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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Leviticus 27


This chapter is supplementary in its character. The book properly ends with the promises and the threatenings, the solemn sanctions of the law recorded in chapter 26. Nevertheless, this chapter is not an afterthought, nor later legislation awkwardly appended to the book, but a treatise on a subject not included in the law as obligatory. No man was commanded to make a vow. It was a purely voluntary religious act. Deuteronomy xxiii, 21. Since the element of obligation was wanting, vows could not be classified with duties, and hence they were fittingly reserved as a supplement to the law. Their place in the book is justified by the fact that, having been voluntarily made, their fulfilment becomes obligatory. The practice of assuming voluntary obligations to the Deity for deliverance from death or danger, and for success in war and other enterprises, is of extremely ancient date, and is a prominent feature of the ancient pagan religions. Mosaism did not originate but only regulated the practice. Vows are of three kinds. 1) Vows of consecration or devotion, neder; 2) Vows of refraining or abstinence, isar or esar; 3) Vows of destruction, cherem, the Greek anathema. The first class, neder, is the subject of this chapter, comprising persons, (2-8,) cattle, (9-13,) houses, (14-15,) and land, (16-25,) all of which are redeemable except the sacrificed animals, the first-born, (26, 27,) persons and things under the cherem, (28, 29,) and tithes, (30-33.)


Whenever in human history priests have legislated respecting the financial obligations of the people they have invariably constructed their code in such a way as to drain the wealth of the country into the pockets of the sacerdotal class. The enormous wealth piled up in every age by the Roman Catholic hierarchy is an indisputable fact of history. An incredible amount of the wealth of England was in the coffers of the clergy in the time of Henry Fourth. This was true of Mexico till 1861, when the oppressed people threw off the priestly yoke and confiscated the vast wealth of the Church to the uses of the Republic. Since nothing like this ever occurred in Jewish history, because of the safeguards which the law set about the property, especially the lands of the people, we infer that the legislation on this subject did not originate with the priests of a later age, but with Moses himself. This is consistent with the theory of Dr. Fisher, that the codes were left open to amendment in minor details in harmony with the spirit of Mosaism.

Verse 2


2. A singular vow That is, special and extraordinary; Hebrews, “if any man definitely announces (R.V., ‘accomplishes’) a vow, souls shall be to Jehovah according to thy estimation.” The same Hebrew verb expresses the separation of a Nazarite unto the Lord. See Numbers 6:2, note. Persons who were the objects of the vow were to be redeemed according to a scale of values fixed by Moses. “This implies, clearly enough, that whenever a person was vowed redemption was to follow according to the valuation. Otherwise what was the object of valuing them? ‘Estimation’ supposes either redemption or purchase. But in the case of men (Israelites) there could be no purchasing as slaves, and therefore the object of the valuing could only have been for the purpose of buying off the person vowed to the Lord, and the fulfilment of the vow could only have consisted in the payment into the sanctuary of the price fixed by the law.” Keil and Delitzsch. The theory that an unredeemed Israelite became a slave of the sanctuary cannot be sustained by 1 Samuel 2:11; 1 Samuel 2:22; 1 Samuel 2:28, since Hannah did not consecrate Samuel by a simple vow, but as a Nazarite for the whole of his life. Still less pertinent to the support of this theory is 2 Samuel 15:8, adduced by Michaelis. The valuation of persons without any thought of the relations of servitude appears further in the redemption of the firstborn.

Verse 3

3. Thy estimation shall be The following is the scale of valuation according to age and sex:

A. 1. A male from one month to five years old, 5 shekels $3.03 2. From 5 years to 20 years, 20 shekels $12.12 3. From 20 to 60 years, 50 shekels $30.28 4. Above 60 years, $8.96 B. 1. Females from one month to 5 years old, 3 shekels $1.82 2. From 5 years to 20 years, 10 shekels $6.06 3. From 20 to 60 years, 30 shekels $18.17 4. Above 60 years $6.06 All souls are of equal value in the sight of the impartial Jehovah, but the capacity of personal service is unequal. Hence these unequal valuations of different ages and sexes. An able-bodied man’s earnings being the highest, he is to be redeemed at the highest price. The service of women, as a class, must ever command less wages than men, from the fact that the average skill of women in any handicraft common to both sexes must always be less than that of men, because of the peculiar child-bearing function breaking up the terms of service. Persons above 60 and under 20 are incompetent to render full service, if unredeemed, or to earn full wages for their own redemption. This gives some hint of the price for which the Hebrew servant sold his labour for the term of six years. “The wages of the servant are often the subject of consideration in the Scriptures, but the price of a man never.” Cheever.

