This final chapter of Leviticus almost feels like an appendix. The previous chapters dealt with laws, rules, and statutes, this one concerns the voluntary dedication or consecration of people, animals, and crops to The Lord. God doesn’t require people to vow themselves to service in the tabernacle but He makes provision for it. A person dedicating himself to God made a vow to dedicate himself or in some cases his child (as in the case of Samuel) to service in the tabernacle. Unlike a promise made by God, a person could break the vow by being redeemed for a certain amount of money. The amount of money did not not depend on their worth or what they might give the Lord but depending on their age and gender and what they could be sold for as a slave. Verses 1-8 read,
“The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, If anyone makes a special vow to the Lord involving the valuation of persons, 3 then the valuation of a male from twenty years old up to sixty years old shall be fifty shekels of silver, according to the shekel of the sanctuary. 4 If the person is a female, the valuation shall be thirty shekels. 5 If the person is from five years old up to twenty years old, the valuation shall be for a male twenty shekels, and for a female ten shekels. 6 If the person is from a month old up to five years old, the valuation shall be for a male five shekels of silver, and for a female the valuation shall be three shekels of silver. 7 And if the person is sixty years old or over, then the valuation for a male shall be fifteen shekels, and for a female ten shekels. 8 And if someone is too poor to pay the valuation, then he shall be made to stand before the priest, and the priest shall value him; the priest shall value him according to what the vower can afford.”
Although God never breaks His vows, He gave provision for the fact that humans will indeed make rash promises in the passion of the moment and then find they can’t live up to them. He made a way out but it was costly. Redemption is always costly for the redeemer.
It is understandable that some people in their fervor and devotion to God wanted to vow themselves to His service. And the service they would be offering wouldn’t be a pleasant job, it would be cleaning, carrying ashes out of the camp, and serving the priests. Although the job would seem lowly, The Lord esteemed them. He put a heavy price on vows to ensure that not only would the people understood the gravity of offering themselves or their animals to The Lord but they would consider it carefully.
God takes vows very seriously, He made promises to Abraham and Israel and He kept them even when Abraham tried to make it work his way, even when Israel turned their back on God at every chance they got. We are told to be careful with our vows, to be very quick about keeping them. We are told we are better off not to make a vow at all. Vows of the human heart tend to be just lip service. We often find the price is too much to pay. Ecclesiastes 5:4-7 says,
“When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow. 5 It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. 6 Let not your mouth lead you into sin, and do not say before the messenger that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry at your voice and destroy the work of your hands? 7 For when dreams increase and words grow many, there is vanity; but God is the one you must fear.”
Whatever it is, we are promising to God belongs to Him anyway. He is the one who gave us life, He is the one who makes the rain fall and crops grow. He is the one who provides our flocks (our income). It is all His. Although He appreciates our zeal and loves the aroma of our worship, He doesn’t require us to make promises to Him. And He doesn’t want us to promise something to Him that is already His, such as our tithes. Verses 26 and 30 read,
“But a firstborn of animals, which as a firstborn belongs to the Lord, no man may dedicate; whether ox or sheep, it is the Lord's.”
“Every tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the trees, is the Lord's; it is holy to the Lord.”
Today, under the New Covenant we belong to the Lord, He bought us, He paid a dear price for us. We are already devoted to Him. No one can buy us back from Him. He redeemed us out of the slavery we were in to be His people. We are His people and He is our God. Because we are His and we have His Spirit, His mind and heart, we have to be even more careful about vows.
Jesus demonstrated it to us in His teaching. He would often bring up laws and tell us we had to go further than the law required. It is that way with vows too. In Matthew 5:33-37 Jesus said,
“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.”
What belongs to God is holy. Making a vow by the earth, by heaven, by anything at all disparages it. You, Believer, are holy because you belong to God. He doesn’t want your lip service, He wants you. Rather than promise something to God, just do it.