"When you approach a city to fight against it, you shall offer it terms of peace. If it agrees to make peace with you and opens to you, then all the people who are found in it shall become your forced labor and shall serve you. However, if it does not make peace with you, but makes war against you, then you shall besiege it. When the Lord your God gives it into your hand, you shall strike all the men in it with the edge of the sword. Only the women and the children and the animals and all that is in the city, all its spoil, you shall take as booty for yourself; and you shall use the spoil of your enemies which the Lord your God has given you. Thus you shall do to all the cities that are very far from you, which are not of the cities of these nations nearby. Only in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, you shall not leave alive anything that breathes. But you shall utterly destroy them, the Hittite and the Amorite, the Canaanite and the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite, as the Lord your God has commanded you, so that they may not teach you to do according to all their detestable things which they have done for their gods, so that you would sin against the Lord your God." (Deuteronomy 20:10-18)This passage gives us several principles relating to the execution of a war.
Diplomacy before war: Conflicts are bound to arise between nations, but the first response should never be war but rather diplomacy. The nation of Israel was to first offer terms of peace to those nations that stood before them. This was an attempt to achieve a negotiated peace and to avoid the blood shed of war. This principle is consistent with God's dealings with mankind. When God was ready to judge the city of Nineveh He first sent a prophet to warn them of their sins, proclaim God's impending judgment, and call them to repentance. The Ninevites repented in dust and ashes and God also repented of the harm He had purposed on Nineveh. "When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it." (Jonah 3:10) Diplomacy should come first, but if diplomacy fails, then war may be the only option.
A measured response: Israel's ferociousness in battle was determined by the degree to which her opponent posed a threat to her way of life. For remote nations, God allowed them to keep the women, children, animals, and spoils or war, but for the nations that made up the land they went to possess, they were to destroy everything in which was the breath of life. Their response in war was a measured response based on the specific dangers posed by their enemies. In this case, remote nations posed a reduced threat to the nation of Israel while the nations of the land of Canaan posed a direct and immediate threat. "So that they may not teach you to do according to all their detestable things which they have done for their gods, so that you would sin against the Lord your God." (Deuteronomy 20:18) In war, our response should be measured and appropriate to the perceived threat.
Peace through victory: The goal of war is victory. Israel was to pursue here enemies until they were either destroyed or were subjugated to their control. "Then all the people who are found in it shall become your forced labor and shall serve you." (Deuteronomy 20:11) Sometimes peace is only achieve through victory. For over four thousand years there has been waring in the middle east between the Jews and the decedents of Ishmael. While much effort has been exerted to achieve a negotiated peace, I wonder if peace will only come to that region through victory; one side reigning victorious over the other. In victory there is a winner and a looser, a dictator and a dictated, an imposer and an acceptor and so it should be. We should not fear victory nor stop short of its full realization for, without victory, peace is unsure.
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