Vows and Redemption in Leviticus 27 from a NT Perspective

How could a devout Israelite express his commitment to the Lord? His gratitude? His promise to give to the Lord for a future blessing? By vowing to him, with some property and other possessions–some “skin” in the game. How does the New Testament transform and streamline these laws?

Before we begin:

For a general overview of the interrelations between the Old Sinai Covenant and the New Covenant, click on:

What Does the New Covenant Retain from the Old?

How Jesus Christ Fulfills the Law: Matthew 5:17-19

Many (not even close to all) elements are retained, and what is kept is improved on or streamlined.

The NIV is used here, unless otherwise noted. Readers are invited to go to biblegateway.com, choose their own translation, and open another window to follow along.

Now let’s begin.

Introduction

It is difficult to know the details of what is happening in the final chapter of Leviticus because we know so little about dedicating things to the Lord. Deut. 23:21-23 may offer clarity for Lev. 27:

21 If you make a vow to the Lord your God, do not be slow to pay it, for the Lord your God will certainly demand it of you and you will be guilty of sin. 22 But if you refrain from making a vow, you will not be guilty. 23 Whatever your lips utter you must be sure to do, because you made your vow freely to the Lord your God with your own mouth. (Deut. 23-21-23)

So the Israelite made a vow not in secret or private, but it was done before the Lord at the tabernacle. If he does make a vow, he should pay what he promised. Lev. 27 tells the priest at the tabernacle to calculate the person or possession the Israelite offers to put “teeth” or substance to his vow. It must not cost him nothing, by words alone.

A votive is related to a vow. A votive consists of a vow, wish or desire. A votive is a gift offered in fulfillment of a vow or in gratitude or in devotion.

Lev. 27 takes care of the psychological needs of an anxious person who tells God how serious he is, so he makes a vow. He puts substance to his vow by bringing to the tabernacle a person or thing. “If the Lord does such and such, then I will give this or that.” Then the priest gives his valuation in silver, and the offerer redeems the thing or person.

Next, Lev. 27 meets the psychological need of the devoted Israelite who may feel gratitude for a special favor, so he offers a votive. Or a man may wish to express his devotion to the Lord, so he too offers a votive.

The man would offer a person or thing, because this was not the age of currency or money exchange. As noted, often the offered person or thing was redeemed, instead of actually given to the tabernacle. and the offering’s value in silver was given. But there were exceptions as we shall see.

Finally, the general or overall law is that Lev. 27 required offerings for productivity and God’s blessings, particularly in the tithe (vv. 30-33). Prosperity and blessings went to the tabernacle, because God caused the increase and his tabernacle was where the blessings had to be paid. This was his dwelling place, in a theocracy.

How Translations Title Leviticus 27

We can get a feel for the theme and purpose of the chapter by a variety of chapter headings in different translations.

An earlier version of the New International Version: “Laws concerning Gifts and Endowments.”

The later NIV: “Redeeming What Is the Lord’s.”

The Christian Standard Bible or Holman Standard Christian Bible: “Funding the Sanctuary.”

The Tree of Life Version: “Divine Appraisals.”

The New Living Translation: “Redemption of Gifts Offered to the Lord.”

New American Standard Bible: “Rules Concerning Valuations.” The New American Standard Bible (rev. ed.): “Votive Offerings and Dedications” (vv. 1-25) and “Irredeemable Offerings” (vv. 26-34).

English Standard Version and Modern English Version: “Laws about Vows.”

New English Translation divides up the chapter in sections: “Redemption of Persons Given as Votive Offerings” (vv. 1-8); “Redemption of Animals Given as Votive Offerings” (vv. 9-13); “Redemption of Houses Given as Votive Offerings” (vv. 14-15); “Redemption of Fields Given as Votive Offerings” (vv. 16-25); “Redemption of the Firstborn” (vv. 26-27); “Things Permanently Dedicated to the Lord” (vv. 28-29); “Redemption of the Tithe” (vv. 30-34)

Good News Translation: “Laws Concerning Gifts to the Lord.”

Message: “Vows, Dedication, Redemptions.”

New King James Version: “Redeeming Persons and Property Given to God.”

