David Guzik Commentary on the Bible
The Redemption of Things Vowed to God
A. Consecrating persons to the Lord.
1. (1-2) When a man consecrates by a vow certain persons to the Lord.
Now the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, "Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: 'When a man consecrates by a vow certain persons to the Lord, according to your valuation,'"
a. When a man consecrates by a vow certain persons to the Lord: What did it mean to consecrate a person to the Lord? It could be done either for one's self, or on behalf of another (such as consecrating a child unto the Lord). This was a completely voluntary act, meant to demonstrate that this person was totally given to God.
i. For example, a man from the tribe of Judah, in a time of distress, or out of gratitude, or out of a sense of calling, wants to consecrate his son to the Lord. He could not give his son to the service of the tabernacle, because he was not a priestly family. So to consecrate his son, he would follow the procedures in the following verses.
b. When a man consecrates by a vow certain persons to the Lord: The beauty of these commands is that it gave the one making a vow of consecration something definite to do; the vow of consecration was therefore far more than mere words, it had a definite action associated with it - and prevented people from making empty vows to God.
2. (3-8) Assigning a valuation for persons consecrated by a vow.
If your valuation is of a male from twenty years old up to sixty years old, then your valuation shall be fifty shekels of silver, according to the shekel of the sanctuary. If it is a female, then your valuation shall be thirty shekels; and if from five years old up to twenty years old, then your valuation for a male shall be twenty shekels, and for a female ten shekels; and if from a month old up to five years old, then your valuation for a male shall be five shekels of silver, and for a female your valuation shall be three shekels of silver; and if from sixty years old and above, if it is a male, then your valuation shall be fifteen shekels, and for a female ten shekels. But if he is too poor to pay your valuation, then he shall present himself before the priest, and the priest shall set a value for him; according to the ability of him who vowed, the priest shall value him.
a. If your valuation is of a male from twenty years old up to sixty years old: Persons were assigned a value according to their age and general usefulness to society; especially in an agricultural society, there was a definite sense in which a man between 20 and 50 was more "valuable" than a child one month to five years old.
b. If he is too poor to pay your valuation: Importantly, no one was prohibited from fulfilling a vow of consecration because they did not have enough money; if they were poor, the priests would be flexible with the valuation.
i. Everyone can give their life to the Lord; there are none who are too small, or too insignificant, or too useless. God wants to use each and every one.
B. Redeeming property consecrated to God by a vow.
1. (9-13) Animals.
If it is an animal that men may bring as an offering to the Lord, all that anyone gives to the Lord shall be holy. He shall not substitute it or exchange it, good for bad or bad for good; and if he at all exchanges animal for animal, then both it and the one exchanged for it shall be holy. If it is an unclean animal which they do not offer as a sacrifice to the Lord, then he shall present the animal before the priest; and the priest shall set a value for it, whether it is good or bad; as you, the priest, value it, so it shall be. But if he wants at all to redeem it, then he must add one-fifth to your valuation.
a. If it is an animal that men may bring as an offering to the Lord: If an animal was clean (fit for sacrifice), and you wanted to redeem it from the vow of consecration to the Lord (perhaps because the animal was especially useful), you could exchange it for another animal - as long as that animal was also clean, and equally suitable for sacrifice.
b. If it is an unclean animal: If an animal was unclean (unfit for sacrifice), it could still be vowed to the Lord and then redeemed; but the priest would set a value on the animal, and one would add one-fifth to that value (20%) and give the total to the tabernacle treasury.
i. Again, if one simply wanted to give their unclean animal (a donkey, for example) to the Lord, he could give it to a priest, who would use it or sell it, giving the money to the tabernacle treasury; but if they desired to keep the animal, while still consecrating it with a vow to the Lord, they had to pay the price of the animal plus 20%. You could give your donkey and use him too, but it would cost you the value of the donkey plus 20%.
3. (14-25) Houses and land.
