Sunday, December 9, 2012

Bible Commentary - Deuteronomy 24

In this chapter, Moses gives us instructions on divorce, the handling of pledges and several other laws.

Like the last chapter, this chapter contains a mixture of laws that cover several topics.  However, the bulk of the material here relates to theft: taking a possession as a loan is lawful; taking a possession by theft is unlawful.  My big theme in Deuteronomy has been analyzing most of the book as "specific stipulations" that correspond with the "general stipulations" listed in the Ten Commandments of Deut 5.  This chapter, therefore, can be viewed as the author delving into a detailed analysis of what constitutes theft and related provisions.

The first part of this chapter is still related to adultery (7th commandment), because adultery generalizes to the subject of marriage.  The first thing I noticed in this passage is that it is the man who is authorized to divorce his wife, and not vice versa.  This likely reflects the power of the husband in Hebrew culture, as the head of his household.  We have seen this male authority reflected in a number of ways, and this is just one more way.  I would be willing to guess that if the woman wished to divorce, in most cases the man would assent.  However, it appears that the man is clearly the authority in this scenario, as the woman requires his permission to divorce.

While this appears to create a scenario of abuse (i.e. the husband abusing the wife without her having any recourse), there were likely paths of recourse for the wives of abusive husbands, either through her birth family or through the town elders.  Spousal abuse is rarely (if ever) addressed in the bible, either in the narrative sections or the legal sections.  Protection against abuse would have been enshrined in traditional or cultural mores that frame the often-confusing backdrop of the Pentateuch.

One instance where spousal abuse is briefly discussed in Gen 31:50 where Leban warns Jacob that if Jacob ever mistreats Laban's daughters then the LORD will see and take vengeance.  Jacob often had a difficult relationship with Leah and to an extent Rachel as well, but there is no evidence he ever intentionally abused them.

Another element I find interesting is that divorce involves a written certificate, since writing is rarely discussed in the Pentateuch.  We know that the king is commanded to write out a copy of the law (Deut 17:18), that Moses (and God) wrote down the law at Sinai (Ex 24:12, 31:18 and others), and that the curses of accused infidelity were written on paper and then washed off (Num 5:23).

Writing things down is not unheard of, but it is somewhat rare.  I think it's important in this case to have written evidence of divorce because having sex with a married woman is punishable by death.

Anyway, the specific law in this passage is that having bee married twice, it is unlawful for the woman to remarry her original husband, and I don't know why.  She is free to marry someone else, however.

Verse 5 reaffirms the laws given in Deut 20, that a newly married man is exempt from military service for one year.

Beginning in verse 6 are a series of laws related to loans and other subjects.  First, I need to explain what a pledge is.  A pledge, in short, is a piece of collateral that is held by the creditor.  If the loan is not repaid, then just like collateral the creditor becomes owner of the pledge.

The reason why it is forbidden to take millstones as a pledge is because these were needed for milling out grain to make bread.  Taking a millstone away from its owner prevents that person from cooking bread, which we can suppose was essential to their diet at the time.

Similarly, in v. 10-13, it is talking about a man who is so poor that the only thing he can give for a pledge is his cloak, a standard garment akin to a shirt.  The law commands the Israelites to return such a pledge to the man before sundown, so that he might sleep in it and not get cold.  This would leave the loan non-collateralized, which is why it's a risk for the creditor to give the pledge back.  Verse 10 is meant as a sign of respect, that the person can bring the pledge out rather than you go in to take it from him.

Verse 7 makes kidnapping illegal, which relates to theft because the Hebrew literally says "if a man is found stealing any of his brothers from the sons of Israel..."

Verse 14-15 commands the Israelites to pay a hired worker before sundown rather than keeping the wages overnight, as this is like "stealing his wages".  Note that this protection extends to both Israelites and foreigners.

Verses 8-9 seem unrelated to theft: it is a reminder to obey the laws governing skin diseases that we read in Leviticus.  This is the only direct reference to the Levitical laws that we have seen, which means that Deuteronomy must have been written with the knowledge of Leviticus.  Since Deuteronomy also references the histories contained in Numbers, Exodus and Genesis, these books must have all been written with common knowledge.  Leviticus has always been the odd-book out, because it contains very little of the historical narrative that we find in the other four books (including Deuteronomy).  Some of the laws in Leviticus are repeated in the other books, but now the Levitical code is directly mentioned.  This passage also contains the unusual phrase "Levitical priests", which did not occur in any of the previous books.