New Revised Standard Version: “Votive Offerings”

Dedicating and Redeeming a Person (vv. 1-8)

This pericope (pronounced puh-RIH-koh-pea) or section of Scripture allows the offerer to present a person to the Lord. This was a special vow. Hannah vowed her son Samuel to the Lord (1 Sam. 1). Jephthah’s vow that he would sacrifice the first person who came out of his house as a burnt offering (Judg. 11:31) was not a special vow, as seen in vv. 1-8, but was wicked. No human sacrifice was allowed in the Levitical system. Jephthah was on the edge of Israel and not walking with God.

The offerer redeemed dedicated persons with these valuations:

Age

Value of Males

Value of Females

1-5

5 Shekels

3 Shekels

5-20

20 Shekels

10 Shekels

20-60

50 Shekels

30 Shekels

60-plus

15 shekels

10 shekels

Source: Harris, p. 650

These valuations have nothing to do with the intrinsic worth of mankind and womankind. Rather, in a agricultural society, the valuation was based on the division of labor. Men did the heavy lifting, while women did more domestic work. More proof that this pericope was not about intrinsic worth: Older men 60-plus were valued less than women between 20-60. Surely the women in that age group were not worth inherently more than the men and men inherently less than the women! No, it was about physical labor and working hard the whole day.

One last comment: if a poor man dedicated a person to the tabernacle, but was unable to meet the price in the table, then the priest set a new valuation by what the poor man could afford. (v. 8).

See my post:

Slavery and Freedom in the Bible

Dedicating and Redeeming Animals (vv. 9-13)

The law states that one may not swap out a clean animal in some sort of buyer’s or offerer’s remorse. If he tried, both animals would be forfeit. Whatever is offered becomes holy; that is, it belongs to the tabernacle and the priest. Unclean animals, like a donkey, could be offered. If the offerer wished to redeem it, he had to add 20% to the valuation. One commentator said no person or animal was exchanged. However, it is easy to see that the tabernacle would accept an animal.

Dedicating and Redeeming a House (vv. 14-15)

The valuation would depend on the condition of the house, and probably its location. Prime real estate was valued more highly than a house in a bad location. If the offerer does not redeem the house at a price set by the priest, plus 20%, then the house goes to the tabernacle.

Dedicating and Redeeming Family Land (vv. 16-21)

The valuation of the land was determined by productivity. If the land had rocky outcrops or ravines or was generally untillable, then it was not valued as much.

As to valuation, if for example twenty-five years had passed since the Year of Jubilee (every fifty years), then the value of the land would be reduced by half. If a man redeemed the land by adding 20%, then the land was his (v. 19).

But if he gave it without redeeming it, the land was forfeit and belonged to the tabernacle. Also if he had promised it to the tabernacle, but sold it to another person, the land would be forfeit and belonged to the tabernacle. It was wise to pay one’s vow (v. 20). It would still belong to the tabernacle in the Year of Jubilee (v. 21). No trickery was assumed here. It was like future bequest made today. (Harris p. 652). However, some shenanigans could lie behind the law, which prohibited the bad deals (Torah, p. 968)..

This above pericope could potentially increase the landholdings of the tabernacle.

Dedicating and Redeeming Land Purchased Separate from Family Land (vv. 22-25)

The priest determines its value based on the nearest Year of Jubilee, and the man must pay its value on that day, for it is holy to the Lord (the priest was involved). In the year of Jubilee the land went back to the original seller, so let’s hope the buyer made good use of it before it reverted!

Dedicating the Firstborn Clean Animal Is Not Allowed (vv. 26-28)

Exod. 34:19-20 distinguishes between clean and unclean animals:

19 “The first offspring of every womb belongs to me, including all the firstborn males of your livestock, whether from herd or flock. 20 Redeem the firstborn donkey with a lamb, but if you do not redeem it, break its neck. Redeem all your firstborn sons. (Exod. 34:19-20)

A donkey is an unclean animals, but a lamb was not. No one can make a vow with a firstborn clean animal, for it already belonged to the Lord.

However, if the man offered an animal an unclean animal, then he could redeem if by adding 20% of the priest’s valuation. But if he does not redeem it, the priest can sell it.

Things Permanently Devoted to the Lord (vv. 28-29)

These are spoils of war devoted completely to the Lord. They are called ḥērem pronounced (khehrehm) or something totally devoted to the Lord or to evil. In this case it was devoted to the Lord because it was evil, and this act of devoting it entailed destroying it because it was necessary to protect the social fabric of ancient Israel. Some of the Canaanites did awful things that deserved the death penalty, like sacrificing children in fire to the gods right outside (later) Jerusalem. But these “devoted” towns were not numerous. Also, for the non-devoted towns God gave the Israelites the command to drive them out (Deut. 7).

