THE DEDICATION OF PEOPLE, ANIMALS OR PROPERTY TO THE LORD INVOLVES FAITHFUL PERFORMANCE OF VOWS WITH STRICT REGULATIONS FOR REDEMPTION
Constable: The “blessings and curses” (ch. 26) were, in a sense, God’s vows to His people. This chapter deals with His people’s vows to Him. . . the emphasis in the first and the last chapters of Leviticus is self-dedication to the Lord, an emphasis that runs through the entire book. . .
A vow was a promise to give oneself, or another person (as in a dedication of someone), or one’s possessions to God, either so He would bestow some blessing, or because He had already bestowed a blessing. People made vows to do something or not to do something. Vows were normally temporary. When a person wanted to get back what he had vowed to God, he had to pay a certain price to the sanctuary to buy back what he had given to God. This constituted “redeeming” what the person had vowed.
R. K. Harrison: Leviticus began with regulations concerning sanctuary offerings, and it is appropriate that it should conclude on the same theme.
Perry Yoder: The final chapter of Leviticus shows us how Israel supported their worship and their priests. It discusses how the system of vows and dedications worked. Leviticus 27 begins with persons and animals who have been vowed or dedicated to God. If the person making the vow wants to retain ownership of who or what is vowed, then they can convert the vow to money and pay that instead. . .
The dedication of property to God begins with verse 14. These dedications are made by declaring something holy. In these cases the valuation is set by the priest, depending on the worth of what is dedicated. The person making the dedication can buy back their property by paying its value plus 20 percent. There are exceptions. What already belongs to God cannot be dedicated to God. What cannot be used by the priests must be bought back or sold. The firstborn of unclean animals illustrates this principle (vv. 26-27). Such an animal cannot be sacrificed, so its monetary value is paid instead.
Gordon Wenham: It may well be part of the purpose of this chapter to discourage rash swearing by fixing a relatively high price for the discharge of the vows, and penalizing those who change their minds. If a man tries to substitute a different animal for the one he has promised, he forfeits both animals (vv. 10, 33). If he wishes to redeem the property he vows, he must pay 20 percent extra (vv. 13, 15, 19, 27, 31).
Allen Ross: Unfortunately over the years vows have been greatly abused, either deliberately or inadvertently, both in their making and paying. On too many occasions people have vowed to do things only to find later that they could not or did not want to fulfill them; or, they made vows and promises that they should not have made in the first place. But God provided a way out of the dilemma; he graciously allowed his people to redeem any vows that they had unwisely or rashly spoken or that were made for them. . .
In order to curb the abuse of vows and to specify alternate payment for those made unwisely, God allowed the specific monetary equivalent to be substituted for people who were vowed; he allowed certain possessions to be redeemed at a higher penalty price, but he did not allow redemption on other possessions vowed or on things that already belonged to him.
Kenneth Mathews: God’s people must be true. If God is true, then his people too must be true. The faithfulness of God made it incumbent upon the Israelites to respond in kind, faithfully carrying out their vows to God and to others. The psalmist declared, “Make your vows to the Lord your God and perform them; let all around him bring gifts to him who is to be feared” (Psalm 76:11). Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount, “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil” (Matthew 5:37). Being honest in our response to God and in our dealings with others is Jesus’ expectation of a kingdom citizen.
L. Goldberg: [Re placement of chap. 27 at this point] No true worship can end without presenting ourselves and our substance to the Lord, Who provides all our benefits.
(:1-2a) ADDRESS TO MOSES
“Again, the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,
2 ‘Speak to the sons of Israel, and say to them,’”
I. (:2b-8) VOWS REGARDING THE DEDICATION OF PEOPLE TO THE SERVICE OF THE LORD
A. (:2b) Introduction to the Valuation of Persons
“When a man makes a difficult vow,
he shall be valued according to your valuation of persons
belonging to the LORD.”
Mark Rooker: The prices (values) of the individuals should be understood as representing either the wage of a worker (which was a shekel a month in the biblical period) or the relative worth of the value of the person’s services in the tabernacle. If the services included heavy manual labor in working with sacrificial animals or in transporting the tabernacle, it is easy to see why young men would be given higher value.
Perry Yoder: How do we convert vowed or dedicated persons or objects to money in order to pay our vows? The short answer is that the exchange rate for persons is fixed, whereas the monetary worth of animals and land is determined by the priests.
B. (:3-4) People from 20-60 Years Old
1. (:3) Male = 50 Shekels of Silver
“If your valuation is of the male from twenty years even to sixty years old, then your valuation shall be fifty shekels of silver,
after the shekel of the sanctuary.”
