The officers shall say to the army: “Has anyone built a new house and not yet begun to live in it? Let him go home … Has anyone planted a vineyard and not begun to enjoy it? Let him go home … Has anyone become pledged to a woman and not married her? Let him go home … Is anyone afraid or fainthearted? Let him go home …” Deuteronomy 20:5-8
While military service was compulsory, there were exemptions given on four grounds. The first three were domestic concerns: home, establishing future provision, and family. God considered these valid reasons not to enlist and this must have excluded a large number of men. However, it also emphasises the point that Israel didn’t need a large army, because they were trusting God for victory.
Later we read a similar exemption, “If a man has recently married, he must not be sent to war or have any other duty laid on him. For one year he is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married” (24:5). God is a God of grace who wants to bless his people, not lay heavy demands on them. Home and family concerns are important to God and something missionaries must consider.
The fourth exemption is a little curious, “Is anyone afraid?” and the reason given is, “so that his fellow soldiers will not become disheartened too.” Being a discouragement was reason enough to stay home! The Israelite army was often lacking in personal and equipment, so it was important their trust in God wasn’t compromised by a discouraging person.
Today, how do we handle a discouraging person? While showing them grace, we also have to ensure they aren’t negatively affecting the faith of others.