Introduction. To the modern reader, it at first might feel as though the book of Leviticus should have ended with the powerful promises of blessings and curses in Leviticus Chapter 26. God instead concludes the book with His rules for making and breaking a vow to Him. Studying the chapter provides a view into God’s heart for us. Leviticus is at the heart of God’s Law. This chapter reveals that a vow is the highest form of devotion that a person could make to God.
Why we should care about vows. Many believers might dismiss the need to study God’s rules for making a vow. Yet, the modern Church has done a terrible job keeping its vows. Today, nearly half of all marriages end in divorce. It is also widely known that the divorce rate for believers and non-believers is nearly identical. Even more surprising, evangelical churches have the highest divorce rates of any Christian denomination. Living under His mercy and grace has clearly caused many Christians to take their vows before Him lightly. Part of the problem may be that few even know what God has to say about the costs of breaking a vow before Him.
Examples of Biblical vows. As part of being sanctified, making a vow to the Lord was the highest act of devotion that one could make toward Him. Hannah vowed to give her son Samuel to the Lord to thank Him for her pregnancy (1 Sam. 1:27-28). Another example includes the Nazarite’s vow to deny themselves certain pleasures (Nu. 6:2-8). Jacob also vowed to tithe if God blessed him (Gen. 28:20-22). Likewise, Jonah promised to be obedient to God’s direction if He would free him from the belly of the fish (Jonah 2:9). Paul also made a vow to be a “bondservant” to God (Ro. 1:1; Gal. 1:10). Under Jewish law, a person’s vows become binding at age 13. A person who makes a vow at a bar mitzvah is called a “son of the Commandment.”
Modern vows. Although some may not realize it, Christians make lots of vows before God. Seven examples include (1) wedding vows, (2) sworn testimony, (3) tithes, (4) breaking with our sins or addictions, (5) baptisms, (6) baby dedications, and (7) New Years’ resolutions. Yet, Satan will inevitably tempt you to break a vow to God. When your worship subsides, your passions for God cools. Because most churches ignore these lessons, believers typically become lukewarm about their vows and break them like a New Years’ resolution.
Making a vow is the highest act of devotion that a person can make to God. Today, any believer in Christ is part of His holy priesthood (1 Pet. 2:5, 9; Rev. 1:6). Thus, the instructions in this book apply to every believer. He wants you to make a vow of devotion to Him. Yet, He only wants you to make vows that you will keep. From this chapter, a parallel chapter in Numbers Chapter 30, and from Jesus’ teachings, God reveals seven important truths about making a vow.
First, in order to help keep your vows, you need to understand why it matters to God that you keep them. Second, also to help you keep your vows, He wants you to know the cost of breaking them. Third, from Jesus, we learn that God only wants you to make vows that you are going to keep. When you make a vow, Jesus also wants you to be a person of your word. Fourth, while some vows can be broken, this does not include your vow of dedication to God. Fifth, give thanks that Christ has paid the cost of your broken vows. Sixth, as the future bridegroom to the Church, Christ both sets the example and gives us comfort that He will never break His vows to us. Finally, following Paul’s example, Jesus wants you to use your freedom under the Law to make a vow to be a bondservant or a slave to righteousness.
God’s law regarding vows. The last chapter in the book of Leviticus begins with God’s warning that He will measure or judge a person’s vow to Him by the standard of someone who already belongs to God and to the level expected from one of His servants: “1 Again, the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 ‘Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, When a man makes a difficult vow, he shall be valued according to your valuation of persons belonging to the Lord.’” (Lev. 27:1-2). In the parallel rules in the book of Numbers, God warns His people not to break their vows: “Then Moses spoke to the heads of the tribes of the sons of Israel, saying, ‘This is the word which the Lord has commanded. 2 If a man makes a vow to the Lord, or takes an oath to bind himself with a binding obligation, he shall not violate his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.’” (Nu. 30:1-2). To understand how important a vow is, one needs to appreciate how a broken vow can break Jesus’ Ten Commandments.
