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Bible Commentaries
Leviticus 27

Carroll's Interpretation of the English BibleCarroll's Biblical Interpretation

Verses 1-34

XII

REGULATION OF VOLUNTARY VOWS

Leviticus 27


The theme is the Regulation of Voluntary Vows, not the prescription of vows, but the regulation of them.


1. Of what does this chapter consist?


Ans. – It is really a treatise on persons, animals, houses, and lands vowed to God, and the commutation of these vows. You know that the word "commutation" means, if you vow a certain house, you may substitute for that house a valuation that the priest will put upon it. That is a commutation of the vow, or taking an equivalent in the place of the vow. So that it consists of a treatise of persons, animals, houses) and lands vowed to God and the commutation of them.


2. Did Mosaic legislation institute or prescribe these vows?


Ans. – No; it merely regulated a prevailing custom of making vows long anterior to Moses.


3. Cite the more important scriptures touching the vows.


Ans. – You had better read them: Deuteronomy 23:21-22, reads as follows: "When thou shalt vow a vow unto the Lord thy God, thou shalt not be slack to pay it; for the Lord thy God will surely require it of thee; and it would be sin in thee. But if thou shalt forbear to vow, it shall be no sin in thee." Now this is an exceedingly important scripture. It says not to vow these voluntary things and break the vow, but if you do vow it, then it will be a sin if you don’t do it, except under regulations prescribed here and elsewhere.


Numbers 30:2, reads: "If a man vow a vow unto the Lord, of swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth." Now I quote a passage for every preacher to preach a sermon on: "Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God; and be more ready to hear than to give the sacrifice of fools: for they consider not that they do evil. Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter anything before God; for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few." (Now cornea the particular part) "When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed. Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than thou shouldest vow and not pay. Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin; neither say thou before the angel, that it was an error."


Now if you were in my position and knew my experience, you would recognize the importance of that. For many years, ever since I was a young man, (I have raised over a million dollars in that time) many of the brethren have been exceedingly "promising" but that is all. I could call the names of some preachers that at every association and every convention make conspicuous big pledges, and never under any circumstances even write me a letter in reply to the notices when I write them. So that just as soon as I get pledges from these people, I turn them over and write on the back of them "Nix"; that is a German word meaning "nothing," or the Latin phrase, vox et preterea nibit, translated "a voice and nothing else."


It is undoubtedly true that preachers are so zealous and earnest to help (for they realize better than anybody else the need of the work), that they can’t help pledging some to everything, that is, their good nature and the interest in the work makes them feel it their duty to give, but there are good ones that modify the pledges for good reasons. The reason that I ask the preachers to preach on this is not to stop the pledging, for the work couldn’t go on without it, but to create a conscience on this. Now you must consider the third verse, that it is no sin to forbear to vow, but if you do vow, stand up to your word, as another scripture puts it, "Blessed is the man that sweareth to his own hurt and changeth not." I know some preachers that have sacrificed till it hurt, to faithfully redeem what they pledged.


4. Cite notable instances of biblical vows.


Ans. – We will take them up in order.


(1) The vow that Jacob made, recorded in Genesis 28:20-22. When he waked up and thought of what he had dreamed, he was profoundly impressed and he made this vow, "If the Lord will be my God and keep me in the way that I should go, then this stone that I put up will be a memorial that I will build a house of the Lord when I return, and that I will give to him one tenth of all that I receive." Now that was his vow. I am much inclined to think that he kept the financial part of it, that he did honor God with his substance from that time on, but that he deferred to pay a part of the vow when he returned he would erect an altar to God at that place. He seemed to forget, or seemed not to count it an important thing. He had asked God to bless him and to keep him and he vowed that when he went back to that country he would erect an altar on that stone. He went to another place, and then another, and great distress came on him. And God speaks to him and says, "You move to Bethel and erect that altar." That shows that God blessed him in the part that he performed and suffered him to be punished, not for the part he did perform, but for the part he did not perform.


(2) The next notable case is the history of Jephthah’s vow. Jephthah was going out under hard conditions to fight a battle, and he vowed that if God would give him victory over his enemies, when he returned he would offer as a burnt offering the first thing that met him; and the first thing that he met was his daughter, the apple of his eye. She met him with rejoicing, giving him a glorious welcome, with songs, that God had brought him safely home and victorious. Now the Scripture says that he did unto her according to his vow; that is usually called "Jephthah’s rash vow," and the merits of the case will be considered under a different head. I am just giving you examples, good and bad.


(3) The next notable case is the case of Hannah. She had no children. Every Hebrew woman that was married, desired children, as a blessing from God. She was scorned by other women because she had no children. And she went where Eli had the tabernacle, and while praying she made this vow to God, that if he would give her a son, she would give the whole life of that son to the service of God, and God gave her Samuel, and she did give Samuel to the service of God, and he was the most illustrious man of his age.


(4) Another remarkable case is the case of Saul; that you will find in I Samuel 14. In the heat of battle, while the enemy was giving way and Saul and his men were in vigorous pursuit, he vowed that he would put to death any man that tasted food until the enemy was routed. His own son, Jonathan, one of the noblest young men, didn’t hear his father make that vow, and he was always at the front and he saw a honeycomb, and then touched it to his lips to refresh himself. It was told to Saul and he would have killed his own son, but the people rose up en masse and said, "Jonathan shall not die," and Saul’s plan was thwarted.


