The conclusion of the book of Leviticus is apropos because, like so much of the book, it is enigmatic. Once again we find ourselves scratching our heads and wondering, what is this all about?
You can be encouraged that the majority of commentators likewise confess that, when it comes to the exact nature of these laws, we frankly just don’t have sufficient information to be dogmatic. Harris representatively confesses, “It is difficult to understand this section fully because we know so little about the details of dedicating things to the Lord in ancient Israel.”1
Further, not only are there many questions regarding the details of these obscure laws, but there is also the uncomfortable appearance that this chapter is completely out of step with what has just been revealed. Now, we have been faced with this challenge before, but here it really does seem to be an incongruous fit. Several, more liberal commentators have even suggested that this is a later editorial addition. After all, chapter 26 is so powerfully prophetic that it does seem rather strange that the book would conclude with a chapter that seems so fastidious in matters of finance. But, as before with reference to Leviticus, looks can be deceiving.
Though chapter 27 may strike us as very cold and factual (and out of place, coming as it does on the heels of a chapter promising prosperity and threatening judgement), it actually fits perfectly.
In our journey through this book, we have encountered various themes, but all of them have dealt in some way with the matter of worship; specifically how to approach a holy God, given the sin in Israel’s midst. There was, therefore, much revelation with reference to sacrifices, the priesthood, and clean and unclean foods. But there were also the related matters of hygiene, emphasising that God is holy and those who approach Him must be holy (19:1-2; 20:7). But for any thinking Hebrew, it was apparent that they fell short. Therefore, the only way that they could really have a relationship with God would be by His grace. This is why the book of Leviticus, though couched in language of law, is really dripping with grace. The book is about how one can be right with God: by God’s sovereign grace through His provision of a substitutionary sacrifice on their behalf; in other words, by a Saviour appointed by God. Leviticus pointed them to Christ.
And so, after all that had been revealed about God’s grace what would be their response? After all the revelation of God’s gospel, the people would be asking, “Now what?” and chapter 27 provides the answer: They would be inwardly compelled to dedicate their persons and possessions to God. They would be motivated to make promises of consecration. This is both the root and the fruit of biblical worship.
So what does this have to do with us? Simply, as we contemplate God’s grace to us in Christ, we too will ask, in the light of the glorious gospel by which we have been saved, “Now what?” And the answer thunders forth, “Present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” (Romans 12:1). And as with our old covenant counterparts, such a reasonable response will be a life of promise-making and promise-keeping to be holy, as God is holy. Now, let’s see this from the text.
Our approach will be to see the general meaning of these verses (explanation) and then what we are to do with them (application).
I will simply give a brief description of these laws and save the application for later. But before applying, we need to understand what it is that we want to apply.
The issue in all of these verses is that of consecration, and it is in perfect sync with what has been revealed thus far.
The book opens with the prospect of worship: God would dwell in their midst and could be approached according to His rules. And His first rule was that a sacrifice was required. Hence, the first sacrifice prescribed was a burnt offering, which was a sacrifice given as a sign of dedication to God.
But as the book comes to a close, we see the same theme: offerings made to indicate one’s dedication (consecration) to the Lord. “No true worship can end without presenting ourselves and our substance to the Lord, Who provides all our benefits.”2 And therefore, “The location [of this chapter] establishes a balance between these laws (in this chapter) and the sacrificial laws of chapters 1—7. In other words, just as Leviticus opens with regulations, it closes with regulations.”3
Such a prospect of God being in their midst was bound to create great excitement. And therein lay the danger. For you see, great religious feelings can come and go. Dedications and commitments are often made in the heat of the religiously fervent moment, only to be forgotten later. As saying goes, marry in haste and repent in leisure. This is often the experience of those caught up with religious fervour. They make bold commitments and later, when the feelings subside, they fail to follow through. I am persuaded that this is what underlies the revelation of this final chapter of Leviticus. God wanted to leave them with this thought: “I am holy, and so when you come into My house, be sure that you come with integrity” (see Psalm 15, esp. v. 4).
Or, in the words recorded by Moses elsewhere, “When you make a vow to the LORD your God, you shall not delay to pay it; for the LORD your God will surely require it of you, and it would be sin to you. But if you abstain from vowing, it shall not be sin to you. That which has gone from your lips you shall keep and perform, for you voluntarily vowed to the LORD your God what you have promised with your mouth” (Deuteronomy 23:21-23).
