A man might vow to the service of God whatever he had a right over, that is, himself, his wife, his children, his slaves, his beasts, his houses, his fields. In case persons were vowed, the rule was that they should be redeemed at a certain price, though occasionally the redemption was not made. Vowing a person to God thus, was, as a rule, no more than vowing so much money to the use of the sanctuary as was fixed as the price of the redemption of the person vowed. Yet there is a great difference between the two acts of vowing a person and vowing the correlative sum of money. A man in great danger or distress might devote himself ( Genesis 28:20 ) or another ( 11:30 ; 1 Samuel 1:11 ) to God, when he never would have vowed money. Such vows were redeemable, and, as a rule, were redeemed, though there were some exceptions, as in the case of Samuel.
If beasts were vowed to the Lord ( Leviticus 27:9-13 ), they could not be redeemed if they were such as could be sacrificed to him; if they were not such as could be sacrificed, they were to be valued by the priest, and either retained as a possession of the sanctuary, or, if the owner preferred it, redeemed by him at the price fixed and out-fifth additional.
If houses were vowed to the Lord ( Leviticus 27:14 , Leviticus 27:15 ), they became the property of the sanctuary, unless they were redeemed at the valuation set upon them by the priest, with one-fifth additional.
If hereditary lands were vowed to the Lord ( Leviticus 27:16-21 ), they became the possession of the sanctuary at the year of jubilee, unless they had been previously redeemed; redemption, however, was in this case the ordinary rule, and we do not hear of any accumulation of landed property in the hands of the priests from this source. In the ease of a field which was not an hereditary possession, but a purchase, being vowed to the Lord ( Leviticus 27:22-24 ), the commutation sum was paid down "in that day," that is, on the spot in a lump sum, the land going back at the jubilee to the original owners from whom the temporary possession had been bought by the man who made the vow.
A section is added forbidding the firstborn of animals, things devoted, and tithes to be vowed, because they were already the Lord's; allowing the redemption of the firstborn of unclean animals, and of the tithes of corn and fruits, but prohibiting redemption in the ease of sacrificial animals, of things devoted, and of the tithes of animals.
The sum at which a man between twenty and sixty years of age was to be redeemed was fifty shekels, equal to f6 9s. 2d.; a woman, thirty shekels, or f3 17s. 6d.; a youth between five and twenty years of age, twenty shekels, or f2 11s. 8d.; a maiden between the same ages, ten shekels, or £ 5s. 10d.; a boy between one month and five years, five shekels, or 12s. 11d.; a girl between the same ages, three shekels, or 7s. 9d.; a man above sixty years, fifteen shekels, or f1 18s. 9d.; a woman of the same age, ten shekels, or f1 5s. 10d.
Vows are not instituted by the Mosaic legislation; they were already in existence as a habit of the Hebrew people, and they are only regulated by Moses. The principle on the subject of vows is that no one was bound to make a vow, but that when a vow was made, it must be observed by the payment of the thing vowed or its recognized commutation. Thus Deuteronomy 23:21 , "When thou shalt vow a vow unto the Lord thy God, thou shalt not slack to pay it: for the Lord thy God will surely require it of thee; and it would be sin in thee. But if thou shalt forbear to vow, it shall be no sin in thee." And Numbers 30:2 , "If a man vow a vow unto the Lord, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth." And Ecclesiastes 5:5 , "Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay."
I. OLD - TESTAMENT VOWS WERE PROMISES TO GOD TO GIVE UP TO HIM SOMETHING OF VALUE ON CONDITION OF DELIVERANCE IN DISTRESS OR HELP IN ATTAINING SOMETHING DESIRED . Examples:
1 . Jacob's vow: "And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, 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 ).
2 . Jephthah's vow: "And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the Lord, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands, then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the Lord's, and (or) I will offer it up for a burnt offering" ( 11:30 , 11:31 ). What Jephthah appeared to contemplate as likely to meet him was either a non-sacrificial animal, which would then be handed over to the sanctuary ( Leviticus 27:11-13 ), or a sacrificial animal, which would be offered up. His daughter came under the first head ( Leviticus 27:9 , Leviticus 27:10 ).
3 . Hannah's vow: "And she vowed a vow, and said, O Lord of hosts, if thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thine handmaid, and remember me, and not forget thine handmaid, but wilt give unto thine handmaid a man child, then I will give him unto the Lord all the days of his life, and there shall no razor come upon his head" ( 1 Samuel 1:11 ).
4 . Absalom's pretended vow: "For thy servant vowed a vow while I abode at Geshur in Syria, saying, If the Lord shall bring me again indeed to Jerusalem, then I will serve the Lord (offer sacrifices in Hebron)" ( 2 Samuel 15:8 ).
II. CHRISTIAN VOWS ARE PROMISES MADE TO GOD , DIFFERING FROM THE JEWISH VOW BY BEING INDEPENDENT OF ANY DELIVERANCE OR , BENEFIT TO BE RECEIVED IN RETURN . Examples:
1 . The baptismal vow, ratified and confirmed in Confirmation: "Wilt thou then obediently keep God's holy will and commandments, and walk in the same all the days of thy life? I will." "Do you here, in the presence of God, and of this congregation, renew the solemn promise and vow that was made in your name at your baptism; ratifying and confirming the same in your own person? I do" (Baptism and Confirmation Services).
2 . The marriage vow: "Wilt thou have this woman to thy wedded wife, to live together after God's ordinance in the holy estate of matrimony?" "Wilt thou have this man to thy wedded husband, to live together after God's ordinance in the holy estate of matrimony?" "I will" (Form of Solemnization of Matrimony).
3 . The ordination vow: "Will you then give your faithful diligence always so to minister the doctrine and sacraments, and the discipline of Christ, as the Lord hath commanded, and as this Church and realm hath received the same, according to the commandments of God?" "I will so do, by the help of the Lord" (The Ordering of Priests).
III. THE CONDITIONS UNDER WHICH VOWS AND OATHS ARE NOT , OR CEASE TO BE , OBLIGATORY . Jeremiah writes ( Jeremiah 4:2 ), "And thou shalt swear, The Lord liveth, in truth, in judgment, and in righteousness." Isaiah speaks of those "which swear by the Name of the Lord, and make mention of the God of Israel, but not in truth, nor in righteousness" ( Isaiah 48:1 ). Accordingly, any oath or vow is void which was an unrighteous oath or vow when taken; and the sin of breaking it, though a sin, is less than that of keeping it. Therefore Herod ought not to have kept his oath to the daughter of Herodias ( Matthew 14:9 ); and the observance of their oath by the forty conspirators who had bound themselves to kill Paul, would have been a sin on their part ( Acts 23:12-21 ). Further, a vow, as distinct from an oath or contract, ceases to be obligatory if the person concerned comes to regard it as unrighteous and wrong for him to fulfill with his changed mind or under changed circumstances. Thus, the vow taken at ordination to administer the sacraments in the form received by a special Church, is not binding if a man ceases on conscientious grounds to be a member of that Church, and. the vow of celibacy taken by Luther and others, who have become reformers, no longer binds them when they have come to the conviction that the vow was unrighteous, and when they have rejected the discipline of their Church. The marriage vow, however, stands upon a different basis, because marriage is a contract, containing not only a vow to God, but also a promise to man, by the non-fulfillment of which wrong would be done. f1
On keeping vows.
cf. Ecclesiastes 5:4 , Ecclesiastes 5:5 ; 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.
The loving heart will ask not only what 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.
3 . So are true Christians.
II. THINGS MAY BE CONSECRATED AS WELL AS PERSONS .
1 . A beast might be the subject of a singular vow.
2 . A house may be the subject of a singular vow.
3 . A field might be the subject of a singular vow.
The relations between God and his ancient people were not so rigid as they are sometimes supposed to have been. It was not all enactment on the one hand, and obedience or disobedience on the other. We find illustration here—
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
This was to be a singular vow ( Leviticus 27:2 ), the dedication of something over and above that which was, by law, already appropriated to the service of Jehovah (see Leviticus 27:26 , Leviticus 27:30 ). 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
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 ( Leviticus 27:3-8 ); or he might redeem a beast by paying money equal to its estimated value, together with one-fifth part added thereto ( Leviticus 27:13 ); so with a piece of land ( Leviticus 27:19 ): 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 ( Leviticus 27:28 , Leviticus 27:29 ). 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
The distinctions which remain.
A pious Hebrew might, under a sense of gratitude, or in an hour of spiritual elevation, dedicate something dear to himself unto Jehovah. It might be a person, or an animal, or a field. If the first of these, he or she was to be redeemed, and a table was drawn according to which the redemption was to be made. In this scale, we find the extremes of life, age and infancy, valued at the least sum, youth at more, and prime at the most; we find also woman placed lower in the list than man. These distinctions in the estimated value of human life may remind us—
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 ( Leviticus 27:7 ); 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" ( Psalms 92:13 , Psalms 92:14 ).
2 . That prime has the largest offering to lay on the altar of the Lord ( Leviticus 27:3 ). Manhood brings its strength, its maturity, its experience, its learning, its vigour.
3 . That youth is of great account in the estimate of God ( Leviticus 27:5 ); 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 ( Leviticus 27:6 ); 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.
Vows and dues.
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.