Notes (NET Translation)
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. If a man tries to substitute a different animal for the one he has promised, he forfeits both animals (vv. 10, 33). If he wishes to redeem the property he vows, he must pay 20 percent extra (vv. 13, 15, 19, 27, 31).1
1 The LORD spoke to Moses: 2 “Speak to the Israelites and tell them, ‘When a man makes a special votive offering based on the conversion value of persons to the LORD, 3 the conversion value of the male from twenty years old up to sixty years old is fifty shekels by the standard of the sanctuary shekel. 4 If the person is a female, the conversion value is thirty shekels. 5 If the person is from five years old up to twenty years old, the conversion value of the male is twenty shekels, and for the female ten shekels. 6 If the person is one month old up to five years old, the conversion value of the male is five shekels of silver, and for the female the conversion value is three shekels of silver. 7 If the person is from sixty years old and older, if he is a male the conversion value is fifteen shekels, and for the female ten shekels. 8 If he is too poor to pay the conversion value, he must stand the person before the priest and the priest will establish his conversion value; according to what the man who made the vow can afford, the priest will establish his conversion value.
Verses 1-8 describe the votive offering, or sacred pledge, of an individual to God. Instead of dedicating the individual to service in the sanctuary, as was done by Hannah with Samuel (1 Sam 1:11), an amount of silver is given instead (cf. 2 Kgs 12:5-6).
|1 month – 5 years old||5 shekels||3 shekels|
|5-20 years old||20 shekels||10 shekels|
|20-60 years old||50 shekels||30 shekels|
|60+ years old||15 shekels||10 shekels|
The different conversion values by age and sex may be linked to the productive capacities of each class. “These figures are very large. The average wage of a worker in biblical times was about one shekel per month. It is little wonder that few could afford the valuations set out here (v. 8).”2 A poor person’s conversion value was customized to what he could afford. “Rabbinic interpretation has established that the price set is to leave that person enough to live on, including a bed, a mattress, a cushion, and the tools needed for his trade (Rashi, 131a).”3
9 “‘If what is vowed is a kind of animal from which an offering may be presented to the LORD, anything which he gives to the LORD from this kind of animal will be holy. 10 He must not replace or exchange it, good for bad or bad for good, and if he does indeed exchange one animal for another animal, then both the original animal and its substitute will be holy. 11 If what is vowed is an unclean animal from which an offering must not be presented to the LORD, then he must stand the animal before the priest, 12 and the priest will establish its conversion value, whether good or bad. According to the assessed conversion value of the priest, thus it will be. 13 If, however, the person who made the vow redeems the animal, he must add one fifth to its conversion value.
Verses 9-10 describe someone vowing to offer a clean animal for sanctuary use, perhaps to be used as a sacrifice for the donor. Another possibility is that the animal could be purchased by another Israelite for his own sacrifice and the money would go towards the sanctuary. The animal could not be exchanged later (presumably for a less valuable animal). If the donor attempted to exchange another animal then both animals became sanctuary property. Verses 11-13 describe the vowing of an animal that is not fit for sacrifice. If the animal is not redeemed, the priests could use the animal (e.g., for transportation) or sell it for profit.
14 “‘If a man consecrates his house as holy to the LORD, the priest will establish its conversion value, whether good or bad. Just as the priest establishes its conversion value, thus it will stand. 15 If the one who consecrates it redeems his house, he must add to it one fifth of its conversion value in silver, and it will belong to him.
Consecration is the transfer of something from the realm of the profane to the realm of the holy. The house is probably one in a walled city which was not subject to the laws of the jubilee year (Lev 25:29-30).
16 “‘If a man consecrates to the LORD some of his own landed property, the conversion value must be calculated in accordance with the amount of seed needed to sow it, a homer of barley seed being priced at fifty shekels of silver. 17 If he consecrates his field in the jubilee year, the conversion value will stand, 18 but if he consecrates his field after the jubilee, the priest will calculate the price for him according to the years that are left until the next jubilee year, and it will be deducted from the conversion value. 19 If, however, the one who consecrated the field redeems it, he must add to it one fifth of the conversion price and it will belong to him. 20 If he does not redeem the field, but sells the field to someone else, he may never redeem it. 21 When it reverts in the jubilee, the field will be holy to the LORD like a permanently dedicated field; it will become the priest’s property.
The conversion value of landed property (the land someone fully owns as opposed to leases) is determined by the amount of seed needed to sow it and the number of years before the jubilee year.
