The Word Made Fresh
1The LORD said, “Moses, 2tell the people of Israel that when someone makes a specific promise to dedicate a person to the LORD, they will give an equal value. 3A man between the ages of twenty and sixty will be assessed fifty shekels of silver by the sanctuary scales. 4A woman will be assessed thirty shekels. 5If the person is between five and twenty years of age the assessment is twenty shekels for a boy or young man and ten for a girl or young woman. 6From six months to five years it is five shekels for a boy and three for a girl. 7And if the person is sixty or over, the assessment is fifteen shekels for a man and ten for a woman. 8If someone can’t afford the assessment they shall be brought to the priest who will assess them according to what each can afford.
9“When the promise concerns an animal for sacrifice to the LORD, it will be a sacred offering. 10No exchange can be made for it, and if one animal is substituted for another, both of them will be sacred. 11If the animal is not of a kind that can be offered, it shall be shown to the priest, 12and the priest will assess its value, and so it shall be, good or bad. 13If, however, the animal is to be bought back, twenty percent must be added to the assessment.
14“If someone dedicates a house to the LORD, the priest shall determine its value, and that will stand, like it or not. 15If the owner wishes to redeem the house, twenty percent must be added to the assessed value and the owner may have it back.
16“If someone dedicates to the LORD land that has been inherited it will be valued according to the seed it requires: fifty shekels of silver per six bushels of barley seed. 17That assessment is firm if the field is dedicated in the year of Jubilee 18but if not, the priest will calculate its value based on how many crops will be gathered until the next Jubilee, and its value reduced accordingly. 19If the one who dedicated the field wishes to buy it back, twenty percent will be added to its assessed value and it will then revert to the original owner. 20However, the field may not be redeemed if it has been sold to someone else. 21If the field is not redeemed by the year of Jubilee it will be set apart for the LORD and will become the property of the priest.
22“If the field being dedicated has been purchased and is not a part of the inherited landholding, 23the priest shall assess it according to the years remaining until the Jubilee and the assessment must be given that day as a sacred donation to the LORD. 24In the Jubilee year, the field must be returned to the one from whom it was bought. 25All the assessments are to be based on the sanctuary shekel, and one shekel is equal to twenty gerahs.
26“A firstborn animal, however, cannot be dedicated to the LORD because it already belongs to the LORD. 27If it is an unclean animal the one who dedicated it can buy it back at its assessed value plus twenty percent. If not redeemed it may be sold at its assessed value.
28“Anything a person owns that has been devoted to destruction for the LORD – human, animal or real estate – may be sold or redeemed. Everything devoted to the LORD is especially sacred. 29However, a person who has been sentenced to death may not be ransomed but must be executed.
30All the tithes that come from the land, be it grain or fruit, belong to the LORD and are to be held sacred. 31If someone wishes to redeem a tithe they must add twenty percent to it. 32All the tithes of herds and flocks, every tenth animal is sacred to the LORD. 33Don’t ask whether it is unblemished or not and don’t try to substitute another animal for it. If someone brings a substitute for it, then both animals shall be sacred and cannot be redeemed.”
34These are the laws the LORD gave to Moses on Mount Sinai for the people of Israel.
This chapter is a sort of clean-up list for the book of Leviticus as it outlines the rules for vows and offerings not covered in the rest of the book and settles certain questions that would have arisen: for example, what kinds of things can you offer to or devote to God? If you made such a vow or offering and then changed your mind, could you get it back since it was not required? What conditions and/or penalties might be involved if you took such offering or vow back?
And so, we have rules for:
2-8: The dedication of persons. Note that the values placed on different classes of people are based on the value of the labor the person is capable of, not on the person’s intrinsic value as a human being. We know that old people were especially revered, yet they are assessed a lower “value” because they are less able to perform heavy work. They are not less important.
9-10: The dedication of clean animals.
11-13: The dedication of unclean animals which are not to be used for sacrifice. “Unclean” does not mean “useless.” Camels and donkeys are most useful animals, but do not meet the definition of “clean.”
14-15: The dedication of houses.
16-24: The dedication of land.
25-37: Assorted rules on other types of vows.
Scholars have long noted that these laws presuppose an elaborate religious system more suitable to a settled nation of people than to nomadic tribes. The duties described in Chapter 27 are not obligatory on anyone but have to do with votive (voluntary) offerings and vows. They are not required. There are perhaps 3 reasons for such vows: to procure some blessing from God, to give thanks for some special favor received, and to spontaneously express one’s love and devotion to God. These are valid reasons for our offerings today.