I don't know why this is here; it doesn't relate to any commandment in particular.

Verses 17-18 continues with the theme of not taking excessive pledges from the poor, as well as "not perverting justice".

Verses 19-22 also relate to theft by legalizing the poor to harvest in another man's field after his own harvesters have passed through.  This is different from the command in Deut 23:24-25, which legalizes eating from a man's field.  In that passage, it is legal for anyone to pick from a field they pass through no matter the time of year, but illegal to reap from that field.  In this chapter, it says that a man should harvest his field in one pass, and that anything left behind is left for the poor.  That means that the poor can harvest and reap from a field once its owner has passed through it.  We see this later in the book of Ruth when Ruth (a poor widow) goes to the field of Boaz and follows his harvesters reaping.  That is, Boaz's harvesters were still in the field and Ruth was following behind them reaping whatever they left behind, whether in field, vineyard or olive grove (the three staple crops of Israel).

Verse 16 is also out of place here.  It makes for a peculiar contrast to Ex 34:7 and even Deut 23:2-3.  It's hard to explain how we should not put someone to death for the father's sin, but the LORD "visits the iniquity of the fathers on the children".  I explained Ex 34:7 at the time by saying that it was probably a reference to the implicit effect of sinful fathers, whose sins harm their children whether the LORD wishes it or not.

On the other hand, v. 16 in this chapter is referring to legal punishment, whether the Israelites should kill children for the sins of their fathers.  To that question, the answer is no.  I think the key expression might be "visits the iniquity"; what does it mean for a father's sin to "visit" that man's descendants?  To me, that seems like a broad and vague statement that might not reference specific punishment.  I feel that in my own life, the sins of my own ancestors "visit" me in part by shaping the environment in which I grew up.  Even though I never knew my great grandparents, nor did I know well my grandparents, I do know that their decisions shaped my own parents growing up, who in turn have affected me in a lot of ways.

Both the good and the bad have been passed down and shape me in part.  That is the first message of the bible, and we see it in the sins of Adam and Eve opening the door to death in the world, which has "visited" all of us.  However, we would be remiss to ignore the second message of the bible, which is God's power to redeem sin, to turn darkness into light (Gen 1:3-4) and to take all good things and even bad things and to transform it into a greater good.

Even when God's actions are judgment and destruction (such as Sodom, Egypt or Canaan) we should remember that his forbearance is greater than his judgment, but even in his judgment there is a redemptive purpose.  The fallacy of man is to see judgment and not perceive the redemptive purpose.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Bible Commentary - Deuteronomy 23

In this chapter, Moses gives the Israelites laws covering many topics.

As much as I like trying to find unifying themes in the passages I write about, this one really just seems to be a grab bag of various things that have little correlation.

The last chapter shifted the discourse from the topic of murder (6th commandment) to adultery (7th commandment).  This chapter doesn't seem to relate to either adultery or theft (the 8th commandment).

Since I don't see any overriding theme, I will simply address the laws of this chapter in order.

Verses 1-5: In retribution for the hostility of the Ammonites and Moabites (Num 22).  What's interesting is that we weren't specifically told that the Ammonites ever did anything to Israel.  The Israelites fought against the Amalekites, Amorites, Moabites and Edomites to various extents, but never the Ammonites.  We know that the Ammonites and Moabites would likely have been allies, both descended from Lot.  That is probably why the sons of Ammon are included in this passage.

Secondly, the phrase "assembly of the LORD" does not mean membership in Israel, because men with injured genitals would still have been within the community.  Probably this phrase refers to religious convocations, because we had already been told that priests with injured genitals could not minister before the LORD (Lev 21:20).  However, that same passage in Leviticus tells us that those priests may still eat of the holy food, so the prohibition is not total.  Similarly, what this means is that Ammonites and Moabites are still allowed to convert (Ex 12:48), but would not be allowed into the ceremonies of the tabernacle and the courtyard.

Verses 7-8: The Edomites also resisted the Israelites (Num 20:18), yet here the Israelites are commanded to "not detest" them because they are brothers (Esau, aka Edom, the brother of Jacob), while the Moabites are only cousins (sons of Lot, brother of Abraham).  Meanwhile the Egyptians enslaved the Israelites for generations, but are not to be resented because they were a "host" to the Israelites, after a fashion.

(skipping verse 9)

Verses 10-11: This appears to be similar to Lev 15:16.