Apparently the owner continues to work a dedicated field, for the priests would not have had the manpower to work the fields dedicated to God. Given that the price of redemption is fixed, should a field produce a good yield or the price of barley be higher than set in v 16, the owner could then redeem his field for less than the real value of the crops, as Wenham points out. A person who dedicates a field has the opportunity to redeem that field by paying 20 percent above its current worth. If he redeems it, the transaction stands.4
The meaning of v 20 is disputed. The subject of “sell” and “redeem” is the same and so it envisions the donor selling or redeeming the land. If the donor sells the land after consecrating it, it raises the question of how the donor could sell consecrated land.
Could that person be employing a loophole in the law to increase his income on a field? Perhaps an owner comes to consider his dedication of a field an unwise move. Then he seeks some way to recover some value from his loss. He sells the field to another without informing the buyer that the field has been consecrated to Yahweh. The buyer retains the right to work that land until the year of Jubilee. The penalty for employing this conniving tactic is the owner’s loss of that land. In the year of Jubilee this latter field, which has been twice sold, so to speak, becomes חרם, “devoted,” i.e., under complete control of the sanctuary. Keil and Delitzsch suggest an alternative explanation, one that does not ascribe any deception to the person who has dedicated the field. In their reconstruction, the owner of a dedicated field, being obligated to continue to cultivate that field, earns the money to pay the vow from the crops. He keeps the difference between the yield and the vow. Given the burden of working a field from which he does not keep the majority of the produce, the dedicator sells it to another to work the field and carry out the obligations.5
Milgrom is of the opinion that the donor could sell the land after consecrating it to indicate that he did not intend to redeem the land. The land would then become permanently dedicated to the sanctuary at the next jubilee.
22 “‘If he consecrates to the LORD a field he has purchased, which is not part of his own landed property, 23 the priest will calculate for him the amount of its conversion value until the jubilee year, and he must pay the conversion value on that jubilee day as something that is holy to the LORD. 24 In the jubilee year the field will return to the one from whom he bought it, the one to whom it belongs as landed property. 25 Every conversion value must be calculated by the standard of the sanctuary shekel; twenty gerahs to the shekel.
Verse 22 speaks of someone who consecrates the land he is leasing until the jubilee year. The “sanctuary shekel” (v 25) is the currency accepted by the sanctuary. A shekel weighed about 11.4 grams.
26 “‘Surely no man may consecrate a firstborn that already belongs to the LORD as a firstborn among the animals; whether it is an ox or a sheep, it belongs to the LORD. 27 If, however, it is among the unclean animals, he may ransom it according to its conversion value and must add one fifth to it, but if it is not redeemed it must be sold according to its conversion value.
The firstborn males of clean animals were already consecrated to God (Ex 13:2; 34:19-20). “This means that a person may not use the ploy of paying a vow with a first-born animal, attempting to gain double spiritual benefit from the presentation of a single animal.”6 An unclean animal could either be redeemed by its owner or, if unredeemed, sold by the sanctuary. Ex 13:13 and 34:20 require that the firstborn donkey must be exchanged for a lamb or destroyed.
28 “‘Surely anything which a man permanently dedicates to the LORD from all that belongs to him, whether from people, animals, or his landed property, must be neither sold nor redeemed; anything permanently dedicated is most holy to the LORD. 29 Any human being who is permanently dedicated must not be ransomed; such a person must be put to death.
The background to vv 28-29 is obscure. We aren’t given details on how or why this permanent dedication occurred. The verb herem (“permanently dedicates”) means “to set apart, denote, restrict.” To designate something as herem means that it was either destroyed or that it was reserved exclusively for specific purposes at the sanctuary by the priests. The people in v 28 are probably slaves (because they were dedicated by another) who would work to support the sanctuary. The person in v 29 speaks of a person condemned under the herem by a court.
30 “‘Any tithe of the land, from the grain of the land or from the fruit of the trees, belongs to the LORD; it is holy to the LORD. 31 If a man redeems part of his tithe, however, he must add one fifth to it. 32 All the tithe of herd or flock, everything which passes under the rod, the tenth one will be holy to the LORD. 33 The owner must not examine the animals to distinguish between good and bad, and he must not exchange it. If, however, he does exchange it, both the original animal and its substitute will be holy. It must not be redeemed.'”
Both produce and animals are to be tithed. The Hebrew word maaser (“tithe”) is related to the number ten and thus refers to a tenth. Tithed items could be redeemed for the value of the object plus one fifth.
34 These are the commandments which the LORD commanded Moses to tell the Israelites at Mount Sinai.
Hartley, John E. Leviticus. Dallas, Tex.: Word Books, 1992.
Levine, Baruch A. Leviticus. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989.
Milgrom, Jacob. Leviticus 17-22. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008.
Rooker, Mark, and Dennis R. Cole. Leviticus. Kindle Edition. Holman Reference, 2000.
Wenham, Gordon J. The Book of Leviticus. Kindle Edition. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979.