Clear Words – Worth and Value (Leviticus 27:1-2, 8 )
Today’s Reading: Leviticus 26-27
Today’s Reflection: Leviticus 27:1-2, 8
1) The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2) “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, If anyone makes a special vow to the LORD involving the valuation of persons… 8 ) And if someone is too poor to pay the valuation, then he shall be made to stand before the priest, and the priest shall value him; the priest shall value him according to what the vower can afford.
A vow in Biblical terms is the promise to devote a person or a thing to the Lord’s service. Verses 1 to 8 of of Leviticus chapter 27 specifically concern the vowing of people. Typically the vow could be represented or replaced by a payment of money to the sanctuary, which represented service to God.
Why is a chapter like this significant? Well as you examine verses 3 through 7, some patterns emerge. Men have higher valuations than women; adults have higher valuations than youths, who have higher valuations than the elderly, who have higher valuations than toddlers and infants. The poor and the sick potentially were in such dire straits they weren’t even given specific valuations.
That final point expressed in verse 8 is interesting. If one was unable to pay their proper valuation the priest would give them an amount they could afford. Clearly the valuation was not significant in and of itself. It was a symbol of the vow, of the willingness of that person to offer themselves to God, rather than a measure of that person’s worth. We see a reflection of this in the Gospels when Jesus observes a widow giving an offering of two small coins, her meager gift dwarfed by the small fortunes lavishly deposited by the Pharisees. Jesus esteems the widow’s offering more highly, recognizing that she gave from a heart desiring to serve God rather than the Pharisees who trusted in the righteousness of their own works with little interest in truly seeking after God (Luke 21:1-4).
Unfortunately, in our fallen world it isn’t hard for a valuation to be mistaken for a statement of worth, suggesting that men are worth more than women and adults in their prime are worth more than youths, children or the elderly, or that the rich and healthy are worth more than the poor and the infirm. Certainly by the time of the Gospels the idea that women, youths, children and the elderly were worth less than adult males was entrenched within Israelite society. The poor and sick were often treated as outcasts. Jesus took time to point out the widow precisely because no one else noticed her.
And clearly this impacts us today. In our churches, is the singing of the trained 5-octave voice worth more than the singing of the person who can’t carry a tune? Is the speaking of the educated, eloquent speaker worth more than the stammering of the person who barely finished high school? In our churches, all too often, the answer to these questions is yes. Good performances get thunderous applause; poor performances get a polite ‘a-men’.
But in Israel’s time God wasn’t looking at the valuation paid to the temple. He was looking at the willingness of a person’s heart to give whatever they were able. Just as with Jesus watching the widow and the Pharisees, God isn’t looking at the performance but at the heart behind it.