Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
The directions concerning vows follow the express termination of the Sinaitic lawgiving (Lev 26:46), as an appendix to it, because vows formed no integral part of the covenant laws, but were a freewill expression of piety common to almost all nations, and belonged to the modes of worship current in all religions, which were not demanded and might be omitted altogether, and which really lay outside the law, though it was necessary to bring them into harmony with the demands of the law upon Israel. Making a vow, therefore, or dedicating anything to the Lord by vowing, was not commanded, but was presupposed as a manifestation of reverence for God, sanctified by ancient tradition, and was simply regulated according to the principle laid down in Deu 23:22-24, that it was not a sin to refrain from vowing, but that every vow, when once it had been made, was to be conscientiously and inviolably kept (cf. Pro 20:25; Ecc 5:3-5), and the neglect to keep it to be atoned for with a sin-offering (Lev 5:4). - The objects of a vow might be persons (Lev 27:2-8), cattle (Lev 27:9-13), houses (Lev 27:14, Lev 27:15), and land (Lev 27:16-25), all of which might be redeemed with the exception of sacrificial animals; but not the first-born (Lev 27:26), nor persons and things dedicated to the Lord by the ban (Lev 27:28, Lev 27:29), nor tithes (Lev 27:30-33), because all of these were to be handed over to the Lord according to the law, and therefore could not be redeemed. This followed from the very idea of the vow. For a vow was a promise made by any one to dedicate and given his own person, or a portion of his property, to the Lord for averting some danger and distress, or for bringing to his possession some desired earthly good. - Besides ordinary vowing or promising to give, there was also vowing away, or the vow of renunciation, as is evident from Num 30. The chapter before us treats only of ordinary vowing, and gives directions for redeeming the thing vowed, in which it is presupposed that everything vowed to the Lord would fall to His sanctuary as corban, an offering (Mar 7:11); and therefore, that when it was redeemed, the money would also be paid to His sanctuary. - (On the vow, see my Archaeologie, 96; Oehler in Herzog's Cycl.)
The vowing of persons. - "If any one make a special vow, souls shall be to the Lord according to thy valuation." נדר הפליא does not mean to dedicate or set apart a vow, but to make a special vow (see at Lev 22:21). The words בּערכּך, "according to thy (Moses') valuation," it is more simple to regard as an apodosis, so as to supply to ליהוה the substantive verb תּהיינה, than as a fuller description of the protasis, in which case the apodosis would follow in Lev 27:3, and the verb יקדּישׁ would have to be supplied. But whatever may be the conclusion adopted, in any case this thought is expressed in the words, that souls, i.e., persons, were to be vowed to the Lord according to Moses' valuation, i.e., according to the price fixed by Moses. This implies clearly enough, that whenever a person was vowed, redemption was to follow according to the valuation. Otherwise what was the object of valuing them? Valuation supposes either redemption or purchase. But in the case of men (i.e., Israelites) there could be no purchasing as slaves, and therefore the object of the valuing could only have been for the purpose of redeeming, buying off the person vowed to the Lord, and the fulfilment of the vow could only have consisted in the payment into the sanctuary of the price fixed by the law.
(Note: Saalschtz adopts this explanation in common with the Mishnah. Oehler is wrong in citing Sa1 2:11, Sa1 2:22, Sa1 2:28 as a proof of the opposite. For the dedication of Samuel did not consist of a simple vow, but was a dedication as a Nazarite for the whole of his life, and Samuel was thereby vowed to service at the sanctuary, whereas the law says nothing about attachment to the sanctuary in the case of the simple vowing of persons. But because redemption in the case of persons was not left to the pleasure or free-will of the person making the vow as in the case of material property, no addition is made to the valuation price as though for a merely possible circumstance.)
This was to be, for persons between twenty and thirty years of age, 50 shekels for a man and 30 for a woman; for a boy between 5 and 20, 20 shekels, for a girl of the same age 10 shekels; for a male child from a month to five years 5 shekels, for a female of the same age 3 shekels; for an old man above sixty 15 shekels, for an old woman of that age 10; the whole to be in shekels of the sanctuary (see at Exo 30:15). The valuation price was regulated, therefore, according to capacity and vigour of life, and the female sex, as the weaker vessel (Pe1 3:7), was only appraised at half the amount of the male.
But if the person making the vow was "poor before thy valuation," i.e., too poor to be able to pay the valuation price fixed by the law, he was to be brought before the priest, who would value him according to the measure of what his hand could raise (see Lev 5:11), i.e., what he was able to pay. This regulation, which made it possible for the poor man to vow his own person to the Lord, presupposed that the person vowed would have to be redeemed. For otherwise a person of this kind would only need to dedicate himself to the sanctuary, with all his power for work, to fulfil his vow completely.