And so, as gratitude welled up in their souls and burst forth with, “What shall I render to God for all of His benefits towards me?” God provided this chapter to stress that promises made are promises to be kept.
God keeps His promises; we must keep ours.
Another observation must be made: This matter of feeling would be especially keenly present after the nation heard the words of Leviticus 26. After all, a God who offered such promises and threatened such judgements was to be taken seriously.
After hearing especially of the threatened judgement, I would think that most would have denied that they would behave in such a blasphemously defiant way. On the contrary they would perhaps be moved to make loud claims of fidelity and would seek to prove it by making dedications to the Lord through various promised offerings. For this reason, the Lord here makes it clear that they should think before they speak. They should count the cost before putting their hand to the plough. As Wenham says, “It may well be part of the purpose of this chapter to discourage rash swearing by fixing a relatively high price for the discharge of the vows, and penalizing those who change their minds.”4
Let me explain.
If an Israelite dedicated himself or child, or a house, or a field, or an animal or some money, to the Lord and then later changed his mind, God did provide a way for them to escape judgement. They could redeem what they had dedicated. In most cases this involved the capital plus a punitive surcharge of 20%. This chapter would help worshippers to think twice before making such a commitment. “Vows made ‘to the LORD’ are voluntary, to be paid quickly and to be taken soberly (cf. Num. 30:2).”5
Let’s look at the various categories of things that could and could not be dedicated to the Lord.
The Consecration of Persons
In the opening eight verses, we have rules of redemption for someone who dedicated either themselves, or those for whom they were responsible, to the Lord.
Now the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When a man consecrates by a vow certain persons to the Lord, according to your valuation, if your valuation is of a male from twenty years old up to sixty years old, then your valuation shall be fifty shekels of silver, according to the shekel of the sanctuary. If it is a female, then your valuation shall be thirty shekels; and if from five years old up to twenty years old, then your valuation for a male shall be twenty shekels, and for a female ten shekels; and if from a month old up to five years old, then your valuation for a male shall be five shekels of silver, and for a female your valuation shall be three shekels of silver; and if from sixty years old and above, if it is a male, then your valuation shall be fifteen shekels, and for a female ten shekels.
But if he is too poor to pay your valuation, then he shall present himself before the priest, and the priest shall set a value for him; according to the ability of him who vowed, the priest shall value him.’”
Someone might feel a sense of profound gratitude to the Lord and respond with the desire to commit either himself or a family member to the Lord, specifically to serve Him fulltime. We have an example of this in 1 Samuel 1—2, where Hannah dedicated Samuel to the Lord. In that case Samuel, for whatever reason, was accepted as one who could work alongside the Levites in the tabernacle. But this, it would seem, was not the norm.
As Leviticus has made very clear, only the sons of Aaron and the tribe of Levi could minister in the tabernacle. But this did not mean that someone from another tribe could not show as much dedication to the Lord as those of the tribe of Levi. Someone could, as it were, be a surrogate Levite by offering money in the place of his actual person. This is what these opening eight verses regulated.
In such a case, there was a standard valuation according to gender and age. Before discussing the reasons for the variation of pricing, let’s note the prescribed values according to the various age divisions:
- A male between the ages of twenty and sixty years: fifty shekels.
- A female between the ages of twenty and sixty years: thirty shekels.
- A male between the ages of five and twenty years: twenty shekels.
- A female between the ages of five and twenty years: ten shekels.
- A male between the ages of one month and five years: five shekels.
- A female between the ages of one month and five years: three shekels.
- A male sixty years and older: fifteen shekels.
- A female sixty years and older: ten shekels.
Verse 8 informs us that, if these prices were unaffordable, a sliding scale (probably determined by the priests) was to be used. This suggests that everyone who desired to present themselves to the Lord should have the opportunity to do so.
The wage of an average (slave) worker was about one shekel per month, and hence this pricing might be the price of a slave. This makes good sense, for such consecration was a statement of submission to the Sovereign, “men who dedicate themselves to God become as it were God’s slaves, holy to the Lord.”6
This, of course, was a heavy expense, and most probably could not afford it. This would make v. 8 the norm for most who desired to express such consecration.
But how should we understand the variation of pricing?
