Need some direction in your life? Join BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives. The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version. At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture. Read on, some answers may surprise you. Many will explain things in the Bible you may have been confused about. Most of all, they can help you understand the Bible, which helps us lead a life that fulfills God and us. Take the challenge. You won’t regret it. Let us know if you have any comments to share.
Questions & Observations
Q. (Leviticus 27:1-8): What does it mean to dedicate someone to the Lord?
A. This chapter appears to be about dedicating people and things like animals and property to the Lord. This could be related to vows the people had made to God in exchange for His blessing (i.e. a cattle herder swearing, “if my herds give birth to 10 calves by your blessing, Lord, then I swear that I will dedicate one of them to You”, that type of thing). But the system also appears to have a “cash conversion” system built into it for convenience. So then rather the simply leaving the animal or house or child with the priest, the person who made the vow could “buy it out” and keep the object or person that the vow was made about.
Q. (27:10): What? In 27:10, it says that animals offered may not be exchanged and then says, but if you do, they will both be considered holy. Why the conflict? Why would anyone want to exchange an animal? I realize this is not an important question. I am just puzzled by the subject and the conflicting statements.
A. There’s some nuance to the text that I don’t think comes across in the NLT, but this is a tricky verse I don’t fully understand either. One thing that is clear: the exchange is related to the animals that a person promised to the Lord. You could not go back on your vow related to the particular animal that you were offering: if it was a choice animal that you promised to dedicate, you couldn’t cheat and exchange it for a blemished animal. We will see this in Malachi 1 — the people promise good animals, but actually bring injured or blemished animals, which was a great insult to God. I think the end of the verse — both animals being holy — refers to the fact that in the event of a legitimate exchange — good animal for good animal — both animals, or the money they were sold for, could be used for holy purposes such as provisions for priests or refurbishing the tabernacle materials.
Q. (27:14-15): So, a house dedication is giving it to God. I don’t understand what that does. Do they still live in it? Why can he/she buy it back?
A. This is the same situation as the animal exchange above: if a person made a vow that if they were able to build a house or dwelling with resources God provided, they would dedicate the house to the Lord. If unredeemed (not bought back), it could become the home for a priest or other Levite, who didn’t have land of their own. But the priesthood would be better able to use a “liquid” asset, and would therefore accept the exchange and give the property back to the owner. The buyback option is provided for convenience.
Q. (27:22-24): How are they dedicating fields when they are in the desert?
A. This doesn’t refer to their land now, but this section, along with everything discussed with the Year of Jubilee, relates to the land that the Israelites will divide up among the tribes when the take over the Promised Land in Joshua/Judges. The various tribes and then families would divide up the land into smaller and smaller lots, and these lots became the permanent inheritance of the family; they saw it as being given the land by God Himself. This land could be sold, but only until the next Jubilee, when the Law required it be returned the original family. We shall see how this plays out when the people enter the Promised Land in a bit.
Q. (27:29): I don’t understand this verse. Is it important?
A. It’s not really important. The verse is playing off of the intent of verse 28, which talks about redeeming things devoted to God. This verse is saying that there are other people, specifically the tribes occupying the Promised Land, who rather than being devoted to God, are devoted to themselves, and destruction or war. They cannot be redeemed from this devotion, which will come into play when God instructs the people about how to deal with these tribes.
Q. To whom do the Israelites pay this money to for dedication or buyback?
A. The money would be provided to a priestly treasury which provided for the needs of the Levites as well as providing resources for the Tabernacle, and later Temple, upkeep.
Q. (Numbers 1:10): Why isn’t Joseph listed as a tribe?
A. Jacob, Joseph’s father, was so pleased by his son saving the entire family, that he adopts two of Joseph’s sons: Ephraim and Manasseh (1:32-35) as his own. Thus, Joseph’s lines got TWICE the inheritance of any other tribe: in all of these counts, Joseph’s family lines get counted twice.
Q. (1:53): This is an interesting verse. Rob, can you comment on it?
A. In addition to the duties at the Tabernacle, it appears that this verse is telling us that the tents of the Levites formed a protective “hedge” around the Tabernacle, in order to prevent the people from improperly entering the Tabernacle courts and being subject to the wrath of God for their lack of respect.
Q. Why was the census taken? Is this for an army?
A. Yes, the primary reason for the census was to determine the size of the force of arms that could be mustered. The army will be needed to liberate control of the Promised Land. In addition to the information in verse 1:3, which tells us this is an army tally, the exclusion of the Levites is a telltale sign. The Levites did not serve in the army (though they will play an important role in some of the military campaigns – notably the conquest of Jericho), so they would have been excluded from this count.