Deuteronomy 20:1-20 (Part 3)

Regulations Concerning War

As I have been reading this passage multiple times over the past few days, it was easy to pick out and write about facing opposition and about destroying bad influences in our lives. Those things were pretty obvious. However, those things are wrapped around a couple of verses that have been in the back of my mind the whole time the past two days. The first four verses of the passage were where I drew the inspiration for Sunday’s blog about facing opposition and then vv. 10-20 were the source for yesterday’s blog about staying true to God’s Word and not immersing ourselves in sinful situations. Then, there was vv. 5-9. Why did God inspire Moses to write those words? Why was he sending people home from the army of Israel?

 

I think the best way to understand these verses is through an illustration and through the context of what comes before and after these verses in the passage. The illustration here comes from the 2016 version of my favorite college football program, the Clemson University Tigers. In 2015, the Tigers came within maybe 2 minutes of winning the national championship. They played well enough to win that game against Alabama but there were two plays in that game that cost them the title. The game proved that Clemson and Alabama were equals when it came to talent and desire. However, it was two special teams plays that cost the Tigers the championship. The onside kick by Alabama, a brilliant move by Coach Saban of Alabama, that they recovered (because of something they saw on film about the Tigers’ kickoff return team’s habits), in effect, stole a possession away from Clemson and allowed Alabama to score against an already tired Clemson defense. The second special teams play was a kickoff return by Alabama where a few Tiger coverage guys blew their assignments and got out of position. It is the little things that are the difference in the battles between two equally matched teams.

 

One thing about this past year’s (2016’s) Tigers was that they had great resolve. There was one goal and one goal only that would suit this band of Tiger footballers. It was getting back to the championship game, and, hopefully, against Alabama. Even the upset loss at home to Pittsburgh, it seemed to further steel their resolve to do all the little things right from then on. After the loss to Pittsburgh, the Tigers were one focused football team. Coach Swinney said that this particular team was his easiest to coach. To a man, the players policed each other, encouraged each other, and were willing to do all the hard work on the little things to get back to the championship game. He did not have to create motivation for this team. All of his previous teams were ones that he motivated by saying that no one respects you – so go out and prove you belong among the elite programs in the country. This team, though, he simply said to them, “embrace the target.” Everyone knew the Tigers of 2016 were going to be national championship caliber but the issue would be whether they wanted it bad enough. Ultimately, Coach Swinney said that this team was willing to make the sacrifices, willing to put their hearts on the line, do what was necessary and by far the easiest team to coach he has ever had. There was commitment. There were no distractions for this team. They wanted it. Everybody was all-in. Anything less than a title shot in 2016 was unacceptable. A national championship was their heart’s desire and everyone was “all-in”. The question now becomes, for the Tigers, is now that the leaders of the 2015/2016 Tigers are all gone off to the NFL, will the 2017 team have that same hunger and same commitment. When you look at the 2017 roster and the recruiting class coming in, the 2017 team has the talent to make it to the college football playoffs for a third straight year, but will they be “all-in” like the 2016 team? Will they have that complete focus without letting the distractions of being the reigning national champions get in the way? Will they have that inner drive that compels them to greatness like the 2016 team did?

 

That’s what I thought of this morning when reading about sending people home from the battle preparations and it became clear in the context of the Scripture before and after vv. 5-9 and in context of what I have written about the last two blogs. Let’s read the whole passage now with particular focus on vv. 5-9 and how it fits into the whole passage:

 

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 Lord your God, who brought you up out of Egypt, will be with you. 2 When you are about to go into battle, the priest shall come forward and address the army. 3 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. 4 For the Lord your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory.”

 

5 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. 6 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. 7 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.” 8 Then the officers shall add, “Is anyone afraid or fainthearted? Let him go home so that his fellow soldiers will not become disheartened too.” 9 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 Lord your 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 destroy[a] them—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?[b] 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.

 

In this passage, we see the commanders sending people home from the battle preparations. This fact seemed hard to comprehend at first. But then, I got to thinking about how little things can defeat and how complete focus can lead to victory which led me to think about the 2015 Tigers compared to the 2016 Tigers. Attention to detail and complete focus was that minute little difference between a runner 2015 team and the 2016 team. If we have something that takes our focus away from God, it will defeat us. We must have attention to detail as Christ followers. We can never cruise. When we become complacent as Christians, we take shortcuts in our walk with Christ. We quit doing the little things that bring us victory over sin. When we become focused on other things, we first cut out prayer time. Then, as we become slack, we cut out our bible study and meditation upon what we read. Next, participation in ministries becomes optional. Next, we get into little battles of ego with people and leaders at church. Next, church attendance becomes optional. Next, we are not attending church at all. Next, you can’t tell the difference between us and the culture that we live in … and we accept sinful lifestyles as OK.

 

We cannot half-ass our walk with Christ no more than football players win championships without sacrifice and hard work. We will face opposition and we will face influences that require us to be completely focused on God’s Word and on the Holy Spirit’s guidance in our lives. We must be all-in. Otherwise, we never grow as Christ followers. We never make it to being championship-level Christians. We cannot dabble in the sins of the culture and expect to be championship-level Christians. We cannot overcome opposition to being a Christ follower without that steely-edged resolve to cling to the Father even if it leaves us standing alone against the crowd. Opposition will come to us. Satan wants mediocre Christians that he does not have to worry about. Satan wants there to be Christian soldiers who are distracted and will not be much trouble. He would rather have Christians who must be sent home from battle because they have their love in other things. What Satan worries about is those all-in, do-whatever-it-takes, battle-tested, full-of-passion-for-the-Lord Christians who will not turn and run because of opposition. He is afraid of those who cling to Jesus and believe His Word, study His Word daily, pray daily, submit themselves daily to the Lord. He is afraid of these championship-caliber Christians who are all-in, no guts-no glory kind of Christians. Embrace the target, to borrow Coach Swinney’s phrase. Embrace the target of being an all-in Christ follower. If we are all championship-caliber Christians who were willing to do anything for the Lord, just imagine how different our world would be.

 

Let us no longer accept being mediocre, distracted Christians. Let us be totally focused, all-in Christians. Let us change the world for Jesus Christ! Let us be able to hear him say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant!”

 

Amen and Amen.

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