The reason for the varying valuation had nothing to do with dignity but rather with potential productivity. If such consecrations were for the work of the tabernacle, this makes good sense. After all, to work in the tabernacle, with reference to the sacrifices, required a great deal of physical strength. The work of a priest was often the work of a butcher, and that is strenuous work.
It would seem that the ideal servant was a male between twenty and sixty, simply because of productivity.
As mentioned already, there is much about these laws that we simply do not know. One thing is clear: Whatever this consecration involved, it could be redeemed by a price, and as we have seen, the price was pricey! There are a few issues to be observed.
First, such a system offered everyone the opportunity of tabernacle service, even though in such a case it was somewhat of a surrogacy. If one felt compelled by affection for and devotion to the Lord, they could present themselves to the priest and ask for a valuation. They would then offer their money as a demonstration of their devotion to the Lord.
This, by the way, is precisely the message behind our financial giving. Our giving is a representative statement of giving ourselves to the Lord (see 2 Corinthians 8:1-5). Such a realisation will have a major effect on how and what we give.
Second, such a high price would discourage rash commitment. God wanted His people to count the cost before they committed. The purpose was not so that they would not consecrate themselves, but rather to drive home both the privilege and the seriousness of doing so.
Third, these prices meant that God took vows seriously. As Solomon observed, the Lord does not take pleasure in fools.
Walk prudently when you go to the house of God; and draw near to hear rather than to give the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they do evil.
Do not be rash with your mouth, and let not your heart utter anything hastily before God. For God is in heaven, and you on earth; therefore let your words be few. For a dream comes through much activity, and a fool’s voice is known by his many words. When you make a vow to God, do not delay to pay it; for He has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you have vowed—better not to vow than to vow and not pay.
Fourth, in such cases the monies for the vows were no doubt used to fund the work of the tabernacle. Freewill offerings have always been a means of supporting God’s work. Worship is costly. And the costs are to be covered by those who love the Lord.
Fifth, according to v. 8, money or the lack of it is never a barrier to serving the Lord. This provision was the Lord’s invitation to all of His people to give what they could; to serve as they were able. Did Jesus not consider the widow’s penny far greater sacrifice than the larger amounts given by those who could easily afford it (Luke 21:1-4)?
The Consecration of Animals
Verses 9-13 primarily address the issue of someone consecrating an animal to the Lord but perhaps later changing their mind. There are two categories mentioned.
Clean, Sacrificial Animals
First, there was the category of clean, sacrificial animals.
If it is an animal that men may bring as an offering to the Lord, all that anyone gives to the Lord shall be holy. He shall not substitute it or exchange it, good for bad or bad for good; and if he at all exchanges animal for animal, then both it and the one exchanged for it shall be holy.
In such a case, the animal could not be redeemed. This is made known by the words, “shall be holy.” That is, the animal was completely separated unto the Lord and therefore must be sacrificed.
The Lord here provides a regulation that was meant to put a fence around this law. For instance an individual might make the promise to give a particular animal as a sacrifice and then later reconsider. He might try to sneak another animal in its place. If this was discovered by the priest, then both the originally promised animal and the substitute were required. Hence, it was far better not to promise then to vow and then try to avoid its fulfilment. God was seeking to guard His people from dishonesty.
Unclean, Non-Sacrificial Animals
The second category was unclean animals.
If it is an unclean animal which they do not offer as a sacrifice to the Lord, then he shall present the animal before the priest; and the priest shall set a value for it, whether it is good or bad; as you, the priest, value it, so it shall be. But if he wants at all to redeem it, then he must add one-fifth to your valuation.
God would not accept an unclean animal as a sacrifice but He would accept a monetary substitute. Therefore, this law prescribed that an individual could bring an unclean animal to the priest who would assess its monetary value. The worshipper would then give the monetary equivalent as a gift in its place. The Lord would gladly receive such a sacrifice.
In the event, however, that a person made such a promise and then, for whatever reason, did not keep his promise, he could pay the assessed amount plus a punitive surcharge of 20%. This surcharge was an admission of guilt in keeping with the trespass offering (5:14-19). It is a serious thing to break your promise to God.
The story is told of a farmer whose cow fell pregnant. In gratitude, the farmer vowed to the Lord that the calf would be his. When the cow delivered twins, the farmer’s wife asked which calf was the Lord’s. the farmer replied that he would decide later.
