Verse 19. "(For the tree of the field is man's life) to employ them in the siege" - The original is exceedingly obscure, and has been variously translated, rwxmb ūynpm abl hdh Å[ µdah yk hi haadam ets hassadeh labo mippaneycha bammatsor. The following are the chief versions: For, O man, the trees of the field are for thee to employ THEM in the siege-or, For it is man, and the tree of the field, that must go before thee for a bulwark-or, For it is a tree, and not men, to increase the number of those who come against thee to the siege-or, lastly, The tree of the field (is as) a man, to go before thy face for a bulwark. The sense is sufficiently clear, though the strict grammatical meaning of the words cannot be easily ascertained: it was a merciful provision to spare all fruit- bearing trees, because they yielded the fruit which supported man's life; and it was sound policy also, for even the conquerors must perish if the means of life were cut off.
It is diabolic cruelty to add to the miseries of war the horrors of famine; and this is done where the trees of the field are cut down, the dykes broken to drown the land, the villages burnt, and the crops wilfully spoiled. O execrable war! subversive of all the charities of life! THERE are several curious particulars in these verses:
1. The people had the most positive assurances from God that their enemies should not be able to prevail against them by strength, numbers, nor stratagem, because God should go with them to lead and direct them, and should fight for them; and against his might none could prevail. 2. All such interferences were standing proofs of the being of God, of his especial providence, and of the truth of their religion. 3. Though God promised them such protection, yet they were to expect it in the diligent use of their own prudence and industry. The priests, the officers, and the people, had their respective parts to act in this business; if they did their duty respectively, God would take care that they should be successful. Those who will not help themselves with the strength which God has already given them, shall not have any farther assistance from him. In all such cases, the parable of the talents affords an accurate rule. 4. Their going to war against their enemies must not deprive them of mercy and tenderness towards their brethren. He who had built a house and had not yet dwelt in it, who had planted a vineyard and had not eaten of its fruits, who had betrothed a wife and had not yet taken her to his house, was not obliged to go to battle, lest he should fall in the war, and the fruits of his industry and affection be enjoyed by others. He who was faint-hearted was also permitted to return, lest he should give way in the heat of battle, and his example have a fatal influence on others.