Besieged trees

In Deuteronomy 20, there is a somewhat odd prohibition against cutting down trees in time of war.

When you besiege a city for a long time, making war against it in order to take it, you shall not destroy its trees by wielding an axe against them. You may eat from them, but you shall not cut them down. Are the trees in the field human, that they should be besieged by you? Only the trees that you know are not trees for food you may destroy and cut down, that you may build siegeworks against the city that makes war with you, until it falls.

Certainly something can be said about only cutting down the fruitless trees, like Jesus cursing the fig tree for not bearing fruit in Matthew 21, or the unfruitful branches cut from the vine in John 15.

But I think the war siege is an interesting aspect. In Mathew 3, John the Baptizer was preaching in the wilderness of Judea and his message was, “Repent! for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” John was the herald of a foreign kingdom (not of this world) declaring the invasion against the established Jewish tradition, religious practice, and economy, which were all corrupt. God declared war on apostate Israel. The Pharisees and Sadducees came out and he rebuked them,

You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father, ‘ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Jerusalem had become a city under siege and the war devices were being built and arranged in preparation for it’s destruction at the end of that generation. Forty years later, in 70 AD, the city was physically leveled such that Josephus wrote, “there was left nothing to make those who came there believe it had ever been inhabited.” (The Jewish War, vii.i.l)



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