“Adonai said to Moshe, “Tell the people of Israel, ‘If someone makes a clearly defined vow to Adonai to give him an amount equal to the value of a human being, the value you are to assign to a man between the ages of twenty and sixty years is to be fifty shekels of silver [one-and-a-quarter pounds], with the sanctuary shekel being the standard, if a woman, thirty shekels.“-Leviticus 27:1-4
So let’s begin our text study of Leviticus chapter 27.
Starting off immediately from verse 1, the context begins by discussing “vows to the Lord” and how to manage whatever it was that was vowed.
Upon first reading, the contents of this chapter may seem a bit complicated but actually it’s pretty simple.
Let me ask you this.
On the spur of the moment, have you ever made a rash vow to God that you later wish you hadn’t made?
People do it all the time, especially when they’re faced with a threatening or dangerous situation, or they REALLY, REALLY want something.
What’s interesting is that folks who never before had an interest in God, once they find themselves entangled in some difficult situation, they SUDDENLY find religion and begin begging God to rescue them.
“Lord, if you get me this job so I can pay my rent, I promise I’ll tithe 50% of my income!”
“Lord, if you make that attractive girl I met at the Bible study my wife, I promise I’ll never lust after another woman again!”
“Lord, if you bring me back home from this war in one piece, I promise I’ll volunteer at least 20 hours a week to help the homeless”
…and so on.
These type of off-the-cuff impulsive vows are good illustrations of what Leviticus 27 is all about.
The ancient Hebrews were normal people just like us and they made vows to God all the time especially when they were worried or scared about something or on the other hand when they were feeling particularly pious like right after listening to a really inspiring sermon.
However, one major difference between the vow-making of the ancient Hebrews and us is that in those days the vows were PUBLIC DECLARATIONS, they were made known to the priests and accompanied with much ritual.
So everybody knew about it.
In other words, if you made a vow, you were stuck with it.
But, here’s the thing.
The TORAH allowed you to pay money to get out of the vow you had made.
Understand, that in the Bible, a vow ALWAYS INCLUDED giving God something of value like property you owned.
So when you paid money to get out of a vow, you typically had to pay 120% of the market value of whatever item you had given to God when you made your vow.
Here’s a simple example.
Let’s say you have a job interview coming up at a company that you just have to pass.
You go to God and tell Him, “if you make sure I pass this interview, I will faithfully donate 40% of my income to the temple”.
And to back up your vow, you hand over the deed to property you own totaling let’s just say $10,000 for simplicity’s sake.
So God comes through and you end up acing the interview and getting the job.
But afterwards, you have a change of mind and decide you don’t want to donate 40% of your monthly income to the temple,
Therefore, you make a decision to redeem your vow for a price.
Since the typical redemption price was 120% of the item you gave when you made your vow, you would have to pay $10,000 plus 20% of $10,000 which would come to a total of $12,000.
Once you paid that, you were released from the vow you had made to God.
However, in verse 1, instead of property, the item of value being offered up as part of the vow is a human being.
But we’re not talking about slaves here.
This is a situation where the person is offering up him or herself!
In other words, the person is offering to give service to the Sanctuary (or the temple).
But 99% of the time, giving service to the Temple was NOT even possible because the Torah only permitted the Levites and priests to serve at the Temple.
Ordinary Israelites were prohibited.
It would have been possible for an ordinary Israelite to work for a priest outside of temple duties but that’s not what is being discussed here.
Also, in the form of a Nazarite vow, service could be offered to God by dedicating one’s self to the Lord but this type of service did NOT involve temple duties but was instead service in different ways such as by serving as a judge or a Prophet.
Samson and Samuel are prime examples of individuals who were dedicated to God via Nazarite vows.
Since in the majority of cases, an ordinary Israelite who vowed “himself” to serve in the Sanctuary was prohibited from doing so, he had no choice but to pay his way out of or redeem the vow he made.
Hence, verses 3-8 are all about explaining how the priest was to calculate the amount of money the person who took the vow needed to pay to get out of the vow he had impulsively made.
Here are the amounts:
Men 20-60 years old: 50 shekels
Women 20-60 years old: 30 shekels
Boys 5-20 years old: 20 shekels
Girls 5-20 years old: 10 shekels
Male toddlers 1 month-5 years old: 5 shekels
Female toddlers 1 month-5 years old: 3 shekels
Elderly male over 60: 15 shekels
Elderly female over 60: 10 shekels
The Rabbis call this chart of values “the Principle of Equivalents”.
At first glance, the amounts listed may not seem like a lot of money, but in that era, the wages for one month’s work came to about ONE SHEKEL.
Think of one shekel as equaling one month!
If a guy between the ages of 20-60 years old made some rash vow and he wanted to get out of, it would cost him more than four years worth of wages to redeem himself from his vow of service to the Sanctuary or Temple.
Holy pop tarts!!!
Best to do what Yeshua said and not even make a vow at all.
CONNECTING THIS TEACHING TO THE NEW TESTAMENT
“Again, you have heard that our fathers were told,
‘Do not break your oath,’and
‘Keep your vows to Adonai.’
But I tell you not to swear at all —
not ‘by heaven,’ because it is God’s throne;
not ‘by the earth,’ because it is his footstool;
and not ‘by Jerusalem,’ because it is
the city of the Great King.
And don’t swear by your head,
because you can’t make a single hair white or black.
Just let your ‘Yes’ be a simple ‘Yes,’
and your ‘No’ a simple ‘No’;
anything more than this has its origin in evil.
“Above all, brothers, stop swearing oaths —
not “By heaven,” not “By the earth,”
and not by any other formula;
rather, let your “Yes” be simply “Yes”
and your “No” simply “No,”
so that you won’t fall under condemnation.”