When a man shall make a singular vow.
Laws concerning vows
I. That voluntary and special vows were permitted by the Lord. Vows should be made cautiously, deliberately, and, in most instances, conditionally; because further enlightenment, or changed conditions may render their fulfilment undesirable, unnecessary, or even impossible.
II. That vows were acceptable to the Lord according to the spirit which prompted them, and in which they were paid. When circumstances justified an Israelite repenting of his vow, it could be com-mutated or remitted, or some compensation offered in its stead. Jehovah would accept nothing that was recklessly or reluctantly presented. All adjustments and decisions were to be made according to the standards of the sanctuary, not according to human fallibility and caprice. Though a vow should not be literally performed, it must be perfectly fulfilled in respect to honourable intention and sacred fidelity. The state of heart, in the presentation of sacrifice, determined the value of the gift. This law has fever been repealed.
III. That freedom of choice given in the fulfilment of vows did not contravene the purposes of the lord concerning his work and worship. The compensation paid in lieu of the original vow went to sustain the sanctuary services, and the Lord reserved to Himself some unalienable rights. Some things when devoted could not be withheld or withdrawn under any circumstances. He demanded a tenth of the produce of the land, and enforced His claim with righteous and unrelaxing rigour. Thus the preservation and perpetuation of Jehovah’s worship were secured, and not left contingent upon the fickleness and uncertainty of human devotedness. Righteousness lies at the foundation of the Levitical economy; is the basis of natural and revealed religion. Leviticus is a witness to Christ and His gospel. In Him we have combined all that the law embodied--Altar, Sacrifice, Priest. Simplicity, and purity of aims, loftiest motives, deepest meanings, and incomparable excellence, lift the law and the gospel infinitely above all other religions of the world. The superiority to Jewish narrowness and bigotry, to human sinfulness and shortsightedness, demonstrate their divinity of origin, mutual dependence, absolute authority, undying vigour, and inestimable worth. (F. W. Brown.)
The extraordinary in the service of God
This is part of the law concerning singular vows, extraordinary ones; which though God did not expressly insist on, yet if they were consistent and conformable to the general precepts, He would be well pleased with. Note--We should not only ask what must we do, but what may we do, for the glory and honour of God. As the liberal deviseth liberal things (Isaiah 32:8), so the pious deviseth pious things, and the enlarged heart would willingly de something extraordinary in the service of so good a Master as God is. When we receive or expect some singular mercy, it is good to honour God with some singular vow. (Matthew Henry, D. D.)
The singular vow
I. Speaking in modern phrase, we should describe this chapter as the act of the old law on the “singular vow.” This vow was distinguished from certain other vows common among the Hebrews by the circumstance that it was susceptible of redemption. We can all understand that a consecration of a man’s self or of a man’s estate might be so hurriedly or so thoughtlessly made (as in the case of Jephtha with his daughter) that the author of them would find out afterwards how rashly the promise had been given, and how unequal he was to the keeping it, and so be anxious to compound by a money equivalent for the more spiritual service he found himself incompetent to bring. This kind of engagement is called in the Hebrew the “Neder,” and is further marked by the character of singularity or wonderfulness; whereas towards the end of this very chapter we have another vow provided for, and called the “Cherem,” which, being accompanied with some sort of anathema or execration, allowed no redemption. But now, observe very carefully the method appointed for gaining release from the obligation. Moses was to arbitrate according to what he considered the ability of the applicant to render. “Pay so much,” would be the decision of the lawgiver, “and thou mayest go free.” Rut the remarkable and the beautiful thing is, that even that measure of relief to the vow-maker was not absolutely or invariably final. Moses might overestimate the resources of the devotee for the buying himself off from the personal service of the Tabernacle--Moses might adjudge too heavy a ransom--and therefore the law provided a yet further and more merciful escape. The man was at liberty to appeal from Moses to the priest. Aaron was the priest. His very name stands for a representative before God of the wants and the sorrows and the sins of the people; and hence to transfer the adjudication of a debtor’s affairs from Moses to his brother would, as you can all see, be the introduction of a perfectly new element into the ease to be tried. The appellant would be as poor in the presence of Aaron as he was in the presence of the former judge. He would also be as rich. And yet the very terms of the text are all but decisive on the fact that he would gain by carrying his cause before this new tribunal. Aaron would certainly--if we understand the law of the case--fix the money ransom at a lower figure. And the obvious reason is that Aaron, by virtue of his own calling, would make up for it--i.e., for the deficiency--in some other way, and in some way in which Moses could not make up for it. We must not pronounce with any authority on the exact method in which the priest would settle with the poverty of a debtor, and make it possible for him to go free whom his brother would have handed over to the full penalties of the vow, to do, perhaps, Gibeonites’ work as a hewer of wood or a drawer of water. But the probability is that the remedy in Aaron’s hands would be the appointment of some easy offering in which the priest would render him the aid of his sacred functions.
