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Bible Commentaries
Leviticus 27

Calvin's Commentary on the BibleCalvin's Commentary

Verse 1

1.And the Lord spake unto Moses. In this chapter Moses shews in what manner and at what price what once has been offered is to be redeemed, supposing that the vows cannot be conveniently paid. Now it is to be observed, that among the ancient people there were two modes of consecration, the one by anathema, which the Hebrews call חרם, cherem, the other for the use of the temple, and other exercises of religion. The anathema (317) might be made of unclean animals, and other unholy things, as we may see in respect to the city of Jericho, and similar instances; but it was not properly allowable to make vows, except of a clean man or animal, or something else which might be appropriated in the service of God. Thus of their flocks they vowed goats and sheep; of their herds, oxen or calves, that they might experience God’s goodness in their fecundity. If a person was aggrieved at being without offspring, in asking it of God he offered in his vow his son, or daughter; on which ground Samuel, before he was conceived in the womb, was dedicated to God. (1 Samuel 1:22.) If any one had a weakly child born to him, or if one of his children was very ill, or if he himself was in any difficulty, it was customary to have resort to vows, that God might protect what was dedicated to Him. Nor can it be doubted but that many abused this and fell into foolish practices; but God tolerated these errors as long as they were not opposed to His Law. Moreover, since it often happens that those who are under the obligation of a vow change their minds, and are not very eager and ready to pay it, nay, discharge it with much pain and unwillingness; God permitted that what was promised might be redeemed at a certain price, in order that their offerings might be voluntary. By the imposition of this ransom, which was of the nature of a fine, rashness was punished, and future inconsideration prevented, so that they might consider well what they were about before they made their vow, and that it might not be disagreeable to them to stand by their promises. Besides, it is to be remarked, that these vows were confirmed, not because they were altogether pleasing to God, but lest the people should accustom themselves to impious contempt of Him, if the deceiver might with impunity refuse God what he had promised, Moses first treats of persons; and estimates a male at fifty shekels of the sanctuary from twenty-five years of age to sixty; since this is the best time of life in which a man’s work is profitable. A woman he estimates at thirty shekels; since for the most part less profit is made by a woman than a man; and although it might occur that some women would be much more valuable than men, since sometimes women are found to be industrious, prudent, discreet, and strong to labor, whilst men are idle, dull, lazy, and weak, still a general law must needs be given, for the examination would have been too difficult if each individual was to be estimated according to their good qualities. God then does not pay exact attention to the merits of each, but is contented with the common calculation. He then lays down rules as to an earlier age, viz., from five to twenty, and rates the male at twenty shekels, the female at ten. He afterwards descends to infants, and appoints the price of a male from one month to five years, at five shekels, and a female at three. Fourthly, he estimates those who are more than sixty, the male at fifteen shekels, the female at ten; since old age debilitates the vigor both of mind and body, and gradually destroys it. In the fifth place, an exception is made lest the poor should be burdened beyond their slender means, that the priest should diminish the price as much as he saw fit. Still this diminution had reference also to the rich, if the person to be redeemed was not worth the ordinary price, though it appears that God here especially makes a provision for the poor from the words, “according (318) to what the hand of him that vowed shall attain;” by which clause Moses (319) is wont to express poverty, or want, because the poor and needy are not supplied with sufficient for their desires.

(317)Qui vaut antant en Hebrieu, comme destruction, ou desolation;” which is equivalent in Hebrew to destruction, or desolation. — Fr.

(318) “According to his ability that vowed.” — A. V. “According to that which the hand of him that vowed can attain.”Ainsworth.

(319)Car cela signifie disette, ou defant, d’autant que les povres n’ont pas en main ce qui seroit a souhaiter;” for this signifies want or deficiency, since the poor have not in hand what might be desired. — Fr.

Verse 11

11.And if it be any unclean beast. Moses now, in the second place, treats of brute animals; which God commands to be sacrificed to Him, if they are suitable for it, and does not suffer the vow to be altered. But if they be imperfect or unclean, He lays down the rule for their redemption. But the question here arises, How it can be allowable to vow what God had forbidden to be offered to Him, and so had prohibited from being brought into the temple, as being unclean? Surely if it had entered into any one’s mind to sacrifice an unclean animal, the superstition would be rejected, nay, there would be need of expiation. But here, in my opinion, another kind of offering is adverted to, which did not vitiate the sacrifices and service of God by being contrary to the injunctions of His Law. There was therefore nothing strange in His accepting such a vow, though He punishes its levity by a pecuniary fine. Besides, suppose a strong and well-tried horse was in danger, his master made a vow that if it were saved he would be bound to pay its price; and so also in the other cases. To vow was nothing else than to commit to God’s faithfulness and protection whatever they wished to be preserved. Hence the too great commonness of vows, which still it was necessary to discharge in some way, lest God’s sacred name should be exposed to ridicule. This estimation God left to the arbitration of the priest. But if an animal might be offered in sacrifice, no redemption was allowed; and if any one had substituted another animal, or paid the price of it, he was punished for his fraud, for both (i.e., the animal, and its substitute or price) were consecrated to God. The estimation, which is imposed upon one who had vowed, is irreversible, since God simply commands the Israelites to stand by the judgment of the priest, and to abide by the taxation, as it is called, enjoined upon them as a fixed rule; and, besides, they were to add a fifth part, as an additional fine, to the price appointed by the priest.