Verse 8

8. If he be poorer than thy estimation If any man endeavouring to redeem himself from his vow should find the above scale of prices beyond his ability, a special estimate is to be made by the priest adjusted to the ability of the applicant. Thus the lenity of Mosaism appears.

Verse 9

ANIMALS VOWED, Leviticus 27:9-13.

9. A beast of the sacrificial kinds, if unblemished, (Leviticus 22:23,) was not redeemable, but was holy unto the Lord. But if it was not fit for the altar, because of some blemish, it became a perquisite of the priests like the firstborn of cattle, Leviticus 27:33.

Verse 10

10. He shall not alter He shall not modify the terms of his vow by substituting any thing else than the animal vowed.

Nor change Another animal of the same species will not be accepted. “Whatever was consecrated to God by a vow or purpose of heart was considered from that moment as the Lord’s property; to change which was impiety; to withdraw, sacrilege.” Bush. God will permit no dictation respecting the disposal of his own.

It and the exchange As a penalty for his attempted usurpation of a divine prerogative, both animals shall be holy, and tradition adds that the intermeddler was scourged besides. The tendency of this law was to discourage rash vows, and to impress both Jews and Christians with the inviolable sacredness of the object consecrated, no part of which can ever be safely recalled.

Verse 11

11. Any unclean beast As the horse, ass, or camel; any domestic animal, the dog excepted, (Deuteronomy 23:18,) together with blemished sacrificial animals by Hebrew interpretation, might be vowed and its value as estimated by the priest paid into the priestly treasury.

Verse 12

12. Good or bad Not blemished or unblemished, not clean or unclean but simply costly or cheap.

Verse 13

13. He shall add a fifth part As the author of the vow was free to present the animal or to redeem it, his desire to redeem it would imply that the priest had somewhat undervalued it; so twenty per cent. was added to his estimate.

Verse 14

HOUSES AND FIELDS VOWED, Leviticus 27:14-25.

Since religious considerations may prompt a person in the greatness of his joy for his deliverance or the extremity of his distress to pledge as an offering to God the substantial interests of life, as houses and lands, the statutes must regulate the manner of executing such a vow.

14. Sanctify his house Sanctification, when predicated of a thing, signifies to consecrate or set apart to a holy use. The devotion of the heart to the Giver of all good finds expression in acts of self-denial and sacrifice, especially in divesting ourselves of worldly goods, to which we so tenaciously cling. The use of property is a touchstone of character.

As the priest shall estimate A delicate duty is here laid upon the priest, requiring in him not only a good judgment and an acquaintance with values, but also the qualities of impartiality and freedom from avarice, since his decision involves his own financial interests. A conscientious priest would naturally incline to an under estimate, since the money paid as the redemption of the object vowed is in reality a free will offering which might have been innocently withheld by abstaining from the vow.

Verse 16

16. Some part of a field The words “some part,” in the authorized version, are in italics for no good reason, since they exactly express the meaning of the Hebrew partitive preposition min of. It is generally allowed that it was not lawful for a man, under the high pressure of religious impulse, to alienate his whole patrimony and thus pauperize his own family.

According to the seed thereof Since the quantity of seed usually sown upon an acre is quite uniform, this may be taken in lieu of the rods and roods of square measure.

A homer of barley About five and a half bushels enough to sow two or three acres. To redeem this amount of land fifty shekels of silver, $30 28, were demanded, and at this rate for any number of homers of seed. The average value of the yearly produce of this field was not estimated, but the value of the crops during the complete ante-jubilee period of forty-nine years. Hence the annual redemption was at the rate of about a shekel and a fifth, or seventy-two cents multiplied by the number of homers vowed.