Verses 12-14: Basic health ordinance, but with religious motivation.  This is also another example of how the Israelites emphasize the concept of "covering" like I discussed in Deut 21.  In the Hebrew, verse 14 talks about keeping the LORD from seeing the "nakedness of anything" in the camp, which shows the continuing allusion between nakedness and sin.  Covering is the opposite of nakedness, whether that means burying bodies or feces.

Verses 15-16: Interestingly, slavery is permitted in Israel (mainly slaves of foreigners), but runaway slaves are not to be returned.  This almost seems like a contradiction, but I cannot explain it.

Verses 17-18: I think this might be the first command directly against prostitution in Israel, but it makes sense given that Israelite women can be killed for having sex before marriage (cf. Deut 22:20-21).  So this law is anticipated by the laws that came before.

Verses 19-20: Restating an earlier law.  Ex 22:25, Lev 25:36-37.

Verses 21-23: Not much for me to add here.  If you don't make a vow (i.e. commitment to the LORD to do something), then you are under no obligation.  But if you say you will do something, then you have to keep your word.

Verses 24-25: This is the natural corollary of Lev 19:9-10.  Owners are commanded to leave bits of food in their fields, and passersby are permitted to eat from the fields.  However, passersby are not permitted to reap from others' fields.  The point is that you can eat to fulfill your need, but not reap for personal gain out of the generosity of another.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Bible Commentary - Deuteronomy 22

In this chapter, Moses gives us laws on various topics and then a series of laws governing sexual morality.

This chapter begins with a list of largely unrelated laws, which I will address in order.

Verses 1-4: This passage is largely similar to Ex 23:4, except that it now speaks of helping your "brother" (usually rendered "countryman") instead of helping your "enemy".  It also expands the scope so that you must help them with anything that you find lost, like garments or other possessions.

Verse 5: This command is similar to the prohibition of homosexuality, because in both cases the main emphasis is on adherence to gender roles.  With homosexuality, it is a prohibition of having sex with a man the way that you have sex with a woman (paraphrase, Lev 18:22).  In this case, it is a prohibition against a man dressing as a woman, or a woman dressing as a man.  In that sense, we can look at this passage as an implicit confirmation that the bible also prohibits lesbianism, because that is the proper generalization of gender roles as the bible understands them.  I discussed homosexuality in depth here.  Interestingly, in that discussion I state that Lev 18:22 doesn't prohibit lesbianism, which is technically correct, but I think v. 5 of this chapter shows that a black-and-white analysis might not be correct.  We have to deduce 1) the author's original intent and 2) how to translate that intent into the modern societal context.

That's why I cringe whenever I hear various sources suggest that on the basis on v. 5, women should not wear pants, because in our society women wearing pants is generally an acceptable form of "women's clothing".  I do think that certain ways of dressing are inappropriate, but it always depends on the context and the intent.  Namely, dressing for the purpose of confusing gender roles is probably inappropriate.  Again, there are exceptions, but that is how I would interpret this law.

Verses 6-7: This reminds me of the "not boil a young goat in its mother's milk" law (Ex 23:19), because the core issue is respect for animals.  This law does not prohibit the Israelites from taking the young, just as Ex 23:19 doesn't prohibit them from boiling the young goat  it simply asks that they show respect for the animals by not taking the mother with the young (or boiling the young goat in its own mother's milk).

Verse 8: And thus, tort law was born.  You are responsible for accidents that occur due to your own negligence.  If Moses could have seen what tort law would become in our country and in our day, maybe he never would have written this verse.  Oh well, what is done is done, for better or for worse.

Verses 9-11: These commands are largely equivalent to Lev 19:19.  As I briefly addressed in discussing Lev 19, I think these laws are meant as an extension of the principle of separation (I have written about this principle many times before).

Verse 12: This is basically copied from Num 15:38-39.  The tassels are also conceptually similar to the tefillin and mezuzah that remind the Israelites to always remember the commandments of the LORD.

After that is a section discussing sexual morality, which is a series of laws relating to the 7th commandment, you shall not commit adultery.  It begins with a procedure for handling when a husband "charges [his wife] with shameful deeds", that she was not a virgin when he married her.  I've discussed Hebrew marriage practices with reference to Dinah's rape, and this chapter gives us some additional context for understanding that.  It also gives us some context for when Tamar was nearly put to death for committing prostitution (Gen 38).

It seems deeply ironic to me that Tamar could be put to death for prostitution, while Judah faces no punishment for doing the exact same thing.  We see the same imbalance here, where a woman can be killed for having sex before marriage, while the man only faces a monetary fine if he lies about his wife.  This surprises me because we know in other places that the punishment of false testimony is "you shall do to him just as he had intended to do to his brother" (Deut 19:19).  From that, I would have thought the punishment to the husband for his false testimony would be death.  I don't know how to explain the discrepancy.