But what about the children? Ancient Israel did not have an adoption agency. These children were living degraded and abused lives, due to the evil and dysfunctional adults. Those children are now in heaven, living blissful and blessed lives for eternity without end.

Please see my post:

What Happens to Children after They Die?

If it is any (misplaced) consolation to the critic of the Old Testament, Israel failed to accomplish this hard mission. Result: the social fabric was indeed shredded. The Israelites sacrificed children to the fire outside Jerusalem and elsewhere.

Here are verses that show Israelites sacrificing children to the god Molek.

Solomon:

He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites. So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord; he did not follow the Lord completely, as David his father had done. (1 Kings 11:5-6)

On a more positive note, Josiah would not allow the sacrifices and removed the religious accouterments where the Israelites sacrificed children to Molek:

10 He desecrated Topheth, which was in the Valley of Ben Hinnom, so no one could use it to sacrifice their son or daughter in the fire to Molek. (2 Kings 23:10)

The words “Ben Hinnom” over the centuries may have morphed in Hinnom Valley, which in turn changed to Gehenna at the time when Jesus lived. It thus became a depiction of hell. No wonder, since it was a dump with an endless smoke, children having died there.

Here’s the place near Jerusalem:

The king also desecrated the high places that were east of Jerusalem on the south of the Hill of Corruption—the ones Solomon king of Israel had built for Ashtoreth the vile goddess of the Sidonians, for Chemosh the vile god of Moab, and for Molek the detestable god of the people of Ammon. (2 Kings 23:13)

Josiah was a good (enough) king, but his successors went back to the old satanic ways. Jeremiah, a later prophet, denounced the people of Jerusalem, with a tinge of sadness in this prophecy:

34 They set up their vile images in the house that bears my Name and defiled it. 35 They built high places for Baal in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to sacrifice their sons and daughters to Molek, though I never commanded—nor did it enter my mind—that they should do such a detestable thing and so make Judah sin. (Jer. 32:34-35)

It never “entered my [God’s] mind” means he never planned or endorsed such sacrifice. So the people cannot claim God told them to do such things.

How does this relate to us in the New Covenant? We have to deal ruthlessly with our sins. We have to eliminate corrupt influences. “Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character.’ Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God—I say this to your shame” (1 Cor. 15:33-34). The clause “Bad company corrupts good character” comes from pagan comedy playwright Menander. It is great that Paul borrowed from a pagan to teach Spirit-filled Corinthians!

Dedicating and Redeeming the Tithe (vv. 30-33)

Apparently a man could pay in silver his crops and fruit and livestock, by redeeming it and paying 20% extra. In other cases, the tabernacle was too far to transport bulky and perishable produce and grains, so the law made provision for this burden:

But if that place is too distant and you have been blessed by the Lord your God and cannot carry your tithe (because the place where the Lord will choose to put his Name is so far away), 25 then exchange your tithe for silver, and take the silver with you and go to the place the Lord your God will choose. 26 Use the silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink, or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice. (Deut. 14:24-26)

Now what about scrawny animals or healthy animals? If the tither cheated and gave only the defective animal, then his heart was judged. On the other hand, if he gave only the healthy animals, he would lose his livelihood because is flocks and herds would not increase. So the Lord provided a “rod system,” which meant that every tenth animal that passed under the rod was given, so randomness made things fair.

A warning: if he does substitute a defective animal for a bad one, both animals were forfeit and belong to the tabernacle.

See my post:

Why Tithing Does Not Apply to New Covenant Believers

But generosity does apply, as the article at that link demonstrates.

How does the New Testament handle these vows and their redemption?

Lev. 27 is all about dedication and consecration and redemption.

Let’s take consecration and dedication together, first. We don’t have to make vows to get God’s favor. If God does such and such, I will give this much money to the church. If a person wants to give money, he should not base it on God granting a prayer, but because the believer loves the Lord and his kingdom and wishes to see it advance. Yes, a believer can give money out of gratitude, but if the believer does not get the promotion at work or a bonus, he should still give generously. Once again, kingdom advancement is the main reason, but the motive of gratitude is still a good one.

