The Law of Holiness (Leviticus 17-27).
The main section of the Book of Leviticus is constructed on a definite pattern. It commences with a description of the offerings and sacrifices of Israel (chapters 1-7), and ends with a description of the times and seasons as they are required of Israel (chapters 23-25). It continues with the establishment of the priesthood (chapters 8-10), which is balanced by the section on the maintenance of the holiness of the priesthood (chapters 21-22). This is then followed by the laws of uncleanness (chapters 11-15) which are balanced by the laws of holiness (chapters 17-20). And central to the whole is the Day of Atonement (chapter 16).
This second part of the book has been spoken of as ‘The Holiness Code’. We may balance this by calling chapters 1-15 ‘The Priestly Code’. The first part certainly has a priestly emphasis, for the priests control the offerings and sacrifices (chapters 1-7) and administer the laws of cleanness and uncleanness (chapters 11-15), and the second part a holiness emphasis. But this must not be over-emphasised. The whole book is mainly addressed to the people, it is for their benefit as God’s covenant people, and the maintenance of the holiness of the priests is just as important in the second half. It is to be seen as a whole.
We may thus analyse it as follows (note the chiasm):
1). THE PRIESTLY CODE (chapters 1-15).
a) Offerings and Sacrifices (chapters 1-7)
b) Establishment of the Priesthood (chapters 8-10)
c) The Laws of Cleanness and Uncleanness (chapters 11-15)
2) THE DAY OF ATONEMENT (Leviticus 16)
3) THE HOLINESS CODE (chapters 17-25)
c) The Laws of Holiness (chapters 17-19)
b) Maintenance of the Holiness of the Priesthood (chapters 20-22)
a) Times and Seasons (chapters 23-25).
As will be seen the Day of Atonement is central and pivotal, with the laws of cleanness and uncleanness and the laws of holiness on each side. This central section is then sandwiched between the establishment of the priesthood (chapters 10-12) and the maintenance of the holiness of the priesthood (chapters 20-22). And outside these are the requirements concerning offerings and sacrifices (chapters 1-7) and the requirements concerning times and seasons (chapters 23-25).
So the Holiness Code may be seen as a suitable description of this second half of the book as long as we do not assume by that that it was once a separate book. The description in fact most suitably applies to chapters 19-22. It describes what Israel is to be, as made holy to Yahweh.
It was as much a necessary part of the record as what has gone before. The Book would have been incomplete without it. The Book of Leviticus is, as it claims, the record of a whole collection of revelations made to Moses at various times, brought together in one book, and carefully constructed around the central pivot of the Day of Atonement. There is no good reason for doubting this, and there are possible indications of colophons to various original records which help to substantiate it. It was the necessary basis for the establishment of the religion of Yahweh for a conglomerate people.
So having in what we know of as the first sixteen chapters of the Book laid down the basis of offerings and sacrifices (chapters 1-7), the establishment of the Priesthood (chapters 8-10), the laws of cleanness and uncleanness (chapters 11-15), and the requirements of the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16), the whole would have been greatly lacking had Moses not added some further detail of the holiness that God required of His people and of His priests.
The former is contained in Leviticus 17:1 to Leviticus 20:27. In this section Moses deals with the sacredness of all life (Leviticus 17), the sexual relationships which can defile (Leviticus 18), and the positive requirements for holiness in the covenant (Leviticus 19-20).
It is then followed by the further section dealing with the maintenance of the holiness of the priesthood (Leviticus 21:1 to Leviticus 22:16), with Leviticus 22:17-33 forming a transition from speaking to the priests to speaking to the people.
Chapters 23-25 then deal with sacred times and seasons, including the seven day Sabbath (Leviticus 23:1-3), the set feasts of Israel (Leviticus 23:4-44), the daily trimming of the lamps and the weekly offering of showbread (Leviticus 24:1-9), the Sabbatical year (Leviticus 25:1-7), and the year of Yubile (Leviticus 25:8-55). Included in this is a practical example of blasphemy against the Name (Leviticus 24:10-23), which parallels the practical example of priestly blasphemy in Leviticus 10:1-7. Thus practical examples of the blasphemy of both priests and people are included as warnings.
Leviticus 26 seals the book with the promises of blessings and cursings regular in covenants of this period, and closes with the words ‘these are the statutes and judgments and laws which Yahweh made between him and the children of Israel in Mount Sinai by the hand of Moses’ (Leviticus 26:46). Leviticus 27 is then a postscript on vows and how they can lawfully be withdrawn from, and closes with a reference to tithing, the sanctifying of a tenth of all their increase to Yahweh.
