Deuteronomy 20:9
(9) Captains of the armies--i.e., special leaders for the campaigns, whose command would probably cease when it was over. We may suppose from mention of the "thousands" in the army--"the captain of their thousand" (1Samuel 17:18)--that the military divisions corresponded with the civil organization of the people so far as this, that the men of the same "thousand," according to Jethro's arrangement, would be brigaded together, and have one captain. If, as is also possible, the word "thousand" in military language signifies the contingent furnished by a "thousand" in Israel, irrespective of its number, it would remove many difficulties; for the whole thousand would very rarely be in the field together, and the contingent sent by a given "thousand" might consist of a very few men. If, therefore, the contingent of sixty "thousands" were to be described as 60,000, and the sixty companies were all cut up or annihilated, it might be reported as a slaughter of 60,000 men, while the lives actually lost would be nothing like so many.

Verse 9. - The next thing the shoterim had to do was to appoint captains to head the people who were going to war. The army was divided into bands or companies, and over each of these a captain was placed, whose it was to command and lead (cf. Numbers 31:14, 48; 1 Samuel 8:12; 1 Samuel 22:7; 2 Samuel 18:1). Captains of the armies. The phrase, "captain of a host" (שַׂר צָבָא), usually designates the general or commander-in-chief of the entire army (Genesis 21:22; 2 Samuel 2:8; 1 Kings 16:16, etc.); but here the phrase is used in the plural of the chiefs of the companies or detachments of which the whole was composed.

20:1-9 In the wars wherein Israel engaged according to the will of God, they might expect the Divine assistance. The Lord was to be their only confidence. In these respects they were types of the Christian's warfare. Those unwilling to fight, must be sent away. The unwillingness might arise from a man's outward condition. God would not be served by men forced against their will. Thy people shall be willing, Ps 110:3. In running the Christian race, and fighting the good fight of faith, we must lay aside all that would make us unwilling. If a man's unwillingness rose from weakness and fear, he had leave to return from the war. The reason here given is, lest his brethren's heart fail as well as his heart. We must take heed that we fear not with the fear of them that are afraid, Isa 8:12.And it shall be, when the officers have made an end of speaking unto the people,.... By reciting what the anointed of war said unto them, and by speeches of their own framing, to encourage to the battle; and all were dismissed that had leave to depart, and chose to take it:

that they shall make captains of armies to lead on the people; on to battle; that is, either the officers should do this, which may seem to confirm what has been hinted, that they might be generals of the army, who constituted captains under them, to lead the people on to battle: unless this is to be understood of the princes of Israel, or of the king when they had one, and his ministers; for it does not appear in any instance that the people chose their own officers over them, to go out before them, and lead them on to battle; or "to be at the head of them" (z); which the Jewish writers understand in a very different sense; not to head them, or be at the head of them, to direct and command them, but to keep them from deserting: their sense is, that the officers having dismissed persons in the circumstances before described, and set stout men before them, and others behind them (i.e. the army of the people), with iron hatchets in their hands, and every one that sought to return, they had power to cut off his legs; since flight is the beginning of falling before their enemies (a).

(z) "in capite populi", Pagninus, Montanus. (a) Misn. ut supra (Sotah, c. 8.), sect. 6.

Deuteronomy 20:8
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