II. Now it will hardly require any one of us to be very deep in controversial divinity to understand that if we are going to Christianise this type and turn it to the account of a modern religious experience, we shall be treading on most critical, though it may turn out very lawful and very instructive, ground. In a word, then, let us say we are now having no business whatever with an unregenerate man, nor any business whatever with the sacrifice of Christ as the only channel of his justification. The solitary topic of the text is a topic for men already in the covenant. Regeneration, and even justification, must be understood as settled already; and the vow-making of Leviticus must be looked upon wholly and solely as the service of the Christian, at peace with the law, but struggling with subsequent duties. Is there no difference? There is all the difference in the world between the terms on which the great God will take a man to heaven and the terms on which He will treat him when already in the covenant. In the former transaction the man may vow as he likes; he can pay nothing, and he is never asked to pay. In the latter transaction, where the former is finished, the man is commanded to pay, and struggles to pay; but, nevertheless, our point with you is that times without number he is unable to pay. The universal and the sad fact is that entire duty is what none of us can render. Even in the Church the law is too much for us. And what we have to do a hundred times a day, and all our lives long, is to fall back on the solitary and sufficient and omnipotent righteousness of Christ. We do greatly err if we limit the sacerdotal functions of Immanuel to the gaining us forgiveness at our conversion or the taking us to heaven when we die. We want a priest every moment; some one that is to furnish the balance of service and duty demanded by our profession, but never forthcoming. Those two men, Moses and Aaron, may be said to travel with the Christian every inch of his journey: Moses standing for what I ought to do and to be; Aaron standing for what I take refuge in as often as I come short or fall below, “If he be poorer than thy estimation.” Which of us is not poorer than the Lawgiver’s estimation? Can we pay what is due from us? We acknowledged, when first we believed, that we could do nothing of the kind. But remember that there is a power and a merit in the righteousness of Christ that continues at the disposal of the saint till the day of his death. Immanuel is certain to judge me, or, according to the text, to value me on other grounds than those of justice and of law: and the reason is that He has something to give me, something of His own. He is my Priest, and has business with the altar and the sacrifice, and under the gospel Christ is Himself all three. You who tell me my duty are only my lawgivers fresh from Mount Sinai. So is the Sermon on the Mount; so is my conscience; so is everything and every one, but Christ. But do you not see that if a Mediator, who for ever is holding up His righteousness on my behalf--if He values me my value alters? I am now not the bankrupt debtor who had not enough to pay, I am that debtor and some one else besides. I am a part of Christ. I bring now my poor offerings of duty, for I must still bring them, but I bring them covered with blood, and made worth something by blood. And, therefore, though I was not rich enough to pay what I owed as bare law sat and measured my resources, I can pay the uttermost farthing as soon as Jesus the Saviour adds His own Cross to my inheritance. (H. Christopherson.)
