The Scriptorium

Concerning War (1)

Instructions for their warfare. And ours. Deuteronomy 20.1-11

A Holy Nation (2): Deuteronomy 19-21 (3)

Opening Prayer: Psalm 115.1-3
Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us,
But to Your name give glory,
Because of Your mercy,
Because of Your truth.
Why should the Gentiles say,
“So where is their God?”
But our God is in heaven;π
He does whatever He pleases.

Psalm 115.1-3

(Plainfield: Nothing but the Blood of Jesus)
Not to us, O God, not us, but unto Your Name give glory!
For Your love and faithfulness, ever to Your Name be glory!
Why should the nations cry, “Where is their God on high?”
You rule us, Lord, on high: Ever to Your Name be glory!

Today’s Text: Deuteronomy 20.1-11

1. Who was exempt from going to war in ancient Israel?

2. In the case of enemy cities, what was to be done before going to war?

Let’s note a few things regarding these instructions for going to war.

First, war was to be engaged against enemies (v. 1). The noun, אֹיֵב, oyev, comes from a verb which means “to be hostile.” Enemies were those who were hostile to God’s people and His purposes for them. Israel could not create enemies, say, just because some king wanted more land or treasure. Some hostility needed to exist to justify Israel’s going to war.

Second, the people were to remember that, even in such an utterly human undertaking as war, God would be with them; therefore, they needed to keep looking to Him, so that they would not be afraid of their enemies, though they may have had larger and stronger forces (v. 2-4). God was with Israel, and they must never forget that.

Third, certain things in Israel were more important than universal military service. Having a new house which had not been dedicated, for example (v. 5). Or a new vineyard, or a new wife (vv. 6, 7). Israel was at all times to keep in mind these priorities: family and farmstead first, fighting second. The future of the nation was in Law-abiding homes and fruitful farms, not in military conquests.

Fourth, fear of dying in battle was a legitimate reason not to have to fight. That’s because God understands that not everyone can muster the courage for battle. Such men were to be excused, and without opprobrium or stigma. It was better for them to return home, to invest their energies in family and farmstead, than to risk infecting their fellow combatants with their fears (vv. 8, 9).

Finally, war was to be regarded as a last resort. Diplomacy must first be employed to bring the hostility of Israel’s enemies to heel (vv. 10, 11). We’ll derive a few more principles guiding the practice of war in our next installment.

Treasure Old and New: Matthew 13.52; Psalm 119.162
The thing about stuff and loved ones is that they can divide our thinking, taking our focus from one needed place and moving it to another. God knew this; and in the case of war, He made allowances, so that such divided thinking would not lead to disaster on the field of battle. As we reflect on our own situation – perhaps married, and with children, homes, and more – how do we keep focused on our service in the Kingdom in the face of constant spiritual warfare? “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand” (Eph. 6.12, 13). Paul also tells us that we must “serve the Lord without distraction” (1 Cor. 7.35). God ordained and grants us families, homes, and stuff with this caveat: “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Deut. 6.5; Matt. 22.37). When we are dressed for battle, and we love God supremely, the relationship we have with our loved ones and stuff takes on the proper focus and perspective. Concerning war – and peace – this attitude makes all the difference.


1. How can we keep from being distracted from our calling to the Kingdom and glory of God (1 Thess. 2.12)?

2. What can we do to keep our loved ones and our stuff within the framework of seeking the Kingdom and righteousness of God (Matt. 6.33)?

3. Israel’s warfare was intermittent. Ours is continuous. How can believers help one another to be strong and victorious in our warfare?

The sum, therefore, is that, amidst the very clang of arms, they must not be in such confusion as not to recognize that they are under the guardianship of God, or to lose the confidence they will be safe in reliance on His power. He does not, however, encourage them rashly to engage in war, but takes it for granted that there is a legitimate cause for it…
John Calvin (1509-1564), Commentary on Deuteronomy 20.1

Lord, I offer my body today as a living sacrifice to You, so help me to…

Closing Prayer: Psalm 115.9-18
Thank God for His blessings on His Church, and pray that His people throughout the world may have peace and be peace-bringers to their neighbors.

Psalm 115.9-18
(Plainfield: Nothing but the Blood of Jesus)
All who trust in Jesus yield – ever to His Name be glory! –
find in Him their help and shield – ever to Your Name be glory!
O Israel, trust the Lord!  He helps us evermore!
Fear Him obey His Word: Ever to Your Name be glory!

Blessings from our gracious Lord – ever to Your Name be glory –
will attend us evermore – ever to Your Name be glory!
Bless all who fear You, Lord, all who obey Your Word,
all who Your Name adore: Ever to Your Name be glory!

Grant us, Savior, great increase – ever to Your Name be glory!
Bless us with eternal peace – ever to Your Name be glory!
Heaven and earth are Yours; let every soul adore
and bless You evermore: Ever to Your Name be glory!

T. M. and Susie Moore

Listen to our summary of last week’s study in Deuteronomy by clicking here. You can download all the studies in the series by clicking here.

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. All quotations from Church Fathers from
Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy: Ancient Christian Commentary Series III, Joseph T. Lienhard, S. J. ed. in collaboration with Ronnie J. Rombs, General Editor Thomas C. Oden (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001). All quotations from John Calvin from John Calvin, Commentaries on The Four Last Books of Moses Arranged in the Order of A Harmony, Rev. Charles William Bingham M. A., tr. and ed. (Edinburgh: The Calvin Translation Society, 1863. All psalms for singing are from The Ailbe Psalter (available by clicking here).

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 Essex Junction, VT.
Books by T. M. Moore