Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
Leviticus 27Ecclesiastes 5:4, 5; Genesis 28:20-22; Genesis 35:1-7. We have in this apparent appendix to the book an interesting chapter about keeping vows. Religious enthusiasm may very properly express itself in the dedication either of one's self, or a relative in whose destiny we have a voice, or a beast, or a house, or finally a field. Such a sense of special obligation may be laid upon us that we feel constrained to dedicate either a person, an animal, or a piece of property unto God. But it may be highly inconvenient for the priests to accept of the dedicated article at the tabernacle. It may be much more convenient to receive, in lieu thereof, its money equivalent, and so a scale of charges is here given, according to which the vow's value is to be estimated.
I. WE MUST DEDICATE IN THIS SPECIAL WAY ONLY WHAT LIES BEYOND THE LORD'S USUAL DUES. The tithes, the firstlings, and the Nazarites may be regarded as the Lord's ordinary dues. We have no fight to "make a fuss" about what is lawfully his own. The margin beyond the tithe is broad enough from which to make our special vows without encroaching upon the tithe. Let the nine-tenths or the four-fifths, according as we regard a single or a double tithe the Jewish proportion in systematic giving, be the source from which we shall draw our special vows.
II. IT IS A GOOD THING TO GIVE OUR INCREASING GRATITUDE SUCH SPECIAL OUTLETS. For after all, the Lord has given us everything, and may demand all if he pleases. When he is so "modest in his demands" - if we may be allowed such an expression regarding his claim upon the tithes - it is surely becoming in us from time to time to give our hearts free play, and have persons or things specially set apart for him.
III. BUT WE MUST NOT BE RASH OR INCONSIDERATE IN OUR VOWS. Jephthah, for example, was most rash in his vow. So was Saul in the war with the Philistines, when he almost insisted on Jonathan dying because, in eating a little honey in the wood, he had in ignorance transgressed the vow of the inconsiderate king. We have no right to make "rash promises" to any one, much less to God.
IV. WHEN WE HAVE REGISTERED A SPECIAL VOW WE MUST KEEP IT SCRUPULOUSLY. There is a temptation to make liberal vows on condition of receiving certain blessings from God, and then to forget them when the blessing is received. Let us take in illustration the case of Jacob. When he was posting in hot haste towards Padan-aram for fear of the injured Esau, he spent a remarkable night at Bethel. God there gave him a reassuring vision. Sin, he saw, had not separated him altogether from heaven, but even a deceiver like himself might return penitently to God and rise on the rounds of a ladder of light into fellowship and peace. In this ecstasy he registers in the calm morning light a vow: "If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, so that I come again to my father's house in peace; then shall the Lord be my God: and this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God's house: and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee" (Genesis 28:20-22). Did Jacob keep his vow? Surely the moment he returns to Canaan he will make for Bethel, and set up his altar, and discharge his vow? Nothing of the kind. He forgot all about it, and went to Succoth, and then to Shechem, and it was not till Dinah had been defiled, and members of his family were becoming idolaters, and God commanded him to go to Bethel and perform it, that the wily old patriarch was brought to a sense of his duty (Genesis 35:1-7). Let us, then, enter upon our vows calmly, deliberately, without any unseemly haste. Then, whatever it may cost, no matter how great the sacrifice, let us undertake it, and our whole religious life will rise to the occasion. The future life, into which we hope to enter, will be so completely dedicated to God's glory, that the distinction we must needs now make between ordinary and special vows shall be lost completely, for the enthusiasm which leads to such special vows now shall make them the ordinary rule for ever. - R.M.E.
must, but what may, be done; and the sacrifices offered in the flames of love are acceptable to God (2 Chronicles 6:8). These are the principles which underlie the laws concerning singular vows.
I. THE SINGULARITY LIES IN THE ELEMENT OF SEPARATION.
1. Hence the subject of the vow is styled a Nazarite.
2. Jesus was a Nazarite in spirit.
(1) He was not a Nazarite in the letter (Matthew 11:19). What a rebuke is here to the uncharitableness of certain extreme advocates of total abstinence!
(2) Yet in spirit was Jesus the Grand Antitype of all those anciently separated to God. Hence his dwelling at Nazareth was in the order of providence, and in fulfillment of prophecy, viz. that he should be called a Nazarene (Matthew 2:23).
