Deuteronomy 20

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Read Deuteronomy 20

Going to War

20 When you go to war against your enemies and see horses and chariots and an army greater than yours, do not be afraid of them, because the Lordyour God, who brought you up out of Egypt, will be with you. When you are about to go into battle, the priest shall come forward and address the army.He shall say: “Hear, Israel: Today you are going into battle against your enemies. Do not be fainthearted or afraid; do not panic or be terrified by them. For the Lord your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory.”

The officers shall say to the army: “Has anyone built a new house and not yet begun to live in it? Let him go home, or he may die in battle and someone else may begin to live in it. Has anyone planted a vineyard and not begun to enjoy it? Let him go home, or he may die in battle and someone else enjoy it. Has anyone become pledged to a woman and not married her? Let him go home, or he may die in battle and someone else marry her.” Then the officers shall add, “Is anyone afraid or fainthearted? Let him go home so that his fellow soldiers will not become disheartened too.” When the officers have finished speaking to the army, they shall appoint commanders over it.

10 When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace.11 If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you. 12 If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in battle, lay siege to that city. 13 When the Lord your God delivers it into your hand, put to the sword all the men in it. 14 As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city, you may take these as plunder for yourselves. And you may use the plunder the Lordyour God gives you from your enemies. 15 This is how you are to treat all the cities that are at a distance from you and do not belong to the nations nearby.

16 However, in the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. 17 Completely destroythem—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the Lord your God has commanded you. 18 Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the Lord your God.

19 When you lay siege to a city for a long time, fighting against it to capture it, do not destroy its trees by putting an ax to them, because you can eat their fruit. Do not cut them down. Are the trees people, that you should besiege them? 20 However, you may cut down trees that you know are not fruit trees and use them to build siege works until the city at war with you falls.

Go Deeper

Chapter 20 continues a theme of Moses laying out specifics for the people that align with the original laws given by God in Exodus. These words were given to Israel just before they were to receive the land that had been promised to them. For them to receive the land, through victories over many foes, they needed to prepare their hearts.

One reminder is for the Israelites to trust in the Lord. “When you go out to battle against your enemies more numerous than you, do not not be afraid for the Lord your God is with you, who brought you up from Egypt” (v. 1). Israel was a small nation and most armies were larger than the army of the Israelites, which could cause concern and fear. But what did the Israelites’ history show? God saved them from a much larger adversary when He delivered them from Pharaoh and Egypt. Paul says it well in Romans 8:31: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Us being one with God makes an unbeatable majority.

The chapter goes on to remind God’s people to be encouraged in the face of adversity. “Let not your heart be faint or be in dread or your enemies, for the Lord your God goes in to fight for you” (v. 4). When Israel was obedient and trusting in God, they could never lose. But when they were disobedient, or not trusting, they could never win—even if they had superior forces. This plays out every time Israel goes to battle in the Old Testament. Similarly, He fights for us in our everyday battles against temptations and sin. God wants us to trust Him and walk in obedience to His ways. 

Verses 5-9 remind us that the heart of the army far outweighs its size. God, in His wisdom, already knew that if the heart of the army was right, then the battle would always be won. He did not care about the size of the army. God’s power isn’t dependent on our muscle. God does care about the commitment and the trust of those in the battle. Reread verses 5-9 to see how God instructs the people to give exemptions to some men and why.  

God wants His people to remember His power, to trust Him, and to obey Him. In Matthew 28:16-20, Jesus gives the disciples what we call the Great Commission. Think about how these words link back to Deuteronomy:

“Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Though our assignment to win souls looks different than that of the Israelites in Deuteronomy 20 who needed to win battles, our command is still the same. God’s people are still called to trust and obey. Our power and authority isn’t found in ourselves, but in our great God who reigns in victory. 


  1. What battle are you fighting where you need spiritual victory? What doubts hold you back from believing that God can give you the victory you need?
  2. What are the things you need to do or complete in life to be ready to join God’s army?
  3. Jesus reminds us He is with us as we make disciples. Who in your life has God given you to disciple? Who do you turn to when you have doubts or need help understanding God’s commands? Pray for these people, and ask God to equip you with everything you need to “make disciples” in His power and for His glory. 

Listen Here

Check out this podcast reflection on Deuteronomy 20 from pastor and author David Platt.

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3 thoughts on “Deuteronomy 20”

  1. Kingdom work is messy work, because of the fractured world we live in. More often than not, we may feel overwhelmed and under qualified. Voices in our head coupled with fear can paralyze the calling of God to be his disciples in our polarized culture. We aren’t ever alone or forsaken in the struggles and hurdles we face, but have the assurance that HE IS WITH US!

  2. Fear Not, what powerful words to hear coming from God. He proved himself over and over. God wanted these men to be ready and gave reprieve for 3 different situations of home, harvest and honeymoons. He wanted their heads in war so that they were fully in. Also they were asked if afraid to battle then to stay home because fear is contagious, it could effect other soldiers. What I thought was very interesting was the preserving of the fruit trees. Taking care of natural resources was encouraged. War is destructive enough and using other trees for chopping down for needs but using fruit trees, which take years to produce well, for their purpose, food. God provides for us and explains why to great extent. We see the examples of when others have obeyed and disobeyed. Yet we still question. Human nature?

    Thank You God for Your word. Thank You for each detail You have given me to read and learn from. Please forgive me for not trusting and obeying better. Thank You for eyes to see and a heart to understand directions. Thank You for Your love Hesed love, steadfast, unfailing, faithful, loyal, covenant, undeserved, compassionate, enduring, complete, essential, abounding, generous, kind, beyond imagination LOVE!!!! Thank You for how I can sit in that overwhelming peace with love all wrapped around me today in Jesus name amen

  3. Instructions Concerning Warfare

    Like many people I know, I have never experienced war firsthand. So sometimes all these military descriptions can be hard to relate to. Yet sooner or later, we all face SPIRITUAL warfare. And never more so than when we take new territory on behalf of the Kingdom.

    So often the battle seems so big – and I know myself to be so small. So insecure. So insufficient.

    Yet when I am doubtful, it’s a sure sign I’ve grown forgetful: God is ALWAYS faithful.

    “REMEMBER,” He says, “You never fight alone. I AM always with you. You are never ill-equipped. I AM the God Who Provides.”

    In this chapter God provides through the people he brings into battle—and he gets pretty specific about the kind of people they should be. He wants only those who are passionate, single-minded of purpose, wholly committed to the cause.

    Far better to have five people on fire standing strong beside us—than a hundred lukewarm folks sitting on the fringe.

    Any time we set out to take new territory, we need spiritual warriors to come with us.

    I’m currently working with a publishing company to help me get out what I pray will be a message of kingdom impact. Their first instruction for all their authors? “Assemble your Prayer Team.“

    When we take on tasks of spiritual magnitude, we can’t do it alone— we need others willing to help. But more importantly, we need comrades ready to FIGHT. Spiritual battles are won together… by people on their knees.

    On that note, if you are already a part of the launch team for JP’s latest book, “Why I Do What I Don’t Want to Do,” thank you! I encourage us all not only to keep reading and sharing… but praying. And fighting.

    There’s a battle to be won!

    For more about working and fighting alongside each other, see Enduring Word’s commentary on Nehemiah 4:

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