Some days later, one calf died. The farmer sadly said to his wife, “The Lord’s calf died!”
This law, however, ensured that the loser in such a transaction would not be God.
The Consecration of Property
Verses 14-25 prescribe the consecration of houses and fields.
Someone might desire to give his house and/or field to the Lord as an act of thanksgiving and worship. He was free to do so, but ultimately such gifts were regulated by the Jubilee Laws. You will remember that no one actually owned the fields, and even houses were protected by law so that they remained within a family or clan. Nevertheless, before the Jubilee restoration, one was free to offer their property to the Lord.
This passage is somewhat confusing but I will attempt to explain it as simply as I can. The passage divides into two major sections: the consecration of a house (vv. 14-15); and the dedication of a field (vv. 16-25).
The Consecration of Houses
One was free to make the substantial contribution of a house to the Lord.
And when a man dedicates his house to be holy to the Lord, then the priest shall set a value for it, whether it is good or bad; as the priest values it, so it shall stand. If he who dedicated it wants to redeem his house, then he must add one-fifth of the money of your valuation to it, and it shall be his.
In such a case the priests were value it as to whether it was “good or bad,” as well as its monetary value. I assume that “good or bad” refers to the leprosy laws (chapter 14), which would render it either acceptable or unacceptable.
This amount would then be given by the worshipper to the priests. By the way, the priesthood was responsible to make sure that the offerer did not fudge on the condition of the house, though perhaps tempted by material concerns to do so.
But perhaps the worshipper then changed his mind. If so, he could redeem the house at the price stipulated plus a twenty percent punitive surcharge. With such a pricey risk, we can assume that such offerings were quite rare.
Harrison helpfully observes, “Individual motivation is therefore of prime concern in this chapter, so that irrational, frivolous, or overenthusiastic acts will be minimized, if not excluded altogether.” What the people promised, God held them accountable to pay.
This principle, by the way, explains in part God’s seemingly extreme measures against Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5.
The Consecration of Fields
This passage divides into two types of consecrated fields: inherited fields and purchased fields.
There was the possibility of consecrating to the Lord an inherited field.
If a man dedicates to the Lord part of a field of his possession, then your valuation shall be according to the seed for it. A homer of barley seed shall be valued at fifty shekels of silver. If he dedicates his field from the Year of Jubilee, according to your valuation it shall stand. But if he dedicates his field after the Jubilee, then the priest shall reckon to him the money due according to the years that remain till the Year of Jubilee, and it shall be deducted from your valuation. And if he who dedicates the field ever wishes to redeem it, then he must add one-fifth of the money of your valuation to it, and it shall belong to him. But if he does not want to redeem the field, or if he has sold the field to another man, it shall not be redeemed anymore; but the field, when it is released in the Jubilee, shall be holy to the Lord, as a devoted field; it shall be the possession of the priest.
Here is the gist of the matter: A person desired to consecrate to the Lord the produce of his inherited fields (the land, of course, belonged to the Lord). The valuation was based upon weight of the crops (a “homer” in v. 16 probably refers to a donkey load). The valuation also took into consideration the proximity to the Jubilee. The further from Jubilee, the greater the price, the closer to it, the less the price. Perhaps also the priests were being given this land for them to work and to gain a profit from the crops. Regardless, the original landowner might change his mind. In such a case he or a family member could redeem the field along with the twenty percent punitive surcharge. That was the honest approach: admit that you over-committed and settle the matter financially.
However, there was another possibility—on the part of the unscrupulous. We read of this in vv. 20-21.
In this scenario, a man had consecrated his field but not his heart. He did not pay the required price (perhaps over time as the crops came in). Rather than honourably settling his obligation, he simply and sinfully reneged. He would not redeem the field, in violation of the agreement, But there was also the possibility that the he would also sell the field to another—under the nose of the priests!
In such a situation the priests would, it appear, let the matter lie—until the next Jubilee. Then it would be payday! The field would not return to the original owner but rather would be forever considered “holy to the LORD” (v. 21). The priest(s) would now become the perpetual owners of this property. The one who made the vow and then deceitfully broke it would lose what he vowed—and a lot more. God was not to be trifled with. Those who refused to keep their commitments would forfeit a lot more than they ever thought.
