Lesson 14: Chapter 27
Ten Laws Concerning Funding the Sanctuary through Votive Offerings and Tithes

Beloved God and Father,
In every generation You provide for Your covenant people. We, in turn, are responsible for spiritually maintaining Your covenant and materially providing for Your holy Church and her priests.  We thank You and praise You, Lord, for Your unending generosity to Your covenant family.  Help us to show the same kind of generosity in bring our tithes and offerings to Your Sanctuary that we may give with an open hand and an open heart.  We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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If you make a vow to Yahweh your God, you must not be slack about fulfilling it: Yahweh your God will certainly hold you answerable for it and you will incur guilt.  If, however, you make no vow, you do not incur guilt.  Whatever passes your lips you must keep to, and the vow that you have made to Yahweh, your generous God, you must fulfill.  Deuteronomy 23:22/21-24/23

Just as the covenant with Israel began with ten laws (Ten Commandments), now the divine instruction in Leviticus concludes with ten laws concerning gifts to the Sanctuary, including gifts for vows of devotion to God for persons, animals, houses, inherited land, and purchased land.  There are also rules for the redemption of firstborn animals, the procedure for tithes from produce and tithes from livestock.  The majority of the Book of Leviticus addressed acceptable sacrifice and worship associated with Yahweh’s Sanctuary, but there can be no Sanctuary without the necessary funds to maintain it—money to purchase:

The rules for the discharge of vows associated with gifts to the Sanctuary and the principle of tithes, first-fruits and other gifts will provide the necessary funds to maintain the Sanctuary and the priesthood (Ex 13:11-16; Lev 7:16; 22:21; Num 18:8-32; 30:3-16; Dt 12:6-12; 14:22-29; 15:19-23; 23:19, 22-24).

Some scholars suggest that Chapter 27 was originally not part of the Book of Leviticus and describe it as a postscript or appendix written at a later period.  They point out that the instruction in Chapter 27 is fundamentally different from the subject matter in the preceding chapters and probably belongs to the period of the Jerusalem Temple. However, other scholars point out that it makes complete sense that the book should conclude with a list of ten laws addressing what was necessary to keep the Sanctuary functioning as the center of life for the covenant people. God’s concerns are practical and reasonable as well as spiritual.  It can also be argued that there is something of a balance between Chapter 27 and Leviticus Chapters 1-7.  Chapters 1-7 include divine instruction for an individual’s voluntary offerings and for an individual’s compulsory offerings:

It is a fitting that this body of legislation should conclude with a section that addresses the people’s voluntary gifts and compulsory tithes that supported both the Sanctuary and the priesthood.  Then too, throughout the Exodus experience Yahweh has vowed His faithfulness to Israel.  It is fitting that the people should be expected to be careful in vowing gifts to Yahweh that are appropriate, that the person in good faith intends to fulfill and to not vow what already belongs to God.   

The rules for gifts to the Sanctuary begin with an introduction, followed by three sections addressing: vows of persons and animals, the consecration of houses and fields, the rules for first-fruits, proscriptions and tithes.  The list of rules concludes with a summary:

  1. Introduction (vs. 1-2a)
  2. Vows of persons and animals (vs. 2b-13)
    1. Persons (vs. 2a-8)
    2. Animals (vs. 9-13)
  3. Consecration of houses and fields (vs. 14-25)
    1. Houses (vs. 14-15)
    2. Fields (vs. 16-24)
      1. ‘Ahuzzah (ancestral) land (vs. 22-24)
      2. Purchases land (vs. 22-24)
  4. Restrictions on consecrated objects (vs. 26-33)
    1. Firstlings (vs. 26-27)
    2. Proscriptions (vs. 28-29)
    3. Tithes (vs. 30-33)
      1. Crops (vs. 30-31)
      2. Animals (vs. 32-33)
  5. Summary (vs. 34)

The Ten Laws Concerning Vows and Tithes:

  1. Dedication of persons
  2. Dedication of animals
  3. Dedication of Houses
  4. Dedication of inherited lands
  5. Dedication of purchases land
  6. Prohibition of dedication of firstborn
  7. Procedure for total devotion to the Lord
  8. Procedure for the total devotion of a person to the Lord
  9. Procedure for tithes from the produce of the land
  10. Procedure for tithes from the livestock

Please read Leviticus 27:1-8: Persons Dedicated to God
Law #1: 1 Yahweh spoke to Moses and said: 2 ‘Speak to the Israelites and say: “If anyone vows the value of a person to Yahweh and wished to discharge the vow: 3 a man between twenty and sixty years of age will be valued at fifty silver shekels—the sanctuary shekel; 4 a woman will be valued at thirty shekels; 5 between five and twenty years, a boy will be valued at twenty shekels; a girl at ten shekels; 6 between one month and five years, a boy will be valued at five silver shekels, a girl at three silver shekels; 7 at sixty years and over, a man will be valued at fifteen shekels and a woman at ten shekels.  8 If the person who made the vow cannot meet this valuation, he will present the person concerned to the priest, and the priest will set a value proportionate to the resources of the person who made the vow.

