Price tag of special gifts for God
Age determines a person’s value1 The LORD told Moses: 2 Give this message to the people of Israel:
If someone wants to dedicate someone to the LORD by giving a special donation equal to the value of that person, here’s the value scale you need to use: 3 Man between the ages of 20-60: 50 silver shekels.
4 Woman between 20-60: 30 shekels.
5 Young man ages 5-20; 20 shekels.
Young woman ages 5-20: 10 shekels.
6 Boy child ages 1 month-5 years: 5 shekels.
Girl child 1 month-5 years: 3 shekels.
7 Elderly man ages 60 and up:15 shekels.
Elderly woman ages 60 and up; 10 shekels.
8 If you want to make a vow of dedication like this but can’t afford it, talk to the priest. He’ll give you a price you can afford.
Dedicating an animal to God9 If you make a vow dedicating an animal to the LORD, that animal becomes holy: reserved for God alone and devoted to him. 10 Once you make this vow, you can’t take the animal back by switching animals. It doesn’t matter if you want to switch out a bad animal or a good one. If you offer a substitute, both animals become holy. 11 If you want to dedicate an animal that is ritually unclean, check with the priest. 12 He’ll decide what to do. 13 If you want to buy back an animal, pay whatever the priest says the animal is worth. Then add 20 percent.
Dedicating a house or land to God14 If you want to dedicate your home to the LORD, the priest will decide the value of the property. It doesn’t matter if his assessment seems high or low. The priest’s decision is final. 15 If you want to buy back the house you dedicated to the LORD, you have to pay the full price that the priest assessed, plus 20 percent. Then it’s yours again. 16 If you want to dedicate a field on your property, the value of the field depends on how much seed it takes to plant barley. Here’s the value scale you should follow: A field that needs six bushels of barley seed is worth 50 silver shekels. 17 If you give away the field during the once-in-50-years jubilee, then the value assessment will stick. 18 If you dedicate the field after the jubilee year, the value depends on the number of years until the next jubilee year. The assessed value drops the closer you get to jubilee. 19 If you change your mind and want the land back, pay the assessed value plus 20 percent. Then the land is yours again. 20 But if you don’t buy it back before someone else buys it, you’re out of luck. You can’t get it back. 21 When the year of jubilee comes, if no one has bought that field, it belongs to me, God, just like any other field dedicated to me. I’ll give it to the priests. 22 If you buy a field from some other family and dedicate it to me, 23 a priest will assess its value based on the number of years until the jubilee, when the land reverts to the original owner. You need to donate whatever the priest says the land is worth. You’ll need to do it on the same day. Then, the land will be holy—devoted to the service of God. 24 In the jubilee year, the land goes back to the ancestral owner—the Israelite family that owned it first and that essentially rented it until the jubilee year. 25 When you make a cash donation to the worship center, use the worship center’s standard shekel weight. 26 Don’t dedicate any firstborn animals of your livestock. They are born dedicated, whether bull or sheep. They are already mine. 27 I’ll let you buy back any firstborn animals that are ritually unclean. The priest will assess it’s value. Then you pay that price, plus 20 percent. If you don’t buy it back, the priest is free to sell it at that price.
If it’s “devoted,” it’s God’s28 There is a certain kind of vow that you can’t take back, buy back, or trade in. It’s a vow of devotion. If something is devoted to the LORD—whether human, animal, or land—you can’t have it back. If you devote something in this unique way, it’s holy and it stays holy because it belongs to the LORD. 29 It’s similar to the status of a person who commits a capital offense and is marked for death. You can’t reverse that. You can’t buy back that person’s life. That person is doomed to die. 30 When you harvest grain, donate a tenth of the value to the LORD’s service because that tenth of the crops and fruit belongs to the LORD. 31 If you want to keep the tenth of your harvest as food, pay the value of the harvest and add 20 percent. 32 Also, each year count off every tenth animal from your flocks and herds. They are holy because they belong to the LORD. 33 Don’t pick and choose which animals to give. Keep this selection random and give each animal to the LORD whether the animal is in bad shape or good shape. If you try to substitute one animal for another, both will go to the LORD because you can’t buy the animals back. 34 These are the laws that the LORD told Moses on Mount Sinai to deliver to the people of Israel.
It’s not clear what’s going on here. Dedications like this in other ancient religions sometimes involved promising to sacrifice a child to a god. But Israelites weren’t allowed to do that. And there didn’t appear to be any need for people devoting themselves to serving God in the worship center, since Aaron’s fellow Levites did that. Samuel was a rare exception; his mother gave him to the high priest Eli to raise to adulthood (1 Samuel 1). If this worship practice was more about donating money to the tent worship center, the price tag would have made it hard for most Israelites to afford to take this vow and to dedicate anyone (27:3-7).
About 20 ounces, which is 570 grams. The original Hebrew text doesn’t say the shekel was silver, but most shekels recovered so far have been silver. One silver shekel was worth about a month’s wage for the average working man, according to some scholars. Shekels came in different weights. It’s unclear how much these shekels weighed. There was a heavy shekel that weighed about 11.5 grams or .4 ounces. This was sometimes called the King’s Shekel or the Royal Shekel. Some scholars say this was also the weight used in the Israelite worship center and later in the Jerusalem Temple. The lighter shekel weighed about 9.5 grams or .33 ounces. Some scholars say this was probably the shekel accepted at the worship center. So, we get to take our pick until someone figures out the precise weight of an Israelite shekel of weight more than 3,000 years ago.
