Q&A: Did Israel violate the law of warfare by destroying fruit trees? 2 Kings 3:18-19

Did Israel violate the law of warfare by destroying fruit trees? 2 Kings 3:18-19

Question

Deuteronomy 20:19 and 2 Kings 3:18-19 appear to conflict with one another?

Answer

Deuteronomy 20:19 When you lay siege to a city for a long time, fighting against it to capture it, do not destroy its trees by putting an ax to them, because you can eat their fruit. Do not cut them down. Are the trees of the field people, that you should besiege them?

2 Kings 3:18-19 This is an easy thing in the eyes of the LORD; he will also hand Moab over to you. You will overthrow every fortified city and every major town. You will cut down every good tree, stop up all the springs, and ruin every good field with stones.

There are different types of warfare (siege, fortification, spying, offensive, defensive, etc.). The passage in Deuteronomy specially refers to laying siege. These attacks were for a long time and to capture the cities. In 2 Kings it appears things would go more rapidly and to inflict total destruction: "You will overthrow every fortified city and every major town" (2 Kings 3:19-27). So, there are two different territories being discussed (Deuteronomy references the land of Canaan and 2 Kings to Moab) and different types of warfare being employed.

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).