When animals were vowed, of the cattle that were usually offered in sacrifice, everything that was given to Jehovah of these (i.e., dedicated to Him by vowing) was to be holy and not changed, i.e., exchanged, a good animal for a bad, or a bad one for a good. But if such an exchange should be made, the animal first dedicated and the one substituted were both to be holy (Lev 27:9, Lev 27:10). The expression "it shall be holy" unquestionably implies that an animal of this kind could not be redeemed; but if it was free from faults, it was offered in sacrifice: if, however, it was not fit for sacrifice on account of some blemish, it fell to the portion of the priests for their maintenance like the first-born of cattle (cf. Lev 27:33).
Every unclean beast, however, - an ass for example, - which could not be offered in sacrifice, was to be placed before the priest for him to value it "between good and bad," i.e., neither very high as if it were good, nor very low as if it were bad, but at a medium price; and it was to be according to this valuation, i.e., to be worth the value placed upon it (הכּהן כּערכּך according to thy, the priest's, valuation), namely, when sold for the good of the sanctuary and its servants.
But if the person vowing wanted to redeem it, he was to add a fifth above the valuation price, as a kind of compensation for taking back the animal he had vowed (cf. Lev 5:16).
When a house was vowed, the same rules applied as in the case of unclean cattle. Knobel's supposition, that the person making the vow was to pay the valuation price if he did not wish to redeem the house, is quite a groundless supposition. The house that was not redeemed was sold, of course, for the good of the sanctuary.
With regard to the vowing of land, a difference was made between a field inherited and one that had been purchased.
If any one sanctified to the Lord "of the field of his possession," i.e., a portion of his hereditary property, the valuation was to be made according to the measure of the seed sown; and an omer of barley was to be appraised at fifty shekels, so that a field sown with an omer of barley would be valued at fifty shekels. As an omer was equal to ten ephahs (Eze 45:11), and, according to the calculation made by Thenius, held about 225 lbs., the fifty shekels cannot have been the average value of the yearly produce of such a field, but must be understood, as it was by the Rabbins, as the value of the produce of a complete jubilee period of 49 or 50 years; so that whoever wished to redeem the field had to pay, according to Mishnah, Erachin vii. 1, a shekel and a fifth per annum.
If he sanctified his field from the year of jubilee, i.e., immediately after the expiration of that year, it was to "stand according to thy valuation," i.e., no alteration was to be made in the valuation. But if it took place after the year of jubilee, i.e., some time or some years after, the priest was to estimate the value according to the number of years to the next year of jubilee, and "it shall be abated from thy valuation," sc., praeteritum tempus, the time that has elapsed since the year of jubilee. Hence, for example, if the field was vowed ten years after the year of jubilee, the man who wished to redeem it had only forty shekels to pay for the forty years remaining up to the next year of jubilee, or, with the addition of the fifth, 48 shekels. The valuation was necessary in both cases, for the hereditary field was inalienable, and reverted to the original owner or his heirs in the year of jubilee without compensation (cf. Lev 27:21 and Lev 25:13, Lev 25:23.); so that, strictly speaking, it was not the field itself, but the produce of its harvests up to the next year of jubilee, that was vowed, whether the person making the vow left it to the sanctuary in natura till the year of jubilee, or wished to redeem it again by paying the valuation price. In the latter case, however, he had to put a fifth over and above the valuation price (Lev 27:19, like Lev 27:13 and Lev 27:15), that it might be left to him.
In case he did not redeem it, however, namely, before the commencement of the next year of jubilee, or sold it to another man, i.e., to a man not belonging to his family, he could no longer redeem it; but on its going out, i.e., becoming free in the year of jubilee (see Lev 25:28), it was to be holy to the Lord, like a field under the ban (see Lev 27:28), and to fall to the priests as their property. Hinc colligere est, redimendum fuisse ante Jubilaeum consecratum agrum, nisi quis vellet eum plane abalienari (Clericus). According to the distinct words of the text (observe the correspondence of ואם...ואם), the field, that had been vowed, fell to the sanctuary in the jubilee year not only when the owner had sold it in the meantime, but also when he had not previously redeemed it. The reason for selling the field at a time when he had vowed it to the sanctuary, need not be sought for in caprice and dishonesty, as it is by Knobel. If the field was vowed in this sense, that it was not handed over to the sanctuary (the priesthood) to be cultivated, but remained in the hands of the proprietor, so that every year he paid to the sanctuary simply the valuation price, - and this may have been the rule, as the priests whose duties lay at the sanctuary could not busy themselves about the cultivation of the field, but would be obliged either to sell the piece of land at once, or farm it, - the owner might sell the field up to the year of jubilee, to be saved the trouble of cultivating it, and the purchaser could not only live upon what it yielded over and above the price to be paid every year to the sanctuary, but might possibly realize something more. In such a case the fault of the seller, for which he had to make atonement by the forfeiture of his field to the sanctuary in the year of jubilee, consisted simply in the fact that he had looked upon the land which he vowed to the Lord as though it were his own property, still and entirely at his own disposal, and therefore had allowed himself to violate the rights of the Lord by the sale of his land. At any rate, it is quite inadmissible to supply a different subject to מכר from that of the parallel גּאל, viz., the priest.