The provisions of righteousness and grace
Now, in the case of a person devoting himself, or his beast, his house, or his field, unto the Lord, it was obviously a question of capacity or worth; and, hence, there was a certain scale of valuation, according to age. Moses, as the representative of the claims of God, was called upon to estimate, in each case, according to the standard of the sanctuary. If a man undertakes to make a vow he must be tried by the standard of righteousness; and, moreover, in all cases we are called upon to recognise the difference between capacity and title. Moses had a certain standard from which he could not possibly descend. He had a certain rule from which he could not possibly swerve. If any one could come up to that, well; if not, he had to take his place accordingly. What, then, was to be done in reference to the person who was unable to rise to the height of the claims set forth by the representative of Divine righteousness? Hear the consolatory answer (Leviticus 27:8). In other words, if it be a question of man’s undertaking to meet the claims of righteousness, then he must meet them. But if, on the other hand, a man feels himself wholly unable to meet those claims, he has only to fall back upon grace, which will take him up, just as he is. Moses is the representative of the claims of Divine righteousness. The priest is the exponent of the provisions of Divine grace. The poor man who was unable to stand before Moses fell back into the arms of the priest. Thus it is ever. If we cannot “dig” we can “beg”; and directly we take the place of a beggar it is no longer a question of what we are able to earn, but of what God is pleased to give. “Grace all the work shall crown, through everlasting days.” How happy it is to be debtors to grace! How happy to take when God is glorified in giving! When man is in question it is infinitely better to dig than to beg; but when God is in question the case is the very reverse. I would just add, that I believe this entire chapter bears, in an especial manner, upon the nation of Israel. It is intimately connected with the two preceding chapters. Israel made “a singular vow” at the foot of Mount Horeb; but were quite unable to meet the claims of law--they were far “poorer than Moses’ estimation.” But, blessed be God, they will come in under the rich provisions of Divine grace. (C. H. Mackintosh.)
Influence of a singular vow
I made a solemn vow before God, that if General Lee were driven back from Pennsylvania, I would crown the result by the declaration of freedom to the slaves. (President Lincoln.)
A vow kept
I met some time ago a gentleman residing in a retired town in Kent, who told that he was recently confined to his house by indisposition and inclement weather on a wintry Sunday. When the rest of the family were at church he took up George Muller’s book, in which he describes “The Lord’s Dealings” with him. He became so much interested in the author’s life and labours that he promised his conscience, then and there, that if a certain business transaction he had in hand resulted in a certain amount of success, he would send the philanthropist £100 for his Orphans’ Home. The success was realised, and he was then just on the point of sending off a cheque for the promised amount. (Elihu Burritt.)
It is said of Andreas, one of the kings of Hungary, that having engaged himself by promise to go to the holy wars (as they then called them), went with all his forces, and coming to Jerusalem, only bathed himself there, as one that had washed off his promise, and so returned back again without striking One blow. Such is the case with many men at present, their promises, covenants, and agreements with others, though sealed and subscribed, prove too, too often as brittle as the glasses they drink in; no bounds will hold them, they rob the Grecians of their proverb, and own it themselves. For let but the worst of men say they will do this or that, is as much as if they had sworn they would not do it, unless it be when they embark themselves in some unwarrantable actions, and the sun may sooner be thrust out of his sphere than they diverted from their adamantine resolutions. (J. Spencer.)