In general, men in the OT do not face any punishment whatsoever for having sex before marriage.  This imbalance is inherent to the culture of polygamy, because men are allowed to have multiple wives but women cannot have multiple husbands.  Men can still be put to death for having sex with a married woman (i.e. adultery), but not with an unmarried woman.  In that case, the woman more or less becomes an additional wife for that man, as we see in the second half of the sexual laws.

After the "virginity test" is a series of four situational laws that cover different cases that may arise.  It first states a general principle, that a man having sex with a married woman results in the death of both of them.  However, there are two conditions that determine how they should be treated.

First, if the adultery happens in a city versus a field.  If it occurs in a field, the presumption is that the attacked woman cried out but nobody was around to hear her cries, and therefore only the man is guilty.  If it occurs in a town, then the presumption is that the woman did not cry out, because people were around but nobody was alerted to stop the crime.  Therefore the woman must have been complicit and therefore must die.

Second, if the woman is married, engaged or unmarried.  If the woman is married or engaged, then she must not have sex with another man for any reason.  If the woman is unmarried and not engaged, then a man who has sex with her (whether in the field or in the city) must pay a bridal price and marry her for life.  To many people, it seems a cruel fate for a woman to be forced to marry her rapist (if he attacked her in an open field).  At this point, I should remind my readers that if a woman is not a virgin, she might not be able to find another husband.  Certainly it becomes harder.  While the bible isn't entirely clear what happened to Tamar, she is never described as being married after what happened between her and Shechem.  In fact, she is barely mentioned at all, suggesting that while she lived, her life never really recovered.

Being assigned to a husband guarantees her a right to food, clothing and shelter, as well as the possibility of raising children through her husband.  So we should understand that this law is both punitive to the man but also protective of the woman, however awful it may look to modern eyes.  This is why the man is forbidden to divorce the woman, because he is now required to materially support her.

Bible Commentary - Deuteronomy 21

In this chapter, we are given a ritual of atonement for unsolved murder and various laws governing family relationships.

The first part, ritual atonement of unsolved murder, is relatively straightforward.  We know that only blood can atone for spilt blood, and since the murderer cannot be found in this case, it seems that an animal sacrifice is the next option.  Unlike the tabernacle sacrifices, this one requires that the animal's neck be broken, which means that while it kills the animal, no blood is shed into the ground.  Probably the reason for this is that the animal is slain away from the tabernacle and we know that the Israelites are not to "sacrifice in the open fields" (Lev 17:5).  I think breaking the animal's neck is meant as a compromise between the requirement that the animal be slain near where the murder took place, but also to not be a "sacrifice" as prohibited by Lev 17.

The second part is a law on the treatment of captive women who are taken by the Israelites as wives.  This law has two requirements: that the woman leave behind everything from her old life, signified by cutting her hair and nails, removing old clothing and mourning her family.  After that, she begins a new life as an Israelite's wife, and the Israelite is prohibited from mistreating her, though he is permitted to divorce her.

As with the prior chapter, Deut 20, I think this passage is subject to frequent misinterpretation for the simple reason that people try to evaluate it based on modern cultural suppositions.  This is a point that I've had to drive home again and again because it shows up so much in popular discourse, to the point that many well-meaning Christians will even disavow the OT entirely, just because they cannot construct a consistent interpretation between the OT and the NT (this is called a harmonization).  How do we reconcile passages like this with the "love your enemy" of Jesus?

The most important part is understanding the cultural context.  This is a society that largely operates with arranged marriages, so the first thing to understand is that most women have little to no choice in whom they marry (we saw this with Isaac marrying Rebekah and Jacob marrying Leah and Rachel).  So the Israelites picking out women to marry from amongst the captives is little different.

However, slave women would have far less societal protection from abuses, and that's exactly what this law addresses.  The husband maintains the right of divorce, which he also possesses when married to Israelite women.  Another big difference is that slave women are almost certain to worship other gods, which is partly why there is such an emphasis on cutting ties to her old life.  Marrying an Israelite means both a new husband and a new religion, and the woman will be expected to give up everything from her old life.

This is another instance of progressive revelation, where the LORD gives a revelation that is culturally relevant to the people receiving it, even if that revelation does not fully encapsulate the truth, just as we today do not have the full truth, but the LORD interacts with us in ways that we can understand for our good.