A person could also potential devote a purchased field to the Lord.
And if a man dedicates to the Lord a field which he has bought, which is not the field of his possession, then the priest shall reckon to him the worth of your valuation, up to the Year of Jubilee, and he shall give your valuation on that day as a holy offering to the Lord. In the Year of Jubilee the field shall return to him from whom it was bought, to the one who owned the land as a possession. And all your valuations shall be according to the shekel of the sanctuary: twenty gerahs to the shekel.
In this scenario a person might purchase a field from another and then consecrate it to the Lord. The same method of valuation and the same rules applied as above. However, in this case, the field returned at the Jubilee to the original owner. Such an occurrence doubtless was rare, since such a gift would have been twice that of giving one’s own land.
One more observation is in order. Verse 26 explains that the valuations were not arbitrary but rather were based on the standard as set by the sanctuary. Though I am uncertain as to what all of that entailed, it does suggest that such valuations could not be manipulated by the priests. This would serve as a check on greed and dishonesty on their part. Fairness and integrity was the responsibility of all parties (cf. 1 Timothy 6:9-11ff).
The Consecration of What is Expected
In the final section (vv. 26-34), the various categories mentioned all have to do with that which is expected to be given to the Lord anyway. Until now, the content has primarily covered voluntary offerings (v. 9 is an exception). But here the Lord gives instructions about offerings that He had already demanded. The purpose seems to be to protect the people from taking that which did not belong to them and to guard them from assuming that they were honouring God exceptionally when really they were only obeying Him as expected. The Lord was helping them to learn not to assume that they were giving to God when in fact they were robbing God!
The Consecration of the Firstborn
The Lord makes it clear that the people could not consecrate to God what already belonged to Him.
But the firstborn of the animals, which should be the Lord’s firstborn, no man shall dedicate; whether it is an ox or sheep, it is the Lord’s. And if it is an unclean animal, then he shall redeem it according to your valuation, and shall add one-fifth to it; or if it is not redeemed, then it shall be sold according to your valuation.
God had already spoken to the issue of the firstborn (Exodus 13:2; 22:29-30). Someone could not then pretend that they were doing anything extraordinary by offering their firstborn. This, by extension, also prohibited the redeeming of the firstborn. It had to be given to the Lord; this was not so much a voluntary offering as it was prescribed. God expected them to give to Him what was His by law.
If the firstborn was an unclean animal, however, then it could not be given as a sacrifice. But God wanted it nonetheless. So rather than being sacrificed it was to be evaluated and sold, and the proceeds went to the priests. If one chose to redeem it then he could at the valued price plus the twenty percent punitive surcharge.
The Consecration of the Condemned
This is a difficult passage to decipher. It may refer to special occasions in which the Lord gave direct communication regarding a special offering that He required. Therefore, this law was saying that we need to keep our hands off those things that God has set apart completely to Himself.
Nevertheless no devoted offering that a man may devote to the LORD of all that he has, both man and beast, or the field of his possession, shall be sold or redeemed; every devoted offering is most holy to the LORD. No person under the ban, who may become doomed to destruction among men, shall be redeemed, but shall surely be put to death.
Let me illustrate the intention of this law from the story of Achan as recorded in Joshua 6—7.
God had given specific commands that none of the spoils from Jericho were to be taken by His people. Rather they were all to be considered “doomed by the LORD” (6:17), “accursed” (6:18) and “consecrated to the LORD” (v. 19). They were uniquely His and therefore were what became known in Israel as being “under the ban.” This is what Leviticus 26:28-29 refers to. It seems that this law was with particular reference to the spoils of war; spoils to which Israel would one day have much exposure.
In the battle of Jericho, you will remember that Achan took of the “accursed” things (Joshua 7:1), with the result that he and his family were destroyed by God. They took what uniquely belonged to God and they dearly for. This law in Leviticus was designed to protect His people from touching what was His.
Verse 29 speaks of people being “under the ban” and this refers to particular individuals who had so offended God that He had pronounced the death sentence upon them. Ross is very helpful here: “The basic idea of the Hebrew word is that the person or thing was devoted to God; it could either be sanctified for use in his service or utterly destroyed. But it was banned from possession or use by humans.”7 Its placement here may serve as a protection against someone seeking to consecrate someone to the Lord (vv. 1-8) who did not qualify. The Lord determined who was and who was not an acceptable sacrifice (Romans 12:1-2).
