Lesson 70: Deuteronomy 20–26

“Lesson 70: Deuteronomy 20–26,” Old Testament Seminary Teacher Manual (2014)

“Lesson 70,” Old Testament Seminary Teacher Manual

Lesson 70

Deuteronomy 20–26


Deuteronomy 20–26 shows that Moses addressed the Lord’s commands concerning war and the punishment of the wicked. He also reviewed various laws and commandments given to the Israelites.

Note: This lesson includes an activity that will require advance preparation.

Suggestions for Teaching

Deuteronomy 20

The Lord declares punishments on the wicked

If possible, display a plate of food or ask students to visualize a delicious plate of food. Ask students to imagine preparing to eat this food. Then, ask them to envision someone who has a serious contagious disease coughing all over the food.

  • Would you still want to eat the food? Why or why not?

  • What might happen if you chose to eat the food?

  • What are some ways to keep infectious diseases from spreading?

Explain that as the Israelites prepared to enter the promised land, God wanted to prevent from spreading among them a kind of spiritual sickness that would have had eternal consequences. The Lord had designated the promised land as holy, but it had been occupied for hundreds of years by people who refused to obey God’s commandments. The Lord did not want those people’s wickedness to infect the Israelites and spread among them.

Invite a student to read Deuteronomy 20:1–4 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for the counsel the Lord gave to the Israelites for the times when they would need to go to battle against these people.

  • What phrases in these verses do you think reassured those Israelites who had to go into battle? (You may want to suggest that students mark these phrases.)

Summarize Deuteronomy 20:5–8 by explaining that these verses describe situations in which Israelite men were excused from going into battle.

Ask a student to read Deuteronomy 20:10–11 aloud. Invite the class to follow along and look for what the Lord wanted the army of Israel to do when they came to the cities inhabited by the Canaanites.

  • What did the Lord instruct the armies to do first when they came to a city? (Proclaim peace.)

Invite a student to read Deuteronomy 20:12–14 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what the Israelites were commanded to do if the cities rejected their offer of peace.

  • What did the Lord instruct the armies to do if the people rejected the offer of peace?

To help students understand the reason for the Lord’s instruction recorded in Deuteronomy 20:12–14, invite a student to read 1 Nephi 17:33–35 aloud. (You may want to suggest that students write this cross-reference near Deuteronomy 20:12.) Ask students to follow along, looking for phrases that describe the condition of the people who lived in the promised land.

  • What phrases describe the condition of the people who lived in the promised land?

  • What do you think it means that they were “ripe in iniquity”?

Explain that the people who inhabited the promised land had become spiritually and morally corrupt—like the people in the days of Noah. They participated in acts of perversion, immorality, and even human sacrifice as part of their social and religious practices.

  • What does the phrase “this people had rejected every word of God” suggest? (The people had received more than one warning to repent of their sins and had refused to do so.)

Invite a student to read Deuteronomy 20:16–18 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what God commanded the Israelite armies to do with the people who occupied cities in the heart of the promised land.

  • What were the armies to do with those nations who inhabited the heart of the promised land?

  • What word in verse 18 describes behavior that could be seen as a spiritual disease that God did not want to spread among the Israelites?

  • What do we learn from verse 18 about why the wicked are destroyed? (Support students’ answers by writing the following truth on the board: God may destroy the wicked to prevent their sins from spreading to others.)

You may want to remind students that the Lord had warned that if the Israelites associated with the people in the promised land and adopted their wicked practices, the Israelites would be destroyed (see Deuteronomy 7:1–4).

  • How did the Lord’s instructions to the Israelites to utterly destroy the wicked nations inhabiting the heart of the promised land show His love and concern for the Israelites?

Deuteronomy 21–26

Moses again declares the Lord’s laws to Israel

Invite students to ponder what motivates them to be obedient. You might ask them to think about why they might choose to obey a police officer, a parent, or a priesthood leader. Ask them to give a few reasons why they would obey a particular person. Write their responses on the board. (They may suggest motivations such as fear, duty, reward, or love.)

Invite students to ponder which of the motivations on the board is most often the reason why they obey the commandments.

  • How might our motivation for obeying the Lord affect the blessings that come as a result of our obedience? (To help students answer this question, you may want to suggest that they read Moroni 7:8–9.)

Invite students to look for principles in Deuteronomy 21–26 that can help them improve their motivation for being obedient. Remind students that when the Israelites were preparing to enter the promised land, Moses reminded them that living God’s laws would help them stay clean and separate from practices that could be spiritually damaging or have severe eternal consequences.

Assign each student to read silently one or two of the following passages, looking for some of the laws Moses reiterated to the people. (You may want to write these references on the board before class. Consider waiting until after students have read and reported on their assigned verses to write the laws associated with each reference [included in parentheses].)

Deuteronomy 22:1–4 (Laws about returning others’ property)

Deuteronomy 22:5 (A law about dress and appearance)

Deuteronomy 22:25–27 (Laws protecting the victims of sexual assault)

Deuteronomy 24:19–22 (Laws about caring for those in need)

Deuteronomy 26:12–13 (Law of tithing)

After sufficient time, ask students to explain to the class what laws were taught in their assigned verses. (It may be helpful to ask students to come to the front of the class to explain what they found.) Explain that these are only a few of the laws Moses reviewed with the Israelites.