Question: What is the subject of this section?
Answer: The dedication of persons to God.

The chapter begins by identifying the subject of this section of the law which is “special vows;” expressed as yapli’ neder in Hebrew.  Neder is the Hebrew word for “vow” while yapli’ is from the word pala’, meaning “to be extraordinary, surpassing” (Ross, Holiness to the Lord, page 492).  The “extraordinary vows” were vows that dedicate to Yahweh the most precious of gifts—the dedication of persons.  Initially the Israelites were called to be a nation of priests with every first born son of every family serving Yahweh in the ministerial priesthood.  But after the sin of the Golden Calf, only members of the tribe of Levi could serve in the Sanctuary as God’s representatives to the covenant people.  However, one could dedicate his or her life in service to Yahweh through an extraordinary vow—dedicating one’s life or the life of a child for a period of time or for a lifetime. 

Vows of service were often made in times of distress: in times of sickness, the peril of childbirth, or when a barren woman or a childless couple petitioned God for a child.  If a person regretted making such a vow later, then God in His mercy provided a way out so that the person could be released from the vow by paying a substitution fee in silver shekels.  The valuation was made according to gender and age.

The valuation of persons discharging a vow:

Ages Males Females
20 to 60 years old 50 shekels 30 shekels
5 to 20 years old 20 shekels 10 shekels
More than 60 years old 15 shekels 10 shekels
5 years to 1 month 5 shekels 3 shekels
The poor Valuation determined according to his/her means
M. Hunt © copyright 2010

Except in the case of children, persons were expected to pay for their own vow valuations.  That amounts were less for females does not indicate a lesser value was placed on females.  It may reflect the realistic productivity of male versus females as well as the ability to pay the redemption fee since economic opportunities were limited for women in the same way that the donation of the poor is evaluated according to their economic capabilities.  Notice that vows for women in their most work productive years is double the valuation of an elderly man.  Scholars like Milgrom note that when the female and male valuations are compared the results indicate that Israelite women were considered an indispensable element of the Israelite labor force and their valuations reflect a realistic productively of women relative to men (Milgrom, Leviticus vol. III, page 2372).  Amounts are probably less for children so families were not discouraged from dedicating more than one child or in dedicating a male over a female whose valuation is less.  An exception is made for the poor whose valuation is determined by a priest according to age, gender and the ability to pay. (1)

The completion of a vow was celebrated with a votive communion sacrifice (neder), the regulations for which are given in Leviticus 7:16/6 and 22:18 (see Lesson four).  Non-Israelites could also make vow offerings: … any member of the House of Israel or any alien resident in Israel who brings an offering either in payment of a vow or as a voluntary gift, and offers it as a burnt offering to Yahweh, must, if he is to be acceptable, offer an unblemished male be it bull or sheep or goat (Lev 22:18).

The person who vowed themselves or a child to Yahweh did so under the Law of the Nazirite.  The Hebrew word nazir means “to consecrate.”  A Nazirite could be a man or a woman and could vow service to Yahweh for not less than thirty days and for as long as a lifetime (Mishnah: Nazir, 1:3-1:4).

Please read Numbers chapter 6:1-8: The Nazirite/Nazarite Vow
1 Yahweh spoke to Moses and said, 2 ‘Speak to the Israelites and say: “If a man or woman wishes to make a vow, the Nazirite vow, to vow himself to Yahweh, 3 he will abstain from wine and fermented liquor, he will not drink vinegar derived from one or the other, he will not drink grape-juice or eat grapes, be they fresh or dried.  4 For the duration of his vow he will eat nothing that comes from the vine, not even juice of unripe grapes or skins of grapes.   5 As long as he is bound by his vow, no razor will touch his head; until the time for which he has vowed himself to Yahweh is completed, he remains consecrated and will let his hair grown freely.  6 For the entire period of his vow to Yahweh, he will not go near a corpse, 7 he will not make himself unclean for his father or his mother, or his brother or his sister, should they die, since on his head he carries his vow to his God.  8 Throughout the whole of his vow he is a person consecrated to Yahweh. 

According to the Law of the Covenant, the Nazarite was bound by ten laws (Sailhamer, The Pentateuch as Narrative, pages 378-79). 

Question: What were the two commands and the eight prohibitions that the Nazirite had to observe during the period of his/her vow listed in Numbers 6:1-8?

