Keep the Fruit Trees
Deuteronomy 20:19 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?
This relatively obscure scripture can seem at first glance to be something modern sounding and environmental in tone. It’s not. While we are supposed to be good stewards of the earth, we are never called to leave it alone, as if human intervention itself were the problem. The cultural mandate found in Genesis 1:28 includes the famous phrase “fill the earth and subdue it,” and we are given authority over the earth to cultivate it and enjoy its offerings.
What this passage has to do with is warfare and God’s loving heart for his people. God was giving them a rule for war. As opposed to the slash-and-burn approach of some of Israel’s enemies, the Lord’s people were to use wood from non-fruit-bearing trees to wage their warfare. They were to keep the fruit trees protected for the sake of their future. Destroying the trees would have been a short-term approach to military victory in that it would have provided wood for the sieges against an enemy city. But the long-term losses would have been too great. God was looking beyond the battle to life in his people’s future.
What does this mean for us? We have battles, and in them we are often tempted to fight with all we have (including rage) and we end up hurting people, relationships or our consciences. Telling us to “be angry and sin not” (Ephesians 4:26) is only the beginning. In our focus on spiritual victory or even our concept of “making things right,” we are to leave protected those things that will provide fruit in our futures.
While we know we battle against principalities and powers, we sometimes make the mistake of battling flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12), which can leave a trail of blood and tears. The law of love and every proverb about speaking gracious words can be forgotten in our attempts to achieve spiritual victory. Damaged relationships can be our destroyed fruit trees if we don’t use all of God’s ways on our way to victory.
Or we lose focus and end up compromising in ways that we regret later. The fruit God has in mind here is our clean heart. In the midst of great pressure, we can be tempted to violate our consciences. We might believe for a moment that the end justifies the means. Or we can “prioritize” God’s commandments, keeping our focus on what we think is most important and letting other things slide during the battle.
God wants us to emerge from spiritual battle with a clear conscience and with preserved relationships. It may seem more challenging and limiting, as leaving fruit trees alone must have seemed to those in the midst of battle. But God wants to bless us, and He is looking at our futures when He gives us such commands. It’s for our blessing. He does know best.
Prayer: Father, thank You that You are enough for our futures to give us such guidance and wisdom in the midst of battle. Help me to keep all Your commands in the fight so that I emerge with a clear conscience and unscathed relationships.