The redemption of a singular vow
Incidents in Oriental history often read like parables. Men are moved by strange motives to do strange things; and the student from the west wanders in a maze of fancies and facts that are bewildering indeed. Thus it is that the early portion of a missionary’s life in an eastern land teems with things that are unreal, and he is surrounded by fellow-men who seem in no true sense his fellows. There is so much that is inexplicable to him in their motives and conduct, that, until he gets a “clue to the maze,” from a constant study of the religions that dominate their lives, his blunders are many, and sometimes even disastrous to his mission. The following is an instance of what I mean, and as it is recorded as an historical fact, will serve the purpose admirably: “Abd-al-Muttalib once vowed that if he should be so greatly blessed as to have ten sons, one should certainly be devoted to Allah. In process of time, the number was fulfilled, and the reluctant father gathered his offspring in the Kaaba, and cast lots for the one to be sacrificed. The lot fell upon Abdalla, the beautiful son of his old age. The sacrifical knife was solemnly prepared”; and, like Abraham, he stood ready for the awful deed. But the lad’s sisters came to the rescue. They knew that the Arabs offered camels in sacrifice, and in their abounding grief they entreated their father to cast lots between their brother and ten of these valuable creatures. He consented; but, to their sorrow, the lot fell a second time on the favourite boy. The number of beasts was then doubled, and the lot cast again; but still it fell upon the lad. Time after time trial was made, as the sorrowing sisters and the troubled father became more and more desperate in their anxiety to save the dear one. At last one hundred camels had been proffered, and then, to their great joy, the lot fell upon the beasts. Abdalla was saved. God had set his own value upon the devoted boy, and when an equivalent was provided he was free. Arabs value highly the “ships of the desert”; for they are so essential to their mode of life. But a human being is more precious than many of them. This was recognised when ten camels were proffered; but until an unprecedented number had been Divinely sanctioned, the true worth of the man was not fully believed in. Thus, all the world over, man has had to learn the value of his fellow by degrees. Many have not learnt the lesson yet, because only man’s Maker and Redeemer can aright estimate the worth of man, and reveal it to us. This He hath done in the gift of His Only-begotten Son, who took man’s place that the lot might fall upon Him as of more than equal value with the whole of our race. (Robert Spurgeon.)
Philip Henry’s vow
A good man named Philip Henry resolved, when he was young, to give himself to God, and he did it in these words: “I take God the Father to be my Chief End; I take God the Son to be my King and Saviour; I take God the Holy Ghost to be my Guide and Sanctifier; I take the Bible to be my rule of life; I take all God’s people to be my friends; and here I give my body and soul to be God’s--for God to use for ever.” That was Philip Henry’s resolve, which he wrote out for himself when he was young; and he put at the end of it--“I make this vow of my own mind freely: God give me grace to keep it.” (C. Bullock.)
A vow fulfilled
“I remember that when we arrived at the hotel at White Mountains, the ladies sat down to a cup of tea, but I preferred to take a walk alone. It was a beautiful spot. The sun was just then reclining his head behind Mount Washington, with all that glorious drapery of an American sunset, of which we know nothing in this country. I felt that I should like to be walking with my God on this earth! I said, ‘What shall I render to my Lord for all His benefits to me?’ I was led further to repeat that question which Paul asked under other circumstances, ‘Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?’ The answer came immediately. It was this: ‘It is true thou canst not bring the many thousands thou hast left in thy native country to see this beautiful scenery; but thou canst create beautiful scenes for them. It is possible on a suitable spot so to arrange art and nature, that they shall be within the walk of every working man in Halifax; that he shall go and take his stroll there after he has done his hard day’s toil, and be able to get home again without being tired.’“ He pondered the thought, prayed over it, and the next day resolved to carry it into execution. On his return to England he took immediate steps for the fulfilment of his purpose; the design of the proposed park was entrusted to the late Sir Joseph Paxton, and on the 14th of August, 1857, it was publicly opened. It covers twelve and a half acres of ground, and its entire cost was upwards of £30,000. (Memoir of Sir Francis Crossley.)
According to the shekel of the sanctuary.
Sanctuary measure demanded in small things
The law of the sanctuary is to regulate all. Full weight is sought for, but neither superfluity nor abatement. God loves a perfect balance and a just weight. We do not know whether or not there was a standard measure kept in the sanctuary; but it is very probable. Some, indeed, render the words, “shekel of holiness,” i.e., a true shekel; still it is every way likely that the other is the true meaning, admitting that this rendering be right. There was probably a standard measure kept in the sanctuary, by which all other weights and measures were regulated. Here would be a type to Israel of the Lord’s justice. Here, in the sanctuary of Jehovah, they found the source and regulating measure of all dealings in business between man and man, and of all similar dealings between God and man, through His priests. Would not this standard measure be felt to be a type of the Lord’s original attribute of righteousness? He it is that judges; He it is that fixes what is right and what is wrong; He it is to whom all Israel must come to have thought and action weighed. May not 1 Samuel 2:3 refer to this? Hannah’s eye had rested on this standard measure, and so she sings, “By Him actions are weighed.” Who shall stand before this holy God? He perceives what is wanting the moment He has adjusted His balances. He detects the want of faith in Cain at the altar; of true godly zeal in Jehu’s heart; of love in Ephesus; of life in Sardis; of oil in the five virgins; of the wedding garment in the speechless guest: He judges according to the real weight--not the apparent. He judges “according as the work has been,” not according as the show has been (1 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 20:12; Revelation 22:12). (A. A. Bonar.)
