I am doing a devotional on "Devoted" for the SW Women's Conference. In looking at Leviticus 27:28-29, there is a reference to "nothing a man owns and devoted to the Lord....", and then in v.29 certain things that are devoted to destruction. My understanding was that the latter is referring to even people as in the destruction of Jericho -- men, women, kids. Is there then a third method of devoting things to God which is revocable? It was a little confusing but I was intrigued by the idea that God wanted the "devoted things" to be unusable by anyone or anything other than him. It really expands my whole idea of what God defines as devotion. Also, which idea pertains to "proskarterountes" and which one to "charem.” Any thoughts are welcomed. -- Chris

Reply by Joey Harris:

Sorry for the delay...I was busy this past weekend, but I was also giving the question some thought. [From DJ: Sorry I didn't pass this on back in 2011.] As far as I can see, you are right; there are two, possibly three basic kinds of vows/sacrifices/"devotions" in view here, but several "use cases" are viewed by Moses for how they apply in various situations where someone might want/need to "undevote" something promised to the Lord with the first type, a "special vow."

In Leviticus 27:2, the language of the passage implies that a substitution of money may be in mind at time the vow is originally made, or perhaps it may be that when the time for the formal presentation of the gift arrives, a special vow of redemption may be made instead of giving the original gift vowed. The passage specifies that this is a "special" kind of vow (the KJV calls it a "singular vow"), as opposed to the other one or two types mentioned in the passage.

Basically, the first of the three types of vow/sacrifice devotion in view in this passage is when a person promises someone or something to the Lord with the (eventual?) intent of either substituting money in place of the actual gift or else with the intent of buying back (i.e., redeeming) the gift for its value + a 20% redemption fee. This is called a "special vow" in Leviticus 27:2. The bulk of Leviticus 27 is (no pun intended) devoted to describing the various exceptions and common situations involved in special vows where someone might want to redeem, take back, or exchange something promised to the Lord for something else of equivalent value (typically money).

Leviticus 27:1-8 sets valuations on people according to age and gender (perhaps using standard valuations for slaves at the time) allowing a person to substitute money for a person promised to the Lord. Possible situations where substitution might have been necessary could have been when the person to be given to the Lord had some sort of physical blemish or defect or illness which would preclude them from ritual service or if the person had died before they were able to be presented to the priests for service. Note that verse 8 provides for situations where a family may be too poor to pay the standard redemption for a person promised to the Lord.

Leviticus 27:9-13 states that animals promised to the Lord immediately become holy (i.e., set apart only for ritual use) and may not be redeemed at all. Once given, they cannot be taken back. The only exception given in the passage is that if the animal provided is not ritually clean or is unacceptable in any way as a ritual sacrifice then it may be redeemed at a value set by a priest who will assess its value which must then be paid to the priest. If the owner wishes to keep the animal, he must add a 20% surcharge to the value set by the priest in order to take the animal back.

Homes promised to the Lord (vv.14-15) may be redeemed according to a value set by a priest in the same way as unacceptable animal vows and could be bought back by the owner for the same 120% of the value established by the priest.

Portions of land could also be dedicated to the Lord and redeemed for 120% of its value as set by the priests (vv. 16-25). Various situations of land redemption (including both land and agricultural fields) are discussed with the main wrinkle in land redemption being the Year of Jubilee, when all land was supposed to revert back to its original owners. One interesting provision in the passage is that land that had been dedicated to the Lord could still be sold by the original owner but after the Jubilee Year, the land would NOT belong to the original owner, but would permanently belong to the priests and Levites (i.e., the Temple in later years), since the land had already been given to the Lord.

After discussing the redemption of people, animals, houses, land, and fields dedicated to the Lord with a special vow, the passage now turns to exceptions based on prior claim. In other words, you can't give to God what already belongs to God! Leviticus 27:26-27 simply states that you can't dedicate a firstborn animal since all firstborn animals already belong to the Lord (cf., Exodus 13).  Note that although not specifically stated in Leviticus 27, the text of Exodus 13 implies that firstborn human beings might also not have been able to be dedicated to the Lord and so might constitute another reason for the redemption of people dedicated to the Lord. Again, as earlier, an unclean firstborn animal could be redeemed for 120% of its assessed value or else had to be sold for its assessed value since it was not able to be sacrificed.

Now, in context, the passage in question Leviticus 27:28 seems to be referring to a second type of vow in which a person, animal, or land is devoted to the Lord and may not be redeemed. Verse 29 may be clarifying verse 28 in which case it is a subtype of a vow of permanent dedication of someone or something to God, or else verse 29 may be specifying a third type of vow...that initiated by God or military leaders devoting the people, animals, or other property to destruction for the Lord. In either case, such devoted property must be destroyed and may not be redeemed.

Lastly, the redemption of tithes of produce at 120% of assessed value and the tithing of animals is discussed. The redemption of produce tithes is similar to the standard "special vow" redemption but animal tithes (as distinct from animals donated to the Temple through a special vow) may not be redeemed nor substituted. If one is caught making a substitution, then both the originally tithed animal and the substitute animal become forfeit and belong to the Lord.

So, to recap and answer the question, there do appear to be two or three types of vows:

  1. a special, redeemable vow
  2. a permanent, unredeemable vow of a person or of personal property to the Lord (cf. I Sam 1)
  3. people or things devoted to destruction by God or military leaders.

I hope this helps. -- Joey