Verse 14

14.And when a man shall sanctify his house. A third kind of vows follows, viz., the consecration of houses and lands; under which head also an alternative is appointed, so that religion may not be despised, and still the just possessors should not be driven from their houses, or the lands be rendered useless from the want of cultivation. Those persons vowed their houses, who sought of God for themselves and families that they might inhabit them in health, and safety, and in general prosperity; and he who wished to obtain fertility for his fields, vowed one of ten or twenty acres. Undoubtedly superstitious prayers were sometimes mixed up with this exercise of piety, as if they might acquire favor for themselves by making a bargain with God. Still, inasmuch as the thing was not wrong in itself, God indulgently bore with the errors which could not be very easily corrected, lest, in His hatred of them, He might altogether abolish what was useful and laudable. Hence the redemption both of house and land was permitted. But if any one had committed fraud in selling a piece of land that was vowed, a heavier punishment is added, i.e., that he should go without it for ever. We shall speak more fully elsewhere of the year of jubilee. (320) At present this must be observed, that, lest the partition of land made by Joshua should ever be altered, since God had clearly shewn that it was done by His authority, God recalled each of the tribes every fiftieth year to their original share, and thus entirely restored the possessors whom poverty had driven out. In proportion, then, to the closeness or remoteness of that year, since possession would be so much the shorter or longer, land was cheap or dear. God does not here measure the fields by the pole or chain, but estimates them simply, as among a rude people, by the seed; viz., if a field in sowing takes a homer (321) of barley, it shall remain in the hands of its possessor if he pays fifty shekels of the sanctuary. We have elsewhere seen that these were double the ordinary shekel. But since vows were often made in the middle or towards the end of the jubilee, a distinction is stated; and God commands the priests to take the time into consideration, and the nearer the jubilee-year may be to diminish so much of the price. Where, however, a fraud had taken place, God would not have the honest purchaser ejected; but, when the jubilee was over, He assigned the field, which had been held for a time in sacrilege, to the priests for ever. Moses compares this consecration to an anathema, which the Hebrews call חרם, cherem, (322) a word whose radical meaning is destroying or abolishing; for which reason the Latins take a “devoted” thing in a bad sense, as what is destined to final destruction. The law is then extended to lands which had been sold, and which, in the year of jubilee, returned to their former owners; because the first allotment of the land was then wholly restored. For these fields God commands a price to be paid, upon a calculation of the time, so that only the produce and not the fee should be taken into account.

Now, since people have improperly and in foolish mimicry imitated the vows which God permitted to the Jews under the Law, so the Pope, in providing for their redemption, has dared in his diabolical arrogance to rival God. The titulus (323) is well-known in the Third Book of Decretals; “De voto, et ejus redemptione ;” wherein its concocter, whoever he was, has so sought to impose upon the world with his shameless nonsense, as not to hesitate to heap together directly contradictory sentences; and even if there were no contradictions there, still nothing is laid down except how votive pilgrimages are to be redeemed, which plainly appear from Christ’s declaration to be wrong since the preaching of the gospel. (John 4:21.) And assuredly it was a marvellous fascination of the devil, that what was said under the Law as to the payment of vows at Jerusalem, should be transferred to Christians, when Christ had pronounced that the time had come when the true worshippers without distinction of place should worship God everywhere in spirit and in truth. If the hired wranglers (324) of the Pope object that the same rule obtains in the redemption of vows, since a remedy or mitigation must not be denied, if any should be too burdensome or grievous, I answer, that men act wickedly, when they wrest to themselves what God has reserved for His own discretion; for neither under the Law of old was it allowable for a mortal man to alter a vow, unless by His permission. If again they object, that the judgment was given to the priests, here their folly is twice refuted; since they cannot shew that they have been appointed judges; nor can they escape from the accusation of temerity, since without any command they pronounce as to this redemption of vows, whereas the priests of old advanced nothing except from God’s mouth, and according to the fixed rule here laid down.

The exception as to the firstlings and the tithes sufficiently proves that some vows were illicit, and such as God repudiates; and therefore that they must not be made indiscriminately, for it would have been a mere work of supererogation to vow to God what He had already made His own; as we have shewn elsewhere, (325) where I have inserted this passage. With respect to what is said of the anathema, it must not be understood generally, since it was not lawful to subject a man to it, unless he were worthy of death. This, then, must be restricted to their enemies, whom they were otherwise at liberty to destroy; a notorious example of which was the city of Jericho, with its inhabitants and spoils. Now, since whatever was brought under this anathema was devoted and accursed, God would have it destroyed, nor does He allow of any compensation. Wherefore they anathematized their fields I do not understand, unless perhaps they wished to expiate some crime whereby pollution was contracted.