A broken vow can violate the Ten Commandments. Jesus came to fulfill the Law (Matt. 5:17). He fulfilled the blood sacrifices because He was the ultimate one-time sin offering (Isa. 53:7; Jo. 1:29; Heb. 10:12-14). Yet, He made clear that you must follow His Ten Commandments if you love Him (Jo. 14:15; 15:10). Consider the following:
The Third Commandment. To begin with, a broken vow can violate His Third Commandment. God warns us not to “swear falsely by My name, so as to profane the name of your God.” (Lev. 19:12). This violates the Third Commandment: “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.” (Ex. 20:7; Dt. 5:11).
The Seventh Commandment. A broken vow can also break the Seventh Commandment. The Seventh Commandment prohibits adultery (Ex. 20:14; Dt. 5:18). According to Jesus, if you are married and merely look upon another with lust, you have broken this Commandment (Matt. 5:28). This in turn also breaks the Third Commandment because the adulterer has also profaned God’s name by breaking his or her vow before God to forsake all others.
The Ninth Commandment. A broken vow can also break God’s Ninth Commandment. The Ninth Commandment prohibits giving false witness, which includes perjury (Ex. 20:16; Dt. 5:20). If we give false testimony or lie to others, we violate this Commandment. When we lie under oath, we also profane God’s holy name and therefore also violate the Third Commandment.
Profaning God’s name was punishable by death. The rate of divorce within the Church would suggest that people believe that God does not impose a cost upon believers who break their holy vows. Yet, God makes it clear that there are penalties for a broken vow made in His name. Because this profanes His holy name (Lev. 19:12), the penalty is death. “Moreover, the one who blasphemes the name of the Lord shall be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him.” (Lev. 24:16). This rule also was not limited to Jews. “The alien as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death.” (Lev. 24:16). “You shall not take the Lord’s name in vain, for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.” (Dt. 5:11). Adultery was also punishable by death (Lev. 20:10; Dt. 22:22). Thus, a person who breaks a wedding vow before God to commit adultery has two separate death sentences under the Law.
God’s commandment to pay for broken vows. If you break a vow, God expects you to pay the cost of breaking it: “So I will sing praise to Your name forever, that I may pay my vows day by day.” (Ps. 61:8). “When you make a vow to God, do not be late in paying it; for He takes no delight in fools. Pay what you vow! 5 It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay.” (Ecc. 5:4-5). “You will pray to Him, and He will hear you; and you will pay your vows.” (Job. 22:27). What was the cost of a broken vow? God gives the non-inflation adjusted silver prices in this chapter.
The financial and emotional costs of breaking a vow. Divorce is an example of a broken vow that brings tremendous costs. God only allowed for divorce because of the hardness of people’s hearts (Matt. 19:8). Although Christ can free us from our death sentence for breaking a vow, God still imposes a financial or emotional cost. Those who ignore God’s Law suffer through depression, anxiety, sleeplessness, low self esteem, and other emotional problems. A broken wedding vow can also carry financial costs. In the Old Testament, the financial cost of a broken vow varied based upon the age, gender, and wealth of the person: “’3 If your valuation is of the male from twenty years even to sixty years old, then your valuation shall be fifty shekels of silver, after the shekel of the sanctuary. 4 Or if it is a female, then your valuation shall be thirty shekels. 5 If it be from five years even to twenty years old then your valuation for the male shall be twenty shekels and for the female ten shekels. 6 But if they are from a month even up to five years old, then your valuation shall be five shekels of silver for the male, and for the female your valuation shall be three shekels of silver. 