  • Why do you think Moses repeated these laws to the Israelites?

Invite two students to take turns reading aloud from Deuteronomy 26:16–19. Ask the class to follow along, looking for how Israel was to keep the Lord’s commandments. As students read, you might invite them to pause and use the footnotes to understand words that may be difficult. For example, by studying the footnotes we learn that the word judgments in verse 16 means ordinances; avouched in verse 17 means declared or testified; and peculiar in verse 18 means treasured.

  • What phrases in Deuteronomy 26:16 describe how Israel was to keep God’s commandments? (“With all thine heart” and “with all thy soul.”)

  • According to verses 18–19, what blessings did the Lord declare Israel would receive if they obeyed in this way? (Israel would be the Lord’s “peculiar people,” and He would make them “high above all nations” and “an holy people.”)

  • What can we learn about obedience from this passage? (Students may use different words, but they should identify the following principle: We can be the Lord’s peculiar and holy people if we obey His commandments with all our heart and soul. Write this principle on the board.)

Circle the words heart and soul in the statement on the board.

  • What does it mean to obey the Lord’s commandments with all your heart and soul?

To help students better understand the principle on the board, invite a student to read aloud the following statement by Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:

Oaks, Dallin H.

“It is not enough for anyone just to go through the motions. The commandments, ordinances, and covenants of the gospel are not a list of deposits required to be made in some heavenly account. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a plan that shows us how to become what our Heavenly Father desires us to become” (“The Challenge to Become,” Ensign, Nov. 2000, 32).

  • What do you think is the difference between “going through the motions” and becoming “what our Heavenly Father desires us to become”? (As students respond, make sure they understand that to be a holy people, we must live the gospel sincerely and want to become like our Heavenly Father.)

To help students feel the truth and importance of the principle on the board, use the following activity. You may want to prepare the activity before class.

Write a different commandment on several small pieces of paper. Examples might include fasting, paying tithing, serving others, studying the scriptures, honoring parents, and any other commandments you feel may be helpful for the students to discuss. Place the pieces of paper in a container.

Invite a student to come to the front of the room. Ask him or her to take a piece of paper from the container and read it to the class. Then ask the class to do one or both of the following:

  1. Suggest ways that we could keep the law with all of our heart and soul.

  2. Share how they have felt blessed when they have kept that law or commandment with all their heart and soul.

Repeat this activity with the other pieces of paper as time allows. (You might also ask students to identify other commandments they want to better keep with all their heart and soul.)

To conclude, consider sharing an experience you have had when you felt blessed for keeping one or more of God’s laws with all your heart and soul. Encourage students to consider and act on ways they can better keep God’s commandments with all their heart and soul.

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Scripture Mastery Review

As you near the midpoint in this course, you may want to check students’ knowledge of scripture mastery passages and the associated Basic Doctrines. Consider creating a short exercise to review one of the elements of mastery. For example, you could ask questions that test their progress with locating, understanding, memorizing, and applying the scripture mastery verses they have studied:


“Where can I find the Ten Commandments?”


“Which scripture mastery passages in the Old Testament can help someone understand the doctrine of the Creation? Explain.”


“Complete the following sentence: ‘Therefore shall a man leave his …’” (See Genesis 2:24.)


“In what ways are you qualifying to be called one of the Lord’s peculiar people?” (See Exodus 19:5–6.)

Before you begin the review, give students a few minutes to study together so they can be more prepared.

Commentary and Background Information

Deuteronomy 20. God may declare the destruction of the wicked to prevent sin and unbelief from spreading

“The Lord … doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him” (2 Nephi 26:23–24).

“[Warfare] is a grim and ugly if necessary matter. The Canaanites against whom Israel waged war were under judicial sentence of death by God. They were spiritually and morally degenerate. Virtually every kind of perversion was a religious act: and large classes of sacred male and female prostitutes were a routine part of the holy places. Thus, God ordered all the Canaanites to be killed (Deut. 2:34; 3:6; 20:16–18; Josh. 11:14), both because they were under God’s death sentence, and to avoid the contamination of Israel [Rousas John Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law (1973), 279]” (Old Testament Student Manual: Genesis––2 Samuel, 3rd ed. [Church Educational System manual, 2003], 227).

Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained how even God’s justice on the wicked is evidence of His love and concern for His children:

“We read again and again in the Bible and in modern scriptures of God’s anger with the wicked and of His acting in His wrath against those who violate His laws. How are anger and wrath evidence of His love? Joseph Smith taught that God ‘institute[d] laws whereby [the spirits that He would send into the world] could have a privilege to advance like himself’ [Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith (2007), 210]. God’s love is so perfect that He lovingly requires us to obey His commandments because He knows that only through obedience to His laws can we become perfect, as He is. For this reason, God’s anger and His wrath are not a contradiction of His love but an evidence of His love” (“Love and Law,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2009, 27).