Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New TestamentLEVITICUS 27
The nature of this last chapter has led some to question the appropriateness of its placement in this context. Lev. 26:46 appears to be the logical end of the book, and that makes this chapter to appear somewhat as an afterthought. It should be remembered, however, that Moses did not write five books; he wrote only one, not even dividing it into chapters. Such things as chapters, verses, and paragraphs are merely the devices of men, adopted for greater convenience in locating specific passages.
Besides that, there are very excellent and logical reasons for the appearance of the instructions in Lev. 27 just where they are found. Kellogg noted that:
"What has preceded in Leviticus has concerned religious duties which were obligatory upon all Israelites, but the regulations of this chapter, on the contrary, have to do with special vows which were not obligatory, but voluntary. `If thou shalt forbear to vow, it shall be no sin in thee' (Deuteronomy 23:22)."F1
From this it is easy to see why the instructions regarding vows would not have fit into any other location earlier in Leviticus. Voluntary religious actions have no place whatever among those duties God has commanded his servants to obey. Thus, they appear here last of all, which is exactly where they belong. Of course, they have a supplementary relation to the rest of Leviticus; "But there is no reason to doubt its Mosaic authorship."F2
This whole chapter deals with vows and tithes. The custom of making vows to God is very old, and the Mosaic law recognized the right of an individual to make a vow to God in case he of his own volition decided to do so, but none was required. However, in case a vow was made, God's law required it to be done (paid). Vows were made with reference to: (1) oneself;
(2) any member of his family (or all of them);
(3) his animals (clean or unclean);
(4) his crops;
(5) his land (whether rented or owned);
(6) his house; or
(7) his slaves, in fact, "whatever he had a right over."F3
This chapter falls into this outline:
I. Redemption of persons vowed, sanctified, or devoted to God. (Leviticus 27:2-8)
II. Redemption of animals (Leviticus 27:9-13)
III. Redemption of houses (Leviticus 27:14-15)
IV. Redemption of lands (Leviticus 27:16-24)
V. Redemption not allowed in certain instances (Leviticus 27:25-29)
VI. Special instructions regarding tithes (Leviticus 27:30-33)
VII. This chapter certified as part of the Sinai covenant (Leviticus 27:34)
Except in rare instances, persons who were devoted to God were expected to be redeemed by the payment of certain money. The amount of money required for persons of different age and sex is the subject of the first paragraph.
And Jehovah spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When a man shall accomplish a vow, the persons shall be for Jehovah by thy estimation. And thy estimation shall be of the male from twenty years old even unto sixty years old, even thy estimation shall be fifty shekels of silver, after the shekel of the sanctuary. And if it be a female, then thy estimation shall be thirty shekels. And if it be from five years old even unto twenty years old, then thy estimation shall be of the male twenty shekels, and for the female ten shekels. And if it be from a month old even unto five years old, then thy estimation shall be of the male five shekels of silver, and for the female thy estimation shall be three shekels of silver. And if it be from sixty years old and upward; if it be a male, then thy estimation shall be fifteen shekels, and for the female ten shekels. But if he be poorer than thy estimation, then he shall be set before the priest, and the priest shall value him; according to the ability of him that vowed shall the priest value him.
And Jehovah spake unto Moses
This, along with Lev. 27:34, has the effect of tying all of those instructions to the regulations of God already given, making all of them an integral part of the law of Moses, binding terms of the sacred covenant.
Once a vow was made, the discharge of it was required. In practical effect, the vowing of a person to God usually meant merely the paying of a certain sum of money into the hands of the priests. These verses give the standard scale for such payments:
Age 20-60 50 shekels 30 shekels
Age 5-20 20 shekels 10 shekels
Age to 5 years 5 shekels 3 shekels
Age above 60 15 shekels 10 shekels
These rules heralded the equality of all people before God.
"There was no discrimination as to rank or wealth. The redemption of the High Priest was precisely the same as that of the day-laborer."F4 The price of these redemptions, however, was not nearly as small as they may seem to us. "These figures are very large. The average wage of a worker in Biblical times was about one shekel per month!"F5
The relatively lower evaluation placed upon women should not be construed as any injustice. Back of these assigned values was a calculation of the amount of physical work one could accomplish, and these distinctions were not any different from those seen on every golf course in the world today, where the ladies' tee shortens every green on the course for women.