  1. Command: A Nazirite must let his/her hair grow and not cut it during the period of the vow (Num 6:5).
  2. Command: At the end of the vow, the Nazirite must shave his/her hair and bring the prescribed offerings with the hair to Yahweh’s altar (Num 6:13).
  3. Prohibition: A Nazirite must not drink wine or other fermented drinks (Num 6:3).
  4. Prohibition: A Nazirite must not eat fresh grapes (Num 6:3).
  5. Prohibition: A Nazirite must not eat dried grapes (Num 6:3).
  6. Prohibition: A Nazirite must not eat grape seeds (Num 6:4).
  7. Prohibition: A Nazirite must not eat grape skins (Num 6:4).
  8. Prohibition: A Nazirite must not shave his head (Num 6:5).
  9. Prohibition: A Nazirite must not go near a dead body (Num 6:6).
  10. Prohibition: A Nazirite must not become ritually unclean for the dead—even for father, mother, brother or sister (Num 6:7).

Question: Which of the prohibitions for a Nazirite are the same or similar to the prohibitions for priests, including the High Priest?  See Leviticus 10:8-11 and 21:10-11.

Question: What were the most visible signs of the Nazirite and what did the signs signify?  See Judges 16:17; Jeremiah 35:5-8; Lev 10:8-11.

  1. For the time a person lived under the Nazirite vow his/her hair was left uncut as a sign that God’s divine power acted through the Nazirite, giving him/her strength and symbolizing his/her dedication.
  2. The Nazirite was to abstain from all forms of fermented drink not only signifying the refusal to lead a life of ease and comfort, but unlike a priest who was to only abstain from wine during service in the Sanctuary, the Nazirite’s special service to Yahweh was not limited to certain times during the day but continual so long as the vow lasted.

In the condemnation of Israel by the prophet Amos (Amos 2:6-16), the prophet accused Israel of making the Nazirite drink wine—“Nazirites whom Yahweh raised up from among Israel’s young men” (Amos 2:11-12). 

A male who was denied a role serving God in the priesthood because he belonged to a tribe other than the tribe of Levi, was able to answer God’s call to service as a Nazirite.

Question: Can you recall persons in the Old Testament who were identified as Nazirites and cases where parents vowed the life their child in service to God as a Nazirite?  See Genesis 49:26 and Deuteronomy 33:16 where the word translated “dedicated” or “consecrated” is the word nazir; Judges 13:1-25 and 1 Samuel 1:1-2:11.
Answer: The parents of the prophet Samuel and the parents of the judge Samson vowed their sons as lifetime Nazirites, and Joseph son of Jacob/Israel is described as a nazir by his father Jacob and by Moses.

Joseph may have been the first Nazirite.  He was not the first-born heir (Reuben) but he was consecrated to God for special service.

Hannah, the barren wife of Elkanah, vowed to dedicate her son to God’s service if God granted her petition:  In the bitterness of her soul she prayed to Yahweh with many tears, and she made this vow, ‘Yahweh Sabaoth! Should you condescend to notice the humiliation of your servant and keep her in mind instead of disregarding your servant, and give her a boy, I will give him to Yahweh for the whole of his life and no razor shall ever touch his head.’  Hannah kept her vow and brought her son Samuel to the Sanctuary when he was about three years old (1 Sam 1:24-28).  In the Book of Judges Manoah and his barren wife were instructed by the Angel of Yahweh to dedicate their son as a Nazirite.  Nazirite vows could be made with or without a time limit.  In the case of Samuel and Samson, they were dedicated by their parents for life-time service to Yahweh.  Men, woman, and children could be thus dedicated. 

That even girl children could be dedicated to Sanctuary service, or their substitution payment made to a priest, supports the testimony in the non-canonical document The Gospel (Protoevangelium) of St. James that the Virgin Mary of Nazareth was vowed to God in this way and was taken to the Temple when she was three years old.  According to the testimony of this very ancient document (which presents itself as being written by St. James the Just, the first Christian Bishop of Jerusalem and the son of St. Joseph) and three other ancient non-canonical documents (The Nativity of the Virgin Mary, The History of Joseph the Carpenter, and The Pseudo-Gospel of Matthew), Mary of Nazareth was vowed to Yahweh from birth and was taken to the Temple when she was three years old: And Anna said: As the Lord my God liveth, if I beget either male or female, I will bring it as a gift to the Lord my God; and it shall minister to Him in holy things all the days of its life.  [..].  And her months were added to the child.  And the child was two years old, and Joachim said: Let us take her up to the temple of the Lord, that we may pay the vow that we have vowed …. And Anna said: let us wait for the third year, in order that the child may not seek for father or mother.  And Joachim said: So let us wait.  And the child was three years old, and Joachim said: Invite the daughters of the Hebrew that are undefiled, and let them take each a lamp, and let them stand with the lamps burning, that the child may not turn back, and her heart be captivated from the temple of the Lord.  And they did so until they went up into the temple of the Lord.  And the priest received her, and kissed her, and blessed her, saying: The Lord has magnified thy name in all generations.  In thee, on the last of the days, the Lord will manifest His redemption to the sons of Israel (The Protoevangelium of James, 4, 7).