All the tithes of the land . . . is the Lord’s.
The history of tithes
I. The scripture records concerning the law of tithes.
1. Antecedent to the Mosaic legislation. The principle of dedicating a tenth to God was recognised in the act of Abraham, who paid tithes of his spoils to Melchizedek in his sacerdotal rather than his sovereign capacity (Genesis 14:20; Hebrews 7:6). Later, in Jacob’s vow (Genesis 28:22), the dedication of a “tenth” presupposes a sacred enactment, or’ a custom in existence which fixed that proportion rather than any other proportion, such as a seventh or twelfth.
2. The Mosaic statutes. These given in this section lay claim in God’s name to the tenth of produce and cattle. An after enactment fixed that these tithes were to be paid to the Levites for their services (Numbers 18:21-24), who were to give a tithe of what they received to the priests (Leviticus 27:26-28). The sacred festivals were later made occasion for a further tithe (Deuteronomy 12:5-6; Deuteronomy 12:11; Deuteronomy 12:17; Deuteronomy 14:22-23); which was allowed to come in money value rather than in kind (Deuteronomy 14:24-26).
3. Hezekiah’s reformation. This was signalised by the eagerness with which the people came with their tithes (2 Chronicles 31:5-6).
4. After the Captivity. Nehemiah made marked and emphatic arrangements concerning the tithing (Nehemiah 10:37; Nehemiah 12:44).
5. Prophet’s teachings. Both Amos (4:4) and Malachi (3:10) enforce this as a duty, by severely rebuking the nation for its neglect-as robbing God.
6. In Christ’s day. Our Lord exposed and denounced the ostentatious punctiliousness of the Pharisees over their tithing (Matthew 23:23).
7. Teaching of the New Testament. The fact of the existence of ministers as a distinct Mass, assumes provision made for their maintenance. The necessity for such provision, and the right on which it is founded, are recognised in such texts as Matthew 10:10; Luke 10:7; Romans 15:27; 1 Corinthians 9:7-14.
II. The ecclesiastical development of the demand for tithes.
1. The Fathers urged the obligation of tithing on the earliest Christians. The “Apostolical Canons,” the “Apostolical Constitutions,” St. Cyprian on “The Unity of the Church,” and the writings of Ambrose, Chrysostom, Augustine, and other Fathers of both divisions of the early Church, abound with allusions to this as a duty; and the response was made, not in enforced tithing, but by voluntary offerings.
2. The legislation of the first Christian emperors recognised the obligation of maintaining the ministers of Christ. But while they assigned lands and other property to their support, they enacted no general payment of the tenth of the produce of the lands.
3. Ancient Church councils favoured tithings of land and produce, e.g., the Councils of Tours, A.D. 567; the second Council of Macon, A.D. 585; the Council of Rouen, A.D. 650; of Nantes, A.D. 660; of Metz, 756.
4. Its first imperial enactment. Charlemagne (king of the Franks, A.D. 768-814, and Roman Emperor, A.D. 800-814) originated the enactment of tithes as a public law, and by his capitularies formally established the practice over the Roman Empire which his rule swayed. From this start it extended itself over Western Christendom; and it became general for a tenth to be paid to the Church.
5. Introduction of tithes into England. Offa, king of Mercia, is credited with its assertion here, at the close of the eighth century. It spread over other divisions of Saxon England, until Ethelwulf made it a law for the whole English realm. It remained optional with those who were compelled to pay tithes to determine to what Church they should be devoted, until Innocent III. addressed to the Archbishop of Canterbury, A.D. 1200, a decretal requiring tithes to be paid to the clergy of the parish to which payees belonged. About this time also, tithes, which had originally been confined to those called praedial, or the fruits of the earth, was extended to every species of profit and to the wages of every kind of labour.
