We see in the Old Testament that the Israelites were directed to devote/set aside the cities and everything living in it to destruction.

In 1 Samuel 27:9 and 1 Samuel 23:5, David takes the livestock while destroying/raiding the city. Saul was king of Israel during this time, so was what David was doing out of necessity? Wouldn't it have been sin, though?

  • 1
    Where in the Old Testament?
    – Walter S
    Apr 19 '20 at 21:18
  • Plundering is not a sin in itself. Apr 20 '20 at 5:24
  • the Israelites were directed to devote/set aside the cities and everything living in it to destruction - Sometimes. Not always. We don't see any such explicit requests beings made by God anywhere in the two chapters you mention. Otherwise you wouldn't have been forced to use the vague expression we see in the Old Testament. You would have pointed out the verses (from 1 Samuel) with the same ease with which you have provided the other two relevant passages (27:9 and 23:5).
    – Lucian
    Apr 23 '20 at 22:38
  • My bad, but I pointed out the specific verses in 1 Samuel because I was currently reading those verses. I should've looked up the verses for the first part of my question. Apr 25 '20 at 17:19

In fact, David was obeying the law in 1 Sam 23:5 & 27:9 when he destroyed the cities and carried off the livestock. The Torah was quite clear about this: there were two cases to consider:

  1. Generally, when Israel attacked a city (only after offering terms of peace Deut 20:10-12), then the army was permitted to take booty and livestock. Deut 20:13, 14, Josh 8:2.
  2. However, if the city had been particularly wicked and idolatrous, and only at the explicit instruction of God, everything in the city was to destroyed, including the livestock. Even the booty was to be burned. Deut 13:15, 1 Sam 15:1-4.

Thus, David's raids on Philistine territory were entirely legal under Jewish Torah law.


The rules of military engagement were different depending on whether the city was outside the boundaries or one of the cities within the land of Canaan. There were also different rules of engagement for certain cities that were “dedicated to destruction” such as Jericho.

A. For cities outside the boundaries of Canaan, 10-15

“When you approach a city to fight against it, you shall offer it terms of peace. If it agrees to make peace with you and opens to you, then all the people who are found in it shall become your forced labor and shall serve you. However, if it does not make peace with you, but makes war against you, then you shall besiege it. When the Lord your God gives it into your hand, you shall strike all the men in it with the edge of the sword. Only the women and the children and the animals and all that is in the city, all its spoil, you shall take as booty for yourself; (The women and children would have been taken as forced labor, though some women were taken as wives.) and you shall use the spoil of your enemies which the Lord your God has given you. Thus, you shall do to all the cities that are very far from you, which are not of the cities of these nations nearby."

B. For cities within Canaan’s boundaries, 16-18

“Only in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, you shall not leave alive anything that breathes. But you shall utterly destroy them, the Hittite and the Amorite, the Canaanite and the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite, as the Lord your God has commanded you, so that they may not teach you to do according to all their detestable things which they have done for their gods, so that you would sin against the Lord your God.”

The first thing that must be understood from these verses is that these rules of engagement which offered terms of peace pertained ONLY to those cities that were outside the boundaries of Canaan. Offering conditions of peace did not apply to those nations within the land of Canaan. Indeed, it was not even considered to be an option by the Lord. Those cities were to be utterly destroyed with no quarter given to its inhabitants. Concerning the inhabitants of those cities, the Lord commanded, “you shall not leave alive anything that breathes.” This of course refers to human inhabitants. When you follow Joshua’s exploits during the conquest you see time and again that Joshua left none alive when he attacked a city. He consistently killed every man woman and child. He did however take their cattle and other spoils of war, which every man was free to do, and hamstrung their horses. Only with a city under ban was the livestock slaughtered and plunder forbidden, as was the case with Jericho. At Jericho, they

“utterly destroyed everything in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox and sheep and donkey, with the edge of the sword.” … “Only the silver and gold, and articles of bronze and iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the Lord.”

This was done according to Joshua's instructions in verse 19 before the assault on the city began.

Offering terms of peace to those cities “very far from you” was a required provision from the Lord. They were not to attack such a city without first making an attempt at peace. If the city agreed to the conditions of peace, that city would then become a tributary to Israel and serve Israel as forced laborers. Israel was to be a light to these nations bringing to them the knowledge of Jehovah.

  • What about Rabbah, which is outside of Canaan, in 2 Samuel 12:30? Apr 25 '20 at 17:17
  • What about it? What is you question?
    – oldhermit
    Apr 25 '20 at 17:26
  • David took the people out and put them to labor, and it doesn't say that all the men were slain. So in verse 31, would the "people" be women and children to "labor with saws and iron picks and iron axes and made them toil at the brick kilns" (2 Samuel 12:31) (ESV)? Apr 25 '20 at 17:37
  • If you could post this as a question I would be happy to address it.
    – oldhermit
    Apr 25 '20 at 17:38
  • Well, the reason I'm asking, is because I'm trying to look at both of these answers and figure out which one best answers the original question. Apr 25 '20 at 17:44

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