According to the law of the Nazirite, when the time limit of his/her vow was completed, sacrifices were made at God’s Altar of Burnt Offerings which included the ritual of shaving off the hair on the head that was the visible sign of the Nazirite’s service (Num 6; and the Talmud, Mishnah: Nazir).  In Acts St. Paul made a special vow to God and left his hair uncut the period of the vow.  When the unspecified vow was completed, he cut his hair (Acts 18:18).  Although St. Paul, a Jewish convert to Christianity, was observing some form of the Nazirite vow, since he did not cut his hair in Jerusalem at the Temple his act was not a formal Old Covenant Nazirite vow.  Paul could have waited to cut his hair until after his journey to Jerusalem (Acts 19:21), but he chose not to.  That St. Paul chose not to observe the rules of a Nazirite vow was probably because St. Paul understood that the center of worship of Yahweh was no longer limited to one geographic site but that the Church was now universal with the Church’s authority centered in St. Peter and the Apostles.  However, when he arrived in Jerusalem, St. James Bishop of Jerusalem asked Paul, as a sign of solidarity with their Jewish kinsmen, to sponsor four young men who were completing their Nazirite vows, and for St. Paul to accept all the expenses connected with the shaving of their heads and the offering of the ritual sacrifices at the Temple (Acts 21:23-24)—this was an expensive request (Num 6:14-15).  Even though St. Paul may have believed such Old Covenant rituals were no longer valid, in obedience to the Bishop, he complied.

St. James Bishop of Jerusalem was not one of the original twelve Apostles but was a kinsman of Jesus.  He is described as a lifetime Nazirite according to the early Church historian Hegesippus, a Hellenized Jewish convert to Christianity who Bishop Eusebius (c. 263-340 AD) writes lived immediately after the apostles: James, the brother of the Lord, succeeded to the government of the Church in conjunction with the apostles.  He has been called the Just by all from the time of our Savior to the present day; for there were many that bore the name of James.  He was holy from his mother’s womb; and he drank no wine nor strong drink, nor did he eat flesh.  No razor came upon his head … [...].  He alone was permitted to enter into the holy place; for he wore not woolen but linen garments.  And he was in the habit of entering alone into the temple, and was frequently found upon his knees begging forgiveness for the people, so that his knees became hard like those of a camel, in consequence of his constantly bending them in his worship of God, and asking forgiveness for the people.  Because of his exceeding great justice he was called the Just, and Obilias, which signifies in Greek, ‘Bulwark of the people’ and ‘Justice,’ in accordance with what the prophets declare concerning him (Eusebius quoting from Hegesippus, Church History, Book II, 23.4-7). (2)

St. John the Baptist is also described as being dedicated from his mother’s womb and the angel Gabriel instructed his father, the priest Zechariah: he must drink no strong drink; even from his mother’s womb he will be filled with the Holy Spirit… (Luke 1:15).  This does not mean that St. John was a Nazirite, as some scholars have suggested, since he was already designated a priestly descendant of Aaron (Lk 1:5) and the hair requirement was not mentioned as it was for Samson (Judg 13:4-5).  The prohibition against wine and fermented liquor in St. John’s case indicated that his service to God went beyond normal priestly Sanctuary duties and that he was dedicated to God for a special mission—the precursor of the Redeemer-Messiah and the priest who anointed the legitimate Davidic King and Son of God in ritual water purification (Mt 3;4-17).

Please Read Leviticus 27:9-13: Animals Dedicated to God
Law #2: 9 “In the case of an animal suitable for offering to Yahweh, any such animal given to Yahweh will be holy.  10 It cannot be exchanged or replaced, a good one instead of a bad one, or a bad one instead of a good one.  If one animal is substituted for another, both of them will become holy.  11 In the case an unclean animal unsuitable for offering to Yahweh, whatever it may be, it will be presented to the priest 12 and he will set a value on it, in relation to its worth.  His valuation will be decisive; 13 but if the person wishes to redeem it, he will add one-fifth to the valuation.

A person could vow a gift animals for sacrifice or animals to the service of the Sanctuary (not for sacrifice).

Question: If a person regretted vowing the animal and tried to substitute it for another, what was the penalty and why?
Answer: Once vowed to Yahweh, the animal became holy and could not be exchanged.  It the giver was caught trying to substitute another animal, both animals reverted to God. 

However, if an unclean animal was vowed to God or an animal that was disqualified from sacrifice because of a defect (Lev 22:20-25), it could be redeemed for the valuation price of the animal plus a penalty surcharge of twenty percent over and above the determined value of the animal as assessed by the priests.  The penalty redemption fee, of course, discouraged redemption.

