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Bible Commentaries
Leviticus 27

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary

Verse 1


(1) And the Lord spake unto Moses.—Like the group of enactments contained in Leviticus 25:1 to Leviticus 26:45, the regulations about the different kinds of vows are introduced with the formula which indicates that the section before us constitutes a separate Divine communication. As sundry allusions are made throughout this book to vows, thus legally acknowledging the existence of the ancient practice of votive offerings (Leviticus 7:16; Leviticus 22:18; Leviticus 22:21; Leviticus 22:23; Leviticus 23:38), the Levitical code, which is pre-eminently designed to uphold the holiness of the sanctuary and its sacrifices, as well as the holiness of the priests and the people, would be incomplete without defining the nature and obligation of these self-imposed sacrifices.

Verse 2

(2) Shall make a singular vow.—Better, shall consecrate a vow. (See Leviticus 22:21.) According to the interpretation of this phrase which obtained during the second Temple it denotes shall pronounce a vow. Hence the ancient Chaldee Versions render it, “shall distinctly pronounce a vow.” Accordingly, no vow mentally made or conceived was deemed binding. It had to be distinctly pronounced in words. The form of the vow is nowhere given in the Bible. Like many other points of detail, the wording of it was left to the administrators of the law. They divided vows into two classes: (1) Positive vows, by which a man bound himself to consecrate for religious purposes his own person, those members of his family over whom he had control, or any portion of his property, and for this kind of vow the formula was “Behold I consecrate this to the Lord”; and (2) Negative vows, by which he promised to abstain from enjoying a certain thing, for which the formula was, “Such and such a thing be unlawful to me for so many days, weeks, or for ever.”

The persons shall be for the Lord by thy estimation.—Better, souls to the Lord according to thy estimation., that is, the vow consists of consecrating persons to the Lord with the intention of redeeming by money the persons thus consecrated, according to the valuation put upon them by Moses. This part of the verse explains the nature of the vow, and takes it for granted that by consecrating a human being to God by a vow is meant to substitute the money value for him. By the suffix, “thy estimation,” Moses is meant, to whom these regulations are here Divinely communicated, and upon whom it devolved in the first instance to carry out the law. (See Leviticus 5:15; Leviticus 5:18.) During the second Temple any Israelite could estimate the money value of a person thus vowed to the Lord.

Verse 3

(3) And thy estimation shall be of the male.—Better, Then thy estimation of the male shall be (as follows).

From twenty years old even unto sixty years old.—The estimation not only begins with the male, who is the most important person, but takes special notice of his age. The years here specified represent the prime of his life, and he is to be rated not according to his rank or position, but according to the value of his services.

Fifty shekels of silver, after the shekel of the sanctuary.—Whether the person who makes this vow makes it with regard to himself, or whether he dedicates by it any other member of the community, he is to pay fifty silver shekels, which in our currency would be £6 9s. 2d., if the man thus consecrated is between twenty and sixty years of age. This sum he is to pay, whether rich or poor. For this sum he was liable, during the second Temple, if he said “My value be upon me,” or “This man’s value be upon me,” or “Such a man’s value be upon me.”

Verse 4

(4) And if it be a female . . . thirty shekels.—As the woman is the weaker vessel, and her labour is of less value, if she vows herself or dedicates by a vow any other one of her own sex to the sanctuary, she is to pay thirty shekels, or £3 17s. 6d., provided she is within the above-named limits of age. This was the value of a slave (Exodus 21:32), and is the price at which Christ was sold (Matthew 27:9). It is supposed that under this provision Jephtha might have redeemed his daughter whom he unwittingly vowed to the Lord (Judges 11:30). (See, however, Leviticus 27:29.)

Verse 5

(5) If it be from five years old, even unto twenty years.—From the fact that a child of five years is here mentioned it is evident that the vows hero spoken of are not simply those which a man makes with regard to his own person, but which he also makes about others, since a vow involving the payment of a considerable sum of money on the part of a child was of no force. The case, therefore, here contemplated is of a father or mother vowing the male child unto the Lord or of any other person taking upon himself to pay the value of such and such a child to the sanctuary, This is still more manifest from the following verse.

The male twenty shekels.—As the services of a boy at the age here specified are of much less value, the parent, or anyone else, who vows him to the sanctuary is to pay £2 11s. 8d.

The female ten shekels.—For the girl, whose value is proportionately less, the vower is to pay £1 5s. 10d.; being the same value put on an old woman. (See Leviticus 27:7.)