Likely meaning that the animal becomes the property of the worship center.
For a list of ritually unclean animals that were considered unfit to eat, see Leviticus 11.
It’s unclear what the priest would do with a ritually unclean animal, such as a camel. But, he might ride it, sell it, or kill it and sell the meat and hide.
Presumably, a home dedicated to God belongs to the priests. Who would give away a house, in a special, over-the-top offering? Some scholars speculate that wealthy folk living inside walled cities might make a grand gesture like that. The priests could use it or sell it. Or perhaps a man wanted simply to make a donation equal to the value of his house. He could do that and get it dedicated. He’d just need to make a vow to donate the house, then buy it back for 20 percent above the value the priest had set. So the 20 percent above what he intended to donate gave him bragging rights and the pleasure of having a home dedicated to the LORD.
The ancient measurement is a “homer,” which is equal to about six bushels. That’s a weight that a donkey could carry. A bushel of barley weighs about 48 pounds (22 kg). Six bushels weigh about 288 pounds (131 kg).
Israelites who had sold any of their land were apparently encouraged to buy it back before the jubilee year. If they didn’t, the land went to God and became an asset of the worship center. Every 50 years, in the year of jubilee, land sold to others reverted to the ancestral owner. So, essentially, most Israelites didn’t sell their land. They only rented it. For more on the jubilee year, see Leviticus 25.
This is because the land reverts to the Israelite ancestral owner in the jubilee year (Leviticus 25:23-34). The price for a field like the one in 27:16 would seem to be one shekel for each year until jubilee, since the full price of the field at the beginning of the 50-year jubilee stretch is 50 shekels. So, if someone dedicates the land when there are 30 years until the next jubilee, the price would be 30 shekels.
Another way to interpret this verse: The way this is phrased in Hebrew, it seems possible the man who dedicated a field to the LORD later sold the property to someone without mentioning that the field belonged to the LORD. In that case, the original owner forfeited his right to buy the land back.
An Israelite man couldn’t dedicate land he didn’t own. All he could do was donate money equal to the value of the land, much like people did when they dedicated a person to the LORD. They usually gave money, not the person. Again, the prophet Samuel was an exception (1 Samuel 1).
Crops harvested from that land would belong to the worship center, and could be used or sold by the priests.
There were different ways to measure a hunk of metal before coins became popular. Not all shekels weighed the same. But the worship center’s shekel followed a standard weight. See note about the shekel in 27:3.
Such as a donkey or a camel.
BY ROBERT V. HUBER
This chapter of Leviticus begins with a price list that puts a monetary value on people’s heads. There’s even a sale price for people who can’t afford the full price. Sounds like slavery! But no servitude is required. How do you think this value list affected people back then? And how do you react to seeing it in the Bible?
What an odd idea, dedicating someone to the LORD and then donating to the worship center the monetary value of that person so the person can go back home and live a normal life instead of serving the LORD as a priest’s aide, perhaps, as Samuel did (1 Samuel 1—3). What do you think the point was? Fundraiser? Bragging rights? Devotion to God? Also, how do you think this practice could be hijacked and abused?
God’s law prohibited switching out an animal you promised to sacrifice to the LORD. They couldn’t even switch out a bad animal for a good one (verse 10). So, someone who wanted to give God his best might not be able to do that if something happened to harm or disfigure the animal he promised to give. Why not let him replace damaged goods with something more worthy of God?
People dedicated their homes to the LORD. Some people today still do that. They’ll have the minister or priest come to the home. And perhaps with the homeowner’s family and friends, the group would pray that God would be the master of all that happens there—whether home is a house in the Kansas suburbs or an apartment in New York City. What do you think these people mean to accomplish by such an act?
Parents today, as in Bible times, dedicate their children to God. Why do you think they do, and what good do you think it does?
Many Bible scholars hold that chapter 26 is the true ending to the Book of Leviticus. They argue that chapter 27, which gives guidelines for making voluntary donations to the priests, was a later addition that forms a kind of appendix to the book. Others disagree. In fact, views on this topic vary widely. Which of the following do you think best describes what Is going on in chapter 27?
- Chapter 27 is connected to chapter 26 through the association of ideas. The blessings and curses in 26 are, in a sense, vows by God, and they are followed by vows taken by individual persons. Since vows are often made in times of stress, the vows made in chapter 27 fittingly follow the curses of chapter 26.
- Chapter 27 was added on to provide ways of providing funding to the priests for the upkeep of the tent of worship, particularly because it allows silver and not actual persons, animals, or people to be offered.
- The author did not want to end the book on a sour note, with curses.
- The book ends as it began, with a chapter on sanctuary regulations and voluntary contributions for the upkeep of the tent worship center. This links the first and last chapters by discussing persons, animals, and land consecrated to the LORD and belonging to him.
- Chapters 25 and 27 have the common theme of redemption. In chapter 25 the Israelites are told to free their brothers from slavery and to redeem their land. Chapter 27 extends this theme by showing that God allows persons, animals, and places to be redeemed with a payment of silver.