Sometimes individuals among the people of God – in unique circumstances of prosperity or adversity – would vow that they would make certain offerings or devote certain properties to the service of the Lord. To such vows, most of this chapter refers. Under the influence of extraordinary zeal, a person, for example, might sometimes be induced to consecrate themselves, their children, or estate to God by a vow. But it was possible that upon reflection, in a cooler moment, the person might regret the step he had taken; or perhaps particular circumstances might render the literal performance of his vow inconvenient or unsuitable. In this case, provision was made here for the redemption of the persons or things thus consecrated; and a table of rates was given by which the priests were to be governed in their estimation of the value of the thing vowed.
It is good for us to be zealously moved and generously inclined for the Lord’s service; but the matter should be well-weighed, and prudence should direct us as to what we do. Otherwise, rash vows and the subsequent hesitation in fulfilling them will dishonor God and trouble our own minds. It does not appear that the laws in this chapter were given to promote this practice of redemption of vows; but rather, they were given for the purpose of simply placing a natural impulse of devotion under wise regulations. The point was to make a person think twice before rashly making a vow to the Lord that he later might not be able to perform; for in order for him to “redeem” what he had vowed, it would cost him dearly.
For example, if an Israelite – under one of these zealous impulses – vowed to bind himself or his child to be a servant of the Lord’s sanctuary, he might later commute that service by paying a specified monetary equivalent into the sacred treasury. This price of redemption varied between male and female, and also according to age; and if the person was too poor to pay the prescribed sum, it was in the discretion of the priest to fix upon some other amount that was proportionate to the person’s abilities and means. As we read this particular portion of this chapter, we ought to thank our Lord Jesus for willingly dedicating Himself to fulfill His Father’s holy will – without any possibility of changing His mind or going back on His Word – so that He might bring about our own redemption from slavery to sin, which would have held us in bondage forever!
If a vow related to the gift of an animal, it must by all means be offered in sacrifice – as long as it was suitable to be so offered (verses 9, 10). And whoever attempted to substitute it with a creature of inferior worth was punished by the forfeiture of both animals. If it was a ceremonially unclean animal that had been consecrated, the owner might still retain it if such was his wish after reflecting upon the matter – as long as he was willing to make a payment of what the priest declared to be its value, plus 20% over that value (verses 11-13). A house (verses 14, 15) or a farm that was consecrated as a religious offering might be redeemed upon the same conditions. The estimation of the value of a farm that was thus consecrated and redeemed was to be based upon the length of the interval between the time of the owner’s consecration of the property and the next Jubilee-year (verses 18, 19).
The firstborn of the Israelites’ animals were automatically consecrated to God (verse 26); therefore, a person could not pretend that they were “dedicating them to the Lord,” for they already belonged to Him. The firstborn of ceremonially unclean animals were to be redeemed by the owner’s paying the value of the animal plus 20% (verse 27). As for tithes, the Lord already had a claim upon these as well. Therefore, they could not be “dedicated” as if they were a special offering to God. Tithes of seed or fruit might be redeemed (verses 30, 31) – although there was still the requirement to pay a penalty of 20% of the value, because it was still a retraction by a human of what belonged to the Lord. As to the tithes of herds and flocks, redemption was not allowed at all (verses 32, 33). The owner, or the Levite whose office it was to set aside the tithes, held a rod in his hand and touched every tenth animal as it happened to come forward. Whatever passed under the rod – whether good or bad – was tithed and taken for the Lord. He did not require a good animal to be substituted if the rod had landed upon a bad one as the tenth passed by, neither did He allow the substitution of an inferior animal if the rod had touched the best in the whole flock. He seeks only what is His just due – teaching us to have a holy disregard of our own selfish interests.
The precepts and ceremonies in the Book of Leviticus were particularly given to the Jewish nation. Yet they do have a spiritual meaning, and thus they still teach us; for unto us, by these institutions, the Gospel is preached – just as it was unto them (Heb. 4:2). But thanks be to God that the doctrine of reconciliation to Him through a Mediator is not clouded with the smoke of burning sacrifices, for it is cleared by the knowledge of Christ crucified! Having boldness to enter into the Holy of Holies by Jesus’ blood, let us draw near with a true heart and in full assurance of faith – worshiping the Lord with cheerfulness and humble confidence; and exclaiming, “Blessed be God for our precious Redeemer!”
Dearest Jesus! Cause us to see that all the ordinances in this blessed Book were only shadows of better things to come in the Gospel. We thank You for being our Great High Priest – through Whose blood and righteousness, we may draw near to our God in full assurance of being accepted! Amen.
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