And when a man dedicates his house to be holy to the Lord, then the priest shall set a value for it, whether it is good or bad; as the priest values it, so it shall stand. If he who dedicated it wants to redeem his house, then he must add one-fifth of the money of your valuation to it, and it shall be his. If a man dedicates to the Lord part of a field of his possession, then your valuation shall be according to the seed for it. A homer of barley seed shall be valued at fifty shekels of silver. If he dedicates his field from the Year of Jubilee, according to your valuation it shall stand. But if he dedicates his field after the Jubilee, then the priest shall reckon to him the money due according to the years that remain till the Year of Jubilee, and it shall be deducted from your valuation. And if he who dedicates the field ever wishes to redeem it, then he must add one-fifth of the money of your valuation to it, and it shall belong to him. But if he does not want to redeem the field, or if he has sold the field to another man, it shall not be redeemed anymore; but the field, when it is released in the Jubilee, shall be holy to the Lord, as a devoted field; it shall be the possession of the priest. And if a man dedicates to the Lord a field which he has bought, which is not the field of his possession, then the priest shall reckon to him the worth of your valuation, up to the Year of Jubilee, and he shall give your valuation on that day as a holy offering to the Lord. In the Year of Jubilee the field shall return to him from whom it was bought, to the one who owned the land as a possession. And all your valuations shall be according to the shekel of the sanctuary: twenty gerahs to the shekel.
a. When a man dedicates his house to be holy to the Lord: With a house, as in the case with an unclean animal, if a man wanted to consecrate by a vow the house to the Lord, while still using it, the priest would set a value on the house, and one would add one-fifth to that value (20%), and give the total to the tabernacle treasury.
b. If he dedicates his field: For land, its value was based on it potential production, as well as the number of years until the Year of Jubilee.
4. (26-27) Redemption of the consecration vow for the firstborn.
But the firstborn of the animals, which should be the Lord's firstborn, no man shall dedicate; whether it is an ox or sheep, it is the Lord's. And if it is an unclean animal, then he shall redeem it according to your valuation, and shall add one-fifth to it; or if it is not redeemed, then it shall be sold according to your valuation.
a. But the firstborn of the animals, which should be the Lord's firstborn, no man shall dedicate: Since the first born already belonged to God (Exodus 13:2), you could not "buy it back" from the Lord; if it was a clean animal, it had to be sacrificed.
b. It shall be sold according to your valuation: However, an unclean animal could either be sold or "bought back" from the Lord.
5. (28-29) One cannot redeem things or persons devoted to the Lord.
Nevertheless no devoted offering that a man may devote to the Lord of all that he has, both man and beast, or the field of his possession, shall be sold or redeemed; every devoted offering is most holy to the Lord. No person under the ban, who may become doomed to destruction among men, shall be redeemed, but shall surely be put to death.
a. Every devoted offering is most holy to the Lord: 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 any one else, and all of its value was given to God.
i. Joshua 6:17, among other passages, translates this word devoted with the word accursed - because that thing devoted to God would be destroyed, being used for no other purpose.
b. Nevertheless no devoted offering that a man may devote to the Lord of all that he has:
For these reasons, an item devoted to God could not be "bought back" by giving its value plus 20% to the tabernacle treasury; it had to be given - and presumably destroyed - unto the Lord.
c. No person under the ban, who may become doomed to destruction among men, shall be redeemed, but shall surely be put to death: In this sense also, one could not escape execution by being "bought back" from the Lord; they had to face the penalty for their crime.
6. (30-33) The payment of tithes.
And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the tree, is the Lord's. It is holy to the Lord. If a man wants at all to redeem any of his tithes, he shall add one-fifth to it. And concerning the tithe of the herd or the flock, of whatever passes under the rod, the tenth one shall be holy to the Lord. He shall not inquire whether it is good or bad, nor shall he exchange it; and if he exchanges it at all, then both it and the one exchanged for it shall be holy; it shall not be redeemed.
a. If a man wants at all to redeem any of his tithes, he shall add one-fifth to it: Tithes could also be "bought back" from the Lord; instead of tithing good seed from a field, a farmer could pay the value of the seed plus 20%.
7. (34) Conclusion: These are the commandments which the Lord commanded.
These are the commandments which the Lord commanded Moses for the children of Israel on Mount Sinai.
a. These are the commandments: 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.
b. Which the Lord commanded Moses for the children of Israel on Mount Sinai: As we have seen before in Leviticus, the phrase before the Lord occurs more than 60 times - more than any other book in the Bible. What happens in Leviticus happens before the Lord, and every point of obedience it calls us to illustrates - either in specific command or in precious picture - how to walk before the Lord.
i. "Reader, thou hast now gone through the whole of this most interesting book; a book whose subject is too little regarded by Christians in general. Here thou mayest discover the rigid requisitions of Divine justice, the sinfulness of sin, the exceeding breadth of the commandment, and the end of all human perfection . . . By this law then is the knowledge, but not the cure of sin . . . We see then that Christ was the end of the law for righteousness (for justification) to every one that believeth." (Clarke)
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