6. The great and small tithe. The great tithe was made upon the main products of the soil, corn, hay, wood, &c.; the small on the less important growths. To the rector the great tithes of a parish are assigned, and to the vicar the small.
7. Tithes paid “in kind.” These claim the tenth portion of the product itself (verses 30-33). This is varied by a payment of an annual valuation; or an average taken over seven years; or by a composition, which, in a bulk sum, redeems the land from all future impost, rendering it henceforth “tithe flee.” (W. H. Jellie.)
I know of two men who started business with this view: “We will give to God one-tenth of our profits.” The first year the profits were considerable; the tithe was consequently considerable. The next year there was increase in the profits, and, of course, increase in the tithe. In a few years the profits became very, very large indeed, so that the partners said one to another: “Is not a tenth of this rather too much to give away? Suppose we say we will give a twentieth?” And they gave a twentieth; and the next year the profits had fallen down; the year after they fell down again, and the men said to one another, as Christians should say in such a case, “Have not we broken our vow? Have we not robbed God?” And in no spirit of selfish calculation, but with humility of soul, self-reproach and bitter contrition they went back to God and told Him how the matter stood, prayed His forgiveness, renewed their vow, and God opened the windows of heaven and gave back to them all the old prosperity. (Joseph Parker, D. D.)
Giving to God
What Abraham gave to Melchizedek, and Jacob vowed at Bethel, has ever appeared most natural for men to set aside for the Lord regularly--the tenth of all. Among the Israelites, there were several kinds of tithe, and yet all cheerfully paid; the tenth for the Lord, paid to the Levites (Numbers 18:21), and the next tenth, consecrated and feasted on at Jerusalem, or given away to the poor (Deuteronomy 12:6; Deuteronomy 28:29). Seed or fruit might be redeemed; and there might be good reasons for a man wishing to redeem this part of the tithe. He might require to sow his field, and be in need of the seed of dates or pomegranates to replenish his orchard. Therefore permission is given to redeem these, though still with the addition of a fifth, in order to show that the Lord is jealous, and marks anything that might be a retraction, on the man’s part, of what was due to the Lord. He may redeem this tithe, but it is done cum nota As to the tithe of herd and flock, this is not allowed. Whatever passes under the rod, good or bad, is tithed and taken, inalienably. The Lord does not seek a good animal, where the rod, in numbering, lighted on a bad as the tenth passed by; neither does He admit of the substitution of an inferior animal, if the rod has lighted on the best in the whole flock. He seeks just what is His due, teaching us strict and holy disregard of bye-ends and selfish interests. And thus this book--this Gospel of the Old Testament--ends with stating God’s claims on us, and His expectation of our service and willing devotedness. As the first believers at Pentecost, rejoicing in pardon and the love of God, counted nothing dear to them, nor said that aught they possessed was their own, so ought we to live. We must sit loose from earth; and true love to our Redeemer will set us loose. This giving up of our possessions at God’s call, teaches us to live a pilgrim life, and that is an Abrahamic life--nay, it is the life of faith in opposition to sight. The whole of this concluding chapter has been leading us to the idea of giving to the Lord all we have. It has been making us familiar with the idea, and by example inculcating the practice of like devotedness. God should be all in all to us; he is “God all-sufficient.” Let us part even with common, lawful comforts, and try if He alone be not better than all. Like the child with the stalk of grapes, who picked one grape after another from the cluster, and held it out to her father, till, as affection waxed warm and self faded, she gaily flung the whole into her father’s bosom, and smiled in his face with triumphant delight; so let us do, until, loosening from every comfort, and independent of the help of broken cisterns, we can say, “I am not my own! Whom have I in heaven but Thee? and there is none upon earth whom I desire besides. Thou art to me, as Thou wert to David at the gates of death, ‘All my salvation and all my desire.’” After so much love on God’s part to us, displayed in rich variety of type and shadow, shall we count any sacrifice hard? (A. A. Bonar.)
