(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.
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.
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.”
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.)
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
And he shall give thine estimation in that day.
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.
Both of man and beast, and of the field of his possession.
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.)
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.
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).
And if he change it at all.
In Mount Sinai.—In the mountainous district of Sinai. (See Leviticus 26:46.)