God’s point is that no monetary payment could deliver them. They could not be redeemed by cash.
This law may have been given as a means of securing justice. God was saying that He was not interested in that being preserved which He had appointed for destruction. Regardless of one’s motives, the Lord was saying that obedience was better than sacrifice (see 1 Samuel 15:22).
We can learn from this that that which God has pronounced “anathema” is to be respected and not debated. Those who will not be saved are appointed by God to destruction and true worship requires that we submit to His will.
The principle for us is that God gets to make the rules of what He will and what will not accept. Don’t play games with that which belongs to the Lord. To do so is to be guilty of pharasaism (see Matthew 15:1-9).
The Consecration of the Tithe
The tithe is another category that was an expected offering and should not be viewed as anything special. To tithe was simply to fulfil one’s duty before the Lord.
And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the tree, is the LORD’s. It is holy to the LORD. If a man wants at all to redeem any of his tithes, he shall add one-fifth to it. And concerning the tithe of the herd or the flock, of whatever passes under the rod, the tenth one shall be holy to the LORD. He shall not inquire whether it is good or bad, nor shall he exchange it; and if he exchanges it at all, then both it and the one exchanged for it shall be holy; it shall not be redeemed.
The tithe is expected, not exceptional. You cannot give to someone that which He already owns!
However, one might make a vow to give over and above the tithe. One might decide to give a tithe of his existing flock. If so, God prescribed how to do this.
As the flock passed “under the rod” (upon entering the fold), every tenth one was to be given in fulfilment of the vow to the Lord. One was not to inspect the flock with a view to giving the weakest to the Lord. Rather, in this fair way, the vow was to be fulfilled. But if one sought to cheat the system, then both the good animal and the weak substitute were required by the Lord (see also v. 10). The people were better off simply obeying!
The same rule of redemption applied here. If one chose to “borrow” the tithe, he could do so, but the twenty percent punitive surcharge applied.
This final verse brings both the chapter and the book to a close: “These are the commandments which the LORD commanded Moses for the children of Israel on Mount Sinai” (v. 34). The LORD had revealed commandments both in this chapter and throughout the book to Moses on Mount Sinai, and now the people were to obey them. They were required and expected to worship God according to His prescribed ways.
Having looked at these laws, what are we to take away from this chapter?
The key principle is simply this: Biblical worship requires matters of the heart, matters of integrity. Those who are worshippers by the grace of God in Christ are to keep their promises. The gospel moves us to great feeling toward God and we respond with faithful commitment to Him.
Leviticus 27 captures our hearts. We can relate to this kind of response to the grace of God. Though this chapter did not require such vows of consecration, nevertheless an appreciation of God’s kindness and nearness might so move the recipients that they would make such a heartfelt vow.
This is precisely what the New Testament counts on, as seen in Romans 12:1-2.
I want to be careful here, but I think we should be so slow to speak of these vows as necessarily being irresponsible. In fact such consecrations are what Paul called “reasonable.” God is not so much seeking to inhibit such vows as He is seeking to provide sufficient revelation so that His people will make an informed vow.
When you consider the amazing grace of God in delivering the nation of Israel from Egypt; when you consider their soon-thereafter failures (Exodus 15, 32); when you consider God’s unapproachable holiness and yet His willingness to dwell among them; and when you consider God’s gracious offer of prosperity (26:3-13); it is understandable that your heart will cry out, “What can I render unto God for all His benefits to me?” This, it seems to me, is what lay behind such consecrations.
Now, if the old covenant people of God would be moved to make such commitments, then how much more should we? In fact, I would argue that for most of the old covenant people to make such vows would have been irresponsible, but that every one of God’s new covenant people should make such consecrations.
Again, as we have learned, the majority of the old covenant people were unbelievers. And unbelievers have nothing to offer to God. But perhaps this is precisely the point. God wanted them to count the cost as a means of examining their hearts. And if their hearts were not with the Lord, then He did not want their possessions.
But those who have been born again should surrender all to Him. Yes, we still need to make informed vows, but we should make vows nonetheless! We vow our lives to the Lord, and when we do so we are by default surrendering all (cf. 2 Corinthians 8:1-5). Therefore, count the cost and then pay it!