7 If they are from sixty years old and upward, if it is a male, then your valuation shall be fifteen shekels, and for the female ten shekels. 8 But if he is poorer than your valuation, then he shall be placed before the priest and the priest shall value him; according to the means of the one who vowed, the priest shall value him.’” (Lev. 27:3-8). Suppose a man marries at age 21. He decides to divorce his wife after 7 years and two kids. He justifies his decision by saying that he married too young. Approximately 2,000 years before Christ, that man would need to pay the priest 50 silver shekels (Lev. 27:3). Alternatively, if he was too poor to afford that, he could petition the priest, and the priest would determine a fair amount based upon what he could afford (Lev. 27:8). Notice that God meant for the priests to be directly involved in collecting this money, paying it to the ex-spouse and the children, and determining the appropriate hardship exceptions. The following chart lists the non-inflation adjusted prices in silver circa 2,000 B.C. Because God is fair, He adjusted prices based upon what people made at the time:
|Male||20-60 years||50 silver shekels||Lev. 27:3|
|Female||20-60 years||30 silver shekels||Lev. 27:4|
|Male||5-20 years||20 silver shekels||Lev. 27:5|
|Female||5-20 years||10 silver shekels||Lev. 27:5|
|Male||1 month -5 years||5 silver shekels||Lev. 27:6|
|Female||1 month - 5 years||3 silver shekels||Lev. 27:6|
|Male||60 + years||15 silver shekels||Lev. 27:7|
|Female||60 plus years||10 silver shekels||Lev. 27:7|
|Poor||Any age||(Per priest/ Per ability)||Lev. 27:8|
Comparing the silver prices to the wages at that time. The average male laborers wage in Biblical times earned approximately one silver shekel per month. Women received about 50-67 percent of a male laborer’s pay (Wenham, Gordon, The Book of Leviticus (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1979), p. 338). Thus, for the average male laborer aged 20 to 60 making 1 shekel a month, it would take 50 months or 4 years and 2 months to pay for a broken vow. Breaking a vow to God was not done lightly. Unlike today, divorce was a rare event because of the costs involved.
The cost of breaking a property pledge. If a person made a pledge to give an animal or real property and then tried to break that vow, the person would owe the fair market value of the animal or property, plus a 20 percent fee: “9 ‘Now if it is an animal of the kind which men can present as an offering to the Lord, any such that one gives to the Lord shall be holy. 10 He shall not replace it or exchange it, a good for a bad, or a bad for a good; or if he does exchange animal for animal, then both it and its substitute shall become holy. 11 If, however, it is any unclean animal of the kind which men do not present as an offering to the Lord, then he shall place the animal before the priest. 12 The priest shall value it as either good or bad; as you, the priest, value it, so it shall be. 13 But if he should ever wish to redeem it, then he shall add one-fifth of it to your valuation. 14 ‘Now if a man consecrates his house as holy to the Lord, then the priest shall value it as either good or bad; as the priest values it, so it shall stand. 15 Yet if the one who consecrates it should wish to redeem his house, then he shall add one-fifth of your valuation price to it, so that it may be his. 16 ‘Again, if a man consecrates to the Lord part of the fields of his own property, then your valuation shall be proportionate to the seed needed for it: a homer of barley seed at fifty shekels of silver.” (Lev. 27:9-16). Many churches struggle with pledge drives. If this rule were applied today, the only way the believer could get out of a pledge would be if the believer paid the pledge plus a 20 percent surcharge. When we make a Spirit-led pledge and then try to back out, we don’t trust God. Every good and perfect thing is from above (Ja. 1:17). Imagine how much more the churches would blossom from new resources if this rule was enforced.
