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Deuteronomy 20

Deuteronomy 20:19, 20

19. When thou shalt besiege a city a long time, in making war against it to take it, thou shalt not destroy the trees thereof by forcing an axe against them: for thou mayest eat of them, and thou shalt not cut them down, (for the tree of the field is man’s life,) to employ them in the siege:

19. Si obsederis urbem, diebus multis pugnando adversus eam, ut capias eam, non disperdes arbores ejus, impellendo in eas securim: quia ex illarum fructibus vesceris, propterea ipsas non succides: (quia an homo arbor agri ut ingrediatur a facie tua in munitionem?)

20. 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.

20. Veruntamen arbores quas noveris non esse fructiferas, disperdes, et succides: et aedificabis munitionem adversus urbem illam quae tecum dimicat, donec descendat ipsa.


19. When thou shalt besiege a city a long time. 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. The sum is, that although the laws of war opened the gate to plunder and rapine, still they were to beware, as much as possible, lest the land being desolated, it should be barren for the future; in short, that the booty was so to be taken from the enemy, as that the advantage of the human race should still be considered, and that posterity might still be nourished by the trees which do not quickly arrive at the age of fruit-bearing. He commands them to spare fruit-trees, first of all, for this reason, because they supply food to all men; and thus the blessing of God is manifested in them. He then adds, as a second reason, that trees are exposed to everybody, whereby He signifies that war should not be waged with them as with men. This passage is indeed variously explained, but the sense which I have chosen accords very well and appears to be the right one. For, 160160     S M. and the LXX. agree in regarding ה as interrogative here, hence S M. renders the clause, “Thinkest thou that the tree of the field is man that he must depart from thy face in the siege?” and he quotes Rabbi Solomon as giving a similar exposition. But he also quotes Aben-Ezra as rendering the clause in the same manner as our A V. The word מצור admits of either of the two interpretations quoted by C. — W
   Dathe’s version is, “for they (i.e. the trees) are appointed by God for the use of men,” and he thinks that Moses undoubtedly had in view the precept in Genesis 1:29.
although the letter ה is demonstrative, according to the rules of grammar, and thus points out the enemy; yet, in my opinion, the sentence is to be taken interrogatively. But מצור, matzor, signifies rather a bulwark than a siege. God, therefore, indirectly reproves the stupidity and madness of men, who, when in arms, exert their strength against a tree which does not move from its place, but waits to meet them. Thus the open field is contrasted with the bulwark. Meanwhile, God permits ramparts and palisadoes, and other machines used in sieges, to be made of trees which do not bear fruit, and only provides that the tempest of war, which ought to be momentary, should not strip the land of its ornaments for many years. Still, there is no such strict rule laid down as that a fruit-tree may not be cut down if necessity demands it; but God restrains the Israelites from giving way to destruction and devastation under the impulse of anger and hatred, and in forgetfulness of the calls of humanity.

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