3. So are true Christians.
(2) Professors should strive to prove themselves worthy of both. All Christians, in their baptism and in their voluntary acceptance of Christ, are bound by sacred vows.
(3) The true merit of our modern abstainers from intoxicants who are so for the glory of God, is that of the Nazarite.
II. THINGS MAY BE CONSECRATED AS WELL AS PERSONS.
1. A beast might be the subject of a singular vow.
(1) The Law prescribes that should it be such as might be offered in sacrifice to God, it must not be exchanged (verses 9, 10). The reason appears to be that in this case it must be looked upon as a type of Christ, and for him there can be no substitute.
(2) But if unsuitable for sacrifice, then it becomes the priests'. In this case it became the subject of estimation, and from the value put upon it by the priest there is no appeal. This assumes that his valuation is just; and this certainly is true of his Great Antitype, who will be our Judge.
2. A house may be the subject of a singular vow.
(1) By means of dedicated things the sanctuary came to be the depository of great treasure (1 Kings 15:15).
(2) The riches of the gospel are principally spiritual. The houses which enrich the Church are saintly families.
3. A field might be the subject of a singular vow.
(1) The estimation of the land is by the quantity of seed sown in it, fifty shekels to the homer (verse 16). But the estimation was modified with respect to the law of the jubilee. The values of all earthly things are influenced by their relation to things heavenly.
(2) If the owner would redeem that he vowed to God, he must add a fifth to the estimated value. This was a general rule; and was instituted to discourage fickleness in relation to the service of God. - J.A.M.
I. THAT THE LAW OF GOD LEAVES AMPLE ROOM FOR THE PLAY OF SPONTANEOUS DEVOTION. Under the inspiring influence of some signal mercies, individual or national, the Israelite might devote to God either
(1) a person (verse 2), or
(2) an animal (verse 9), or
(3) a house (verse 14), or
(4) a piece of land (verse 16).
This was to be a singular vow (verse 2), the dedication of something over and above that which was, by law, already appropriated to the service of Jehovah (see verses 26, 30). It was and is the will of our God that special favours received at his hand, or special influences wrought by his Spirit in our heart, should be marked by optional and exceptional services on our part. We may, when thus animated by gratitude for his kindness, or penetrated with a sense of his goodness and grace, freely and spontaneously bring to the altar of our Lord
(1) our possessions,
(2) our time and labour,
(3) our children (whom we may surrender to his service in distant and dangerous scenes),
(4) any precious thing which we are not bound to give, but which we voluntarily and joyfully lay at his feet.
II. THAT THE FORM OF OUR DEVOTION MAY CHANGE SO LONG AS THE SPIRIT OF IT IS RETAINED. The Israelite who vowed a "person" redeemed the vow by presenting money according to a nicely graduated scale (verses 3-8); or he might redeem a beast by paying money equal to its estimated value, together with one-fifth part added thereto (verse 13); so with a piece of land (verse 19): In a similar way, we may resolve and may undertake to give ourselves or our possessions to some particular sacred cause, and there may arise conditions which render it undesirable or even impossible for us to complete our work. In such case our Lord does not hold us to a mere literal fulfillment; what he looks for, and should certainly receive at our hands, is some equivalent in which we at least as freely express our gratitude and devotion. The essential thing is to preserve the spirit of our piety, and also to maintain a good measure of its most suitable expression, whatever that, at any time, may be.
III. THAT WE MAY GO SO FAR IN THE WAY OF DEDICATION THAT IT IS NOT PERMISSIBLE TO RETIRE. The Jew under the Law might, as we have seen, redeem certain things at a certain point; but there was a point at which everything was irredeemable. No "devoted thing" could be redeemed (verses 28, 29). A beast "devoted to the Lord" must be offered up; an enemy once "devoted" must be put to death. When this point is reached in Christian consecration must be left to each Christian conscience. But we may contend that withdrawal is seldom, if ever, allowable when
(1) there has been a solemn and formal dedication of person or substance in the presence of Christ and his people;
(2) an overt action has been taken which commits other people, and when our retirement would involve theirs also;
(3) such withdrawal would bring dishonour on the sacred Name we bear. Under such conditions as these we must proceed at all risks and costs, and having vowed, we must "pay unto the Lord our God" (Psalm 66:11). - C.