Verses 17-19

17-19. From the year of jubilee If the vow covered the entire ante-jubilee period, the whole fifty shekels must be paid either in one payment or in annual instalments. But if a portion of the ante-jubilee period has elapsed before the vow is made, the priest shall deduct the years already past and base his estimate on the years that remain. The aggregate sum varies, but the annual redemption premium is invariable for any given quantity of land. This estimate presupposes that the land was inalienable, and that only the usufruct for a limited time could be vowed, since the land reverted to its original owner or his heirs, without compensation, when the trumpet of jubilee sounded. To this general law there are two exceptions, as stated in Leviticus 27:20.

Assured to him Or, as we would say, deeded back to him.

Verse 20

20. If he will not redeem Since the priests were employed in the sanctuary and could not secularize themselves by cultivating patches of land scattered through the country, the land vowed lay idle or was still cultivated by its proprietor. As a penalty for his neglect to pay the redemption year by year, the land was forfeited to the sanctuary in the jubilee. “Hence it is to be inferred that a consecrated field must have been redeemed before the jubilee unless any one manifestly wished it to be alienated.” Clericus.

If he have sold Knobel thinks that only culpable caprice or dishonesty could have induced the proprietor to sell a field after he had vowed it to the Lord. The fact that it became irredeemable after such an act seems to favour this theory. The fault, for which the forfeiture of the field is a penalty, may have consisted in the fact that he still assumed undisputed ownership of a field which he had solemnly consecrated to the Lord, to whose rights he had done violence by the sale.

Verses 22-24

22-24. Sanctify… a field… bought In the case of the vow of a field not inherited but purchased, the amount of the valuation was to be paid all at once in that day, that is, the day of the estimation. From this we infer that the amount of the vow of an hereditary field was paid annually if the proprietor so elected. In the jubilee the purchased field which had been vowed did not revert to the buyer, but to the hereditary owner. The reason for this law is, to prevent a patrimonial inheritance from being finally estranged from any family or tribe in Israel. See Leviticus 25:23-28, notes.

Verse 25

25. Shekel of the sanctuary This implies that a standard of weights was kept in the sanctuary to try and regulate all the weights in the land. Thus true religion provides things honest. For the value of the shekel see Numbers 3:47, note.

Verses 26-27


26, 27. The Lord’s firstling This being already the Lord’s, since the first passover in Egypt could not be the object of a vow. Exodus 13:1-2. This exemption from the vow did not include the firstlings of an unclean beast which, as it was not included in the law of the firstlings, might be specially devoted to Jehovah. Leviticus 27:11, note. Since it could not be used in sacrifice, it must be sold at the priest’s valuation or redeemed by adding a fifth. The valuation increased by a fifth would deter from rash vows and covetous redemptions.

Verse 28


28. No devoted thing Nothing put under the ban to the Lord, either of property or persons, was to be redeemed or sold, because it was most holy.

Leviticus 2:3, note. The Hebrew word for “devoted” is cherem, a much stronger term than it is translated by in our version. It differs from the neder, or ordinary vow, in the imprecations and execrations invoked for its non-fulfilment. There may have been other differences which are not in the Mosaic record. That this form of a vow was solemn in the highest degree, and absolutely irrevocable, and, in this respect, an exception to the vows in the preceding verses, is evident from the Hebrew particle at the beginning of the verse, ak, nevertheless.

Of man and beast “The man thus devoted was to be put to death,” says Keil. But Saalschutz discusses the question whether private persons could devote human beings to death, and rightly decides in the negative. In later times menservants and maidservants belonged to the sanctuary. Numbers 31:47; Joshua 9:3; Joshua 9:26-27; 1 Samuel 2:22, note. On the whole, Mosaism does not favour votive dedications, hence we find no very exact specifications respecting them. The cherem, or ban, denotes that which is removed from the use or abuse of men and irrecoverably devoted to God, human beings being killed, while sacrificial animals and the precious metals were either given up to the sanctuary forever or destroyed for the glory of Jehovah. See Joshua 6:17; Joshua 6:21, notes. This was the punishment denounced against incorrigible idolatry. Deuteronomy 13:13-18. “It follows from this, however, that the vow of banning could only be made in connexion with persons who obstinately resisted that sanctification of life which was binding upon them; and that an individual was not at liberty to devote a human being to the ban simply at his own will and pleasure, otherwise the ban might have been abused to purposes of ungodliness, and have amounted to a breach of the law, which prohibited the killing of a man, even though he were a slave.