The next section deals with consecrations after the Israelites take possession of the Promised Land. The Hebrew verb used to describe each of these forms of dedication is hikdish, which means “to consecrate” (JPS Commentary: Leviticus, page 195).  The same Hebrew verb is used to describe devotion of sacrificial offerings (Lev chapter 22) and for the consecration of the first-born according to God’s command (Num 3:13; Dt 15:19).  Nehemiah 12:47 mentions “consecrations” in support of the clergy and in 2 Kings 12:18-19/17-18 we read about the donations that the Davidic kings consecrated to the Jerusalem Temple which were taken from the Temple and sent as tribute to King Hazael of Aram when he threatened the city of Jerusalem.  This section is concerned with three specific types of consecrations:

  1. Town houses
  2. Ancestral land
  3. Purchased agricultural land

Please Read Leviticus 27:14-15: Houses Consecrated to God
Law #3: 14 “If a man consecrates his house to Yahweh, the priest will set a value on it, in relation to its worth.  His valuation will be decisive.  15 If the man who has vowed his house wishes to redeem it, he will add one-fifth to the valuation, and it will revert to him.

Question: What was the Jubilee year law in Leviticus 25:29-31 concerning houses sold within towns?
Answer: According to the Jubilee year laws, the houses that were sold within walled towns were not subject to the Jubilee redemption, and if the house was not redeemed within a year after it is sold, it became the permanent property of the purchaser. 

The law of redemption did not apply to houses in walled towns because they were not ancestral estates (see Leviticus 25:29).

Question: How were the rules different for town houses that were consecrated to God?
Answer: If an owner consecrated his town house to God, there was no time limit within a year set for redemption.  He could redeem it at any time so long as he paid the redemption fee.

A dedicated dwelling could become the home of a priest, or it could be rented with the money from the property going to support the Sanctuary.  It was considered a very prestigious act to consecrate property to God (Vasholz, Leviticus, page 350).

Please Read Leviticus 27:16-21: Ancestral Land Consecrated to God
Law # 4: 16 “If a man consecrates one of the fields of his ancestral property to Yahweh, its value will be calculated in terms of its yield, at the rate of fifty silver shekels to one homer of barley.  17 If he consecrates the field during the jubilee year, he will abide by this valuation.  18 But if he consecrates it after the jubilee, the priest will calculate the price in terms of the number of years still to run until the next jubilee and the valuation will be reduced accordingly.  19 If he wished to redeem the field, he will add one-fifty to the valuation, and the field will revert to him.  20 If he does not redeem it but sells it to someone else, the right of redemption ceases; 21 when the purchaser has to vacate it at the jubilee year, it becomes consecrated to Yahweh, like a field vowed unconditionally; ownership of it passes to the priest. 

Question: What happened to ancestral lands (‘ahuzzah) in the Jubilee year? What is different in the case of consecrated ancestral lands?  See Leviticus 25:10, 13.
Answer: In a Jubilee year all ancestral ‘ahuzzah land reverted back to the original owners.  The land could not be sold, but it could be leased until the next Jubilee at which time the lease expired.  In the case of consecrated lands, a lease was computed in crop years.  At the Jubilee, the Sanctuary lost its right to the land, which reverted to the owners. 

Question: What happened if the original owners failed to redeem the land in the Jubilee year?
Answer: Verse 20 refers to a donor who fails to redeem the land in a Jubilee year.  In that case, the priesthood could sell the land.  Once this occurred, the donor lost his right to redeem it.  Even if the priesthood did not sell the land after a donor failed to redeem it in the Jubilee year, if the donor failed to redeem the land prior to the next Jubilee, the initial consecration was considered to be permanently binding and the land remained the property of the Sanctuary or the priest who had possession of it forever and could never be redeemed. 

At that time the status of the land could be compared to that of herem land.  Herem land was land that could never be redeemed; it is a status that will be explained in 27:28-29 (Numbers 18:14 awards all herem land to the priesthood).

Please Read Leviticus 27:22-25: Purchased Land Consecrated to God
Law #5: 22 “If he consecrates to Yahweh a field which he has bought, but which is not part of his ancestral property, 23 the priest will calculate the valuation in terms of the number of years still to run before the jubilee year; and the man will pay this sum the same day since it is consecrated to Yahweh.  24 In the jubilee year the field will revert to the vendor, the man to whose ancestral property the land belongs.  25 All your valuations will be made in sanctuary shekels, at the rate of twenty gerah to the shekel. 

This law reflects the provisions in Leviticus 25:25-28.  If an Israelite fell on hard times and was compelled to sell any part of his ancestral ‘ahuzzah land and no kinsman redeemed it for him, it reverted to him at the next Jubilee even if he didn’t have the means to redeem the land for himself in the interim.  Anyone who purchased ancestral land between the Jubilee years was not a full owner/tenant.  If the purchaser/tenant owner subsequently consecrated the property to the Sanctuary, he had to be prepared to remit its value in sliver to the Sanctuary at the time of its consecration, plus the surcharge of twenty percent.  Otherwise, his consecration could not be accepted because the field could not be collateral for his donation, as it would have been if the land was part of his ancestral inheritance. 

All payments to the Sanctuary were made in the Sanctuary shekel (shekel ha-kodesh) which contained twenty gerahs /grains of silver (see Ex 30:13; Num 3:47; Ez 45:12).  Like our money, the valuation of the silver shekel fluctuated over time.

