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When you besiege a city for a long time, while making war against it to take it, you shall not destroy its trees by wielding an ax against them; if you can eat of them, do not cut them down to use in the siege, for the tree of the field is man’s food. (Deuteronomy 20:19)

As Israel prepared to conquer the land, one of the first instructions given was to make an offer of peace to the cities they encountered. If that city would not make peace, they were to lay siege to the city. However, unlike many conquering nations, they were not to devastate the land they were conquering. Trees that were not bearing fruit could be cut down if the siege would benefit from it but anything that provided food, fruit trees in particular, were to be spared. Survival of man is synonymous with the survival of his food supply and Israel would need that food later so, why kill trees that were useful and good for food?

As important as this principle is, there is more to be learned from this passage that doesn’t just jump off the page. Many translations, including the KJV, italicize the word “food” meaning that the verse reads, “the tree of the field is man.” The ancient Jewish commentator, Ibn Ezra, rendered the verse to say, “for a man is the tree of the field.” This rendering of the verse has significant ramifications that are validated in other passages of Scripture.

Put simply, trees are emblematic of men. Just as trees are spawned by seed, then grow to produce branches, flowers and fruit, men are likewise. In fact, God’s people are expected to produce an abundance of good fruit – works or good deeds – that reflect the Good Seed that gave us life. But also like trees, men who don’t produce fruit risk being cut down. In the words of Messiah:

Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them. (Matthew 7:17-20)

The point is that God places great value on those things He has created which are doing what they were created to do. Even in time of war, He did not give His people license to destroy a living thing that was producing its fruit. In that same vein, God will take great care to preserve those of His people who are producing good fruit. They may have to endure pruning at times, but that is to provoke them to produce even more fruit. As the Great Gardner, He cares for His people in such a way that, “They might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He might be glorified” (Isaiah 61:3).

Blessings and Shalom,  




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