2. (:4) Female = 30 Shekels of Silver
“Or if it is a female, then your valuation shall be thirty shekels.”
C. (:5) People from 5-20 Years Old
1. Male = 20 Shekels
“And if it be from five years even to twenty years old
then your valuation for the male shall be twenty shekels,”
2. Female = 10 Shekels
“and for the female ten shekels.”
D. (:6) People from 1 Month – 5 Years Old
1. Male = 5 Shekels
“But if they are from a month even up to five years old,
then your valuation shall be five shekels of silver for the male,”
2. Female = 3 Shekels
“and for the female your valuation shall be three shekels of silver.”
E. (:7) People from 60 Years Old and Up
1. Male = 15 Shekels
“And if they are from sixty years old and upward, if it is a male,
then your valuation shall be fifteen shekels,”
2. Female = 10 Shekels
“and for the female ten shekels.”
F. (:8) Concession for a Poor Person
“But if he is poorer than your valuation,
then he shall be placed before the priest, and the priest shall value him; according to the means of the one who vowed, the priest shall value him.”
Perry Yoder: But what if someone has pledged a person whose worth is more than they can afford? They present their pledged person to the priest, and the priest decides the value of the pledge according to how much he estimates the vowed person can afford.
Wenham: These figures are very large. The average wage of a worker in biblical times was about one shekel per month. It is little wonder that few could afford the valuations set out here (v. 8).
II. (:9-13) VOWS REGARDING THE DEDICATION OF ANIMALS TO THE SERVICE OF THE LORD
A. (:9-10) Clean Animals
1. (:9) Acceptable Animal Offerings Must be Holy
“Now if it is an animal of the kind which men can present as an offering to the LORD,
any such that one gives to the LORD shall be holy.”
Kenneth Mathews: Since the Lord delivered and abundantly blessed them, individuals expressed vows of thanksgiving by dedicating their material assets. This meant giving animals, houses, and tracts of land.
2. (:10) No Substitutions or Exchanges
“He shall not replace it or exchange it,
a good for a bad, or a bad for a good;”
“or if he does exchange animal for animal,
then both it and its substitute shall become holy.”
B. (:11-13) Unclean Animals
1. (:11) Unacceptable Animals for Offerings May Still be Given in a Vow
“If, however, it is any unclean animal of the kind which men do not present as an offering to the LORD,
then he shall place the animal before the priest.”
2. (:12) Priest Determines the Valuation
“And the priest shall value it as either good or bad;
as you, the priest, value it, so it shall be.”
3. (:13) Redemption Requires a Premium of 20%
“But if he should ever wish to redeem it,
then he shall add one-fifth of it to your valuation.”
Gordon Wenham: unclean animals could be vowed even though they could not be sacrificed. They could be used by the priests, or if the priests had no need of them, sold for their profit. If, however, the man preferred to keep his animal, he could redeem it for 20 percent more than the priest’s valuation (v. 13).
III. (:14-25) VOWS REGARDING THE DEDICATION OF HOUSES AND FIELDS TO THE SERVICE OF THE LORD
A. (:14-15) Houses
1. (:14) Priest Determines the Valuation
“Now if a man consecrates his house as holy to the LORD,
then the priest shall value it as either good or bad;
as the priest values it, so it shall stand.”
2. (:15) Redemption Requires a Premium of 20%
“Yet if the one who consecrates it should wish to redeem his house,
then he shall add one-fifth of your valuation price to it,
so that it may be his.”
B. (:16-24) Fields
1. (:16-21) Fields Part of Family Property
a. (:16) Valuation Proportionate to Potential Agricultural Yield
“Again, if a man consecrates to the LORD part of the fields of his own property, then your valuation shall be proportionate to the seed needed for it: a homer of barley seed at fifty shekels of silver.”
Kenneth Mathews: The dedication of land, however, was a more complicated matter and required further explanation. Without going into too many details, we can summarize by observing that the rules of depositing land were influenced by three factors. First, the rules were adjusted based on the custody of the property—whether the land belonged to the donor presently or if it had been sold or purchased (v. 22)—in other words, the custody of the land. Second, the custom of Jubilee took precedence in evaluating the worth of the land. In the Year of Jubilee, land reverted to the original family ownership (Leviticus 25:8–55). This meant that the priest’s evaluation included calculating the number of harvests that remained until the Year of Jubilee. And third, the monetary measure of the assessed value was consistently the same, specifically here called “the shekel of the sanctuary” (v. 25).
b. (:17-18) Valuation Adjusted According to Timing of Year of Jubilee
“If he consecrates his field as of the year of jubilee,
according to your valuation it shall stand.