Verse 6

(6) From a month old even unto five years old.—That is, if a parent, or any other person, devotes his or anyone else’s child to the sanctuary, he is obliged to be redeemed according to the prescribed valuation. The formula used in such a case during the second Temple was, “Behold the estimation of this my boy, or this my girl, or of that boy or that girl, be upon me.”

The male five shekels of silver.—As at this tender age the service of a child is not of much value, the vower is to pay for a boy 12s. 11d.

The female . . . three shekels of silver.—The girl being proportionately less valuable, is to be redeemed at 7s. 9d.

Verse 7

(7) From sixty years old and above.—Being almost past labour, the old man is next in value to the child.

A male . . . fifteen shekels.—The old man is therefore to be redeemed at £1 18s. 9d.

The female ten shekels.—The old woman, from sixty and upwards, is estimated at exactly the same value as the girl from five to twenty years old (see Leviticus 27:5), and hence is to be redeemed at £1 5s. 10d. It will be seen that the disproportion between a man and a woman is not the same in old age as in youth. The authorities during the second Temple account for it by adducing the adage, “An old man in the house is always in the way; an old woman in the house is a treasure, she manages all household affairs.”

Verse 8

(8) But if he be poorer than thy estimation.—That is, if the person who makes the vow possesses less than the specified legal rates required to redeem it.

Then he shall present himself before the priest.—The man pleading poverty is to appear before the priest, who is to examine into his circumstances, and tax him accordingly. The minimum, however, which he was obliged to pay during the second Temple was one shekel. If anyone neglected paying his vows to the Temple treasury, his goods were seized by the officials. This, however, had to be done in such a manner as not to deprive the man of his means of subsistence. The bailiffs were obliged to leave a mechanic two sets of tools, a husbandman a yoke of oxen, and a donkey driver his donkey. They were bound to leave food sufficient for thirty days, and bedding for twelve months; and they could never seize the man’s sandals or phylacteries, or his wife’s property, or his children’s clothes.

Verse 9

(9) And if it be a beast, whereof men bring an offering.—That is, if what a man vows consists of sacrificial quadrupeds, viz., bullocks, sheep, or goats.

Shall be holy.—That is, must not be redeemed at all. They were delivered to the sanctuary: they were sold by the priests to those Israelites who required them as sacrifices for the altar, and the money expended in the maintenance of the service.

Verse 10

(10) He shall not alter it, nor change it.—The identical animal vowed is to be delivered; no change whatever, even if it is in the substitution of a better for an inferior animal, is permitted. The stress laid upon this part of the enactment is indicated by the employment here of two verbs of the same import. If he who vows does change the one he dedicated to the Lord, both the animals, the one he originally vowed and the one he substituted for it, are alike holy, and must be delivered to the sanctuary.

Verse 11

(11) And if it be any unclean beast.—That is, if what he vows consists of an unclean beast, which does not belong to the three kinds of sacrificial quadrupeds, and which cannot therefore be sacrificed on the altar. According to the authorities during the second Temple, however, the expression “unclean beast” here denotes defective sacrificial animals, such as oxen, sheep, and goats with blemishes, which have become unlawful for the altar.

Verse 12

(12) Whether it be good or bad.—That is, the priest shall estimate its value according to the condition of the animal, whatever that may be, whether it is of good quality or bad.

Verse 13

(13) But if he will at all redeem it.—Better, and if he wishes to redeem it, that is, the man himself who vowed it for the sanctuary. The estimate put upon the animal in question was intended for anyone who wished to purchase it, not excluding, however, the person who vowed it.

He shall add a fifth part.—Whilst anyone else could purchase the animal at the valuation put upon it by the priest, its former owner is to pay a fifth more than the valuation price. This was probably intended as a fine for taking back a thing which he promised to the Lord. For the way in which the fifth part was computed during the second Temple see Leviticus 5:16.

Verse 14

(14) And when a man shall sanctify his house.—That is, devotes it to the service of God by a vow, when it has to be sold and the money used by the authorities for the maintenance and repair of the sanctuary, unless it is required as a dwelling for the priests, or for some other purpose connected with the duties of the Temple. The sale, however, can only take place after the priest has carefully examined it, ascertained and fixed its value, according to the condition of the house. It then can be bought by any one at the price so fixed. The expression “house” the authorities during the second Temple interpreted to mean not only the building itself but anything belonging to it, or any article of furniture in it which the owner could vow to the sanctuary separately, whilst from the expression “his house” they concluded that the house or the things therein must be absolutely his own, and that he has the exclusive right of disposal. Hence any house or property obtained by fraud neither the defrauder nor the defrauded could vow to the sanctuary, since the property was not properly in the possession of either, and could not be called his. Moreover, if anyone vowed a thing by mistake, it could not be claimed for the sanctuary, the vow under such circumstances was regarded as null and void. From these considerations, as well as from the fact that any article that was vowed could be redeemed, it is evident that the Mosaic vow of consecration to the sanctuary imparted no sacramental and inalienable sanctity to the objects themselves in our ecclesiastical sense of consecration. It is not the gift, but its money value which had to be devoted to the holy cause.