Lev. 27:8 allowed the priest to reduce the price of redemption for those unable to pay the full price. The mention of the priest here also shows that these calculations of value were the responsibility of the priesthood, despite the fact (Leviticus 27:1) of the instructions being given to "the children of Israel." This mention of "the ability of him that vowed" is a vital factor even today in the matter of Christian giving. "Let every one of you lay by him in store as God has prospered him" (1 Cor. 16:2 KJV). This establishes the principle that one's giving is not determined solely by the amount of it, but by the relation that amount has to his ability.
And if it be a beast, whereof men offer an oblation unto Jehovah, all that any man giveth of such unto Jehovah shall be holy. He shall not alter it, nor change it, a good for a bad, or a bad for a good: and if he shall at all change beast for beast, then both it and that for which it is changed shall be holy. And if it be any unclean beast, of which they do not offer an oblation unto Jehovah, then he shall set the beast before the priest; and the priest shall value it, whether it be good or bad: as thou the priest valuest it, so shall it be. But if he will indeed redeem it, then he shall add the fifth part thereof unto thy estimation.
Lev. 27:9 forbade any substitutions. Once a beast was designated in a vow, the decision regarding the animal was irrevocable. In case a substitute was offered, the penalty required that both animals be forfeited. In the matter of unclean beasts (Leviticus 27:11), although these could not be sacrificed; "But they could be used by the priest, or sold for profit."F6 In case the giver wanted to redeem the unclean beast, he could do so by paying the estimated value plus twenty percent.
Lev. 27:11 appears to forbid any haggling over price. Like the decisions of an umpire in a baseball game, the priest's evaluations were not subject to challenge. "As the priest valuest it, so shall it be!"
Verses 14, 15
And when a man shall sanctify his house to be holy unto Jehovah, then the priest shall estimate it, whether it be good or bad: as the priest shall estimate it, so shall it stand. And if he that sanctified it will redeem his house, then he shall add the fifth part of the money of thy estimation unto it, and it shall be his.
One reason, no doubt, for the monetary penalties for the redemption of things vowed to God was that of discouraging rash and thoughtless vows. Clements commented on this:
"These laws highlighted the need for caution and seriousness in making vows and promises to God. Rash promises may afterward be regretted, and Israel's law did not permit the man who had made a hasty promise to forget it and do nothing about it. We may well pause to consider how many promises we have made to God and have not fulfilled."F7
Wenham was probably correct in supposing that the "houses" referred to in these verses "were town houses that did not figure as part of the family's estate and therefore could be bought and sold freely."F8
And if a man shall sanctify unto Jehovah part of the field of his possession, then thy estimation shall be according to the sowing thereof: the sowing of a homer of barley [shall be valued] at fifty shekels of silver. If he sanctify his field from the year of jubilee, according to thy estimation it shall stand. But if he sanctify his field after the jubilee, then the priest shall reckon unto him the money according to the years that remain unto the year of jubilee; and an abatement shall be made from thy estimation. And if he that sanctified the field will indeed redeem it, then he shall add the fifth part of the money of thy estimation unto it, and it shall be assured to him. And if he will not redeem the field, or if he have sold the field to another man, it shall not be redeemed any more: but the field, when it goeth out in the jubilee, shall be holy unto Jehovah, as a field devoted; the possession thereof shall be the priest's. And if he sanctify unto Jehovah a field which he hath bought, which is not of the field of his possession; then the priest shall reckon unto him the worth of thy estimation unto the year of jubilee: and he shall give thine estimation in that day, as a holy thing unto Jehovah. In the year of jubilee the field shall return unto him of whom it was bought, even to him to whom the possession of the land belongeth. And all thy estimations shall be according to the shekel of the sanctuary: twenty gerahs shall be the shekel.
