14:19). As the Bible says,
Rom. 12:18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.
But there cannot be peace with sin. Just as the people in that city were to "become your forced labor and shall serve you," so too we must be the leader. If a person wants to continue in sin and try to drag us down with them, then we must eliminate them from our lives just as we do the world, the flesh, and the devil.
The Law said that the Israelites were also not to destroy the fruit tress around a city they were besieging. Why? Because they were, to coin a phrase, "shooting themselves in the foot."
In the late 1900's, the concept of war completely changed with the proliferation of nuclear weapons. No longer was war about moving one nation's armies into another's territory. Now, we could defeat the opposing nation's military from across the world. But what is the advantage, when that nation's land is bathed in radiation and deemed uninhabitable for decades or even centuries? And what about the poisoning of the entire planet as the jet stream and trade winds carry the radioactive particles back around the earth to our own population?
This was the kind of thing that God was trying to communicate to the Israelites. "It's not a victory if the battle leaves behind nothing but uninhabitable land."
In the same way, many people tend to fight relational battles like this. They want to win the argument, the debate, the fight, at whatever cost. And in doing so, they completely destroy the relationship itself. What good is it to win the war, but have nothing left to show for it?
Today, unsolved murders are fodder for many a TV program. People sit and watch, being fascinated and entertained. But God says that unsolved murders produce guilt upon a community.
Under the Law of Israel, when a man was found murdered, the nearest municipality had responsibility. If there were no suspects, that closest city needed to offer a sacrifice to keep the guilt of the murder from the people.
You see, the shedding of innocent blood brings guilt not only upon the murderer, but upon the people of the community as well. Jesus said to the scribes and Pharisees that because their fathers had shed the blood of the prophets,
Matt. 23:35 ...upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth...
The elders of the city responsible had to literally wash their hands of the guilt of innocent blood through this sacrifice.
I believe that we have completely lost sight of the fact that our city's sin is our responsibility. The transgressions of our nation are held to our account. As Christians, we often point the finger in disgust at the sin in the land, but rarely do we follow Daniel's example when he prayed,
Dan. 9:4-5 ..."Alas, O Lord, the great and awesome God ... we have sinned, committed iniquity, acted wickedly and rebelled, even turning aside from Your commandments and ordinances."
It was customary in ancient cultures that women were part of the plunder of war. Those captured in war were fair game for ravaging. But the Lord would not allow this. If a man decided he wanted a woman from the captives, he had to wait a month, and marry her properly.
Plus, she had to demonstrate that she was forsaking her old, pagan ways. She must break from her past, by having the clothes, hair, and nails of her previous life put behind her. She must also understand the concept of leaving father and mother and cleaving to her husband.
Now, even with these outward signs demonstrated, many would no doubt still not be believers. They might go through the outward actions, but not have an inward heart of faith. In that case, the Israelite would not be pleased with her, and he was instructed that if she wanted to go, he was to let her go, wherever she wished.
This is the same counsel that Paul gave to Christians when they were in a marriage with an unbeliever. He said,
1Cor. 7:12-13 ...if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her. And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not send her husband away.
1Cor. 7:15 Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace.
Notice that even when the unbeliever leaves, they are not to be mistreated. I have seen Christians endure such hardship in marriages with unbelievers, yet become harsh and bitter when the marriage comes to an end.
It is sad when a marriage doesn't work out, but when two people are unequally yoked and the unbeliever wants to leave, we need to let them leave. God has called us to peace, so don't mistreat the leaving unbeliever.
It is first of all important to remind ourselves that God did not create man to have more than one wife. Jesus pointed out,
Matt. 19:4-6 ..."Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE, and said, 'FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH'? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate."
Marriage is two people becoming one. And so just because God's law acknowledged that some men would have more than one wife doesn't put God's stamp of approval on it.
Now, in the case that a man has two wives, trouble is bound to be brewing. In this case, the Lord addresses the case of favoring one wife over another by refusing to give the firstborn son his rightful inheritance. God is saying, "There is to be no favoritism. You can't change the rules just because you like one person more than the other."
James warned against this in every area of our Christian lives:
James 2:1 My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism.
This Scripture is often quoted by frustrated parents of rebellious teenagers. "You know, if we lived in Bible days, you'd be dead by now!" And it's true. Teenagers' rebellion was not tolerated in the slightest. Children grew up knowing that this sort of behavior was unacceptable and had permanent consequences.
Now, parents, understand that we're not talking about a weird haircut or a nose ring. Teenagers can and should be allowed to express their thoughts and feelings both verbally and through their appearance, as long as it doesn't cross the line of decency. The Bible is not talking about appearance. It is talking about stubbornness, rebellion, refusing to listen to correction, failure to obey, drunkenness, and gluttony. I have no problem counseling parents in situations like this, "Leave them in jail. Don't bail them out." Or, as Paul said,
1Cor. 5:5 ...deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.
That may sound harsh, but clearly our heavenly Father allows us to suffer the consequences of our stubbornness and rebellion, knowing that it will either drive us to destruction, or drive us back into His arms.
Lastly, the Lord puts in a strange rule about capital punishment. It is strange because the Jews stoned people to death, so why would there need to be a rule about not leaving a body hanging on a tree all night if you happened to put him to death by hanging on a tree?
As it turns out, this becomes prophetically significant. For while the Jews stoned notorious criminals, the Romans crucified them. Paul points out to us that...
Gal. 3:13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us - for it is written, "CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE"
This law was put in place because one day, Jesus would be hanged on a tree, having become accursed for our accursed sin. But His body had to be buried. Thus, the law was in place that His body must not be on the tree into the night.
The Jews didn't want bodies hanging up overnight to defile their land on their holy day (John 19:31), and asked if the three men crucified that day could have their legs broken to cause them to die immediately.
Although Jesus' legs didn't need to be broken, since He was already dead, His body was still removed before the night began, and buried in the tomb by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. The Law was pointing prophetically to the day of the crucifixion.