Verse 15

(15) And if he that sanctified it will redeem his house.—Though the net price thus fixed by the priest is all that anyone else who wishes to buy it has to pay for the house, yet if the former owner of it, or, according to the practice which obtained during the second Temple, his son, wife, or nearest of kin, wishes to redeem it, he is to add one-fifth more than the valuation price, just as in the case of animals, and for the same reason, that is, for taking back a thing which he once promised to the Lord. (See Leviticus 27:13.)

Verse 16

(16) Some part of a field of his possession.—That is, if he consecrates by a vow to the service of the sanctuary a portion of a field which he inherits from his forefathers, and which, therefore, constitutes a part of his inalienable patrimony, thus distinguishing it from a field which he has acquired by his own purchase. (See Leviticus 27:22.) The words, some part which are in italics, are implied in the Hebrew construction of these words. No man was allowed to vow the whole of his estates to the sanctuary, as he would thereby impoverish his own family.

Thy estimation shall be according to the seed thereof.—Better, thy estimation shall be according to its seed, that is, he is not to part with the field thus vowed for the sanctuary, but the priest is to value the area according to the quantity of seed required for sowing it.

An homer of barley seed shall be valued at fifty shekels of silver.—That is, if the piece of land which he vowed could properly be cropped with one homer, or five bushels and a half of barley seed, he is to value it at £6 9s. 2d. (See Leviticus 27:3.) According to the authorities during the second Temple, these fifty shekels covered the value of the produce for the whole period of forty-nine years, that is, from one jubile year to another, so that a plot of land of the dimensions here described was estimated at a little more than one shekel per annum. The person who made the vow could, under these circumstances, always redeem it, as it would almost amount to a gift to let any stranger buy it at this price. The low value put upon it was evidently designed not to deprive the family of their means of subsistence, since the patrimonial estates were almost always the only source of their livelihood.

Verse 17

(17) If he sanctify his field from the year of jubile.—That is, the above-named valuation of fifty shekels only applies if he makes the vow immediately after the expiration of the year of jubile, when the period covered by this estimation is forty-nine years.

Verse 18

(18) But if he sanctify his field after the jubile.—If, however, the vow is made after the jubile, the priest is to value the field according to the number of years from the time of the vow to the next jubile year.

And it shall be abated from thy estimation.—That is, the years which have elapsed since the last jubile up to the time when he made the vow are to be deducted from the jubile cycle, and hence so many shekels are to be taken off from the original valuation of fifty shekels. Thus, for instance, if he vowed the field at the estimated value of fifty shekels twenty years after the jubile, the priest is only to reckon the thirty years which have to run to the next jubile, and is to deduct twenty shekels for the twenty years which have elapsed since the last jubile. Accordingly, the vower would only have to pay thirty shekels, exclusive of the fifth part above the estimated value.

Verse 19

(19) And if he that sanctified the field will in any wise redeem it.—Better, and if he wishes to redeem the field that sanctified it. (See Leviticus 27:13.) This is sure to be the case, since the low value fixed per acre was designed that the field should be redeemed by him. According to the legislation during the second Temple, the rule here included his wife and his heirs, any one of whom had the right to redeem it. But the family in redeeming it had, as usual, to add one-fifth over and above the valuation price, for the reason already stated. (See Leviticus 27:13; Leviticus 27:15.)

Verse 20

(20) And if he will not redeem the field.—That is, if after all the advantages which the law affords to the vower to redeem his patrimonial inheritance before the jubile year, he is base enough to forego the privilege of redemption, thus showing no desire to perpetuate his family name,—

Or if he have sold the field to another man.—Better, and if he yet sells the field to another man, that is, if in addition to this absence of family honour he surreptitiously sells the field which he has vowed to the sanctuary to another man, thus adding sacrilege to baseness,—

It shall not be redeemed any more,—then he loses all right ever to redeem it at all.