(320)Sur le quatrieme commandement;” under the fourth commandment.—Fr.

(321) Lat. “ Corum,” from the LXX. translation κόρος

(322) “A field devoted.” — A.V. “Interdit.” — Fr.

(323) The reference is to Book 3 of the Decretals of Gregory IX. He was Pope from 1227 to 1241; and these decretals form the fifth division of the Papal Canon Law. A section of Book 3, technically styled Titulus 34, is headed “Concerning a vow and its redemption;” and all the eleven chapters of this Titulus relate to the commutation of vows to go on pilgrimage, or on a crusade. The portion especially alluded to by C. in the above remarks was obviously ch. 7, which consists of extracts from an answer of Pope Innocent III. to a Suffragan of the Archbishop of Sens, who had taken a crusader’s vow for the purpose of obtaining access to the Count of Champagne, then in Palestine, and wanted to know whether the Pope would sanction his staying at home, since he had heard that the Count was dead. The Pope replies, that as the cause which had induced him to make his vow no longer existed, he might stay in his diocese; but that he should send to the holy land a sum equal to what would have been the cost of his going, staying, and returning. The notes to the same chapter quote other parts of Innocent’s rescript, in which that Pope said, “Since the Word of God is now fulfilled, saying, The hour shall come and now is, when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem shall ye worship, etc., it may be seen, that not less in your own Church than in the Eastern country, you may advance the deliverance of that country by your pious prayers.” — Corpus Juris Canon. Lugd. 1522, cum licentia.W.

(324)Rabulae.” — Lat. “Les caphards, qui ont leurs langues a loage pour maintenir la Papaute.” — Fr.

(325) See vol. 1 pp. 478-480, where ver. 26 is commented on, amongst the supplements to the First Commandment.

Verse 26

26.Only the firstling of the beasts. Here a caution is interposed, that none should offer what is already the property of God. For since men are so greatly given to ostentation, and therefore in testifying their piety whitewash two walls, as the saying is, out of the same pot, God provides against this sin by forbidding the first-born to be offered to Him, since that would be to present stolen goods to Him. The sum is, that they should not, by consecrating to God what is already due to Him, steal from Him in their fictitious liberality what is consecrated and not their own. Nor let us be surprised at this law, because this ambition is almost natural to us all, to desire to lay God under obligation by the empty appearance of liberality, and therefore to seek for various grounds of boasting of religious duties, which, after all, are nought. And, undoubtedly, if this restraint had not been put upon the Jews, they would have aimed at the reputation of double zeal by this deceitful oblation, nor would they have scrupled, under the pretext of offering, to deprive God of what was His own.

Verse 30

30.And all the tithe of the land. In these words God shews that in assigning the tithes to the Levites, He ceded His own rights, inasmuch as they were a kind of royal revenue; and thus He bars all complaint, since otherwise the other tribes might have murmured on being unduly burdened. He therefore appoints the priests as His receivers, to collect in His name what could not be refused without impious and sacrilegious fraudulency. In the provision that, where the tithes are redeemed by a money payment, a fifth part should be added to their value, the object is not that the Levites should make a gain of the loss of others; but, because the owners of property craftily aimed at some advantage in this commutation of corn for money, frauds are thus prevented whereby something would be lost to the Levites by this deceptive exchange. On the same grounds He commands that the animals, whatever they might be, should be given as tithe, and does not permit them to be redeemed by money, since, if the choice had been free, no fat or healthy animal would have ever come to the Levites. Therefore, in this law a remedy was applied to avarice and meanness, and not without good cause; for if the proverb be true, that “good laws spring from evil habits,” (216) it was necessary that so covetous and ill-disposed a people should be restrained in the path of duty by the utmost severity. And although such careful provision was made for the Levites, yet there was scarcely any period in which they did not suffer from want, and sometimes they wandered about half-starved; nay, after the return from the Babylonish captivity, the memory of so great a blessing did not prevent a part of the tithes from being surreptitiously withheld from them; as God complains in Malachi 3:8. Whence it appears that it was not without purpose that the people were so imperiously enjoined to pay them.

(216) See Tacitus Ann. 15:20. “Usu probatum est, patres conseripti, leges egregias, exempla honesta, apud bonos ex delictis aliorum gigni, etc."

Verse 34

Leviticus 27:34.These are the commandments. This first passage commends the Law, which was promulgated and written on the two tables, together with the declarations which were annexed to it, to explain more fully the mind of God. For God did not only propound the Decalogue, but also interpreted what He briefly summed up therein. Moreover, Moses endeavors to gain their belief of this doctrine, first, from its authority, because it was delivered by God; and secondly, because he had not assumed the office of lawgiver, but had been appointed by God, and called to undertake it. He demands obedience from the children of Israel, because he had been sent to them as their teacher and master.

Bibliographical Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Leviticus 27". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cal/leviticus-27.html. 1840-57.
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