18 If he consecrates his field after the jubilee, however, then the priest shall calculate the price for him proportionate to the years that are left until the year of jubilee; and it shall be deducted from your valuation.”
Roy Gane: Unlike a house, ancestral land cannot be permanently sold, but it reverts to its original owner in the Jubilee year. Therefore, the value of a piece of land is based on its potential agricultural yield—as indicated by the amount of seed required to sow it—until the next Jubilee.
c. (:19-21) Regulations Regarding Redemption
“And if the one who consecrates it should ever wish to redeem the field, then he shall add one-fifth of your valuation price to it, so that it may pass to him.
20 Yet if he will not redeem the field, but has sold the field to another man, it may no longer be redeemed; 21 and when it reverts in the jubilee, the field shall be holy to the LORD, like a field set apart; it shall be for the priest as his property.”
Roy Gane: As M. Haran has shown, the key to understanding this passage is the tense of the verb “has sold” (Qal of mkr) in verse 20. Whereas the other verbs in the same verse are imperfect, this one is perfect, indicating the pluperfect sense of prior action: The owner who inherited the land consecrated it after having sold it. Ordinarily the land would simply revert to the owner at the Jubilee. But by dedicating it to the sanctuary after already selling its use to someone else until the Jubilee, the original owner indicates his intention to dedicate something over and above that which he has already sold, namely, permanent ownership. Therefore at the next Jubilee, when the property would normally revert to him, it instead becomes the permanent property of the priesthood. It is like ḥerem property—something irrevocably “banished” to the sphere of holiness.
John Schultz: Vs. 20 is not too clear in most translations. TLB adds between parentheses: “and has given to the Lord his rights to it at the Year of Jubilee.” This would mean that a person could sell his property to someone else, but that the right of heritage would be surrendered to the Lord. In that case, the field would not revert to the original owner, but become the property of the temple. That sounds logical.
2. (:22-24) Fields Not Part of Family Property
“Or if he consecrates to the LORD a field which he has bought, which is not a part of the field of his own property, 23 then the priest shall calculate for him the amount of your valuation up to the year of jubilee; and he shall on that day give your valuation as holy to the LORD. 24 In the year of jubilee the field shall return to the one from whom he bought it, to whom the possession of the land belongs.”
C. (:25) Value of the Shekel
“Every valuation of yours, moreover, shall be after the shekel of the sanctuary. The shekel shall be twenty gerahs.”
IV. (:26-33) DEALING WITH EXCEPTIONS = UNREDEEMABLE THINGS
A. (:26-27) First-born Animals
1. (:26) Already Belongs to the Lord – Cannot be Offered as a Vow
“However, a first-born among animals, which as a first-born belongs to the LORD, no man may consecrate it; whether ox or sheep,
it is the LORD’s.”
Robert Vasholz: The firstborn among animals do not qualify as payment for a vow, since it is already consecrated to the Lord (Exod. 13:2; 22:29–30; 34:19–20; Num. 3:13; 8:17–18; 18:15).
2. (:27) Regulations for Redemption or Sale of Unclean Animals
a. Redemption Requires a Premium of 20%
“But if it is among the unclean animals, then he shall redeem it according to your valuation, and add to it one-fifth of it;”
b. Regulations Regarding Sale
“and if it is not redeemed,
then it shall be sold according to your valuation.”
B. (:28-29) Anything Devoted to the Lord
1. (:28a) Not Eligible for Redemption or Sale
“Nevertheless, anything which a man sets apart to the LORD out of all that he has, of man or animal or of the fields of his own property, shall not be sold or redeemed.”
2. (:28b) Already Most Holy to the Lord
“Anything devoted to destruction is most holy to the LORD.”
Perry Yoder: A person could declare a ban on animals, property, or people. As in the cases of the firstborn (see vv. 26-27), the banned items would belong to God and were most holy. They were irretrievably lost and could not be bought back or redeemed (v. 28). What happened to the banned objects and persons is not said. Presumably, they were given for the use of the priests and support of the sanctuary.
David Guzik: To devote something to the LORD was a further step than consecration by a vow; it often had the meaning of destroying the item (or executing the person) so that it could not be used by anyone else, and all of its value was given to God. Therefore if something was already declared a devoted offering, it could not be given in a vow. It already belonged to God and was most holy to the LORD.
3. (:29) Death Penalty for Attempting to Redeem a Banned Person
“No one who may have been set apart among men shall be ransomed;
he shall surely be put to death.”