Pastorally, I would simply say that we should be careful about being overly cautious. We are probably too calculating and too hesitant. Going with your heart is not necessarily wrong. In fact, in every situation at BBC in which we as a church have been confronted with the opportunity to give above the regular, I have ended up giving more than I initially promised. This has occurred as I have considered God’s grace to me and His ability to supply. What I am saying is that we should be radical in vow-making—not ridiculous, but reasonably radical.
These laws, I believe, were intended to serve as an encouragement to make a vow, not as a discouragement from doing so.
If God had the power to deliver Israel from Egyptian oppression through the awesome display of His power in the plagues, then surely He could meet their needs in the light of a large vow. I would argue that these laws, and the punitive surcharges for failure to fulfil them, were given not to discourage the people from making vows but rather to motivate them to keep the vows they made. In other words, if you made such a vow, be encouraged to keep it; the Lord will be honoured and will provide!
I will not spend a lot of time here, but this chapter clearly speaks to the issue of funding the tabernacle. It is connected with a very practical means of funding the proper worship of God as prescribed in this book.
The priesthood was essential for old covenant worship and it required material support. This passage reveals the principle that the heart funds the house of God.
As the people of God were moved to love and to serve the Lord, then worship would be a priority—worship at God’s appointed place. Of course, there are very relevant parallels with the new covenant people of God.
Without going into great detail, the local church is funded by the tithes and freewill offerings of its membership. Of course, some would say that it is supported completely by freewill offerings (i.e. those who reject the notion that new covenant people are obligated to the tithe). Regardless, the local church is vital to the worship of His people, and God expects His church—His tabernacle and His temple—to be supported by the gifts of His people.
But this support is to come from hearts that have been moved by grace to give. All of our giving is to be grace giving. We are therefore to give cheerfully and without grudging (2 Corinthians 9:6-8).
Jesus said that our treasure is where our heart is (Matthew 6:21). As those touched and transformed by the grace of God we should be happy and willing to part with what He has given to us as an act of worship, which in turn will support the larger extension of worship.
The final issue that we will look at with reference to this passage is the matter of faithfulness to God as displayed specifically in the keeping of promises.
Let me remind you of the context of this chapter.
In chapter 26, the Lord had made many promises, positive and negative. And as we have seen, God kept His promises (He always does). But in chapter 27, God told His people that he expected them to keep theirs.
As I have indicated, the purpose of the punitive surcharge was not primarily to keep the people from making such vows but rather to help them keep the ones they made. Listen to how the psalmist echoed this charge:
Lord, who may abide in Your tabernacle? Who may dwell in Your holy hill? He who walks uprightly, and works righteousness, and speaks the truth in his heart; he who does not backbite with his tongue, nor does evil to his neighbour, nor does he take up a reproach against his friend; in whose eyes a vile person is despised, but he honours those who fear the LORD; He who swears to his own hurt and does not change.
Moses echoed this principle a little later when he wrote, “But if you abstain from vowing, it shall not be sin to you. That which has gone from your lips you shall keep and perform, for you voluntarily vowed to the LORD your God what you have promised with your mouth” (Deuteronomy 23:22-23). And Solomon added, “When you make a vow to God, do not delay to pay it; for He has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you have vowed—better not to vow than to vow and not pay. Do not let your mouth cause your flesh to sin, nor say before the messenger of God that it was an error. Why should God be angry at your excuse and destroy the work of your hands? For in the multitude of dreams and many words there is also vanity. But fear God” (Ecclesiastes 5:4-7).
And in the New Testament, Jesus said, “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’ But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:33-37).
God’s character is truthful and we are to reflect that to others. In keeping our promises—in the fulfilment of our vows—we bring glory to God. “Breaking a vow is analogous to putting one’s hand to the plough and looking back. To keep the vow of a life dedicated to the service of Christ is the most acceptable means of worshipping a holy and perfect God.”8
Sadly many Christians fail in this very area.
I am not here limiting this consideration to divorce but include the violation of our vows to love, honour and to cherish. I am speaking of the vow of husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church, and of a wife’s vow to respectfully submit to her husband. This could be fleshed out much more, but the point is that our marriages are to be marked by promise-keeping. If we don’t keep our promises, then we too will pay a punitive surcharge that is far greater than any financial amount!