Please Read Leviticus 27:26-27: Prohibition of Dedicating Firstborn Animals

Law #6: “The first-born of livestock is born to Yahweh; no one may consecrate it, whether it be cattle or sheep, for it belongs to Yahweh anyway.  27 But if it is an unclean animal, it may be redeemed at the valuation price with one-fifth added; if the animal is not redeemed, it will be sold at the valuation price.

The laws concerning the first-born are found in Numbers 18:15-19. Addressed to the priests the instructions are: 15 Every first-born of all creatures brought to Yahweh, be it man or beast, will revert to you, but you will have to redeem the first-born of man; you will also redeem the first-born of an unclean animal.  16 You will redeem it in the month in which it is born, valuing it at five shekels, at the sanctuary shekel, which is twenty gerah.  17 But you will not redeem the first-born of cow, sheep and goat.  They are holy: you will sprinkle their blood on the altar and burn the fat as food burnt to be a smell pleasing to Yahweh; 18 the meat will revert to you, as will the forequarter that has been presented with the gesture of offering, and the right thigh.  19 Everything the Israelites set aside for Yahweh from the holy things, I give to you and your sons and daughters, by perpetual decree.  This is a covenant of salt for ever before Yahweh, for you and your descendants too.

Question: Why couldn’t first-born sons and first-born livestock be consecrated to Yahweh?  See Exodus 13:3ff; 22:28-29; 34:19-20; Num 33:4; Dt 15:19-23.
Answer: The firstlings already belonged to God.

Question: Could first-born sons and animals be redeemed?  See Numbers 18:15-17.
Answer: Yes, first-born sons and the first-born of unclean animals were redeemable for five shekels.  Cattle, sheep, and goats, the animals of sacrifice, however, were not redeemable.

To put the price in perspective, Father Roland de Vaux’s research listed the wages of a slave at one shekel a month (De Vaux, Ancient Israel: Its Life and Institutions, 1:76).

Leviticus 27:27: But if it is an unclean animal, it may be redeemed at the valuation price with one-fifth added; if the animal is not redeemed, it will be sold at the valuation price.

The law stated that firstlings of unfit animals (unsuitable for sacrifice because of some defect) could be redeemed.  If they were not redeemed, however, the Sanctuary could sell them and keep the profit—the owner could not keep the animal without making the payment because he could not profit from what was rightfully God’s property (see Exodus 13:11-13).

Please Read Leviticus 27:28-29: Procedure for Herem (unconditional devotion)

Law #7: “Nothing, however, that someone vows unconditionally [herem] to Yahweh may be redeemed, nothing he possess, be it a human being or animal or field of his ancestral property.  28 What is vowed unconditionally [herem] is especially holy and belongs to Yahweh.  29 A human being vowed unconditionally [herem] cannot be redeemed but will be put to death.

The verb h-r-m (herem) means “to set apart, donate, restrict” and in Biblical Hebrew the word seems to have a negative or prohibitive connotation (JPS Commentary: Leviticus, page 198).   The word herem is used to describe something that is to be totally destroyed or something that is forbidden profane use because it is consecrated to God.  Nothing that was totally dedicated as a “devoted thing, proscribed thing, banned thing, cursed thing” could be sold or redeemed.  The Hebrew word is related to the Arabic word haruma, meaning “to become sacred”, and it is the meaning behind the Arabic designation for el-Haram, the name for the Muslim shrine known in English as “the Dome of the Rock,” which stands in Jerusalem on the site of the destroyed Temple of God on Mt. Moriah (Ross, Holiness to the Lord, page 494).

Leviticus 27:28: What is vowed unconditionally [herem] is especially holy and belongs to Yahweh. 

The idea behind the word herem is that something totally devoted to Yahweh’s service can never be put to profane use.  It could not be vowed as a gift, it could not be sold by a priest, nor could it be redeemed.  It either continued to be sanctified or it was to be utterly destroyed.

Leviticus 27:29: Procedure for Total Devotion of a Person to God

Law #8: “A human being vowed unconditionally [herem] cannot be redeemed but will be put to death.

For example, a Gentile prisoner of war who was vowed to service in the Sanctuary was devoted to serve there for the rest of his life. This law also applied to someone who was condemned to death.  He/she was condemned to forfeit his/her life to Yahweh and no matter how wealthy or influential the family, they could not redeem the life of the condemned person (Ex 22:20; Dt 13:12-18/13-19).

Please Read Leviticus 27:30-34: Tithes from Harvests and Livestock
Law #9: 30 “All tithes on land, levied on the produce of the soil or on the fruit of trees, belong to Yahweh; they are consecrated to Yahweh.  31If anyone wished to redeem part of his tithe, he will add one-fifth to its value.