Verse 21

(21) But the field, when it goeth out in the jubile.—That is, when it quits the hand of the purchaser, since in jubile every buyer was to part with the land which he bought, (see Leviticus 25:25-28)—

Shall be holy unto the Lord, as a field devoted.—It shall not revert to the original owner who first vowed it and, after refusing to redeem it, fraudulently sold it, but becomes God’s property, like all devoted or banned things. (See Leviticus 27:28.) According to the authorities during the second Temple, however, the import of the law laid down in Leviticus 27:20-21 is as follows :—If the vower of the field does not redeem it before the jubile year, and the field is then still in the possession of the Temple treasurer, who has the control of all the things thus consecrated by vow; or if the Temple treasurer has sold the field to another person who has it in his possession, the original owner or vower can no longer redeem it, but in the year of jubile it reverts either from the Temple treasurer or the purchaser to the priests who are on duty in that year, who add it to their pasture fields. These priests, however, have to pay for it the valuation money.

Verse 22

(22) And if a man sanctify unto the Lord a field which he hath bought.—But if a man vows a field which he has acquired by purchase, and which is only his till the next jubile, when it reverts to its original owner (see Leviticus 25:25-28), the case is necessarily different. Such a leased field, when vowed to the Lord, is to be dealt with as follows :—

Verse 23

(23) Then the priest shall reckon unto him.—In this case the vower is not to pay the low rate fixed for a field which is the family inheritance (see Leviticus 27:16), but the priest is to value it in proportion to the number of crops which it will produce up to the year of jubile, in the same way as fields are valued in ordinary purchases. (See Leviticus 25:14-16.)

And he shall give thine estimation in that day.—This valuation the vower or his relatives had to pay all at once, without, however, the additional fifth part of its value; whilst in the case of vowing an hereditary field, the vower had the advantage of paying the small sum by yearly installments.

Verse 24

(24) The field shall return unto him of whom it was bought.—In accordance with the law laid down in Leviticus 25:23-28, the field thus vowed did not return to the purchaser in the year of jubile, but to the, hereditary owner, of whom the person who had vowed it to the Lord had bought it.

Verse 25

(25) According to the shekel of the sanctuary.—As the proceeds of these vows were devoted to the maintenance and repair of the sanctuary, all the valuations are to be made and paid according to the standard weight of the sanctuary shekel. (See Exodus 30:13.)

Verse 26

(26) Only the firstling of the beasts.—Better, nevertheless the firstlings, &c, as this rendering also suits Leviticus 27:28, which begins with the same particle, and which is translated in the Authorised Version, “not withstanding.” Having laid down the regulations about the four classes of objects which may be vowed to the Lord—viz.: 1, persons (Leviticus 27:2-8); 2, animals (Leviticus 27:9-13); 3, houses (Leviticus 27:14-15); and 4, lands (Leviticus 27:16-25)—the legislator concludes by pointing out two exceptions to the rules about votive offerings hitherto discussed. The two classes of objects which are forbidden to be vowed are (1) the firstlings of beasts and (2) devoted things. The firstlings belonged already to the Lord by an express statute (Exodus 13:2). To vow, therefore, to the Lord that which was His own is a mockery.

Which should be the Lord’s firstling.—Rather, which is born as a firstling to the Lord, that is, one which, by virtue of its being a firstling, and by its very birth, is the property of the Lord.

Verse 27

(27) And if it be of an unclean beast.—That is, if he vows the firstling of an unclean beast he could redeem it according to the valuation of the priest with the addition of one-fifth over and above the fixed value. If he did not redeem it the treasurer of the sanctuary sold it to anyone who liked to buy it at this valuation, and the proceeds were devoted to the maintenance and repairs of the sanctuary. As this is at variance with the law laid down in Exodus 13:13; Exodus 34:20, where it is enacted that the firstborn of an ass is either to be redeemed with a sheep, or is to be put to death, the authorities during the second Temple interpreted the precept in the passage before us as not applying to the firstborn of the unclean animals, but to unclean animals generally which are dedicated for the repairs of the sanctuary.

Verse 28

(28) Notwithstanding no devoted thing.—Better, Nevertheless, no banned thing (see Leviticus 27:26), that is, unlike those things consecrated to God by the vow hitherto spoken of, anything which the vower devoted to God under a solemn ban cannot be redeemed.

Both of man and beast, and of the field of his possession.—This shows the extent to which a man may go in exercising his power to devote things to God in this manner. He was perfectly at liberty to ban not only his cattle and his otherwise inalienable inherited land, but also those human beings over whom he had control—his children and slaves.