In these instructions regarding the devotions of fields, the thing that stands out is precedence of the year of Jubilee. Unalienable rights to the land by the descendants of the original possessors of Canaan could not be given away permanently, not even to the priests, except in instances where some fraud existed. Furthermore, all calculations of the right of redemption were made with reference to how many years still remained in the Jubilee. It appears that the right of redeeming devoted lands was calculated on a basis that would have favored the one wishing to redeem it. A value of fifty shekels was placed upon the amount of land that could be sowed with a homer of barley, "according to the sowing of a homer of barley" (Leviticus 27:16), but that fifty shekels paid for the full time of fifty years between Jubilees. That means one shekel per year. Some have attempted to read this valuation as a shekel a year for the amount of land that yielded a homer of barley, but we reject this on the basis that the yield of a field is not necessarily constant, whereas, the sowing of a field was a standard understood by everyone. It is true, as Wenham said, that, "Most commentators understand it" as we have indicated here.F9
The instructions as to the kind of shekel to be used in redemption of vows were required because a shekel long in circulation would become worn and have less weight than the twenty gerahs (the standard weight of the shekel). The full weight of 10 shekels would therefore have been 200 gerahs, which might have required eleven worn shekels to be sufficient. "`According to the shekel of the sanctuary' therefore means the shekel at its full value, before worn by use in traffic."F10
Verses 26, 27
Only the firstling among beasts, which is made a firstling to Jehovah, no man shall sanctify it; whether it be ox or sheep, it is Jehovah's. And if it be of an unclean beast, then he shall ransom it according to thine estimation, and shall add unto it the fifth part thereof: or if it be not redeemed, then it shall be sold according to thy estimation.
Some things could not be redeemed, and this passage cites the first of these, namely, the firstborn (firstling) of either ox or sheep. The reason was simply that all the firstborn belonged to Jehovah already. Therefore, they could not be devoted, much less redeemed. They were already devoted and were the property of the priests. In this connection, the regulations concerning unclean animals, already given in Lev. 27:11-13, are repeated.
There was still another category of devoted things that under no circumstances could be redeemed, and that was immediately stated.
Verses 28, 29
Notwithstanding, no devoted thing, that a man shall devote unto Jehovah of all that he hath, whether of man or beast, or of the field of his possession, shall be sold or redeemed: every devoted thing is most holy unto Jehovah. No one devoted, that shall be devoted from among men, shall be ransomed; he shall surely be put to death.
The word "devoted" in this passage has the simple meaning of "accursed."F11 We may be certain, therefore, that the authority thus to "devote" another human being did not belong to any individual in the ancient Jewish society. Meyrick has this further explanation:
"The devotion by ban ([~cherem]) of any object or person was not to be done by private persons, at their own will, but was performed by the civil magistrates, under known conditions and laws; e.g., the cities of idolaters, such as Jericho, were so devoted."F12
Another example of a person so devoted is that of Agag, king of the Amalekites, whom Saul spared alive, contrary to the will of God (1 Sam. 15). A footnote in the old Polyglot Bible gives the meaning of this passage perfectly.
"It means that none who were condemned capitally, or devoted to certain death, such as murderers, sodomites, idolaters, and pagan Canaanites (whom God had ordered to be destroyed), could, on any terms whatever be redeemed."F13
"Any allegations to the effect that the Mosaic Law permitted human sacrifice is false. When God gave a list of animals that could be offered to him in sacrifice, humans were expressly omitted, therefore forbidden to be offered in sacrifice."F14
And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land, or of the fruit of the tree, is Jehovah's: it is holy unto Jehovah. And if a man will redeem aught of his tithe, he shall add unto it the fifth part thereof. And all the tithe of the herd or the flock, whatsoever passeth under the rod, the tenth shall be holy unto Jehovah. He shall not search whether it be good or bad, neither shall he change it: and if he change it at all, then both it and that for which it is changed shall be holy; it shall not be redeemed.