Next is a provision that men cannot favor children from the wife they love over the children of the wife they hate.  I think this law is interesting because it shows us the kinds of tensions that can form when a man marries multiple women, how it engenders conflict between those women and the man's obligations to both.  We saw this in Genesis when Jacob loved Rachel and did not love Leah, and how desperate Leah was to bear children so that Jacob would love her.  Rachel, in turn, suffered from infertility and was also desperate to have children.

Here we are told that men cannot give the double portion to the son of their loved wife over their true firstborn from the unloved wife.  Ironically, this is precisely what Jacob did as he gave the double portion to Joseph, son of Rachel.

The fourth command in this chapter is that rebellious sons can be put to death by their parents' testimony.  This is basically just an extension of the 5th commandment (honor your father and mother), so I don't really have anything to add.

Lastly, we are told that a man executed for committing any crime and who is "hanged on a tree" must be removed and buried the same day he is killed.  It's hard to say exactly what is the impetus for this command, but I know that in Israelite culture, prompt burial is considered important.  Later in the bible we will see people get punished by dying outside "in view of the sun, moon and stars".  I think partially it goes back to the idea of covering, that being uncovered exposes that person to the judgment of these celestial bodies (who are perhaps metaphors for God and the angels).  For instance, Noah was shamed by being uncovered, and his sons honored him by covering him (Gen 9).

I think "covering" a person's body through burial is probably analogous and is a sign of respect, just as Noah's two sons respected him by covering the nakedness of his drunkenness.

In addition, we know that dead bodies are a source of ceremonial impurity, so prompt burials is also a means of limiting ceremonial impurity for bystanders and the people who live in that area.  Lastly, rotting bodies are a source of bacterial contamination in groundwater, so there is also a public health aspect to burials.

Reviewing this chapter, it appears that the first part clearly relates to the 6th commandment, that the Israelites not murder.  The next two commands relate to marriage (and perhaps the 7th commandment, to avoid adultery), then a command for children to obey their parents (5th commandment), then lastly a commandment regarding the bodies of men executed for crimes (6th commandment?).  So the author doesn't seem to be following a clear progression that I can see.

Deut 22 is also a bit confusing as it contains a section of various commands that don't clearly relate to a specific commandment.  This chapter is, however, the end of the 6th commandment section.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Bible Commentary - Deuteronomy 20

In this chapter, Moses gives the Israelites laws regarding the conduct of warfare.

This is a continuation on the 6th commandment, that you shall not murder.  What this chapter shows is that the 6th commandment is not absolute and unequivocal.  There are certain conditions where it is lawful to kill another man.  In chapter 19, we saw it was lawful to kill murderers.  In this chapter, we see it is lawful to kill others during warfare, provided the Israelites obey the conditions of this chapter.

This chapter has three sections.  First is the disqualification of soldiers who have various reasons to not be fighting.  Second is the conduct for Israel to maintain when they negotiate or attack other cities.  Third is a small statement to avoid cutting down fruit trees.

In the beginning of the chapter, we are given an introduction to Israelite battle orders.  While it doesn't really say anything about the arrangement or movement of troops, what it says is that "the priest" is supposed to encourage the people in their fight.  This is another peculiar insertion of the priesthood into ordinary affairs.  Originally the priesthood was created as an organization to handle the affairs of the tabernacle, but now we can see they are involved with enforcing many of the various parts of the covenantal law, such as ritual cleanliness (Lev 14) and in this warfare.  The priest is truly a renaissance man; a doctor, priest, lawyer, military chaplain, scribe, accountant, etc.

The encouragement in this chapter is typical of ancient warfare, which I have already briefly discussed in relation to Deut 7 and Num 21.  This chapter is quite similar; the priest is encouraging the men because morale failure is one of the chief causes of lost battles at the time.  Biblical warfare usually involves a lot of shouting and trumpets and various displays primarily intended to encourage oneself and terrify one's foes into a rout.  Think about it: if you have an army of 70,000 men, spaced over a mile long battlefield, you might only have 500 men on the frontline itself, so the proportional casualty rate is usually very low during an actual engagement.  It is typically during a retreat that most casualties happen because the bulk of the army is more likely to get scared and flee than to actually engage in melee combat.