Are tithes binding on Christians
In attempting to settle for ourselves this question, it is to be observed, in order to clear thinking on this subject, that in the law of tithe as here declared there are two elements--the one moral, the other legal--which should be carefully distinguished. First and fundamental is the principle that it is our duty to set apart to God a certain fixed proportion of our income. The other and--technically speaking--positive element in the law is that which declares that the proportion to be given to the Lord is precisely one-tenth. Now, of these two, the first principle is distinctly recognised and reaffirmed in the New Testament, as of continued validity in this dispensation; while, on the other hand, as to the precise proportion of our income to be thus set apart for the Lord, the New Testament writers are everywhere silent. As regards the first principle, St. Paul, writing to the Corinthians, orders that “on the first day of the week”--the day of the primitive Christian worship--“every one” shall “lay by him in store as God hath prospered him.” He adds that he had given the same command also to the churches of Galatia (1 Corinthians 16:1-2). This most clearly gives apostolic sanction to the fundamental principle of the tithe, namely, that a definite portion of our income should be set apart for God. While, on the other hand, neither in this connection, where a mention of the law of the tithe might naturally have been expected, if it had been still binding as to the letter, nor in any other place does either St. Paul or any other New Testament writer intimate that the Levitical law, requiring the precise proportion of a tenth, was still in force--a fact which is the more noteworthy that so much is said of the duty of Christian benevolence. To this general statement with regard to the testimony of the New Testament on this subject, the words of our Lord to the Pharisees (Matthew 23:23), regarding their tithing of “mint and anise and cummin”--“these ye ought to have done”--cannot be taken as an exception, or as proving that the law is binding for this dispensation; for the simple reason that the present dispensation had not at that time yet begun, and those to whom He spoke were still under the Levitical law, the authority of which He there reaffirms. From these facts we conclude that the law of these verses, in so far as it requires the setting apart to God of a certain definite proportion of our income, is doubtless of continued and lasting obligation; but that, in so far as it requires from all alike the exact proportion of one-tenth, it is binding on the conscience no longer. Nor is it difficult to see why the New Testament should not lay down this or any other precise proportion of giving to income as a universal law. It is only according to the characteristic usage of the New Testament law to leave to the individual conscience very much regarding the details of worship and conduct, which under the Levitical law was regulated by specific rules: which St. Paul explains (Galatians 4:1-5) by reference to the fact that the earlier method was intended for and adapted to a lower and more immature stage of religious development; even as a child, during his minority, is kept under guardians and stewards, from whose authority, when he becomes of age, he is free. But, still further, it seems to be forgotten by those who argue for the present and permanent obligation of this law, that it was here for the first time formally appointed by God as a binding law, in connection with a certain Divinely instituted system of theocratic government, which, if carried out, would effectively prevent excessive accumulations of wealth in the hands of individuals, and thus secure for the Israelites, in a degree the world has never seen, an equal distribution of property. In such a system it is evident that it would be possible to exact a certain fixed and definite proportion of income for sacred purposes, with the certainty that the requirement would work with perfect justice and fairness to all. But with us social and economic conditions are so very different, wealth is so very unequally distributed, that no such law as that of the tithe could be made to work otherwise than unequally and unfairly. To the very poor it must often be a heavy burden; to the very rich, a proportion so small as to be a practical exemption. While, for the former, the law, if insisted on, would sometimes require a poor man to take bread out of the mouth of wife and children, it would still leave the millionaire with thousands to spend on needless luxuries. The latter might often more easily give nine-tenths of his income than the former could give one-twentieth. It is thus no surprising thing that the inspired men who laid the foundations of the New Testament Church did not reaffirm the law of the tithe as to the latter. And yet, on the other hand, let us not forget that the law of the tithe, as regards the moral element of the law, is still in force. It forbids the Christian to leave, as so often, the amount he will give for the Lord’s work, to impulse and caprice. Statedly and conscientiously he is to “lay by him in store as the Lord hath prospered him.” If any ask how much should the proportion be, one might say that by fair inference the tenth might safely be taken as an average minimum of giving, counting rich and poor together (see 2 Corinthians 8:7-9). (S. H. Kellogg, D. D.)