Law #10: 32“In all tithes on herds or flocks, the tenth animal of all that pass under the herdsman’s staff will be consecrated to Yahweh; 33 there will be no examining whether it is good or bad, and no substitution.  If substitution takes place, the animal and its substitute will both become holy without possibility of redemption.”’  34 Such were the orders which Yahweh gave Moses on Mount Sinai for the Israelites.

Question: How are the rules different for the tithe on the land as opposed to the tithe on the livestock?
Answer: The tithe on the land could be redeemed, but the tithe of the livestock could not be redeemed.

Tithing was a form of consecration—the tithe rightfully belonged to God.  But God is always merciful in the application of His laws and a farmer might need some of his produce back to feed his animals or for planting the next crop, and so he could redeem it with the additional twenty percent added. 

The tithes supported the Levites (Num 18:20-32); however, they were also expected to give their tenth to Yahweh. Numbers 18:25-32: Yahweh spoke to Moses and said, ‘Speak to the Levites and say: “When form the Israelites you receive the tithe which I have given you from them as your heritage, you will set a portion of this aside for Yahweh: a tithe of the tithe.  It will take the place of the portions set aside that is due from you, like the wheat from the threshing-floor and new wine from the press.  Thus you too will set a portion aside for Yahweh out of all the tithes you receive from the Israelites.  You will give what you have set aside for Yahweh to the priest Aaron.  Out of all the gifts you receive, you will set a portion aside for Yahweh.  Out of all these things, you will set aside the best, the sacred portion.”  ‘You will say to them, “After you have set the best aside, the remainder will take the place, in the Levites’ case, of the produce of the threshing-floor and wine-press.  You may consume this anywhere, you and the members of your households; this is your recompense for serving in the Tent of Meeting, and you will not incur sin by doing so, once you have set aside the best; you will not be profaning the things consecrated by the Israelites and will not incur death.”’

Excluding the Levites, the tribes of Israelites (counting the two half tribes of Joseph, which were Ephraim and Manasseh, as separate tribes for a total of twelve tribes) were to live on the produce of the soil in the land God gave them.  The tribe of the Levites were to live on the tithe the twelve tribes owed Yahweh, minus the portion set aside for Yahweh that was given to the High Priest for the benefit of the chief priests.

Leviticus 27:34:  Such were the orders which Yahweh gave Moses on Mount Sinai for the Israelites.

This statement is the summary, reminding the reader that the laws in this section of the Pentateuch were divine instructions that Yahweh gave to Moses, the chosen covenant mediator, to convey to the Israelites during the historic rendezvous at Mt. Sinai.

This last chapter of Leviticus, dealing with the faithfulness of the covenant people in what was promised to God and in what belonged to God, brings us back to the theme of holiness and right worship that is the connecting thread of the various commands and prohibitions in Leviticus.  We are also reminded of Yahweh’s statement to the people: For it is I, Yahweh, who am your God.  You have been sanctified and have become holy because I am holy: do not defile yourselves with all these creatures that swarm on the ground.  Yes, it is I, Yahweh, who brought you out of Egypt to be your God: you must therefore be holy because I am holy (Lev 11:44-45).  It was an expectation of holiness for the covenant people repeated in Leviticus 19:2; 20:7, 26 and 21:6-8.

Question: What kinds of vows do New Covenant believers make?  For example see Matthew 5:33-37; 15:5-9; Mark 7:11-13; 28:19-20; Acts 18:18; 21:23.; CCC 2101-03, 2042-43.
Answer: Christians make Baptismal vows, Confirmation vows and marriage vows.  Christians are also expected to vow to preach the Gospel of salvation to the ends of the earth as Jesus commanded in Matthew 28:19-20; it is a vow Catholics accept in the Sacrament of Confirmation.  Some of us are called to take religious vows of lifetime service to the Lord.  Jesus’ urged His disciples not to make rash vows or oaths but instead to do whatever you say you will do so that your words are reliable and true (Mt 5:33-37).  Jesus also made it clear to it was wrong to use a vow as an excuse to avoid another responsibility (Mt 15:5-9; Mk 7:11-13).  And finally, as Catholics we accept the responsibility to fulfill the five precepts of the Church which are the minimum requirement for faithful Roman Catholic New Covenant believers.

With the exception of the Ten Commandments, the old Law of the Sinai Covenant ceased to be the binding, legal document of God’s covenant people after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  As the prophet Jeremiah prophesied centuries earlier (Jer 31:31-34) a New Covenant community came into existence composed of both the descendants of the children of Israel and the Gentile communities of the Roman world who lived under the New Law of love.  However, many of the theological images of the old Law persisted, transformed by the mission of God the Son: there was still a holy day of worship but it was now on the significant “eighth day” which was also the first day of the week commemorating the Resurrection of the Messiah-Redeemer and designated “the Lord’s Day” (Sunday).  There was also a ministerial priesthood, an altar, a sacrifice and a sacred meal.  But the Sanctuary/Temple, the old Sabbath, multiple blood sacrifices, purifications, and old covenant holy days that were part of the old Levitical system were fulfilled in Christ and transformed into living the New Law of love as Jesus taught in the Beatitudes and in new feast days that memorialized the mission of the Messiah and the promise of His return.  Under the old Law the acceptable sacrifice made the offerer acceptable to God.  In the New Law believers were purified by Christ’s one perfect sacrifice.  The people of God were liberated from the old purity laws concerning clean and unclean foods (Acts 10:9-48), and the covenant faithful were no longer prevented from worshiping in their local assemblies because of pregnancy or mildew in their houses, nor were they required to led the side locks of the hair grow long—laws that separated them from their Gentile neighbors. 