Chapters 11-15 dealt with the uncleannesses of Israel, leading up to the Day when all uncleannesses were atoned for (Leviticus 16). But the Day of Atonement covered far more than those. It covered every way in which the covenant had been broken. It also covers the direct transgressions of Israel. Leviticus 17 onwards therefore deals further with the basis of the covenant against which they ‘transgressed’ and for which they also needed atonement. Chapters 11-15 dealt with practical matters considering what was ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’ as they faced daily life, these chapters from 17 onwards now deal with the basis on which they should live their lives as Yahweh’s holy people, and the attitudes that they should have. They deal with prospective sin and disobedience. The former were more within the cultic section up to Leviticus 16, but the latter are firmly directed at the people’s moral response, so that their responsibilities under the covenant might be made clear directly to them. The distinction must not be overpressed. They are all still, of course, cultic, but the latter from a less direct viewpoint. They do not have so much to do with priestly oversight. They come more under the jurisdiction of the elders.
There is, however, no change of direction in overall thought. The whole of Leviticus emphasises holiness from start to finish. There is not a change of emphasis only a change of presentation because God is now directly involving the people.
It must, however, be firmly asserted that, as we shall see in the commentary, there is nothing in what follows that requires a date after the time of Moses. Having been given by God control of a conglomerate people (Exodus 12:38), with a nucleus made up of descendants from the family and family servants of the patriarchs (Exodus 1 - ‘households’), he had to fashion them into a covenant keeping nation under Yahweh and provide the basis on which they could be one nation and kept in full relationship with their Overlord. It was precisely because the disparate peoples believed that his words came from God that they were willing mainly to turn their backs on their past usages and customs and become one nation under Yahweh, culminating in them all being circumcised into the covenant when they entered the land (Joshua 5).
And with such a conglomeration of people with their differing religious ideas, customs and traditions, it is clear that this could only have been successfully achieved by putting together a complete religious system which was a revelation from Yahweh, which would both keep them together as one people and would ensure that when they reached Canaan they would have no excuse for taking part in the Canaanite religious practises such as he knew of from his time of administration in Egypt and from his time with the Priest of Midian. Had they arrived in Canaan without a single binding system, they would soon have fallen prey (as they almost did anyway) to the attractions of Canaanite religion. It was only the firm foundation that Moses had laid (combined with God’s own powerful activities) that finally resulted in their rising above their backslidings, and in their constantly turning back to Yahwism, because Moses had rooted it so deeply within them. And this finally enabled the establishing of the nation under Samuel and David after times of great turmoil.
This system did not come all at once. He had to begin instructing them soon after the crossing of the Reed Sea (Exodus 15:26), and a system gradually grew up (Exodus 17:13-16) as they went along, based as we learn later on a tent of meeting set outside the camp (Exodus 33:7-11), until at Sinai the book of the covenant (Exodus 20:1 to Exodus 23:33) was written down as a result of God’s words to the people and to Moses. Then in his time in the Mount this was expanded on. But it would continue to be expanded on in the days to come, until the time came when Moses knew that he had to accumulate in one record all the regulations concerning sacrifices, priesthood and the multitude of requirements that went along with them. By this time he had much material to draw on.
For leaders from different groups had no doubt been constantly coming to him for direction and leadership (Exodus 16:22), and especially for those who were not firmly established in the customs of Israel he no doubt had to deal with a wide number of diversified queries, and seek God’s will about them. This explains why sometimes the collections may not always seem as having been put together in as logical order as they might have been. They partly depended on what questions he had been asked, and what particular problems had arisen, and what particular issues were important at the time. But it was on the basis of all this activity that we have the Book of Leviticus as a part of the wider Pentateuch.
Chapter 27 Concerning Vows.
Little is actually said about the actual necessity for making of vows in the Bible. It was not a requirement of the Law. But many sincere and dedicated people made them out of love for, or gratitude towards, God, or because they desired something deeply and thought that God might be the more ready to hear if they made a vow. It was therefore necessary for them to be controlled and for the consequences of them to be quite clear.
The writer in Ecclesiastes said, “Do not be rash with your mouth, and do not let your heart be hasty to utter anything before God, for God is in Heaven and you are on the earth, therefore let your words be few -- when you vow a vow to God, do not defer paying it, for He has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you have vowed, it is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay’ (Ecclesiastes 5:2-5).