Every devoted thing is most holy unto the Lord.—Being most holy, any thing or person thus devoted to the Lord could neither be sold by the officials of the sanctuary nor be redeemed by the vower who had in this manner banned the objects of his vow. All gifts devoted under the ban became the property of the priests. (See Leviticus 27:17; Numbers 18:14; Ezekiel 44:29.)

Verse 29

(29) None devoted, which shall be devoted of men.—Better, Every one banned, which shall be banned of men, that is, every one banned from amongst men, or every human being banned, is not to be redeemed. Like the cattle and the patrimonial estates, when once devoted to God by a vow of banning, the man thus banned by a vow comes irretrievably under the class of “most holy unto the Lord,” or one irrevocably withdrawn from the power of man.

But shall surely be put to death.—Not as a sacrifice to God, but, on the contrary, to be removed out of His sight. This is the apparent import of the passage, and seems to be confirmed by the melancholy narrative of Jephtha and his daughter (Judges 11:30). This seems to have been the interpretation put on the law in question during the second Temple, since it is embodied in the Chaldee Versions, which render the verse as follows: “Every vow that shall be vowed of man, shall not be redeemed with money, but with burnt offerings and with hallowed victims, and with supplications for mercy before the Lord, because such are to be put to death.” It is, however, supposed that this Awful vow of banning could only be exercised on notorious malefactors and idolaters as dangerous to the faith of the Israelites, that it could not be made by any private individual on his own responsibility, and that when such cases occurred the community or the Sanhedrin carried out the ban as an act of judicial necessity, thus showing it to be “most holy unto the Lord.” Accordingly, Leviticus 27:28-29 treat of two different cases. The former regulates objects “banned unto the Lord,” which differs from the vow of dedication discussed in Leviticus 27:2-8 only in so far that it is unredeemable, whilst Leviticus 27:29 regulates the banning enacted by the law itself (Exodus 22:19), or pronounced by the court of justice on a man who is irretrievably to be put to death.

Verse 30

(30) And all the tithe of the land.—That is, of the soil, or what grows on it, in contradistinction to the tithes of the land mentioned in Leviticus 27:32. The last things mentioned which cannot be dedicated to the Lord by a vow are tithes. Like the firstborn of Animals (see Leviticus 27:26), they already belong to God by another statute. A man, therefore, cannot vow to God what is not his own.

Whether of the seed of the land.—That is, what the seed when sown produced in the soil (Numbers 18:21-24; Deuteronomy 14:22-29).

Verse 31

(31) And if a man will at all redeem.—Better And if a man wishes to redeem. (See Leviticus 27:13; Leviticus 27:19) Though a man may not vow tithes, being already the Lord’s, yet if he wishes he may redeem them by adding one-fifth to the actual value of them. According to the authorities during the second Temple, anyone was allowed to redeem the tithes due from another person by paying the exact value for them, without the addition of the fifth part. The tithes could then be eaten in any place, but the redemption money had to be taken to Jerusalem, where it was spent in sociable feasts, to which the Levite, the stranger, and the poor were invited.

Verse 32

(32) Whatsoever passeth under the rod.—That is, for the purpose of counting and tithing them. The manner in which this was done is described by the Jewish canonists as follows: “The owner is to gather all his lambs or all his calves into the fold and make a little door to it, so that two should not be able to go out at once. He is to place their dams without. As they bleat the lambs hear their voice and go out of the fold to meet them, as it is said, ‘whatsoever passeth under the rod’ (Leviticus 27:32), since it must pass of itself, and not be brought out by his hand. And as they come out of the fold one after another he counts them with the rod, one, two, three, etc., and the tenth which comes out, whether it be male or female, whether it be perfect or blemished, he marks it with a red mark, and says, ‘This is the tithe.’” It is to this custom that the prophet alludes when he says, “I will cause you to pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant” (Ezekiel 20:37), that is, shall once more claim you, being marked as belonging to the Lord.

Verse 33

(33) He shall not search whether it be good or bad.—That is, the owner is not to pick out the good ones from the bad, but, as described above, is to mark every tenth one as it comes out of the fold as belonging to the Lord.

And if he change it at all.—See Leviticus 27:10.

Verse 34

(34) These are the commandments.—That is, the laws laid down in Leviticus 27:1-34.

In Mount Sinai.—In the mountainous district of Sinai. (See Leviticus 26:46.)

Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Leviticus 27". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/leviticus-27.html. 1905.
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