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The Irredeemable Offering

The Tithes  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Leviticus 27:26–34 NRSV
A firstling of animals, however, which as a firstling belongs to the Lord, cannot be consecrated by anyone; whether ox or sheep, it is the Lord’s. If it is an unclean animal, it shall be ransomed at its assessment, with one-fifth added; if it is not redeemed, it shall be sold at its assessment. Nothing that a person owns that has been devoted to destruction for the Lord, be it human or animal, or inherited landholding, may be sold or redeemed; every devoted thing is most holy to the Lord. No human beings who have been devoted to destruction can be ransomed; they shall be put to death. All tithes from the land, whether the seed from the ground or the fruit from the tree, are the Lord’s; they are holy to the Lord. If persons wish to redeem any of their tithes, they must add one-fifth to them. All tithes of herd and flock, every tenth one that passes under the shepherd’s staff, shall be holy to the Lord. Let no one inquire whether it is good or bad, or make substitution for it; if one makes substitution for it, then both it and the substitute shall be holy and cannot be redeemed. These are the commandments that the Lord gave to Moses for the people of Israel on Mount Sinai.
Vers. 26–33.—The law of vows and their commutation is further declared in four subjects: (1) the firstborn of animals; (2) things already devoted; (3) tithes of the produce of the land; (4) tithes of the produce of the cattle.
Vers. 26–28.—The firstborn of animals were already the Lord’s, and they could not, therefore, be vowed to him afresh; the sacrificial animals were to be offered in sacrifice (); the ass was to be redeemed by a sheep or be put to death (; ); other unclean animals are to be either redeemed at the fixed price, plus one-fifth, or, if not redeemed, sold for the benefit of the sanctuary.
Vers. 28, 29.—Whatever is already cherem (a word here first used as a term well understood), that is, devoted to God, whether devoted for the purpose of destruction or of entire surrender to him, may be neither redeemed nor sold. Whether it be of man, like the Canaanites at Hormah (), or of beast, as the sheep and oxen of the Amalekites (), or of the field, as referred to in ver. 21, or of other inanimate objects, as the cities of Hormah (). It is either to be put to death or given up without reserve or commutation to God’s ministers. In the case of men they must be put to death. “This provision would have applied only to the devoting of those who were already manifestly under the ban of Jehovah—those guilty of such outrageous and flagrant violation of the fundamental law of the covenant that they manifestly came under the penalty of death. Such persons, instead of being tried and condemned, might be at once devoted and put to death” (Gardiner). “To this it may be added that the devotion by ban (cherem) of any object or person was not to be done by private persons, at their own will, but was performed by the civil magistrates, under known conditions and laws; e.g. The cities of idolaters, such as Jericho, were so devoted, and the inhabitants, by the command of God himself, who made his people to be the executioners of his judgments against inveterate idolatry (see ; )” (Wordsworth).
Vers. 30–32.—Tithes, like the cherem, are introduced as things well known. Abraham gave tithes to Melchizedek (; ). Jacob vowed the tenth to the Lord (), whence we see that the practice of the payment of tithes was not of Mosaic institution, but immemorial. The duty was, however, commanded afresh for the Israelites. “I have given the children of Levi all the tenth in Israel for an inheritance, for their service which they serve, even the service of the tabernacle” (), and of this tithe they were to pay a tenth to the priests (). Being already the Lord’s, the tithe of the corn and fruits could not be vowed to the Lord, but it could be redeemed, or commuted, by the owner paying one-fifth more than the price at which it was valued.
Vers. 32, 33.—The tithe of the cattle could neither be vowed nor redeemed. As the young oxen and sheep passed under the rod by which they were counted by the herdsman, the tenth animal was touched (the rod, according to tradition, having been dipped in red paint), and handed over to the Levites. There was to be no change made in the animals, nor was commutation allowed.
Ver. 34.—The final verse of the previous chapter is repeated after the further legislation on vows and on their commutation has been added, to show that it too makes part of the Sinaitic code.
H. D. M. Spence-Jones, ed., Leviticus, The Pulpit Commentary (London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1910), 428–429.

I. DEVOTED THINGS DIFFER FROM THINGS SANCTIFIED. 1. In that they may not be redeemed. (1) Things sanctified might be redeemed. The laws of estimation proceeded upon the recognition of this principle. (2) But it is otherwise with things devoted (see vers. 6, 21, 28). They are in the category of things “most holy,” which only may be touched by the priests. (3) Hence firstlings must not be sanctified (ver. 26). The reason is that they are already the property of God. They can neither be given to him nor redeemed from him. They were types of Christ, who is therefore called the “Firstfruits of every creature”—the Antitype of all the firstfruits. 2. Persons when devoted were doomed to die. (1) Such was the fate of the enemies of the Lord. The Canaanites as unfit to live were so devoted (see Exod. 22:19; Deut. 25:19; Josh. 6:17; 1 Sam. 15:3; 1 Kings 20:42). (2) Here is no reference to human sacrifices, as some have imagined. It is a question of justice and judgment upon the wicked. (3) But by a rash vow the innocent may suffer. Thus through the adjuration of Saul Jonathan’s life was imperiled (1 Sam. 14.). Jephthah’s vow compromised the life of his daughter (Judg. 11:30, 31, 39). The reading in the margin (ver. 31) is preferable. Jephthan could not make a burnt offering of anything unsuited to that purpose, and whatever else came forth he vowed not to sanctify but to devote. (4) The severity of God upon those devoted for their wickedness should admonish sinners of the formidableness of his anger in the great day of his wrath.

II. THE LAW CONCERNING TITHES. 1. These are now formally required. (1) They were originally vowed to God (see Gen. 14:19; 28:22). (2) The acts of the patriarchs bound their posterity. Hence Levi paid tithes to Melchizedek, being yet in the loins of Abraham (Heb. 7:9, 10). (3) Therefore God now claims them (vers. 30, 32). (4) The spirit of this law is still binding upon the spiritual seed of Abraham (see 1 Cor. 9:11; Gal. 6:6). 2. Things marked as tithes must not be exchanged. (1) The expression, “passeth under the rod.” is thus explained by the rabbins: “When a man was to give the tithe of his sheep or calves to God, he was to shut up the whole flock in one fold, in which there was one narrow door capable of letting out one at a time. The owner stood by the door with a rod in his hand, the end of which was dipped in vermilion or red ochre. The mothers of those lambs or calves stood without, and as the young ones passed out, when the tenth came he touched it with the colour, and this was received as the legitimate tithe.” (2) Here note the vicarious principle. When the tenth was taken, nine went free. Christ is our Tenth (see Isa. 6:13). (3) The tenth must not be exchanged for better or worse. Providence is presumed to have guided the rod. While Christ becomes the Substitute for mankind, no one can take his place.—J. A. M.

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