Gordon Wenham: Banning or devoting was a more solemn and irreversible vow than ordinary dedication. Anyone or anything that was devoted to the Lord could not be ransomed. It was usual to invoke the ban in wars against the native inhabitants of Canaan. In divine judgment all Israel’s enemies and their property were devoted to the Lord (e.g., Num. 21:2; Deut. 7:2; 1 Sam. 15). It could also be used as a judicial sentence against idolaters (Exod. 22:19 [Eng. 20]; Deut. 13:16 ). It seems unlikely that ordinary Israelites could pronounce such vows; only the recognized leaders had authority to declare a death sentence.
C. (:30-33) Tithes
1. (:30-31) Tithes of Land Holy to the Lord but Eligible for Redemption
a. (:30) Holy to the Lord
“Thus all the tithe of the land, of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the tree, is the LORD’s; it is holy to the LORD.”
Kenneth Mathews: The people were commanded to offer up a tithe of all their land’s produce and of all their herds as the portion belonging to the service of the Lord’s sanctuary (Numbers 18:21–29; Deuteronomy 14:22–29). Since tithes were already set aside as holy, they could not be offered again in the case of a vow. An exception permitted here is the tithe of agricultural products that could be translated into money. In this case the Israelite must add a fifth to the valuation as in the ordinary vows. Animals, however, destined for the sanctuary could not be redeemed.
b. (:31) Eligible for Redemption
“If, therefore, a man wishes to redeem part of his tithe, he shall add to it one-fifth of it.”
2. (:32-33) Tithes of Animals Not Eligible for Redemption
“And for every tenth part of herd or flock, whatever passes under the rod, the tenth one shall be holy to the LORD. 33 He is not to be concerned whether it is good or bad, nor shall he exchange it; or if he does exchange it, then both it and its substitute shall become holy. It shall not be redeemed.”
Mark Rooker: There were three tithes for the ancient Israelites:
(1) the general tithe (Lev 27),
(2) the tithe of the sacred meal with the Levite (Deut 14:22–27), and
(3) the tithe paid every three years to the poor (Deut 14:28–29).
This text addresses the general tithe. Apparently the tithe was determined by counting every tenth animal that passed under the shepherd’s rod (27:32). This counting method appears to be the basis of Jer 33:13 and Ezek 20:37. The tithe was taken to maintain the Levites (Num 18:21–24), who in turn tithed their gifts to the priests (Num 18:25–32). The subject of tithes is addressed in Neh 10:38–39; 13:5, 12; 2 Chr 31:5–6, 12. In Amos 4:4 the people placed an imbalanced value on the giving of the tithe, while in Mal 3:8–10 they neglected it. As with vows, the tithed items could be repurchased based on the value of the object plus 20 percent (27:31).
(:34) EPILOGUE – CONCLUDING SUMMARY
“These are the commandments which the LORD commanded Moses
for the sons of Israel at Mount Sinai.”
Perry Yoder: Scrolls could only be of a certain length to remain practical for regular use. Consequently, a decision had to be made as to where one scroll ended and another began. By the end of Leviticus, there was enough material for a scroll, and there was a clear disjunction between Leviticus 27 and Numbers 1. Leviticus 27 ends with God speaking to Moses at Mount Sinai, whereas Numbers 1 begins with God speaking to Moses in the tent of meeting located in the Sinai desert and with a date for the speech. The speech itself begins with a command, in the plural, to take a census. While Moses is the recipient of this speech, who will carry out the command is only mentioned later. For all of these reasons, it made sense to begin a new scroll with Numbers 1:1.
David Guzik: These were not mere traditions and customs, though men began to attach traditions and customs to these commandments; these were – and are – the commandments (not suggestions) of the LORD.
David Thompson: Leviticus has been a book designed to make God’s redeemed people holy. Carefully notice how the book ends–totally focused on the written Word and commandments of God. No one will ever be holy from God’s classification until God’s Word is taken seriously. God expected these people to carefully apply every verse of Leviticus to their lives. The holier we are becoming the more we will see the importance of the written Word of God and if one book in the Bible communicates that theme, it is Leviticus!
Gordon Wenham: With these laws on vows and tithes Leviticus closes. On first reading it seems a strange point at which to end. But the theme of vowing is in fact closely related to the principal concerns of the whole book. Men who dedicate themselves to God become as it were God’s slaves, holy to the Lord. . .
Thus this chapter in effect recapitulates and reminds us of the great themes that have engaged our attention in the rest of the book. Lev. 27 points out that holiness is more than a matter of divine call and correct ritual. Its attainment requires the total consecration of a man’s life to God’s service. It involves giving yourself, your family, and all your possessions to God.
“Be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.”