I. We find here a representation of the union of righteousness and grace in the kingdom of God. The sacredness of vows and dues; but the estimation, by the priest, according to the ability of him that made the vow. The Law makes its claim, but God provides against its rigour.
II. Comparison of the Law of God as given to his ancient people with the imperfect and cruel laws of merely human origin. Especially as to human sacrifices. The only human life which could be vowed to God was that which was already doomed by right of war or otherwise. The animal sacrifices, being strictly prescribed, excluded human sacrifice. The true religion is the only protection of human life. Those who profess enthusiasm of humanity, instead of and as a substitute for faith in Christ, have no security to offer that their inadequate theory of human obligation will extirpate cruelty and promote the happiness of the world.
III. The commutation of vows and dues pointed to the pitifulness of Jehovah, who, while upholding the inviolability of his Law, would yet, provide for the weakness of man. "He knoweth our frame," etc. These glimpses of love in the midst of the thunders of Sinai were the promises of a revelation of the Divine nature in which love should predominate - a new covenant, which should take up into itself all that was enduring and Divine in the old. Underneath all the regulations of Leviticus lies the original promise of redemption, and through all the vail of the Mosaic economy shines the Shechinah glory of God manifest in the flesh - the Prophet, Priest, and King, who came, not to destroy the Law, but to fulfill it, and in whom all the promises of God are Yea and Amen. - R.
I. THAT IN THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST THERE ARE NO DISTINCTIONS IN RESPECT OF AGE, SEX, OR CLASS. Age is not less welcome because it is old, nor youth because it is young, nor poverty because it is poor, nor wealth because it is rich, to the Saviour of souls. Woman stands on the same ground with man, and her love and service count for as much in the Lord's esteem as his. "In Christ Jesus there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female" (Galatians 3:28). There is no respect of persons with the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
II. THAT IN THE VALUE OF CHRISTIAN SERVICE SOME DISTINCTIONS MUST REMAIN. The kind of service we render our Lord differs at different periods of our life. Obviously that of the little child is distinct from that of the man in the maturity of his strength. The scale of redemption under the Law, as given in this passage, suggests:
1. That age, though of declining value, has its tribute to bring (verse 7); it can bring its purity, its calmness, its caution, its contentedness, its patient waiting: "planted in the house of the Lord,... we shall still bring forth fruit in old age" (Psalm 92:13, 14).
2. That prime has the largest offering to lay on the altar of the Lord (verse 3). Manhood brings its strength, its maturity, its experience, its learning, its vigour.
3. That youth is of great account in the estimate of God (verse 5); it can bring to the service of Christ its eagerness, its ardour, its faith, its devotedness.
4. That childhood has its figure also in the Divine reckoning (verse 6); it can bring its innocence, its trustfulness, its docility, its winsomeness, its obedience. We are thus reminded that, while there is no stage in our life when we are not heartily welcome to our Saviour, there is at each period some special work we can do, some peculiar service we can render him, and we may add that every offering of every kind is acceptable to him if it be presented in humility and with a willing mind. - C.
I. DEVOTED THINGS DIFFER FROM THINGS SANCTIFIED.
1. In that they may not be redeemed.
(1) Things sanctified might be redeemed. The laws of estimation proceeded upon the recognition of this principle.
(2) But it is otherwise with things devoted (see verses 6, 21, 28). They are in the category of things "most holy," which only may be touched by the priests.
(3) Hence firstlings must not be sanctified (verse 26). The reason is that they are already the property of God. They can neither be given to him nor redeemed from him. They were types of Christ, who is therefore called the "Firstfruits of every creature" - the Antitype of all the firstfruits.
2. Persons when devoted were doomed to die.
(2) Here is no reference to human sacrifices, as some have imagined. It is a question of justice and judgment upon the wicked.
(3) But by a rash vow the innocent may suffer. Thus through the adjuration of Saul Jonathan's life was imperiled (1 Samuel 14). Jephthah's vow compromised the life of his daughter (Judges 11:30, 31, 39). The reading in the margin (verse 31) is preferable. Jephthah could not make a burnt offering of anything unsuited to that purpose, and whatever else came forth he vowed not to sanctify but to devote.