Special rules for the Jubilee year. As explained in Leviticus chapter 25, special rules existed for the redemption of property in connection with the Jubilee year. God allowed for the redemption of the land to be calculated based upon the number of years remaining until the next jubilee. Yet, a kinsman redeemer still needed to pay a 20% penalty plus the fair market value of the property to redeem it if given as a vow to God: “17 If he consecrates his field as of the year of jubilee, according to your valuation it shall stand. 18 If he consecrates his field after the jubilee, however, then the priest shall calculate the price for him proportionate to the years that are left until the year of jubilee; and it shall be deducted from your valuation. 19 If the one who consecrates it should ever wish to redeem the field, then he shall add one-fifth of your valuation price to it, so that it may pass to him. 20 Yet if he will not redeem the field, but has sold the field to another man, it may no longer be redeemed; 21 and when it reverts in the jubilee, the field shall be holy to the Lord, like a field set apart; it shall be for the priest as his property. 22 Or if he consecrates to the Lord a field which he has bought, which is not a part of the field of his own property, 23 then the priest shall calculate for him the amount of your valuation up to the year of jubilee; and he shall on that day give your valuation as holy to the Lord. 24 In the year of jubilee the field shall return to the one from whom he bought it, to whom the possession of the land belongs. 25 Every valuation of yours, moreover, shall be after the shekel of the sanctuary. The shekel shall be twenty gerahs.” (Lev. 27:17-25). The Jews failed to follow these rules. Yet, they will be followed during Christ’s Millennial Reign.
God’s rules against improper vows. In addition to setting rules that allowed people to break vows at a penalty, God also regulated the types of things that a person could dedicate to Him as part of a vow. To prohibit flippant vows and fake acts of piety, a person could not pledge as a gift something that already belonged to God: “26 ‘However, a firstborn among animals, which as a firstborn belongs to the Lord, no man may consecrate it; whether ox or sheep, it is the Lord’s.’” (Lev. 27:26). A man could, however, redeem an unclean firstborn animal if it was “unclean” under God’s Law. Such animals do not belong to God. Yet, for unclean animals, the normal rules for valuation still applied. The person would still need to pay a 20% penalty plus the fair market value of the item to break a vow involving the sale of that property to benefit God’s kingdom: “27 But if it is among the unclean animals, then he shall redeem it according to your valuation and add to it one-fifth of it; and if it is not redeemed, then it shall be sold according to your valuation.” (Lev. 27:27). Today, a vow regarding something that you are already expected to do is not a real vow or sacrifice for God. For example, He already requires you to be truthful (Ex. 20:16). A vow to tell the truth is not a special gift or sacrifice for Him because it is already expected. If you make a vow, He only wants you to make holy ones. He does not want you to make flippant vows.
Jesus’ warning not to make careless vows before God. Many might be tempted to think that Jesus made all the Law of vows unnecessary. He directly addressed this issue: “you have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord.” (Matt. 5:33). Yet, instead of saying that the law of vows no longer applies, Jesus warned that it is better not to make a vow than to make one and break it: “But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet . . .But let your statements be, ‘yes, yes’ or ‘no, no’; anything else beyond these is of evil.” (Matt. 5:34-37; Jam. 5:12). Later, Jesus condemned the people of His day who claimed that a temple vow had no meaning unless it was a vow made based upon the temple’s gold: “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, that is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple is obligated.’ 17 You fools and blind men! Which is more important, the gold or the temple that sanctified the gold? 18 And, ‘Whoever swears by the altar, that is nothing, but whoever swears by the offering on it, he is obligated.’ 19 You blind men, which is more important, the offering, or the altar that sanctifies the offering? 20 Therefore, whoever swears by the altar, swears both by the altar and by everything on it. 21 And whoever swears by the temple, swears both by the temple and by Him who dwells within it. 22 And whoever swears by heaven, swears both by the throne of God and by Him who sits upon it.”’ (Matt. 23:16-22). Jesus also asked that we count the cost before making a vow to Him (Lk. 14:28-33). This is why Jesus spelled out the cost of discipleship before someone chose to walk closer to Him as a disciple as opposed to a mere follower (Lk. 9:57-62). If God’s laws regarding vows no longer applied, Jesus would not have warned us not to make them lightly.