Such regulations were no longer necessary since nothing unclean can ever enter the heavenly Sanctuary where Jesus, as the eternal High Priest, presides over both heavenly and earthly worship.  The people of God lived under purity rites as a sign of their holy nation status among the other world nations before Christ sanctified His people by His blood shed on their behalf, making New Covenant believers a holy nation (1 Pet 1:2; 2:9-10).  New Covenant people’s status is confirmed by the reality of their oath to live as a holy people (Col 1:22; 1 Pet 1:15), as St. Peter taught when he quoted from Leviticus in urging Christians to be holy because the Lord is holy (1 Pt 1:16; Lev 11:44; 17:1; 19:2) because freedom from the regiment of living under the old Law is not permission to be free from obeying what the old Law revealed concerning holiness.  Sins that led to moral imperfections and impurities under the old Law and rendered a covenant member unclean and therefore separated from God are still sinful and render a covenant member unclean and separated from God under the New Covenant.  Sin still requires repentance, confession, and atonement in order for forgiveness and restoration of fellowship, but the greatest difference is that under the old system judgments were not eternal nor were blessings.  Under the New Covenant blessings are eternal, but so are judgments.     

Question for group discussion:

How is the New Covenant different from the old Sinai Covenant that Jesus came to fulfill?  List the old laws that were fulfilled and what remained that was transformed by the coming of the Redeemer-Messiah including liturgy and worship.

Possible answer:

Old Covenant regulations that ended:

  1. The classification of defilements that made the people ritually unclean and prevented people from entering the Sanctuary: coming in contact with a corpse or eating ritually unclean food and the rituals that removed uncleanness.
  2.  Physical defilements like skin diseases or bodily emissions.  Under the old rites these conditions rendered one “unclean” but were understood to be physical conditions and therefore confession of sin was not required nor forgiveness from the priest.  The only requirement was a public health matter in separation from the community and the Sanctuary until the end of the problem and ritual purification to restore the person to the community and to the Sanctuary.
  3. Animal sacrifices, blood rituals, Old Covenant feast days and the associated sacred meals were no longer necessary.  The rituals and the sacred meals were imperfect symbols of what was promised.

What remains:

  1. The law of the Ten Commandments and the expanded moral law.
  2. Confession and forgiveness of sins of inadvertence or ignorance (venial sins). 
  3. Mortal sins (sins committed with premeditation that are deliberate violations of the covenant code or moral law) were never covered by ritual sacrifice and the priest’s pronouncement of forgiveness but required divine intervention (Num 15:30-31).  No animal sacrifice was perfect enough to remove sins.  Under the New Covenant Jesus’ perfect sacrifice is capable of removing even mortal sin provided the person confesses his sins and makes atonement in an act of contrition through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. 
  4. Altars, incense, sacrifice, priests, Holy Days of Obligation, the Tabernacle, the sacred communion meal, and liturgical service remain and are celebrated in the Liturgy of the Mass.
  5. The blood ritual before God’s altar was fulfilled in the perfect sacrifice of Jesus, the Lamb of God who stands before the heavenly altar offering His perfect sacrifice.  It is His sacred meal that sustains the Church on her journey to salvation.


  1. The valuations in Leviticus Chapter 27 may be tied to the valuation of the slave market price since a person dedicated to the Lord became Yahweh’ servant.  Notice that the price for a male seventeen years old is twenty shekels, the same price that Joseph’s brothers received for selling Joseph to the slave traders (Gen 37:28).  Ross notes that the valuation reflects the standard market price of slaves according to extrabiblical texts (Ross, Holiness to the Lord, page 492).  It should also be noted that these valuations compared to the slave market prices reflect the period in which the Biblical text claims to have been written (slave market prices were relatively stable during the centuries of Egyptian domination of the Levant) and certainly reflects a period prior to the period of the exile and return in the sixth century BC where reliable data from secular documents records that slave prices soared to double these amounts (Milgrom, Leviticus vol. III, page 2409).
  2. A famous woman who took a Nazirite vow was the Queen Helena of Adiabene (a kingdom north of the Tigris River in what is modern Iraq).  Mishnah: Nazir, 3:6 records that Queen Helena of Adiabene, a Gentile convert to the Old Covenant faith, came to Jerusalem in the first century AD to fulfill a seven-year Nazirite vow.

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2010 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.