Exodus 21:20. The owner of cattle and fields was allowed to put them under the ban only when they had been either desecrated by idolatry or abused to unholy purposes. For there can be no doubt that the idea which lay at the foundation of the ban was that of a compulsory dedication of something which resisted or impeded sanctification, so that in all cases in which it was carried into execution by the community or the magistracy it was an act of the judicial holiness of God.” Keil and Delitzsch.

Most holy The devoted thing could be eaten by the priests only, or, if inedible, it could be employed only for the service of Jehovah. It was sacrilege for the giver to put forth his hand to retake it. He might have made the cherem very grudgingly and half-heartedly, but, having made it, the object was forever removed from his control. It was not the intention of the giver that made it holy, but the holiness of the Receiver. An offering once laid upon the altar from that moment belonged to the Lord. This law throws floods of light upon the subject of Christian consecration and sanctification. Having solemnly surrendered our entire being to Christ, we are henceforth to reckon ourselves dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God as most holy sacrifices, which it would be sacrilege to take from the altar.

Verse 29

29. Shall surely be put to death Doubtless meaning that the person so devoted should remain till death in the condition in which his devotement placed him.

Verse 30

30. All the tithe This already was the Lord’s, and could not be the object of an acceptable vow. Yet if for any reason it was desirable to redeem it, it could be done by adding a fifth. In reckoning the tithes, the firstfruits were first set aside. Leviticus 2:12, note. Out of the rest the tithes were taken for the Levites. Numbers 18:21. Another tenth was to be eaten by the owner in Jerusalem. Deuteronomy 12:6-7. Every third year it was distributed to the poor.

Of the land This law gave the sanction of divine authority to an ancient usage. The whole produce of the land was subjected to the tithe tribute it was a kind of yearly rent which the Israelites, as tenants, paid to God as owner of the land.

Verses 32-33

32, 33. Whatsoever passeth under the rod As explained by the rabbins, this relates to the custom of driving the yearly increase of the flock one by one past the shepherd, who counted them with a rod stretched out over them, and marked every tenth one with vermillion or red ochre on the end of his rod, without examination whether it be good or bad. By this means the covetous were restrained from defrauding the Levites by selecting the poorest of the flock. See Jeremiah 33:13; Ezekiel 20:37. The tithe is here assumed as something well known, having like the pre-Sinaitic offerings been practiced from time immemorial. Genesis 14:20; Genesis 28:22. Hence it was not necessary to give a formal command to offer tithes to Jehovah. It is a perversion of Scripture to quote “passing under the rod” as indicating divine punishment. The sheep that pass under the rod have passed from the field into the security of the fold. They have been numbered and safely housed. The flock does not go in as a whole without regard to individuality. The Great Shepherd individualizes his flock. “He calleth his own sheep by name.”

Verse 34

34. The Lord commanded Moses Not some unknown forger in the days of the kings or after the Babylonian exile. Nevertheless we have no objection to the position of Dr. George P. Fisher, “That there was a growth in Hebrew laws; that the codes were kept open, the original rubrics being retained; that legislation was added from time to time, under the guidance of the prophets, to suit changing circumstances, new ordinances being looked on as Mosaic, for the reason that they were conceived in the spirit, and were considered a legitimate development of, the primitive enactments.”

In Mount Sinai Leviticus 26:46, note. Thus this supplementary chapter is attached to the body of the Levitical law delivered, at least in outline, at the foot of Sinai. It is fitting that its divine authorship, through the agency of Moses, should be attested in these concluding words.

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Leviticus 27". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.