What if the Church followed the law of vows today? Today, churches do not impose a monetary cost on someone who breaks a holy vow, like a wedding vow. Churches let the states impose the same monetary costs on believers and non-believers. As an economist might predict, the divorce rate between believers and non-believers is also the same. The sexual revolution of the 1960s lifted the stigma of divorce. The states then came up with “no fault” divorces. The divorce rate both within the church and outside exploded. Today, the majority of mothers in America under age 30 are unwed. Imagine if churches took the laws regarding vows seriously. The average believer would take a wedding vow more seriously if that person had to pay four years of wages for a broken wedding vow. The psalmist urges us: “I shall pay my vows to the Lord.” (Ps. 116:18). Yet, “fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Prov. 1:7). Most churches find no wisdom in teaching God’s Law. As a result, they are reaping the consequences of their actions.
A person’s vow of dedication to God should not be renounced. Although vows regarding the gift of property or other things could be broken at a price, a person’s vow of service to God could not be broken: “28 ‘Nevertheless, anything which a man sets apart to the Lord out of all that he has, of man or animal or of the fields of his own property, shall not be sold or redeemed. Anything devoted to destruction is most holy to the Lord. 29 No one who may have been set apart among men shall be ransomed; he shall surely be put to death.” (Lev. 27:28-29). Satan cannot ransom you back to him after you have been dedicated to God. You have been bought at a great price (1 Cor. 6:20). God will never leave you nor forsake you (Dt. 31:6; Heb. 13:5). Have you remained faithful in keeping your vows to God? Or, are you returning to your former slave master?
Without Christ, you would owe a penalty for every broken vow to God. For those who live without the grace that Christ provides, every person remains duty bound to pay a penalty for any broken vow to God: “30 ‘Thus all the tithe of the land, of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the tree, is the Lord’s; it is holy to the Lord. 31 If, therefore, a man wishes to redeem part of his tithe, he shall add to it one-fifth of it.” (Lev. 27:31). Moreover, under the Law, a person could not seek to redeem or undue their obligation to pay the first tenth of their wages to God: “32 For every tenth part of herd or flock, whatever passes under the rod, the tenth one shall be holy to the Lord. 33 He is not to be concerned whether it is good or bad, nor shall he exchange it; or if he does exchange it, then both it and its substitute shall become holy. It shall not be redeemed.’” (Lev. 27:32-33). A person who withheld ten percent of their wages was deemed to have “robbed” God (Mal. 3:8). Christ, however, came to pay the cost of our broken vows.
Christ suffered for our broken vows. Upon hearing God’s Ten Commandments, the Jews made a rash vow to keep them: “Then Moses came and recounted to the people all the words of the Lord and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice and said: “All the words which the Lord has spoken we will do!” (Ex. 24:3). After Moses read “the book of the covenant” (the wedding vows), the people responded again: “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient!” (Ex. 24:7). Christ, the bridegroom, was later forced to annul the wedding vow when the people worshipped the golden calf (Ex. 32:10). Under the Law of vows, Christ as the bridegroom became liable after He was forced to annul the wedding at that time: “But if he [the bridegroom] indeed annuls them [the bride’s vows] after he has heard them, then he shall bear her guilt.” (Nu. 30:15). Because a broken vow blasphemes the Lord’s name (Lev. 19:12), Christ was given a death sentence at Mount Horeb (Lev. 24:16). His execution day was carried out on Calvary Hill: “Because He poured out Himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet He Himself bore the sin of many, and interceded for the transgressors.” (Isa. 53:12). Thanks to Christ, your eternal debts from your broken vows were “nailed to the cross.” (Col. 2:13-14). All of the sacrifices of the Old Testament, including the silver shekels, foreshadowed Jesus (Heb. 8:4-5; Col. 2:16-17). The silver shekels foreshadow the ransom price that He paid as a ransom for our broken vows before God (Matt. 26:14-16). Are you giving thanks for all the broken vows that Christ has paid for?