Here’s how the Jesus follower shows his devotion and consecrates himself to the Lord, when the church replaces the old temple in 2 Cor. 6:16-18:

For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said:

“I will live with them
    and walk among them,
and I will be their God,
and they will be my people.” [Lev. 26:12]

17 Therefore,

“Come out from them
    and be separate,
says the Lord.
Touch no unclean thing,
    and I will receive you.” [Is. 52:11]

18 And,

“I will be a Father to you,
    and you will be my sons and daughters,
says the Lord Almighty.” [2 Sam. 7:8, 14] (2 Cor. 6:16-18)

In the old Sinai Covenant, every holy act revolved around the earthly tabernacle. The Israelite paid his vows there. In the New Covenant, the church is now the center of God’s attention. If the believer wishes to consecrate himself, in order to be a part of God’s new community, he must not allow his soul to become polluted by the world, the flesh, and the devil. He can show his devotion to the Lord by doing what the Word says.

As for redemption, as I noted in my comments on Lev. 25, I like these benefits of Christ’s redemption of us. We do not have to redeem or buy back anyone or anything in our household. Jesus paid it all.

Let me number the points.

1. Christ’s redemption means we have been declared righteous.

Rom 3:24 teaches:  “and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

2. Christ’s redemption frees from wickedness and the dominion of sin.

Rom. 6:7 and Rom. 6:22 tell us that thanks to the redemption and sacrificial death of Christ we are no longer under the domination of sin—the power of sin has been broken. And the penalty of sin is paid.

3. Christ’s redemption freed us from the law.

Gal. 4:5 teaches that the old law of Moses no longer bosses us around, with its curses and wrath. However, we now live in the law of Christ, which is love, but when a believer gets confused about this, moral law is also found in the New Covenant, so let’s not throw that out too.

4. Christ’s redemption frees us from the curse of the law.

Gal. 3:13 says that not only are we free from the law of Moses, but we enjoy freedom from its curses (Deut. 28:15-68).

5. Christ’s redemption frees us from an empty life.

Peter in 1:18 says that we are foreigners in a land not our own, but since we have been bought with the precious blood of Jesus, we no longer live empty or futile lives, but we can live for him, from an eternal perspective, and for eternity.

6. Christ’s redemption means we have been forgiven.

Eph. 1:7 and Col. 1:14 link redemption and forgiveness of sins. We have been brought out of a life or world of sin and brought over to the light, where sin may not disappear entirely, but its dominion is broken (Rom. 6:14).

7. Christ’s redemption means we now life lives of freedom.

Gal. 5:1, 13 tell us that it is for freedom that Christ has set us free, and then we should stand firm, so we do not come under the yoke of slavery. We should not use our liberty to indulge in our sin nature, but serve each other in love.

See my post for more information:

What Is Redemption in the Bible?

In short, we don’t buy back anything or anyone. Only Jesus does that.

How does this post help me grow in Christ and get wisdom?

I urge believers not to make vows. This verse offers wisdom: “But if you refrain from making a vow, you will not be guilty” (Deut. 23:23). 

Jesus clarifies taking oaths and vows. Swearing an oath was mostly likely informal. “I swear by the temple, I will pay you back at this time next year!” Or “I swear by the heavens I am telling the truth!” In the next passage, Jesus seems to equate oaths and vows, and we should fulfill them. But then he offers wise counsel in v. 36:

33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ 34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one. (Matt. 5:33-37)

The wise counsel is not to make a oath at all. I believe not making an oath can extend to not making vows. Be a man of woman of your word. Let you “yes” means “yes,” and “no” means “no.” Don’t embellish your integrity by fancy promises.

The epistle to James, the Lord’s brother, reinforces the words of Jesus:

12 Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple “Yes” or “No.” Otherwise you will be condemned. (James 5:12)

But of course I’m not talking about wedding vows, which are meaningful and covenantal. The wedding vows are always necessary.

Yet overall, being condemned may refer to a court of law. Don’t exaggerate or be rhetorically effusive. Just keep your words short and meaningful. And stay away from vows.

RELATED

Liberty and Redemption in Leviticus 25 from a NT Perspective

SOURCES

Works Cited

Look for Harris at the link. I borrowed from him in my explorations into Leviticus.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s