One vow that was often made was a vow of dedication to tabernacle service either of the person themselves or of someone over whom they had authority. This might be temporary or permanent. We have an example of such in the baby Samuel (1 Samuel 1:11) who was devoted by his mother to the service of the tabernacle all the days of his life and became a great judge of Israel.
The description that follows appears to refer to the price that the person must pay to be released from their vow once they were considered to have completed it. For being under a vow they were holy to Yahweh and they had to be redeemed. In some cases the reference appears to be to a vow made from which a person wishes to be released (e.g. for an animal or a house). The point that is being made is the seriousness of making such a vow. It could not easily or cheaply be rescinded.
Or the idea may be that the vow is made deliberately as an indication of the amount the person wishes to give to Yahweh, which he then does in terms of the value of the particular object.
This chapter is the icing on the cake of all that has gone before. The offerings of sacrificial animals, reference to the clean and the unclean, to houses and lands, all refer to what men possessed or came in contact with, and were expected under the covenant to deal with in a certain way. But this refers to going that one step further and vowing something to Yahweh. And this would result in a sacrifice on that person’s behalf for the glory of God and the financial benefit of the Sanctuary.
This Is The Word Of Yahweh (Leviticus 27:1). .
‘And Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying,’
It is once more stressed that we have here a word from Yahweh through Moses.
The Price of Redemption from a Vow (Leviticus 27:2-8).
“Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them, When a man shall accomplish a vow, the persons shall be for Yahweh by your estimation.”
When anyone comes to the end of their vow a price must be paid for their release. They have been dedicated to the service of Yahweh. They cannot therefore just withdraw. The purpose of this was in order that people might recognise the seriousness of such a vow. It involved a physical cost. This redemption price must be estimated by the priests in accordance with the following rules. Thus when any person made such a vow they were declaring their readiness to meet that cost. They were making a sacrificial gift to Yahweh. But because of that it was necessary for them to know exactly how much it was going to cost.
We make our vows to God so easily, for we feel that we can forget them at any time. But this section warns us that God does not forget and a price has to be paid, although we may be unaware of it at the time.
“And your estimation shall be of the male from twenty years old even to sixty years old, even your estimation shall be fifty shekels of silver, after the shekel of the sanctuary.”
The redemption price of a male between twenty and sixty was fifty shekels of silver. That was a considerable price, much higher than that for a slave at this time, which was about twenty shekels. Only the relatively wealthy could so dedicate themselves or their offspring to Yahweh. But they would feel the cost was worth it for the special position it had put them in before him.
“And if it be a female, then your estimation shall be thirty shekels.”
For a female between these ages the redemption price was considerably lower. Women performed services at the door of the tent of meeting (Exodus 38:8; 1 Samuel 2:22), but they could not fulfil the heavy work which the men would do. Nevertheless they too delighted in seeking to serve Yahweh, and fulfilling a voluntary time of service for Him, from which they could be released with a sense of joy in having served so close to His presence and having contributed to His worship.
“And if it be from five years old even to twenty years old, then your estimation shall be of the male twenty shekels, and for the female ten shekels.”
Others would dedicate their children to that service for a time. However to redeem someone between five years old and twenty years old the price was twenty shekels for a male and ten shekels for a female. The service from which they were being redeemed was considerably less than that for an adult person. But they had known the joy of Yahweh’s service.
“And if it be from a month old even to five years old, then your estimation shall be of the male five shekels of silver, and for the female your estimation shall be three shekels of silver.”
For those between a month old and five years old the redemption prices was five shekels for a male and three for a female. The service that they could perform was minimal, but parents clearly thought that it would benefit their children in knowing God more closely.
“And if it be from sixty years old and upward; if it be a male, then your estimation shall be fifteen shekels, and for the female ten shekels.”
But in the case of someone over sixty the redemption price was fifteen shekels for a male and ten for a female. Their ability to serve was limited. But they too would rejoice in having been able to be so close to God.
“But if he be poorer than your 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.”
However, God did not want men to miss blessing because they were too poor. If the man, or the person who vowed him, was too poor to pay these redemption prices then the priest could value him at a lower figure in accordance with their ability to pay. Thus no one was to be kept from making a vow because he could not afford it, and no one had to continue a vow unwillingly, for a price was payable for release.
The Price For Redemption of a Beast (Leviticus 27:9-13).
“And if it be a beast, of which men offer an oblation to Yahweh, all that any man gives of such to Yahweh 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.”
