Deuteronomy 20:20
Parallel Verses
New International Version
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.

King James Bible
Only the trees which thou knowest that they be not trees for meat, thou shalt destroy and cut them down; and thou shalt build bulwarks against the city that maketh war with thee, until it be subdued.

Darby Bible Translation
Only the trees which thou knowest are not trees for meat, thou mayest destroy and cut them down, and build bulwarks against the city that maketh war with thee, until it fall.

World English Bible
Only the trees of which you know that they are not trees for food, you shall destroy and cut them down; and you shall build bulwarks against the city that makes war with you, until it fall.

Young's Literal Translation
Only, the tree, which thou knowest that it is not a fruit-tree, it thou dost destroy, and hast cut down, and hast built a bulwark against the city which is making with thee war till thou hast subdued it.

Deuteronomy 20:20 Parallel
Commentary
Clarke's Commentary on the Bible

(For the tree of the field is man's life) to employ them in the siege - The original is exceedingly obscure, and has been variously translated, כי האדם עץ השדה לבא מפניך במצור ki haadam ets hassadeh labo mippaneycha bammatsor. The following are the chief versions: For, O man, the trees of the field are for thee to employ Them in the siege - or, For it is man, and the tree of the field, that must go before thee for a bulwark - or, For it is a tree, and not men, to increase the number of those who come against thee to the siege - or, lastly, The tree of the field (is as) a man, to go before thy face for a bulwark. The sense is sufficiently clear, though the strict grammatical meaning of the words cannot be easily ascertained: it was a merciful provision to spare all fruit-bearing trees, because they yielded the fruit which supported man's life; and it was sound policy also, for even the conquerors must perish if the means of life were cut off.

It is diabolic cruelty to add to the miseries of war the horrors of famine; and this is done where the trees of the field are cut down, the dykes broken to drown the land, the villages burnt, and the crops wilfully spoiled. O execrable war! subversive of all the charities of life!

There are several curious particulars in these verses:

1. The people had the most positive assurances from God that their enemies should not be able to prevail against them by strength, numbers, nor stratagem, because God should go with them to lead and direct them, and should fight for them; and against his might none could prevail.

2. All such interferences were standing proofs of the being of God, of his especial providence, and of the truth of their religion.

3. Though God promised them such protection, yet they were to expect it in the diligent use of their own prudence and industry. The priests, the officers, and the people, had their respective parts to act in this business; if they did their duty respectively, God would take care that they should be successful. Those who will not help themselves with the strength which God has already given them, shall not have any farther assistance from him. In all such cases, the parable of the talents affords an accurate rule.

4. Their going to war against their enemies must not deprive them of mercy and tenderness towards their brethren. He who had built a house and had not yet dwelt in it, who had planted a vineyard and had not eaten of its fruits, who had betrothed a wife and had not yet taken her to his house, was not obliged to go to battle, lest he should fall in the war, and the fruits of his industry and affection be enjoyed by others. He who was faint-hearted was also permitted to return, lest he should give way in the heat of battle, and his example have a fatal influence on others.

Treasury of Scripture Knowledge

thou shalt build

Deuteronomy 1:28 Where shall we go up? our brothers have discouraged our heart, saying, The people is greater and taller than we...

2 Chronicles 26:15 And he made in Jerusalem engines, invented by cunning men, to be on the towers and on the bulwarks...

Ecclesiastes 9:14 There was a little city, and few men within it; and there came a great king against it, and besieged it...

Isaiah 37:33 Therefore thus said the LORD concerning the king of Assyria, He shall not come into this city, nor shoot an arrow there...

Jeremiah 6:6 For thus has the LORD of hosts said, Hew you down trees, and cast a mount against Jerusalem: this is the city to be visited...

Jeremiah 33:4 For thus said the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning the houses of this city, and concerning the houses of the kings of Judah...

Ezekiel 17:17 Neither shall Pharaoh with his mighty army and great company make for him in the war, by casting up mounts, and building forts...

be subdued [heb] come down

Library
'Fit, Though Few'
'Then Jerubbaal, who is Gideon, and all the people that were with him, rose up early, and pitched beside the well of Harod: so that the host of the Midianites were on the north side of them, by the hill of Moreh, in the valley. 2. And the Lord said unto Gideon, The people that are with thee are too many for Me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel vaunt themselves against Me, saying, Mine own hand hath saved me. 3. Now therefore go to, proclaim in the ears of the people, saying, Whosoever
Alexander Maclaren—Expositions of Holy Scripture

Deuteronomy
Owing to the comparatively loose nature of the connection between consecutive passages in the legislative section, it is difficult to present an adequate summary of the book of Deuteronomy. In the first section, i.-iv. 40, Moses, after reviewing the recent history of the people, and showing how it reveals Jehovah's love for Israel, earnestly urges upon them the duty of keeping His laws, reminding them of His spirituality and absoluteness. Then follows the appointment, iv. 41-43--here irrelevant (cf.
John Edgar McFadyen—Introduction to the Old Testament

Cross References
Deuteronomy 20:19
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?

Deuteronomy 21:1
If someone is found slain, lying in a field in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess, and it is not known who the killer was,

Ecclesiastes 9:14
There was once a small city with only a few people in it. And a powerful king came against it, surrounded it and built huge siege works against it.

Jeremiah 6:6
This is what the LORD Almighty says: "Cut down the trees and build siege ramps against Jerusalem. This city must be punished; it is filled with oppression.

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