(4) The severity of God upon those devoted for their wickedness should admonish sinners of the formidableness of his anger in the great day of his wrath.
II. THE LAW CONCERNING TITHES.
1. These are now formally required.
(2) The acts of the patriarchs bound their posterity. Hence Levi paid tithes to Melchizedek, being yet ix the loins of Abraham (Hebrews 7:9, 10).
(3) Therefore God now claims them (verses 30, 32).
2. Things marked as tithes must not be exchanged.
(1) The expression, "passeth under the rod," is thus explained by the rabbins: "When a man was to give the tithe of his sheep or calves to God, he was to shut up the whole flock in one fold, in which there was one narrow door capable of letting out one at a time. The owner stood by the door with a rod in his hand, the end of which was dipped in vermilion or red ochre. The mothers of those lambs or calves stood without, and as the young ones passed out, when the tenth came he touched it with the colour, and this was received as the legitimate tithe."
(2) Here note the vicarious principle. When the tenth was taken, nine went free. Christ is our Tenth (see Isaiah 6:13).
(3) The tenth must not be exchanged for better or worse. Providence is presumed to have guided the rod. While Christ becomes the Substitute for mankind, no one can take his place. - J.A.M.
1. It may be rightly said that true religion is essentially the same everywhere and at all times. Whithersoever and whensoever we look, we shall find the same cardinal elements - the fear of God, the love of God, respect for our own spiritual nature, regard for the rights and claims of others, abstinence from that which is immoral, kindness and helpfulness, etc.
2. It may also be truly said that in the Law there was much more than many have supposed of those elements which are prominent in the gospel: more of spiritual freedom, of joy in God, of happy and sacred fellowship than we are apt to associate with "Mount Sinai," and "the commandments which the Lord commanded Moses." When, therefore, we draw a distinction between the Law and the gospel, it must be remembered that it is not without important qualifications; that the Law had, in most cases, an aspect which was essentially Christian; and that, similarly, the gospel in most cases has an aspect which is legal. With this in mind, we may draw the contrast -
I. THAT THE LAW WAS PREPARATORY AND PROPHETIC; the gospel is final and in fulfillment of that which had been anticipated. This, especially, in regard to sacrifice and offering.
II. THAT THE LAW WAS PRECEPTIVE; the gospel is suggestive. The one supplied a multitude of rules for the regulation of worship and of daily life, the other has few "commandments." Its positive precepts are small in number, but it lays down those principles and implants that spirit by which the right and the wrong course are suggested, to be pursued or shunned by the obedient heart.
III. THAT THE LAW WAS PROHIBITIVE; the gospel is inspiring. Not wholly, but strikingly, in each case. The Law continually said imperatively, "Thou shalt not;" the gospel says encouragingly, "Wilt not thou?" The Law interdicted very many things, and an Israelite was obedient very much according to his conscientious avoidance of that which was forbidden. The gospel incites to feelings, words, actions of goodness, wisdom, grace, helpfulness; and a Christian man is obedient and acceptable in proportion as he opens his heart to heavenly inspiration, and is stirred to be and do that which is noble and Christ-like.
IV. THAT THE LAW MADE ITS APPEAL TO HUMAN EAR; the gospel to human love. Jehovah was, indeed, presented often to the Hebrew as his Redeemer from bondage; but, upon the whole, he was so revealed as, above everything, to strike the soul with profoundest reverence and awe. The Jew never ceased to hear the thunderings and see the lightnings of Sinai. The motto of the devout Israelite was this - "I fear God." In the gospel God is manifested in Jesus Christ, our Saviour, our Friend, our sympathizing High Priest; and, while not without deepest reverence, we feel that "the love of God in Christ Jesus" is the spring and the strength of our devotion; it is the key to which the sacred music of our life is set.
V. THAT THE LAW HAD RESPECT TO EARTHLY LIFE; the gospel to the farthest future. The Law said, "Do this, and thou shalt live long in the land;" "do this, and the rains shall fall and the vines shall bear and the barns be full;" but the gospel says, "Do this - repent, believe, follow Christ; and while there shall be sufficiency of present food for present need, there shall be abounding grace in the heart, fruitfulness in the life, peace in death, and a long eternity of sinless service and unclouded joy in the presence of the King, in the home of God. - C.