The tithe is here introduced as something already known and accepted. It will be remembered that Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek, and that Jacob also vowed to give "a tenth" unto God. Mentioning the conduct of the Pharisees, Jesus spoke of their "righteousness," including a reference to their payment of tithes, stating at the same time that except our "righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees" we cannot please God. The nearest thing in the N.T. to specific commandment that Christians should pay tithes is found in Hebrews: "Here men that die receive tithes; but there he receiveth them, of whom it is witnessed that he liveth" (Heb. 7:8, KJV). This certainly falls short of a commandment, but declares the acceptability of tithes by Christ in heaven itself. The spirit of Christianity has, in general, accepted the responsibility.
It is odd that one could redeem the tithe of his crops and fruit trees, but that he could not redeem the tithe of his flocks and herds. The tenth passed into the hands of the priests, which they received as an unalienable right.
In fact, it was forbidden to the person giving a tithe that he should be able to select the animals given. "He shall not search whether it be good or bad" (Leviticus 27:33). Coleman tells how the tithe was taken:
"Whatsoever passeth under the rod" (Leviticus 27:32) refers to the custom of counting animals by making them pass in a single file out of an enclosure and marking each tenth animal by a rod dipped in coloring material."F15
The recognition of tithing as a constant obligation of God's people is here inherent in the fact that laws concerning it appear in the list of things that could not be redeemed, "from of old, belonging to the Lord and incapable of being vowed."F16
These are the commandments, which Jehovah commanded Moses for the children of Israel in mount Sinai.
This is indeed an appropriate ending for Leviticus, and it has the effect of tying all of the regulations to the Sinaitic covenant. "It is in accord with the total impression given by Leviticus, that it consists of laws given to Moses (by Almighty God) for Israel at Sinai."F17 "This final verse is a repetition of the concluding verse of Lev. 26, and has the effect of showing that this chapter (Lev. 27) also is a valid part of the Sinai covenant."F18
We have now come to the end of these somewhat tedious chapters in Leviticus, where there is much material with little application to our own times and situations, "giving inevitably an appearance of dryness and formality";F19 but as Spurgeon once said, "There is honey in the rock if we only take the time and patience to seek it." We praise the Lord who enabled us to discover some of it. How marvelous is the typology, for example, in the consecration of Aaron and his sons, witnessing to some of the most important truth in the Dispensation of Christ, and how merciful of the Lord that in many instances where certain penalties were required, exceptions were made for those who through poverty were unable to comply with the laws! Here, even as in Exodus, it is evident that God's mercy ranked higher than his law, and who is there who cannot rejoice in this glorious O.T. truth?
Footnotes for Leviticus 27
1: S. H. Kellogg, The Book of Leviticus (Cincinnati: Jennings and Graham), p. 541.
2: J. M. Fuller, Barnes' Notes, Leviticus (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1959), from the private library of Burt Pauley, Barstow, California, p. 177.
3: F. Meyrick, The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 2, Leviticus (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), p. 427.
4: Johann Peter Lange, Leviticus, the Third Book of Moses (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, new edition, 1960), p. 205.
5: Gordon J. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979), p. 338.
6: Ibid., p. 339.
7: Ronald E. Clements, Broadman Bible Commentary, Vol. 2, Leviticus (Nashville: Breadman Press, 1972), p. 70.
8: Gordon J. Wenham, op. cit., p. 339.
9: Ibid., p. 340 (footnote).
10: F. Meyrick, op. cit., p. 428.
11: William Wilson, Wilson's Old Testament Word Studies (McLean, Virginia: MacDonald Publishing Company), p. 123.
12: F. Meyrick, op. cit., p. 428.
13: The Polyglot Bible, (Hartford, Connecticut: Case, Lockwood, and Company, 1860), from the Private Library of Burt Pauley, Barstow, California, p. 179.
14: F. C. Cook, Canon of Exeter, Commentary on the Holy Bible, Leviticus (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1911), from the Private Library of Burt Pauley, Barstow, California, p. 647.
15: Robert O. Coleman, Wycliffe Bible Commentary, Leviticus (Chicago: Moody Press, 1972), p. 109.
16: S. H. Kellogg, op. cit., p.555.
17: Oswald T. Allis, New Bible Commentary, Revised, Leviticus (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970), p. 176.
18: F. Meyrick, op. cit., p. 429.
19: Ronald E. Clements, op. cit., p. 73.