Deuteronomy 20 is about how Israel should wage war against nations that are far from them (excluding Canaan) However, I am having trouble understanding why verse 14 views women and children as plunder, and not as human beings “As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city, you may take these as plunder for yourselves.” Also, the verse says, “And you may use the plunder the Lord your God gives you from your enemies.” How is the plunder treated, badly, or good? (Sorry if I didn’t ask this correctly, I am new to this site)

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    Perhaps there ought to be a tag for "cultural perspective". Even Biblical writers are influenced by the cultural norms of their own place and time. Commented Jun 8, 2023 at 5:50
  • That was the custom and ethics of the time.
    – Dottard
    Commented Jun 8, 2023 at 7:05
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    – agarza
    Commented Jun 8, 2023 at 12:47
  • @Amy your question is an important one. To say it was the custom in an insufficient reply IMO, because treating women like this is thought by many to be what God directed. Indeed, the Bible states this as a command of God. Commented May 4 at 0:12

4 Answers 4


The English word 'plunder' is used in the N.I.V. translation, but is not used at all, anywhere, in the Authorised Version. This is shown in Robert Young's Analytical Concordance, and in his literal translation of the Bible, he uses the word 'spoil' in Deuteronomy 20. The Hebrew word in the text is 'shalal'. The Hebrew word for 'spoil' in the sense of taking something as spoil is 'baza' but is not used anywhere in Deuteronomy. The Hebrew words for spoil, as in the sense of corrupting or destroying it, are 'shadad' and 'shachath'. Again, those words are never used in Deuteronomy.

However, even going along with the word 'plunder', there is no logic in assuming that women and children being spoken of as 'plunder' meant that they were not viewed as human beings. Consider how the men killed in such battles (where they refused to sue for peace and therefore were to be killed) were living human beings who then became dead human beings. Being alive, or dead, did not change the fact of their humanity! Likewise with humans taken as 'spoil' or 'plunder' in a war; the only thing that changed regarding their humanity was that previously they were free human beings, but now they were captured human beings. Their status in society had changed, but not their humanity.

How those captured women and children were treated by the Israelites was detailed in other laws, and they were to be treated far more considerately than was the case with surrounding nations.


This is somewhat of a mutual provision. The prior verse commands them to kill all the males of that city. Further, all the supplies are now the property of Israel. The city is essentially made desolate, and the women and children who remain have neither supplies, land, or a man. I think the purpose here is actually a provision for the remaining women and children, as well as provision to the warriors


Whether they are "plunder" or "spoils of war," the OP's question remains: why are women and children not treated as human beings, in the sense of having the same God-given human rights that we have today. Why may they be enslaved? Why may these women and children be "used" or even "enjoyed" by their captors, as some translations say?

Deuteronomy 20:14? NABRE

The women and children and livestock and anything else in the city—all its spoil—you may take as plunder for yourselves, and you may enjoy this spoil of your enemies, which the Lord, your God, has given you.

The treatment of women in Deut. 21 raises even more questions:

11 if you notice among the captives a beautiful woman and are attracted to her, you may take her as your wife. 12 Bring her into your home and have her shave her head, trim her nails 13 and put aside the clothes she was wearing when captured. After she has lived in your house and mourned her father and mother for a full month, then you may go to her and be her husband and she shall be your wife. 14 If you are not [no longer] pleased with her, let her go wherever she wishes. (NIV)

The fact that the man is to allow the woman a month to mourn her family before forcing her to his bed, hardly makes her fate a kind one. Nor does giving her freedom after sexually using her until she loses her attraction to her captor.

Conclusion: The OP's question cannot be answered without admitting - at the very least - that the moral standards of warfare and slavery in OT times were very different than they are today. But to say that "this is what God decreed" or "that was the custom back then" - or to excuse it on the basis that it was better than what other nations did - is not a satisfactory answer to the conscience of modern people. The answer boils down to whether these directions were truly God's commands, and if so, has he changed his mind?


Relative to Dan Fefferman’s answer, I agree that it was a matter of culture in that era. Most nations wiped out the men, and took the women and children as slaves. Not everything in the Old Testament law was God-given. Jesus himself makes it clear, for example, that “Moses” permitted them to put away their wives for any reason because of the hardness of their hearts. But from the beginning it was not so. And he contradicts it with a more Godly principle, that to put away your wife for reasons other than fornication causes her to commit adultery.

So, there is a precedent to believe that some of what Moses wrote down as law wasn’t necessarily from God directly. Enslaving, raping, etc., may very well be part of that list of Mosaic imposition, like putting away your wife just because you feel like it.

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