Instructions Relating to Military Service. - If the Israelites went out to battle against their foes, and saw horses and chariots, a people more numerous than they were, they were not to be afraid, because Jehovah their God was with them. Horses and chariots constituted the principal strength of the enemies round about Israel; not of the Egyptians only (Exo 14:7), and of the Canaanites and Philistines (Jos 17:16; Jdg 4:3; 1Sa 13:5), but of the Syrians also (2Sa 8:4; 1Ch 18:4; 1Ch 19:18; cf. Psa 20:8).
If they were thus drawing near to war, i.e., arranging themselves for war for the purpose of being mustered and marching in order into the battle (not just as the battle was commencing), the priest was to address the warriors, and infuse courage into them by pointing to the help of the Lord. “The priest” is not the high priest, but the priest who accompanied the army, like Phinehas in the war against the Midianites (Num 31:6; cf. 1Sa 4:4, 1Sa 4:11; 2Ch 13:12), whom the Rabbins call הַמִלְחָמָה מְשִׁיחַ (the anointed of the battle), and raise to the highest dignity next to the high priest, no doubt simply upon the ground of Num 31:6 (see Lundius, jüd. Heiligth. p. 523).
Moreover, the shoterim, whose duty it was, as the keepers of the genealogical tables, to appoint the men who were bound to serve, were to release such of the men who had been summoned to the war as had entered into domestic relations, which would make it a harder thing for them to be exposed to death than for any of the others: for example, any man who had built a new house and had not yet consecrated it, or had planted a vineyard and not yet eaten any of the fruit of it, or was betrothed to a wife and had not yet married her, - that such persons might not die before they had enjoyed the fruits of what they had done. “Who is the man, who,” i.e., whoever, every man who. “Consecrated the house,” viz., by taking possession and dwelling in it; entrance into the house was probably connected with a hospitable entertainment. According to Josephus (Ant. iv. 8, 41), the enjoyment of them was to last a year (according to the analogy of Deu 24:5). The Rabbins elaborated special ceremonies, among which Jonathan in his Targum describes the fastening of slips with sentences out of the law written upon them to the door-posts, as being the most important (see at Deu 6:9 : for further details, see Selden, de Synedriis l. iii. c. 14, 15). Cerem is hardly to be restricted to vineyards, but applied to olive-plantations as well (see at Lev 19:10). חִלֵּל, to make common, is to be explained from the fact, that when fruit-trees were planted (Lev 19:23.), or vines set (Jdg 19:24), the fruit was not to be eaten for the first three years, and that of the fourth year was to be consecrated to the Lord; and it was only the fruit that was gathered in the fifth year which could be applied by the owner to his own use, - in other words, could be made common. The command to send away from the army to his own home a man who was betrothed but had not yet taken his wife, is extended still further in Deu 24:5, where it is stated that a newly married man was to be exempt for a whole year from military service and other public burdens. The intention of these instructions was neither to send away all persons who were unwilling to go into the war, and thus avoid the danger of their interfering with the readiness and courage of the rest of the army in prospect of the battle, nor to spare the lives of those persons to whom life was especially dear; but rather to avoid depriving any member of the covenant nation of his enjoyment of the good things of this life bestowed upon him by the Lord.
The first intention only existed in the case of the timid (the soft-hearted or despondent). יִמַּס וְלֹא, that the heart of thy brethren “may not flow away,” i.e., may not become despondent (as in Gen 17:15, etc.).
When this was finished, the shoterim were to appoint captains at the head of the people (of war). פָּקַד, to inspect, to muster, then to give the oversight, to set a person over anything (Num 3:10; Num 4:27). The meaning “to lead the command” (Schultz) cannot be sustained; and if “captains of the armies” were the subject, and reference were made to the commanders in the war, the article would not be omitted. If the shoterim had to raise men for the war and organize the army, the division of the men into hosts (Zebaoth) and the appointment of the leaders would also form part of the duties of their office.