The Scriptorium

Concerning War (2)

War was serious business because holiness is. Deuteronomy 20.12-20

A Holy Nation (2): Deuteronomy 19-21 (4)

Opening Prayer: Psalm 144.1, 2
Blessed be the LORD my Rock,
Who trains my hands for war,
And my fingers for battle—
My lovingkindness and my fortress,
My high tower and my deliverer,
My shield and the One in whom I take refuge,
Who subdues my people under me.

Psalm 144.1, 2

(Tidings: O Zion, Haste, Your Mission High Fulfilling)
Blessed be the Lord, Who trains my hands for battle;
He is my Rock, my steadfast love and strength!
He is my shield; no foe can shake or rattle;
He will subdue them all to me at length.
Refrain v. 15
 Happy are they on whom blessings fall!
 Blessed are the people who on Jesus’ mercy call!

Today’s Text: Deuteronomy 20.12-20

1. How were the armies of Israel to treat distant cities that warred with them?

2. How were they to treat the cities that were in the land of Canaan?

Let’s begin with how Israel was to deal with the pagan cities in the land of Canaan, the land given to them by the promise of God to their fathers. Simply put, Israel was to show no quarter (vv. 16-18). The pagan peoples of Canaan had become so abominable in the eyes of the Lord that they were to be destroyed to the last person, lest any should survive to lead the people of Israel astray. In God’s eyes, the abominations of these peoples, promoted by and sustaining their idolatrous practices, were beyond redress (cf. Gen. 6.5-7). Israel must show no mercy in these cases.

The people might also have to fight wars against enemies in distant places (vv. 12-15). These would likely have been provocations initiated by enemies, not the people of Israel. In such cases, upon gaining the victory, only the men of the city were to be put to the sword. Women and children could be taken by the people of Israel, to serve them as slaves. All the plunder would go the armies of the Lord. This seems harsh, and God’s reasoning for sparing the women and children is not entirely clear. But think: If the men of that distant city, who promoted war against Israel, were all dead – as a result of their wrong decision to go to war with God’s people – taking the women and children as slaves could be considered an act of mercy. Slaves in Israel, as we have seen, had rights. They could not be beaten. They could gain wealth. They could marry. They could even run away. Yes, they were slaves; but better to be a slave in Israel than destitute and starving in a city destroyed by its own bad choices.

Finally, war is no excuse for savaging the creation (vv. 19, 20). All-out, scorched earth policies were forbidden. Creation is the servant of God’s people, and we must learn to use it as God intends (Ps. 118.89-91, Ps. 8).

Treasure Old and New: Matthew 13.52; Psalm 119.162
“…lest they teach you to do according to all their abominations which they have done for their gods, and you sin against the LORDyour God” (Deut. 20.18). Being close to those who break God’s Law is always a risky endeavor. Even our friendships are to be of a godly nature (Prov. 12.26; 1 Cor. 15.33). The danger is always lurking that we will turn away from the Lord. We must watch our deviations, because a small one today will become a larger one tomorrow. It is just the way our human nature works; and we need to be careful. Always. We are told to submit to God: “Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (Jms. 4.7, 8). We must keep our distance from anything that would lead us away from our loving heavenly Father. We must be brave to war against the sins that so easily ensnare us, so that we run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus… (Heb. 12.1, 2)


1. God sought to protect His people from ungodly influences. How do His actions counsel us?
2. What does it mean to hate evil (Ps. 97.10)? Why is it important that we do so?

3. What is involved in resisting the devil? How do we know when it’s time to resist him?

I have not hesitated to annex this precept to the Eighth Commandment, for when God lays a restraint on the liberty of inflicting injuries in the very heat of war, with respect to felling trees, much more did He desire His people to abstain from all mischievous acts in time of peace.  
John Calvin (1509-1564), Commentary on Deuteronomy 20.19-22

Strengthen me, Lord, for the spiritual warfare I will encounter today, so that I…

Closing Prayer: Psalm 144.3-15
Call on the Lord to protect you from enemies today – spiritual and otherwise – and to lead you forth to fight the good fight for His Kingdom.

Psalm 144.3-15
(Tidings: O Zion, Haste, Your Mission High Fulfilling)
Lord, who are we, that You regard and love us?
Why should You care for our poor sinful plight?
We are but breath; You dwell on high above us;
our days like shadows pass before Your light.

Refrain v. 15
 Happy are they on whom blessings fall!
 Blessed are the people who on Jesus’ mercy call!

Bow down the heav’ns, come down and touch the mountains.
Flash forth like lightning; scatter all Your foes!
Send out Your arrows, send them out to rout them;
stretch forth Your hand and save us from all woes!

From every foe and every lie deliver!
Then will we sing new songs unto Your praise.
Rescue Your servants, who are Yours forever;
grant us deliv’rance by Your hand always.

Bless, Lord, our children, strengthen them forever.
All our provision, day by day supply.
Bless our endeavors; from distress deliver.
Keep us from harm and all distressing cries.

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