We see this later when officers are instructed to remove anyone who has a trembling heart "so that he might not make his brothers' hearts melt like his heart".  It seems like such a shift from recent American wars like Vietnam where people had to go to great lengths to be disqualified from the draft.  In Deuteronomy you just had to have a quaking heart and you were gladly removed.  But then, as we saw in the division of the spoils (Num 31), the soldiers in a battle stand to benefit quite a bit from their involvement.  Typically this can serve as a strong driver for involvement in the military, above and beyond any nationalistic ideals.

I don't believe the American army is allowed to pillage the countries it goes into for personal gain.  But historically it is far more common for armies to pillage than not.  In fact, in many cases soldiers would not even be paid wages for service; they simply pillaged the reward of their service from the towns and cities they conquered.

This leads to a very common phenomenon in history where large armies engender wars, because without a war to fight the army is essentially going unpaid, and the larger the army, the larger (or more numerous) the wars have to be.  The modern world tends to have more professional, salaried armies so I don't believe this is as much the case today.

Anyway, there are three other conditions for discharge from the Israelite military: new houses, vineyards and wives.  In all three cases the point is that of justice: it is unjust for a person to put effort into building something new and not reaping the rewards of that effort, at least for some time.  Later in Deuteronomy we will see that time is one year.  I think this is really interesting, because it seems to promote social stability for one thing, and for another it promotes building new infrastructure and families because the builder is (at least to the controllable extent) protected while reaping the benefits of what has been built.

The second section lays out the terms of warfare for Israel.  It's very simple: nations within the bounds of the promised land must be destroyed without exception, including men, women, children and animals.  Nations outside of the promised land should be negotiated with, and if they agree to serve Israel as "forced labor" then they may live, otherwise the men must die and everyone else is plunder (i.e. slaves).  "Forced labor" is probably comparable to Israel's service in Egypt.

For many people this is a contentious passage, as it shows Moses (with God's approval) authorizing the Israelites to not only destroy all the Canaanites, but enslave other peoples outside of the promised land.  The essentially criticism is that killing other people who have not threatened you is unjust.  This is too large of an issue for me to respond comprehensively, so I will just list a few major points and move on.

Leaving aside that many nations in the promised land actually did threaten Israel (and in several cases engaged in pre-emptive wars against Israel, Ex 17), there are many answers to this criticism.  First is the issue of progressive revelation, that different parts of the bible are intended to teach us specific aspects of God's character and that if we misread that part (for instance, studying one aspect when the author is trying to teach us a separate aspect), then we are likely to be mislead or deceived by our reading.  In this case, the bible is trying to teach us about justice (retribution upon the Canaanites for their sins, cf. Gen 15:16) and the LORD's governance over warfare, his capability of guiding Israel and his power over nations far stronger than Israel.  If we read this as "how the LORD treats foreigners", then we will be deceived.  There are many places in the Law that emphasize honoring and respecting foreigners who enter the land of Israel, and that is the true and correct understanding.

Second, as I implied just now, Israel's invasion of the promised land is divine retribution for the sins of the Canaanites.  The premise of the essential criticism above is that the people attacked by Israel are innocent victims, but that's simply not the case.  A secondary part of this criticism is, "if Israel is justified in killing sinners, then what stops Christians from running around killing people today?"  Among other things, this gets back to progressive revelation, that the meaning of following God has changed since the day of Moses.  We have a fuller understanding than they did and we live in a different time and culture, largely for the better.  We also have more tools available through our connection with the Holy Spirit, which makes physical warfare largely unnecessary.  But never should we doubt that God has authority over the lives of all men, the authority to give life and the authority to take it.

The third thing to keep in mind is that this area is a hotbed of conflict (just as it is today).  The Israelites have had to destroy two nations even to get to their destination in Canaan, and that's after navigating around several other nations they were not permitted to attack.  At the crossroads between three continents, the Israelites will have to fight many wars in their future and I don't think it's reasonable to blame them for every conflict.  In a sinful world, wars will happen, and this chapter provides guidance for how the Israelites are to handle those situations.  That's all I will say on this topic.

Lastly, the Israelites are given a practical matter of not cutting down fruit trees when they are besieging a town, because sieges frequently drag out into starvation wars, with the (usually smaller) town garrison trying to starve out the (usually larger) army waiting outside, because armies generally cannot sustain themselves by throwing away their weapons and farming.  Most of the time, the invading army is so large that a given area simply cannot grow enough food to sustain all the people in the army.  It is only by moving around and stealing food stores from conquered towns that an army can feed itself.  Maintaining fruit trees during a siege cannot sustain the army indefinitely, but could help sustain them for long enough to outlast the limited food supplies within the besieged town.