This is not the case, however, with non-relatives, especially the Amorite King Sihon, against whom God commanded Moses to wage war in order to "put the dread and fear of [Israel] upon the people under heaven" (Deuteronomy 2:25). Nevertheless, Moses pauses before war and sends "words of peace" to Sihon, requesting a peaceful passage through Sihon's land. Moses assures Sihon that the Israelites will not forage for food and that they will pay for the water that they use.
So, how does God respond to Moses' offering of peace when God demands war? God "stiffened the will [of Sihon] and hardened his heart" (as had been done to Pharoah in Egypt), and the people of Israel wiped out the Amorite kings Sihon and Og.
The interaction seems similar to the narrative of Abraham pleading with God not to destroy Sodom (Genesis 18). God announces that the city will be destroyed, Abraham and Moses in turn attempt to prevent that destruction but, because Sodom is truly evil, and because Sihon refuses Moses' offer of peace, the cities are ultimately destroyed.
Are human beings, or at least these human beings, more willing to offer terms of peace rather than wage war? Maybe, as God implies with respect to Og, King of Bashan, "Do not fear him for I will give him and all his people and his land into your hand" (Numbers 21:34 and Deuteronomy 3:2). Moses is reasonably afraid of war, but God does not know fear. Indeed, as noted above, God wants to "put the dread and fear of [Israel] upon the people under heaven."
Yet, when God later legislates the conduct of war, God requires Israel to seek peace first:
“When you come near a city to attack it, you shall offer it words of peace. If it responds with peace and lets you in, then all the people shall serve you at forced labor. But if it will not make peace but war, then you shall besiege it (Deuteronomy 20:10-12).”
God's decision to destroy the Amorites (and even to harden Sihon's heart) may be seen as a political necessity. In order to allow Israel the opportunity to offer terms of peace in the future, God recognizes the importance of establishing Israel as a military power first. Alternatively, perhaps God had a change of heart. According to a Midrash, God not only annulled the earlier decree, but did so based on Moses' teaching:
"'This is the Torah of the peace offering' (Leviticus 7:11). As it says, '[The Torah's] ways are ways of pleasantness and all of its paths are peace' (Proverbs 3:17). Everything, which was written in the Torah, was written in order to create peace. Even though the Torah writes of war, even the wars were written to create peace."
"So you find that the Holy Blessed One annulled the decree of destruction for the sake of peace. When? God had commanded Moses 'When you lay siege to a city for many days...' (Deuteronomy 20:19), God said 'You shall utterly destroy them' (Deuteronomy 20:17). But Moses did not do this. Rather, Moses said, 'I will kill those who have sinned, but those who have not sinned I will approach peacefully, as it says, 'And I sent messengers from the wilderness of Kedemot...words of peace...' (Deuteronomy 2:26). When Moses saw that they did not accept peace, he killed them..."
"The Holy Blessed One said, 'I said "you shall utterly destroy them" but you did not do that. By your life! Just as you, Moses, have said, so will I do!' as it says, 'When you come close to a city to attack it, you will call out to it in peace' (Deuteronomy 20:10). Therefore it is written, '[The Torah's] ways are ways of pleasantness and all of its paths are peace'" (Midrash Tanhuma Tzav 3).
According to the Midrash, Moses taught God the necessity of offering peace. The 15th century Portuguese commentator Isaac Abarbanel, however, rejects this approach understanding that God is the source of peace and clemency. Abarbanel expresses this idea in his explanation of the reasons for offering terms of peace:
The first reason is that it is appropriate to "walk in God's ways" (Deuteronomy 28:9), and God does not desire death or the destruction of the world but repentance. God extends God's right hand to welcome the penitent, and that includes mortal kings and other people...
Abarbanel continues with more "political" explanations:
The second reason [to extend terms of peace] is that conquering through peaceful means demonstrates both ability and good character and peacefulness...but conquering a city through military means might demonstrate ability but also cruelty and bad characteristics, which is dangerous for an enduring kingship, as Isaiah says "Through mercy a throne is established" (Isaiah 15:5)...
The third reason is that military victory is always unsure. Have we not seen the many fall to the few or the strong to the weak?...Therefore it is appropriate to choose true peace rather than to trust in a doubtful victory. That is the reason why, when laying siege to a city, an avenue for escape is always left for the besieged, lest a person who has given up on his chances for a life of peace endanger his life just to strike at his enemies. Therefore, it is always better to choose peace.
So over and over again, we are commanded to choose peace, rather than war, whether in our homes, our communities, or for our people. May this Shabbat bring peace to us all.
One of the Hasidic masters once asked his students when does night end and morning begin. One answered with the cry of the rooster. Another, when a sliver of light is seen in the sky. They all answered the Rabbi. Finally the Rebbe stood and said, my friends, “ we know when dark is over when we see the face of another and recognize them for who they are.” In light we see, in light we are seen. May we see he light of those around us for the sake of peace.