These are the commandments which the Lord commanded Moses for the children of Israel.
The moral and ceremonial commandments, as compared with the gospel law
Many of these commandments are moral and of perpetual obligation. Others of them ceremonial and peculiar to the Jewish economy, which yet have a spiritual significance, and are instructive to us who are furnished with a key to let us into the mysteries contained in them; for unto us by these institutions is the gospel preached, as well as unto them (Hebrews 4:2). And upon the whole matter we may see cause to bless God that we are not come to Mount Sinai (Hebrews 12:18).
1. That we are not under the dark shadows of the law, but enjoy the clear light of the gospel, which shows us Christ the end of the law for righteousness (Romans 10:4). The doctrine of our reconciliation to God by a Mediator is not clouded with the smoke of burning sacrifices, but cleared by the knowledge of Christ, and Him crucified.
2. That we are not under the heavy yoke of the law and the carnal ordinances of it, as the apostle calls them (Hebrews 9:10), imposed till the time of reformation, a yoke which neither they nor their fathers were able to bear (Acts 15:10); but under the sweet and easy institutions of the gospel, which pronounces those the true worshippers, that worship the Father in spirit and truth, by Christ only, and in His name, who is our Priest, Temple, Altar, Sacrifice, Purification, and All. Let us not therefore think that because we are not tied to the ceremonial cleansings, feasts, and oblations, a little care, time, and expense will serve to honour God with. No, but rather have our hearts more enlarged in free-will-offerings, to His praise, more inflamed with holy love and joy, and more engaged in seriousness of thoughts, and sincerity of intention. Having boldness to enter into the holiness by the blood of Jesus, let us draw near with a true heart, and in full assurance of faith, worshipping God with so much the more cheerfulness and humble confidence, still saying, Blessed be God for Jesus Christ. (Matthew Henry, D. D.)
The covenant in its relation to nations and individuals
The last chapter of the book is taken up with directions for individual worship, on the details of which we cannot enter; but this general thought is suggested, that though the nation as a whole may lose its covenant standing, the way is always open for individuals. There is much comfort in this thought, in view of such dark times as those to which the prophetical part of the preceding chapter points. The door of mercy is never shut, however dark and degenerate the times may be. However wickedness may abound in the world, and coldness and deadness in the Church, God will always have His witnesses, and they will always have their opportunities. This word is never changed, “Whosoever will, let him come.” In all times religion in the last resort must be an individual matter between the soul and God. No man can be saved in a crowd; but neither can any man be lost in a crowd. And sometimes, when the great multitude seems to carry all before it, God still may have His seven thousand men, known to Him alone, who have brought their individual offerings to Him, and “never bowed the knee to Baal.” Remember the comfort that was given to Daniel, when his spirit was ready to faint in the prospect of the dark days which the prophetic vision had disclosed. “Go thou thy way till the end be; for thou shalt rest and stand in thy lot at the end of the days.” “Go thou thy way”--in times of apostasy and darkness, it is for the individual believer to leave the destinies of the world and of the Church in the hands of Him who “doeth all things well,” and seek only to be faithful to his own duty. As for others: “shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” And as for thee, “thou shalt rest”--there is the fulfilment of the Sabbath and all the sabbatic series--“and stand in thy lot at the end of the days”--there is the fulfilment of the jubilee and all the eighth day series. Amid all the secularities and unbelief and disobedience of the times, let us seek to maintain communion with God, and bring our individual offerings, however “singular” they be, and we shall certainly find that “the joy of the Lord is our strength,” and that His thoughts of love expressed in the feasts of the old covenant will be fulfilled for us, and then at the end of the days we shall enter on our sabbath of rest, and our jubilee of joy eternal. (J. M. Gibson, D. D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Leviticus 27". The Biblical Illustrator. https://pro.studylight.org/
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34