9 “If the vow is an animal that may be offered as an offering to the Lord, all of it that he gives to the Lord is holy. 10 He shall not exchange it or make a substitute for it, good for bad, or bad for good; and if he does in fact substitute one animal for another, then both it and the substitute shall be holy. 11 And if it is any unclean animal that may not be offered as an offering to the Lord, then he shall stand the animal before the priest, 12 and the priest shall value it as either good or bad; as the priest values it, so it shall be. 13 But if he wishes to redeem it, he shall add a fifth to the valuation.
14 “When a man dedicates his house as a holy gift to the Lord, the priest shall value it as either good or bad; as the priest values it, so it shall stand. 15 And if the donor wishes to redeem his house, he shall add a fifth to the valuation price, and it shall be his.
16 “If a man dedicates to the Lord part of the land that is his possession, then the valuation shall be in proportion to its seed. A homer of barley seed shall be valued at fifty shekels of silver. 17 If he dedicates his field from the year of jubilee, the valuation shall stand, 18 but if he dedicates his field after the jubilee, then the priest shall calculate the price according to the years that remain until the year of jubilee, and a deduction shall be made from the valuation. 19 And if he who dedicates the field wishes to redeem it, then he shall add a fifth to its valuation price, and it shall remain his. 20 But if he does not wish to redeem the field, or if he has sold the field to another man, it shall not be redeemed anymore. 21 But the field, when it is released in the jubilee, shall be a holy gift to the Lord, like a field that has been devoted. The priest shall be in possession of it. 22 If he dedicates to the Lord a field that he has bought, which is not a part of his possession, 23 then the priest shall calculate the amount of the valuation for it up to the year of jubilee, and the man shall give the valuation on that day as a holy gift to the Lord. 24 In the year of jubilee the field shall return to him from whom it was bought, to whom the land belongs as a possession. 25 Every valuation shall be according to the shekel of the sanctuary: twenty gerahs shall make a shekel.” – Leviticus 27:9-25 ESV
God now turns His attention to vows involving animals, houses, and land. In this section, the emphasis is on the proper protocol for dedicating gifts to God. These voluntary votive offerings were to be taken seriously and faithfully fulfilled. To renege on a vow made to God was unacceptable and worthy of judgment. If an Israelite vowed to dedicate one of his animals to the Lord, he was legally bound to fulfill his commitment. Failure or refusal to do so would result in serious consequences.
God takes time to differentiate between the two types of animals that may be used as vows. The first involved any “animal that may be offered as an offering to the Lord” (Leviticus 27:9 ESV). This is a reference to a “clean” animal, one which would be acceptable as a sacrifice in the Tabernacle. Once that animal was dedicated to God, it became holy or set apart for His use. If the one who gave the votive offering changed his mind, He could not substitute that gift with an animal of lesser quality and, most certainly, he could not attempt to redeem it with an “unclean” animal. God strictly forbade any attempts to substitute an animal that had been dedicated to Him. If someone tried to do so, they would lose both animals.
“He shall not exchange it or make a substitute for it, good for bad, or bad for good; and if he does in fact substitute one animal for another, then both it and the substitute shall be holy.” – Leviticus 27:10 ESV
Both animals would become the property of God. When the first animal was vowed, it immediately became holy to the Lord. If the giver attempted to take it back and replace it with another animal of greater or lesser quality, he would end up forfeiting both animals as a penalty for going back on his vow.
But if someone offered an unclean animal as a votive offering, it was redeemable because it was not acceptable as a sacrifice. These animals would become the property of the priests and could be sold or used for other purposes, therefore they were redeemable. If the giver decided he wanted the animal back, the priest would determine its value and add an additional 20 percent surcharge as the redemption price.
This same calculation was used to determine the redemption price of a home. If someone made a vow to God pledging to give Him their house in return for some act of divine deliverance, there were expected to keep their word. But God did allow the giver a way of retaining their home through a similar process of redemption. The giver was allowed to change their mind, but the decision would not be without cost.
“If the person who dedicated the house wants to buy it back, he must pay the value set by the priest, plus 20 percent. Then the house will again be his.” – Leviticus 27:15 NLT
It seems that God made this provision because of the importance of the home in the Hebrew culture. It would be rash for a man to make a vow that would involve the loss of his family’s source of shelter. So, God provided a way for that individual to keep his commitment without penalizing his entire family in the process. He could redeem his home but at a high price. This penalty was probably intended to serve as a form of deterrent, keeping any Israelite from making a vow he was not willing to keep.
The next form of votive offerings involved the dedication of property. This section gets far more complicated because of a number of factors. First, there was the issue of rightful ownership. If someone dedicated a portion of their property to God, it must be determined whether they had legal rights to that land. Secondly, consideration must be made for the Year of Jubilee. Every fiftieth year the land was to return to the possession of its original owner. This divine decree had to be factored in when determining the redemption value of any property dedicated to God.
Once again, God made provision for the redemption of any land that was dedicated as a votive offering to Him.
“If the person who dedicated the field wants to buy it back, he must pay the value set by the priest, plus 20 percent. Then the field will again be legally his.” – Leviticus 27:19 NLT
In order to make their determination of the land’s value, the priests would have to take into account the years left until the Year of Jubilee. Once they came to a fair valuation, the giver could redeem the property by paying the price along with a 20 percent surcharge. But if the giver did not redeem the land, it became the property of the priests, who were free to sell the land to someone else. During the year of Jubilee that property would no longer revert back to the original landowner but to the priests.
“When the field is released in the Year of Jubilee, it will be holy, a field specially set apart for the Lord. It will become the property of the priests.” – Leviticus 27:21 NLT
If someone purchased a piece of land that was not part of his family’s inheritance, and that person decided to pledge it as a votive offering to God, the priests were to “assess its value based on the number of years left until the next Year of Jubilee” (Leviticus 27:23 NLT). When the Year of Jubilee arrived, the landowner was obligated to “give the assessed value of the land as a sacred donation to the Lord” (Leviticus 27:23 NLT). But the land would no longer be his. It reverted back to its original owner. This regulation was intended to keep someone from dedicating land that he knew would no longer be his in the Year of Jubilee. If someone bought a piece of land with just two years remaining until the Year of Jubilee, he might be tempted to use it as a votive offering, knowing that he was going to forfeit his rights to the land anyway. That’s why God placed a price on the land. When the Jubilee year arrived, the giver was obligated to pay the redemption price even though the land was no longer his. God would not allow any kind of deceit or underhandedness when it came to making vows. His people were to keep their commitment at all costs.
“Making and faithfully keeping one’s vows was a sign of a person’s spiritual condition. Vows were considered holy gifts to the Lord that were to be given out of a holy motivation and for a holy purpose.” – Kenneth A. Matthews, Leviticus: Holy God, Holy People
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.