Christ can also annul our false or foolish vows. Through our faith in Christ, we become God’s children (Gal. 3:26; 1 Jo. 3:2). As a Church, we will one day also be married to Christ in heaven (Eph. 5:23-30; Rev. 19:6-8; 21:2). As our future bridegroom, He can annul a vow that we make if it is not Biblical (Nu. 30:5, 8). For example, He annulled the false vows that the rabbis forced people to make that it was unlawful to heal or do good on the Sabbaths (Matt. 12:10-14). Through the Holy Spirit, Paul later rebuked the early church when it tried to force new believers to make vows to follow the dietary laws and the holy days (out of obligation and not devotion) (Col. 2:16). We are to submit only to our heavenly Father, Christ, our future bridegroom, and the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:24). If you have made a false vow to a religion that has an “extra gospel,” God will annul those vows when you come to Him and repent. If you have belonged to a church that adds work requirements to earn your salvation, He will also annul those vows when you come to Him and repent. If you have made other foolish vows, including vows to engage in evil acts with another person, He can also annul them when you repent. Examples might include vows to engage in adultery with another, to steal, to join a gang, or to cause harm to another. Give thanks that God will free us from false vows that others impose upon us or that we foolishly impose on ourselves.
Christ is faithful to fulfill His promises. Believers can also give thanks that Christ is faithful to keep His vows to us. If you confess your sins and believe in faith in Christ’s death, you are forgiven for all our past wrongs in the sight of God, and you will have eternal life (Jo. 3:16; Rom. 10:9-10; 1 Jo. 1.9). “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand.” (Jo. 1:27-28). You will never hunger with the bread of life that Christ offers you (Jo. 6:53-58). You will also never thirst with the living water that Christ offers you (Jo. 7:37-38). The Holy Spirit will always be here to guide you on your journey to heaven (Jo. 14:16-18; 26). Christ will fulfill these as well as other biblical vows for us individually and as the future Bridegroom of the Church (Rev. 19:6-8; 21:2). Thus, you have many reasons to rejoice.
The Commandments of Leviticus are God’s Commandments. The book of Leviticus ends with a reminder that the rules were given by God directly to Moses: “34 These are the commandments which the Lord commanded Moses for the sons of Israel at Mount Sinai.” (Lev. 27:34). This was God’s final message before the Jews began their 38-year journey through the wilderness. If the Jews had followed His Law and trusted Him, they would have only marched in the wilderness for a total of 11 days (Dt. 1:2-4). Instead, because of their rebellions, they marched for an additional 38 years (Dt. 2:14). Jesus says that, if you love Him, you will keep His commandments: “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” (Jo. 14:15, 21; 15:10; 1 Jo. 5:3; 2 Jo. 1:6). “[I]f you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” (Matt. 19:17). “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.” (1 Jo. 2:3). If you want to avoid wandering the wilderness, you also need to be obedient. Is there any sin in your life that you need to repent of?
Become a bondservant or a slave to righteousness. As part of being sanctified, making a vow to the Lord was the highest act of devotion that one could make to show his or her devotion to God. One example includes Hannah dedicating her child to God (1 Sam. 1:11). Another example includes the Nazirite’s vow to deny themselves certain pleasures (Num. 6:2-8). Christ as your kinsman redeemer has bought your immediate freedom to make a vow or no vow at all. Paul used his freedom to become slave to Christ. In Greek, Paul referred to himself as a “doulos.” As properly translated by the NASB and the NKJ, he was a “bondservant” or the Lord’s slave: “Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,” (Rom. 1:1; Phil. 1:1; 1 Pet. 2:16; 1 Cor. 7:22). Being a slave to God means living your life as a “living sacrifice” for God (Ro. 12:1). Will you use your freedom to become a doulos or slave to Christ? Or, are you still enslaved to the world?
Help others to make and keep their vows. As a priest for Christ, you are also duty bound to help others with their vows. This includes helping others to make vows of faith to Christ. This also includes dedicating your children for Him and raising them in Him. Finally, be an example to others by keeping your vows to God.