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Harmony of the Law - Volume 3
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Deuteronomy 20

Deuteronomy 20:5-8

5. And the officers shall speak unto the people, saying, What man is there that hath built a new house, and hath not dedicated it? let him go and return to his house, lest he die in the battle, and another man dedicate it.

5. Quum bellandum erit, alloquentur praefecti populum, dicendo, Quis est vir qui aedificavit domum novam, et non dedicavit eam? abeat, et revertatur ad domum suam, ne forte moriatur in praelio, et alius dedicet eam.

6. And what man is he that hath planted a vineyard, and hath not yet eaten of it? let him also go and return unto his house, lest he die in the battle, and another man eat of it.

6. Et quis est vir qui plantavit vineam, et non fecit eam communem? abeat et revertatur ad domum suam: ne forte moriatur in praelio, et alius communem eam faciat.

7. And what man is there that hath betrothed a wife, and hath not taken her? let him go and return unto his house, lest he die in the battle, and another man take her.

7. Et quis est vir qui despondit mulierem, et non accepit eam? abeat et revertatur domum suam ne forte moriatur in praelio, et alius eam accipiat.

8. And the officers shall speak further unto the people, and they shall say, What man is there that is fearful and faint-hearted? let him go and return unto his house, lest his brethren’s heart faint as well as his heart.

8. Addent praefecti alloqui populum, dicendo, Quis est vir timidus et mollis corde? abeat, et revertatur domum suam, ne dissolvatur cor fratrum ejus, sicut cor illius.

 

5. And the officers shall speak unto the people. I have added the commencement, “quum bellandum erit,” (when there shall be war,) that my readers may know what is the subject here discussed; for although the instruction given may seem somewhat remote from the prohibition of theft, still it accords well, and is closely connected with it. For by this indulgence God shews how just it is, that every one should enjoy peaceably what he possesses; because, if it be hard that men on account of war should be deprived of the use of their new house, or of the produce of their vineyard, how much more harsh and intolerable it will be to deprive men of their fortunes, or to drive them from the lands which they justly call their own! Since, therefore, it is expedient for the state that vineyards should be sown or planted, and that houses should be built, whilst men would not address themselves to these duties with sufficient alacrity, unless encouraged by the hope of enjoying them, God gives them the privilege of exemption from fighting, if they be owners of new houses which they have not yet inhabited. He makes also the same appointment as to possessors of vineyards, if they have not yet tasted of the fruit of their labor, and will not have men torn from their affianced wives until they have enjoyed their embraces. A different principle applies to a fourth class, because the faint-hearted and lazy are not deserving that God should have consideration for their cowardice, when they shun dangers to be incurred for the public welfare; but because it concerns the whole people that soldiers should go forth readily to war, God will not have more required from any one than he is disposed to bear. We now understand the substance of this passage, viz., that, when every man’s right is asserted to enjoy what he possesses, it extends so far as that a man who has built a house should not be dragged unwillingly to war, until by dwelling in it he shall have received some advantage from the expenses incurred. To make a vineyard common, 162162     See margin of A.V., ver. 6. or to profane it, is equivalent to applying the vintage to the common uses of life; for it was not lawful, as we saw under the First Commandment, 163163     See on Leviticus 19:23, vol. 2, p. 49. to gather its first-fruits, as if it were as yet uncircumcised; therefore the recompence for their industry and diligence is made when those who have planted vines are thus set free, until they have enjoyed some of their produce. As regards the betrothed, although it seems to have been an indulgence granted in honor of marriage, that they should return to the wives whom they had not yet enjoyed, yet it is probable that they were not torn away from the dearest of all possessions, in order that every man’s property should be maintained. Besides, if the hope of progeny were taken away, the inheritance would be thus transferred to others, which would have been tantamount to diverting it from its rightful owner. We have said that the lazy and timid were sent home, that the Israelites might learn that none were to be pressed beyond their ability; and this also depends upon that rule of equity 164164     “Et cela est de l’equite commune, a laquelle se rapporte le Huitieme Commandement;” and this is a part of that common equity to which the Eighth Commandment has reference. — Fr. which dictates that we should abstain from all unjust oppression.


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