Studies in Leviticus: Giving to the Lord (Chapter 27)

LeviticusChapter 27 of Leviticus is seemingly so strange a conclusion that many scholars have determined it an appendix or addendum to the original document of the Holiness Code. After all chapter 26 is certainly the climax of the code with its discussion of blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience. Yet, we should not too quickly dismiss or minimize the value of chapter 27. It fits rather neatly into the book and brings it to an appropriate conclusion. Paralleling the beginning of the book, chapter 27 encourages the kind of voluntary offerings that stem from genuine love of God. Yet, this passage also warns us to dedicate to the Lord with intentionality and thoughtfulness.

Chapters 1-3 of Leviticus begins with a discussion of voluntary offerings: burnt, grain, and peace offerings. These were gifts that Israel gave to God out of no compulsion or obligation in the law. They gave freely because of their great love for God. So, the book concludes with those who, again out of love, wish to do more than the law required. They wished to dedicate more than their required share. This is a fitting and appropriate thing for Israel to do, as Derek Tidball notes:

Lovers delight in giving gifts, and do not feel constrained to limit them to the predictable occasions of birthdays and anniversaries. Love motivates them to give spontaneously and extravagantly. Since God has set out the good news of his law for Israel, would God’s people not want to stand back with adoration and gratitude, and ask, “How can I repay the Lord for all his goodness to me?” Nothing less than total consecration gives an adequate reply to that question. (The Message of Leviticus, 318)

The people, then, in great love for God could dedicate their possessions to His service. Leviticus 27, then, provides both provisions and restrictions on such dedications.

The text can be broken down into these two divisions: provisions and restrictions. The dedication of property was not primarily about the Lord’s use of their things, but rather the dedication of them to the Lord and the price to be paid for redemption. That is to say, the money determined necessary to redeem the property was the real gift, and was given to the priests as payment for the dedicated item, person, or animal. The text allows for the dedication of people, in verses 2-8, and explores how much a person is worth based on age and gender. This valuation of a person is dependent upon productive capability, not intrinsic worth. That is to say, in an agricultural society where manual labor was livelihood, the more productive you were the more you were worth. Note that women in the prime of their life are worth more than men in any other stage of life. So, the redemption price was dependent upon their capability as a productive member of the society. Notice, however, that God, because this is a voluntary offering, also allows for redemption based on economic condition (v. 8). If you were poor this did not prevent you from making a dedication to the Lord. The price would then be determined by the priests based on what you could afford. God continues to invite His people into loving relationship with Him. Poverty should not keep them from praise. The text also allows for dedication of animals, homes, and land. In each case the focus is on provisions and rules about redemption.

Verses 26-34 turn attention to restrictions. As it is today, so in ancient Israel, worship can become emotional and desperate times may call forth desperate measures. Sometimes, this meant that vows would be made with haste and regretted later. God, however, warns that our words and promises matter. So Deuteronomy 23:23 says, “You shall be careful to do what has passed your lips, for you have voluntarily vowed to the LORD your God what you have promised with your mouth.” Jesus himself asserts simply, “let your yes be yes” (Matt. 5:37). So, here God puts some restrictions on the kinds of vows you can make and the kind of redemption forbidden. So, in 26-27 we see that people are forbidden from dedicating a firstborn animal to the Lord. These already belong to him and cannot be dedicated to Him as if some sacrifice is being made on the part of the worshiper. The only exception is with regard to unclean animals. These may be dedicated to the Lord and a redemption price paid for them as a gift. In verses 28-29, we read about a unique kind of dedication, the strongest form of dedication (sometimes called the “proscribed thing”). Such a dedicated thing could never be redeemed, no matter how rashly the decision was made. The final restriction is found in verses 30-33 regarding the tithe. Since the tithe was a mandatory offering it could not be presented as if a voluntary gift was being given to the Lord. Neither could it be redeemed, with the exception of the grain or fruit offering. The overall point here is that while God welcomed the free and voluntary gifts of His people He wanted them to think carefully and intentionally about it. Rash decisions did not honor Him, intentional and thoughtful sacrifice did.

The same can be said of us too. God does delight in our worship, our free and voluntary giving to Him. Yet we should think carefully and intentionally about this worship. We should neither pretend we are doing more than we are, nor should we make undiscerning vows. Jesus even warns us not to do this (Matthew 5:33-37). Our whole lives are to be dedicated as an act of spiritual worship to the Lord (Rom. 12:1), but we ought to count the cost of following Jesus (Luke 14:25-33). To follow Christ without thought or regard to the cost is to be like the seed that shot up quickly, but because it had no root withered away (Matt. 13:1-9). Even as we seek to follow Jesus moving forward we are always to count the cost, to evaluate our commitment, and to renew it with honesty, sincerity, and intentionality. Dedicate yourself to the Lord, friends, but do so with true knowledge and surrender.

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