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In the Gates

Utterly Destroy

Utterly Destroy--If possible, diplomacy should go ahead of war, to avoid conflict with neighboring peoples.

The eighth commandment

Deuteronomy 20.10-18

“‘When you draw near to a city to fight against it, offer terms of peace to it. And if it responds to you peaceably and it opens to you, then all the people who are found in it shall do forced labor for you and shall serve you. But if it makes no peace with you, but makes war against you, then you shall besiege it. And when the LORD your God gives it into your hand, you shall put all its males to the sword, but the women and the little ones, the livestock, and everything else in the city, all its spoil, you shall take as plunder for yourselves. And you shall enjoy the spoil of your enemies, which the LORD your God has given you. Thus you shall do to all the cities that are very far from you, which are not cities of the nations here. But in the cities of these peoples that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the LORD your God has commanded, that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the LORD your God.’”

If possible, diplomacy should go ahead of war, to avoid conflict with neighboring peoples. If peace can be achieved without strife, then those who would otherwise have been the objects of hostilities were to be reduced to slavery. As we have seen, in Israel under the Law of God, slavery was much to be preferred to death.

It’s again difficult for us to understand how the Law of God, given to promote love of neighbors, can sanction such violence as we read about in this statute. But this is a function of our historical perspective. The peoples against which Israel entered into warfare were not forgiving toward those they vanquished (cf. Deut. 2.12, 20-23). Those whom they defeated, they utterly destroyed. Any nation that would not submit to Israel and become slaves would certainly rise again, at some point, to wreak havoc against the people of God. This was to be avoided as much as possible by putting all vanquished males to the sword. All their goods could be plundered, but none must be left alive to corrupt or destroy the people of Israel.

In our day the Spirit of God is able to change the hearts of people, and we wait on Him, as we turn the other cheek to our enemies, in the hope that we might make of our enemies – and His – friends and brothers, just as He has done with us. One application of this statute to our day would seem to be that the Church should spare no expense in order to proclaim the Gospel to the lost and to plead with and bear with them so that they might be saved.

This series of In the Gates we present a detailed explanation of the Law of God, beginning with the Ten Commandments, and working through the statutes and rules that accompany each commandment. For a practical guide to the role of God’s Law in the practice of ethics, get The Ground for Christian Ethics by going to and click on our Book Store.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
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