When a person makes a special promise to the Lord to give another person, such as a son or daughter, then that person shall serve the Lord in a special way. The payment or worth of that person is something that commentators are not in complete agreement with.
There are two main ideas:
- Perhaps this payment was to buy back the person from the LORD. Commentators who think this give the example of Jephthah’s daughter in Judges 11:34-40. Jephthah gave his daughter to the LORD. Afterwards, he wanted to change his mind. If these commentators are right, then Jephthah had to pay this money instead. But the Book of Judges seems not to describe the mere payment of money.
- Perhaps the person who gave the gift had to pay money too. The other person would work for God for his whole life. This is what happened to Samuel in 1 Samuel 1:21-28. If these commentators are right, then it was not possible to buy back a person from the LORD.
A shekel is a weight measurement of 0.4 of an ounce. Because women were not as strong as men they had a lower value. People who were promised to the Lord would help the priest in their tabernacle or Temple duties. In countries near to Israel the people would sacrifice their children to their false god’s. The Lord did not allow this in Israel.
In verse eight the person here is someone who is offering to the Lord. That person must stand in front of the priest. The priest will then decide how much a poor man will have to pay.
God immediately accepts the gift that someone promises to Him. The gift becomes the property of God even before the priest receives it. The one giving the gift cannot change his mind or change the gift, such as offering a different animal, before he hands over the gift. If he tries to do that, then both animals belong to God. The gift could be an animal that is being offered as a sacrifice. The giver cannot buy that gift back. When he had promised it to God, God had accepted it and when God accepted it the animal became holy. God will not accept any other payment so the man has to sacrifice that animal. If a man gives an animal that is not acceptable as a sacrifice, such as a donkey or a horse, the priest cannot sacrifice it. Usually the priest would sell the animal at a proper value and the money would be used for the house of God.
If the giver becomes sorry that he gave the animal to God, then he can buy it back. But he must be aware that he has done something wrong. He is taking back something that he has given to God so he must pay back with a 20% penalty.
To dedicate means to sit aside and to make holy. If a man sells his house to be used by the priests then he must pay 20% above the price to buy it back. Once you have given something to God and take it back you must pay a penalty. A person can also give some of his land to God. Usually the family could regain the land in the jubilee year. If the giver wanted the land back before the jubilee year he would have to pay 20% above the cost.
The translation of gallon in Hebrew is “horner.” A “homer is close to fifty gallons. The Hebrew word of donkey is “homer.” A horner of seed is what a donkey can carry. Two things are not clear here to Bible commentators.
- Who does work on the field that the man has dedicated to the LORD? Does the man who dedicated the field work on it? Then perhaps, he gives the harvest to the priests. Or do the priests work on the field? Bible students are not sure about the answers.
- Who sells the field to somebody else in verse 20? Is it the man or the priests? Again, commentators are not sure about the answers. Perhaps this is about land that the man has already sold. Usually, he would own the land again in the Jubilee Year. But the man has given his rights over the land to the LORD, so he cannot buy the land back. So in the Jubilee Year, the land will become the LORD’s.
The rules for a temporary gift of land to the Lord are as follows. Whenever someone bought land he only owned it till the jubilee year. In the jubilee year the land went back to the original owner. If the buyer of the land gave it to the Lord, it would be only a temporary gift until the next jubilee year.
The first born of cow or sheep belongs to the Lord. (Exodus 13;2 Exodus 34:19-20) If the first born of an animal is a donkey, then it is unclean. The owner can buy it back from the Lord. Exodus 34;20 says that the owner must give a lamb to the Lord. That is the price of the donkey. If the owner does not want to buy back the donkey, he must kill it. The owner then may decide to again give the donkey to the Lord but it would not be used for a sacrifice. The only animals that the priests sacrificed were cows, bulls, sheep and goats.
It is more serious to devote something to the Lord. A person can buy back something dedicated to the Lord but he cannot buy back something devoted to the Lord. Something devoted becomes most holy to the Lord. Often, the people destroyed these things completely in order to hand them over to the LORD. (Joshua 6:17-19) We see this happening in certain battles. (1 Samuel 15:17-23)
In verse 29 if a judge decided that a person’s crimes deserved death, that person was devoted to the Lord and could not be ransomed. The judge making that decision had handed that person over to the Lord. This judgment was only for the worst of crimes, such as killing someone or a person by purpose fighting against the Lord. (Leviticus 24:13-17)
A tithe is one tenth or 10%. The farmer’s rod was used to make the animal pass under and into a narrow gate. This way the farmer could count his animals and every tenth one belonged to the Lord, that animal was holy. It was possible for a person to buy back a tithe at a 20% penalty.
God gave these rules to the Israelites because he wanted to have a relationship with them. He wanted to forgive their sins so that they could have fellowship with him. God wanted his people to be able to worship him in the beauty of holiness.