If on the other hand any one dedicated to the Lord a "field of his purchase," i.e., a field that had been bought and did not belong to his patrimony, he was to give the amount of the valuation as estimated by the priest up to the year of jubilee "on that day," i.e., immediately, and all at once. This regulation warrants the conclusion, that on the dedication of hereditary fields, the amount was not paid all at once, but year by year. In the year of jubilee the field that had been vowed, if a field acquired by purchase, did not revert to the buyer, but to the hereditary owner from whom it had been bought, according to the law in Lev 25:23-28.
All valuations were to be made according to the shekel of the sanctuary.
What belonged to the Lord by law could not be dedicated to Him by a vow, especially the first-born of clean cattle (cf. Exo 13:1-2). The first-born of unclean animals were to be redeemed according to the valuation of the priest, with the addition of a fifth; and if this was not done, it was to be sold at the estimated value. By this regulation the earlier law, which commanded that an ass should either be redeemed with a sheep or else be put to death (Exo 13:13; Exo 34:20), was modified in favour of the revenues of the sanctuary and its servants.
Moreover, nothing put under the ban, nothing that a man had devoted (banned) to the Lord of his property, of man, beast, or the field of his possession, was to be sold or redeemed, because it was most holy (see at Lev 2:3). The man laid under the ban was to be put to death. According to the words of Lev 27:28, the individual Israelite was quite at liberty to ban, not only his cattle and field, but also men who belonged to him, that is to say, slaves and children. החרים signifies to dedicate something to the Lord in an unredeemable manner, as cherum, i.e., ban, or banned. חרם (to devote, or ban), judging from the cognate words in the Arabic, signifying prohibere, vetare, illicitum facere, illicitum, sacrum, has the primary signification "to cut off," and denotes that which is taken away from use and abuse on the part of men, and surrendered to God in an irrevocable and unredeemable manner, viz., human beings by being put to death, cattle and inanimate objects by being either given up to the sanctuary for ever or destroyed for the glory of the Lord. The latter took place, no doubt, only with the property of idolaters; at all events, it is commanded simply for the infliction of punishment on idolatrous towns (Deu 13:13.). It follows from this, however, that the vow of banning could only be made in connection with persons who obstinately resisted that sanctification of life which was binding upon them; and that an individual was not at liberty to devote a human being to the ban simply at his own will and pleasure, otherwise the ban might have been abused to purposes of ungodliness, and have amounted to a breach of the law, which prohibited the killing of any man, even though he were a slave (Exo 21:20). In a manner analogous to this, too, the owner of cattle and fields was only allowed to put them under the ban when they had been either desecrated by idolatry or abused to unholy purposes. For there can be no doubt that the idea which lay at the foundation of the ban was that of a compulsory dedication of something which resisted or impeded sanctification; so that in all cases in which it was carried into execution by the community or the magistracy, it was an act of the judicial holiness of God manifesting itself in righteousness and judgment.
Lastly, the tenth of the land, both of the seed of the land - i.e., not of what was sown, but of what was yielded, the produce of the seed (Deu 14:22), the harvest reaped, or "corn of the threshing-floor," Num 18:27 - and also of the fruit of the tree, i.e., "the fulness of the press" (Num 18:27), the wine and oil (Deu 14:23), belonged to the Lord, were holy to Him, and could not be dedicated to Him by a vow. At the same time they could be redeemed by the addition of a fifth beyond the actual amount.
With regard to all the tithes of the flock and herd, of all that passed under the rod of the herdsman, the tenth (animal) was to be holy to the Lord. No discrimination was to be made in this case between good and bad, and no exchange to be made: if, however, this did take place, the tenth animal was to be holy as well as the one for which it was exchanged, and could not be redeemed. The words "whatsoever passeth under the rod" may be explained from the custom of numbering the flocks by driving the animals one by one past the shepherd, who counted them with a rod stretched out over them (cf. Jer 33:13; Eze 20:37). They mean everything that is submitted to the process of numbering, and are correctly explained by the Rabbins as referring to the fact that every year the additions to the flock and herd were tithed, and not the whole of the cattle. In these directions the tithe is referred to as something well known. In the laws published hitherto, it is true that no mention has been made of it; but, like the burnt-offerings, meat-offerings, and peace-offerings, it formed from time immemorial an essential part of the worship of God; so that not only did Jacob vow that he would tithe for the Lord all that He should give him in a foreign land (Gen 28:22), but Abraham gave a tenth of his booty to Melchizedek the priest (Gen 14:20). Under these circumstances, it was really unnecessary to enjoin upon the Israelites for the first time the offering of tithe to Jehovah. All that was required was to incorporate this in the covenant legislation, and bring it into harmony with the spirit of the law. This is done here in connection with the holy consecrations; and in Num 18:20-32 instructions are given in the proper place concerning their appropriation, and further directions are added in Deu 12:6, Deu 12:11; Deu 14:22. respecting a second tithe. - The laws contained in this chapter are brought to a close in v. 34 with a new concluding formula (see Lev 26:46), by which they are attached to the law given at Sinai.