Any clean and sacrificial beast vowed to Yahweh was holy. Once offered it could not be changed, whether for better of for worse. If one was replaced then both became holy to Yahweh. This being the case we would assume that the purpose of replacing it was in order to offer something more worthy of Yahweh. Yahweh will receive two offerings instead of one. But neither can be redeemed. One example of such would be a whole burnt offering.
“And if it be any unclean beast, of which they do not offer an oblation to Yahweh, then he shall set the beast before the priest; and the priest shall value it, whether it be good or bad: as you the priest value it, so shall it be. But if he will indeed redeem it, then he shall add the fifth part of it to your estimation.”
Where the beast that is vowed to Yahweh is an unclean beast, possibly an ass or a camel, it can be redeemed at a price put on it by the priest. And he must add one fifth of the valuation as recompense. He has offered to Yahweh in his vow something which was of great importance to him. He wanted to give something that he treasured. Now he gladly pays a higher price to the Sanctuary in order to receive it back and in order to demonstrate his love for God. This is a somewhat similar case to the first born of an ass which must be redeemed, or its neck broken as a gift to Yahweh (Exodus 13:2; Exodus 13:13) although there the price of redemption was a lamb and it was always required.
The Price For Redemption of a House (Leviticus 27:14-15).
“And when a man shall sanctify his house to be holy to Yahweh, 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 who sanctified it will redeem his house, then he shall add the fifth part of the money of your estimation to it, and it shall be his.”
This is the case where a man vows a house to Yahweh, setting it apart to be holy to Yahweh. He wants Yahweh’s special blessing on his house. He wants to be able to say, this house has been dedicated to Yahweh. Then its value will be assessed by the priest. And if the man wishes it back he must pay that price plus one fifth. Then it will be his again with the joy of knowing that it has been dedicated to Yahweh. But the vow is real. If he does not pay the cost the house goes to the priests for them to sell.
The Price For The Redemption of a Field Of His Possession Dedicated To Yahweh (Leviticus 27:16-21).
A field of his possession refers to one the possession of which is given to him when the first share out is made in Canaan, a field which if sold would normally come back to him at the year of Yubile. To vow such a field was to seek to enter into something of the blessing of the Levite whose possession was Yahweh Himself (Joshua 13:33).
“And if a man shall sanctify to Yahweh part of the field of his possession, then your estimation shall be according to its sowing, the sowing of a homer of barley shall be valued at fifty shekels of silver.”
If the vow affects part of the field of his possession then the cost of redemption is assessed by how much grain or fruit that part of the field would produce. The assumption will be that a homer of barley would be worth fifty shekels of silver. Thus the quantity of homers of barley it might produce must be estimated in order to value the field.
“If he sanctify his field from the year of jubilee, according to your estimation it shall stand.”
If the vow is made at the beginning of the forty nine year period to the next yubile, then the assessment is made on that basis, depending on what barley could be produced in that time.
“But if he sanctify his field after the yubile, then the priest shall reckon to him the money according to the years that remain to the year of yubile; and an abatement shall be made from your estimation.”
However if the assessment is made after the year of Yubile then the proportion of time remaining is the amount which has to be taken into account.
“And if he who sanctified the field will indeed redeem it, then he shall add the fifth part of the money of your estimation to it, and it shall be assured to him.”
In the end the price that must be paid for its redemption so that it again belongs to the man whose inheritance it first was is the estimated price plus one fifth redemption offering. If that is paid then the field is again his. But now in his sight it is a blessed field, for it has belonged to Yahweh.
“And if he will not redeem the field, or if he has sold the field to another man, it shall not be redeemed any more, but the field, when it goes out in the jubilee, shall be holy to Yahweh, as a field devoted. The possession of it shall be the priest’s.”
But if a man has vowed the field and will not redeem it, or if he has vowed it and sold it to someone else (and therefore cannot redeem it), then at the year of Yubile it will be holy to Yahweh and will not be able to be redeemed. From then on it is the possession of the priests.
This would seem to be the only way by which the family fields could permanently be lost. In this case they had been given back to Yahweh and were therefore irrecoverable. The man had to consider the full consequences of his vow.
The Redemption Price Of Other Fields (Leviticus 27:22-25).
“And if he sanctify to Yahweh a field which he has bought, which is not of the field of his possession, then the priest shall reckon to him the worth of your estimation to the year of jubilee, and he shall give your estimation in that day, as a holy thing to Yahweh. In the year of jubilee the field shall return to him from whom it was bought, even to him to whom the possession of the land belongs.”