(5) The next case that I cite is the case of Herod, mentioned in Matthew 14:9. Herod was so charmed with the dancing girl, the daughter of his wife, not his own child, however, that he promised to give her anything she would ask for, and she asked, as her mother desired her to do, for the head of John the Baptist. Herod was exceedingly sorry, for his oath’s sake, he complied with his vow, and the girl took the head of John the Baptist on a dish to her mother, and Josephus says that she took a bodkin and kept thrusting is through the tongue of John the Baptist and saying, "You will never get to say again that we are living in sin."


(6) I mention another vow. Forty Jews entered into a vow that they would neither eat nor drink until they had killed the apostle Paul. That was frustrated by Paul’s nephew and the courage of the captain of the Roman troops. Now, I have cited a few vows, some of them praiseworthy, some of them rash and some of them horrible.


5. In regulating these vows what is prohibited in this chapter 27?


(1) Vowing without capacity to vow – for instance, a girl making a vow when she is subject to her father’s authority. That vow is not considered binding on the girl if her father forbids it. She is held as not guilty of sin because she has not become of legal age. In the same way, the vow of a wife, unless she has her husband’s consent. If her husband refuses his permission and she then didn’t fulfil it, she stood not guilty before God.


(2) Vowing things that are already God’s. Now suppose you vowed the first-born, that is God’s already. Suppose you vow tithes. Tithes are already the Lord’s. You have not the right and it is prohibited here to make a vow touching a thing which is really not yours; it is already the Lord’s.


(3) The third thing prohibited is, making a vow that in its fulfilment will violate a law of God. These vows are voluntary, but God has never left it to our will to violate his law, and Jephthah ought to have had sense enough to have seen that he should not offer his daughter, because the law prohibited it and that it would violate God’s law. So in the case of Herod. What if he did agree to give even to the half of his kingdom, he did not mean to agree to take human life. It was a sin against God to kill John the Baptist, and he ought to have said, "No oath shall bind me to take human life. I said I would give you to the half of my kingdom, but I did not say that I would make myself a criminal in the sight of God." A notable case of this our Saviour refers to when he sees the Pharisees dodging the law by misuse of vows and thereby refusing to take care of their parents. He says, "The law of God says, Thou shall honour thy father and mother," and a child can’t get from under that law. Paul repeats the law in one of his letters that any child born is under obligations to take care of his old father and mother when they are helpless. They said, "It is Corban," that is, "it is devoted to God, and on account of that I cannot help my old father and mother." That is a fine illustration that no one is authorized to either make or keep a vow that will violate the plain law of God.


6. What is the chief object of this lesson?


Ans. – The chief object of this lesson is that when people in gratitude for past favors, or in expectation of future favors, make a vow unto the Lord, an equitable commutation may be made, and this chapter, without my going into the details of its exegesis, shows that if one vowed a person, like Hannah did – she vowed the person of her son – or if he vowed a house, or land, or anything of that kind, that, if he came to the high priest at the door of the sanctuary, a commutation might be made for that vow. What equity would demand for that vow was prescribed so that the law was very merciful in a case of a poor man. If he had made a vow that he was not able to fulfil, then the law was equitable in a case of that kind.


7. What observations on Ecclesiastes 5?


Ans. – See answer to question 3.


8. What observation on the history of vows in the Christian era?


Ans. – Well, if I were to write many books on this subject I could not tell you of the extravagance of the vows that have been made in the name of the Christian religion. Of all the foolishness of people that ever attached themselves to the Christian religion, extravagant vows head the list. The whole nunnery system arises out of that. A notable instance was related in the papers some time ago. A very wealthy woman, a Romanist, made a vow of an immense fortune to the Roman Church, and went to Rome, expecting to see an angel in the Papal chair, or something like that, and expecting further that she would realize her fondest hopes for her religion when she got there. But when she got there she saw such horrible things that she revoked her vow, and I think she was justified. That vow was made to God, but when she saw that, in her honest judgment, it would not be to God, she revoked that vow. The history of chivalry and of romance is filled with vows. For instance, a knight, before going into battle, would make a vow that if he came out all right in the battle, he would wear a patch over his right eye. It was no uncommon thing to see them disfigured this way in their bodies. Often when they were in a city, they would make a vow that they would blow the city up and themselves in it if certain things were done. Some of you have read the romance called The White Company.


9. What literature on this subject can be recommended?


Ans. – Dr. Sanderson delivered seven lectures at Oxford in Latin on this whole subject. The book is a classic. Charles I, the king of England, was so impressed with these discourses that he ordered them to be translated so that everybody could read them in English. That is about the best thing I know.


10. When is a vow not binding?


Ans. – When the performance of it would be a greater sin than its nonobservance: for instance, cutting off the head of John the Baptist. A breach of that vow would have been more honorable than its performance.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Leviticus 27". "Carroll's Interpretation of the English Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bhc/leviticus-27.html.
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