Consider also the vows with reference to baptism. This is no mere formalities, but a confession of commitment that God expects us to keep.
Baptism is no small matter! When you publicly declare that you will follow Christ, you are accountable to do so. The church has the right to take your word at face value and to hold you accountable. In fact, if it does not, then the church is failing to keep its vows! Therefore, when you wander, the church must, as someone has said, grab you by your baptismal robes!
A professing Christian who rejects church membership should be treated as such; that is, as a professing Christian. The Bible knows nothing of a Christian who is not a member of a local church. To be a follower of Christ is to be a lover of that which He loves: the church. And with that relationship comes accountability to fulfil one’s vows.
BBC has a church covenant, which must not to be treated as a mere formality. And if we do not keep it, we will pay a price.
Do others see that you are a faithful member of the church? How do they see you on the Lord’s Day? How do they view your interaction with your church? How do they see your treatment of church members? What do your children hear around the lunch table after a church service or on the way home in the car?
Much more could be said, but suffice it to say for now that we are to be people of our word. We are to be promise-keepers. God is. His people are to reflect this. BBC, we must keep our membership vows!
Parents, when you are given a child, God expects you to fulfil your responsibility to raise that child for Christ—regardless of whether or not you stand before the congregation to commit to do so. How are you doing?
Let me summarise this with the words of Ross: “The Bible reminds people that what they promise to God they must do. Believers must keep their word and show to the world that truth and faithfulness can be found in the household of faith, for the faithfulness of the LORD’s word is often seen in the words of his people.”9
As we come to the conclusion, both of this chapter and of the book, we need to see the ultimate fulfilment of both.
No man has ever perfectly kept his vows and promises—no man, that is, but Jesus Christ. The first man broke covenant with God and was ejected from Eden. Every person since has been plagued—blotted—with unfaithfulness. We do not perfectly keep our promises. We lie. But Jesus was different. He kept His vows. And because He did, we can make and keep ours.
The Lord Jesus Christ consecrated Himself to the Father—completely. He did not give a substitute offering in His place but rather literally gave Himself as an offering (see Hebrews 10:5-10). Before the foundation of the world, Jesus made a promise to come to earth and to take up a body prepared for Him; a body that would be put to death. And when the time arrived, He came. He kept His Word, and because of that we have a Saviour.
Jesus’ faithfulness to keep His promise, out of great feeling for His Father, makes our worship possible. I say this reverently, but Jesus’ faithfulness, out of great and devoted feeling (affection) for His Father “funded” our worship. That is, it made our worship possible (John 4:21-26).
It is precisely because Jesus made and kept His vow that we make vows in the context of worship. We want to make vows to Christ because He made vows for us. And because we have the Spirit of Christ, sent by the Father and Christ, we can keep those vows.
So, how do we end this study?
We who have been saved are so much better off than the old covenant people of God. We are not bound to bring animal sacrifices, nor are we under the various purification rituals prescribed in Leviticus. Neither do we need to worry about the covenantal curses because we have circumcised hearts; hearts regenerated by the Spirit of God. How much more then should we present our bodies as living sacrifices! Let us, with great feeling, be faithful and fund the worship of God, both here and abroad. They who only had the shadow failed in their stewardship. But we who have experienced the substance—that is Christ—have the privilege to sacrifice all to and for Him.
And so, although there is much that the new covenant leaves behind in Leviticus, the shadow having become the substance, nevertheless the commands remains, “Be holy as I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15-16). Believer, as you are moved by God’s grace, make the promise to be holy. And then by, God’s grace, be a promise keeper.
- R. Laird Harris, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 12 vols. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990), 2:650. ↩
- Allen P. Ross, Holiness to the Lord: A Guide to the Exposition of the Book of Leviticus (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 488-89. ↩
- Robert I. Vasholz, Leviticus: A Mentor Commentary (Ross-shire: Mentor, 2007), 354. ↩
- Gordon J. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus: The New International Commentary on the Old Testament(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), 337. ↩
- Vasholz, Leviticus, 347. ↩
- Wenham, The Book of Leviticus, 342. ↩
- Ross, Holiness to the Lord, 494. ↩
- R. K. Harrison, Leviticus: Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1980), 239. ↩
- Ross, Holiness to the Lord, 495. ↩