But if a man vows and sets apart as holy for Yahweh a field which is not of the land of his possession, at the year of Yubile it returns to the man whose possession it is. Meanwhile the man who vowed it must pay a redemption price equal to its value to the year of Yubile plus one fifth so that he may again use the field.
“And all your estimations shall be according to the shekel of the sanctuary: twenty gerahs shall be the shekel.”
The shekel used in these estimations is to be the shekel of the sanctuary as quoted.
Firstlings (Leviticus 27:26-27).
“Only the firstling among beasts, which is made a firstling to Yahweh, no man shall sanctify it; whether it be ox or sheep, it is Yahweh’s.”
A firstling cannot be set apart as holy to Yahweh. It is already Yahweh’s. See Exodus 13:2. Such a vow would be meaningless.
“And if it be of an unclean beast, then he shall ransom it according to your estimation, and shall add to it the fifth part of it: or if it be not redeemed, then it shall be sold according to your estimation.”
Where, however, the firstling is an unclean beast it can be redeemed at its estimated value plus one fifth. This presumably does not apply to an ass which has to be redeemed at the price of a lamb because an ass was especially valuable (Exodus 13:13).
Devoted Things (Leviticus 27:28-29).
Up to this point if something was not redeemed it could be either used by or sold by the priests. But ‘devoted’ things would seem to indicate things irrevocably devoted to Yahweh. This was seemingly the most serious of vows and the devoted thing became most holy to Yahweh and could neither be sold nor redeemed. Either it was kept permanently within the tabernacle or it was burned. Normally such things would be such as for some special reason were to be seen as sacred, possibly with the hope of making the vow more effective.
“Notwithstanding, no devoted thing, that a man shall devote to Yahweh of all that he has, whether of man or beast, or of the field of his possession, shall be sold or redeemed: every devoted thing is most holy to Yahweh.”
If a man ‘devotes’ something to Yahweh in this way, then whatever it is, whether man, beast, or field of permanent possession, it is most holy to Yahweh and unredeemable.
“No one devoted, that shall be devoted from among men, shall be ransomed; he shall surely be put to death.”
In the case of a man such a person devoted to Yahweh must be put to death. They are ‘most holy’ to Yahweh. This would apply to those who were seen as deserving of the death penalty such as murderers, adulterers, idolaters, blasphemers and so on. They were devoted to Yahweh. They could not then be redeemed. They must be put to death. Compare Achan in Joshua 7.
The Law Concerning Tithes (Leviticus 27:30-34).
“And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land, or of the fruit of the tree, is Yahweh’s. It is holy to Yahweh.”
That part of the produce of the land which is a tithe is holy to Yahweh. The tithe was one tenth which had originally, while it was relatively sparse in the wilderness, to be set aside for the Levites and priests (see Numbers 18:21; Numbers 18:24). It was their inheritance from Yahweh. Later, in view of the abundance that the land would produce, while still sanctified to Yahweh, the tithe could both be used for a celebratory feast by the producing family as well as in order to provide for the Levites (Deuteronomy 14:22-27; Deuteronomy 15:19-20). Every third year, in ‘the year of tithing’, the poor were also to receive a share (Deuteronomy 14:28). A one tenth share of all the produce in the land would amply provide for all three, with the Levites receiving the major part left over after the feasting
“And if a man will redeem aught of his tithe, he shall add to it the fifth part of it.”
But if for some reason a man wished to retain part of what he would normally give as a tithe he must redeem it by paying its value plus one fifth.
“And all the tithe of the herd or the flock, whatever passes under the rod, the tenth shall be holy to Yahweh.”
This does not, however, apply to the tithe of the herd or the flock. The Levites would be present to ensure that proper tithes were being paid, and in the case of herd and flock would pass them under a rod, taking aside every tenth one. That was then holy to Yahweh.
“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.”
Once this was done a man could not change any of these animals for another. He cannot check whether the ones set aside for celebratory feasts or for the Levites are better or worse than the others. The choice was irrevocable. If in fact he does seek to change one then both the one being changed, and the one changed for it are both holy to Yahweh, and so he loses out financially. This may for example have been done in order to ensure that at the family feast at the Central Sanctuary the best was available for them to eat.
“These are the commandments, which Yahweh commanded Moses for the children of Israel in mount Sinai.”
This colophon sums up all the commandments which Yahweh commanded Moses for the children of Israel in Mount Sinai. The content - the commandments listed. The author - Moses from Yahweh. The place - in Mount Sinai. It possibly sums up the whole book. It may, however, just refer to this last chapter.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Leviticus 27". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany