James Gray - Concise Bible Commentary
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,Leviticus 27:1-34
VOWS AND TITHES
We have in this closing chapter a supplement to the whole book. Hitherto we dealt with obligations and duties resting on all Israelites alike, but now we come to vows of an additional and voluntary character (Deuteronomy 23:22).
PERSONS MIGHT BE VOWED (Leviticus 27:1-8)
The thought is, that persons might be vowed for service in the sanctuary; but since service could not be found for so large a number, and especially for young children, who might be vowed, there might be a money equivalent for them. This equivalent, which was to be paid into the treasury of the sanctuary, was determined by the labor value of the person vowed as based on sex and age. It was always low enough not to burden the poor.
DOMESTIC ANIMALS MIGHT BE VOWED (Leviticus 27:9-13)
If the animal were suitable for sacrifice, it might be accepted for the service; but if otherwise, the priest must set a price on it for which it might be sold by the owner and the money placed in the treasury. In this case one-fifth more was to be added to the price, as a check perhaps, to prevent the making of rash vows.
EXCLUSIONS FROM VOW (Leviticus 27:26-33)
Houses and fields might be vowed (Leviticus 27:14-25), upon the same principles as the foregoing. But three kinds of property could not be vowed: the firstlings of the beasts (Leviticus 27:26); a “devoted thing,” in the sense of an accursed thing like the property in Jericho, (Leviticus 27:28-29 compared with Joshua 7:17); and “the tithe of the land” (Leviticus 27:30). The reason for these prohibitions was that these already belonged to God, so their human possessors had no right to them.
There is a serious matter here in the devotement or accursing of human beings, but we postpone its consideration till we meet with a conspicuous application of the principle at a later period.
LAW OF THE TITHE
The tithe was one of the things belonging to God in any event, and which could not be voluntarily vowed.
This is specially interesting as raising the question whether the tithe is binding upon Christians at the present time. In our judgment it is not; but that does not mean that Christians may give according to impulse or caprice, since the New Testament lays down the principle of giving a fixed portion of our income to the Lord as He has prospered us (1 Corinthians 16:1-2; 2 Corinthians 8:7-9). It is customary under the Gospel to leave much to the individual conscience regarding the details of worship and conduct, which, under the Mosaic law was regulated by rule. Paul gives the explanation in Galatians 4:1-5.
Has a vow of any kind a place in the practical life of Christians? It seems not forbidden in the New Testament, but neither is it approved.
The true conception of Christian life and duty leaves no room for a promise to God of what is not due, inasmuch as through the transcendent obligation of grateful love to Him for our redemption, everything is due (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).
The question is not speculative, since it constitutes one of the distinctions between Romanism and Protestantism. The Romish theory of works of supererogation comes in here, and closely associated with it, the doctrine of purgatory. Here is the germ of the celibate life of the clergy, of sisterhoods and monasticism, the tendency of which is towards legalism on the one hand and moral declension on the other (Galatians 4:9; Colossians 2:16-23).
1. What particular kind of vows is dealt with here?
2. For what service were persons vowed?
3. What properties could not be vowed, and why?
4. Quote 1 Corinthians 16:1-2.
5. Is a vow normal in the Christian life?
LAW OF THE TITHE
The tithe, or the dedication of the tenth of one’s possessions to God, is a practice of antiquity, and a question arises as to whether the obligation is still resting upon those who would serve God in this dispensation? An answer was given in the last lesson, but it is desirable to enlarge upon it.
While we hear nothing of the tithe in the first Christian centuries, it came into practice in the fourth century, and later was established as a law of the church for some centuries.
The modern spirit has become more and more averse to it, until under the present voluntarism it has seemed likely to disappear altogether.
In consequence of this there has been a revival of interest in it of late as necessary for the maintenance and extension of the church, those who would revive it holding that the principle is still binding on the Christian.
In settling the question, it is to be remembered that the moral obligation is one thing and the legal another. Morally it is our duty to set apart for God a fixed proportion of our income, but the precise proportion is a subject on which the New Testament is silent. For the moral obligation see 1 Corinthians 16:1-2, where no reference is made to the legal obligation. If the tithe had been still binding as to the letter, this would have been the place for the apostle to have mentioned it.
As a matter of fact, it is commonly found in the New Testament that the individual is left at liberty regarding the details of worship and conduct as compared with conditions under the Mosaic law (Galatians 4:1-5).
One author however, calls attention to a matter of importance not commonly considered in the discussion of this subject. For example, the people of Israel were under a theocratic government, where God Himself ruled, where the whole system of law was divinely executed. When thus carried out this system would have prevented excessive accumulation of wealth in the hands of individuals, as we have seen in the consideration of earlier chapters of this book. There would thus have been secured an equal distribution of property, such as the world has never seen, and doubtless never will until the millennium. Under such circumstances it would have been possible to exact a certain proportion of income for sacred purposes with a certainty that it would have worked with perfect fairness to all.
But with us it is different. Wealth is unequally distributed in our economy, and no law of the tithe could be made to work as in Israel. To the poor it would be a heavy burden, and to the rich a tax so small as to amount to exemption. The poor man would sometimes be required to take bread out of the mouths of wife and children, while the millionaire would still have thousands to spend in luxuries. The latter might often more easily give nine-tenths of his income than the former one-twentieth.
While, therefore, the law of the tithe would not seem to be binding upon us to the letter, from the moral point of view it is still in force. It forbids the Christian to give simply according to impulse or whim. He is to lay by in store as the Lord hath prospered him. Let there be systematic giving to the Lord’s work under the law of a fixed proportion of gifts to income, inspired by recalling God’s grace to us (2 Corinthians 7:9), and the Lord’s treasury will never be empty, nor will the Lord Himself be robbed of His due.
1. Is the tithe a Biblical conception only?
2. What is the difference between the moral and legal obligation to tithe?
3. Why could the tithe operate successfully in Israel?
4. Why not in our system of political economy?
5. What obligation of giving rests on Christians?