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Now imagine a faithful Israelite donating his cows, crops, farmland, house or, um, slaves—and realizing afterward that without them he's going to go bust.
The writer of Leviticus provides some basic guidelines.
The 10% donation rule: Israelites have to give the Tabernacle ten percent of their cattle, flocks and harvest. The Torah calls this a tithe. Others might call it a tax. Any way they cut it, it's hard to carry.
The 20% buyback rule: an Israelite who changes his mind about a donation that can't be sacrificed can get it back by paying the priests what it's worth plus 20%.
God is so predictable.
Of course, the priests set the base price, and since they're the ones who benefit most for the transaction, it's probably not going to be cheap.
The technical term for this buyback is redemption, a word that will get a lot of play in the New Testament.
In addition, there's the nice 100% rule: there are some things you give to God that you can never buy back. For example, animals that can be sacrificed—sorry, they're toast.
And the naughty 100% rule: if you vow to crush, kill and destroy in God's name, no takebacks—even if Israel's sworn enemy leaves behind a sweet condo with an indoor pool, killer views, and a conscientious doorman.
Bringing It All Back Home
On the surface, these rules might seem kind of random, but the author really does use this chapter to call back to themes from the rest of the book. Here are a few of the big ones:
Promises and agreements matter. Messing up means having to make things right. Sometimes it's with a sacrifice or a 20% penalty. Other times God turns everyone into cannibals.
Economic justice. The 20% buyback rule can be lowered for poor people. Then again, not many poor people have stuff to donate or vow so it's a bit of a wash.
Priestly power. They sacrifice. They set prices. They get a cut of everything you make. It's good to be the priest.
Holy separation. Setting things apart keeps the community together, even if the rules don't always make sense.
The Never-Ending Story
The sacrifices are over. The key themes wrapped up. It's finally time to get to the book's true last verse.
Surprise! Once again, it's a callback to the beginning.
Did you know that Moses received these instructions from God near Mount Sinai to give to the people? What happened goes something like this…