In battle, no fear
Don’t freak out1 You’re going to find yourself on battlefields, looking at hostile armies bigger than yours. Some of those armies are reinforced by cavalry and chariots. But don’t let them scare you. The LORD your God who brought you this far—all the way from slavery in Egypt—will be right there with you. 2 Before the battle begins, the priest will step up and talk to the army. 3 He’ll encourage them by saying, “Listen to me, Israel. You’re headed into a battle. Courage. Don’t let fear cause you to panic and freeze up. There’s no reason to be afraid of this enemy.
When to send soldiers home4 You’ve got the LORD your God fighting on your side. Your enemy is his enemy. He’s going to win this battle for you.” 5 Military officers will address the army, too. They’ll say, “We’re going to grant leave to anyone who meets the following conditions:
New house. You’ve built a house but haven’t dedicated it yet. Go home and dedicate it. If you don’t, you might die in battle and someone else would dedicate it.
6 Vineyard. You planted a vineyard but haven’t harvested it. Go home and harvest it. If you don’t, you might die in battle and someone else would enjoy the fruit of your labor.
7 Engaged. You’re engaged but not yet married. Go home and marry the woman. If you don’t, you might die in battle and someone else would marry her.”
8 Military officers will also say, “If you’re terrified and feel your courage slipping away, go home. Those feelings are contagious. We don’t want the others catching what you’ve got.” 9 When top officers are done talking, company and squad officers will assume command of their units.
Let distant towns surrender10 When you come to towns outside your borders, give them a chance to surrender. 11 If they surrender, they’re yours to command. They’ll do whatever work you give them. 12 If they refuse to surrender, lay siege to the city. Cut them off from the outside. 13 When the LORD your God hands the city to you, kill all the men. 14 But keep the woman, children, animals, and everything else in the city that you want. These belong to you as payment for your services in the war. The LORD your God took them from your enemy and gave them to you. 15 This is how you’ll deal with every city beyond the borders of your people. But it’s not how you’ll handle towns in the land the LORD is giving you.
Annihilate local towns16 But when you come to towns in the land the LORD your God is giving you, kill everything that breathes. 17 Annihilate them. Hittites. Amorites, Canaanites. Perizzites. Hivites. Jebusites. 18 You’re doing this so none of them will be left here to teach you the despicable things they do in serving their gods. If you started doing any of that, you would be sinning against the LORD your God.
Save the trees19 When you lay siege to a city, don’t cut down fruit trees in the area. You might need the fruit from those trees later. Those trees are your friends, not your enemies. 20 If you need wood to build siegeworks and weapons, cut down trees that don’t produce fruit.
Horse-drawn chariots were the ancient equivalent of today’s armored tank. They terrified infantry because a fast-moving chariot drawn by a team of horses could plow a path right through a line of foot soldiers. Chariots didn’t have that advantage in the Judean hills, however. And many scholars say those hills are where Joshua and the Israelites initially concentrated their invasion efforts.
This verse doesn’t say the cities are outside the land of the 12 tribes, but 20:15 does.
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