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Vayikra/Leviticus 27:16 And your valuation shall be by the portion of its seed: a homer of barley seed for fifty shekels of silver
Our starting point for this week is the comment made by Richard Elliott Friedman (Commentary on the Torah, page 416), "The value of the land is determined by how much seed one can plant in it." The NJPS translation of the first part of the text reads, "its assessment shall be in accordance with its seed requirements" (JPS) and Baruch Levine comments that this was a common method of sizing plots of land in the ancient Middle East: by how much seed it required to sow it. The formula means the area that can be sown with a homer of seed and the word comes from , an ass or mule. Levine says that the homer is a dry measure, equal to the load of an ass, perhaps between 4 - 6 bushels.
Rashi digs a little deeper into the matter: "The valuation shall be according to its seedings - And not according to its worth [on the open market]. Both a good field and a bad field, the redemption of their sanctity is equal." The larger context of this text is in a discussion of how fields that are sold are priced and redeemed in relation to the Jubilee year. This particular verse is concerned with a field that is part of an Israelite's ancestral holding that is being dedicated to HaShem, which makes it different from a commercial transaction. If a field is sold, either for a particular number of years or, at the most, until the Jubilee, then its sale price is based upon the quality and location of the field, its drainage, fertility and other factors that affect the yield that the purchaser may expect to get out of the field in the time available, even allowing for the sabbatical years that may fall due in the sale period; everything depends on what you can get out of the field. Rashi is telling is that exactly the opposite is true for a field that is consecrated to HaShem: its valuation - whether a good field or a bad one - is based entirely on its area and that is determined by the amount of seed that is needed to sow the field; everything depends on what you out into the field. Even if the temple treasurers then sell the field on a commercial basis, its redemption value by the original owner remains the same, on an equal footing with every other field; the price for redemption is the same.
What does that tell us, then, about the redemption of people by and before G-d? We know that some of the offerings for sin, for cleansing and other ritual functions are scaled by the ability of the person to pay: "But if he cannot afford a lamb, then he shall bring to the L-rd his guilt offering for that in which he has sinned, two turtle doves or two young pigeons" (Vayikra 5:7, NASB). Do the scaling rules apply to basic atonement or redemption? It would appear not: "Each one who is numbered in the census shall give this: half a shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary ... the rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less, than the half shekel, when you give the L-rd's offering to make atonement for your lives" (Shemot 30:13,15, ESV). There is a possibility that this pricing arrangement was older even that Moshe's day - Avraham's servant's first gift to Rivka, by token of a symbolic purchase of her to be Yitz'chak's wife, was "a gold ring weighing half a shekel" (B'resheet 24:22, ESV). The half shekel was given for the upkeep of the sanctuary and was collected in Yeshua's time: "When they came to Kfar Nachum, the collectors of the half-shekel tax went up to Peter and said 'Does your master not pay the tax?'" (Matthew 17:24, ESV). After the destruction of the 2nd Temple, the Roman emperor Vespasian imposed an annual tax of two drachmas to be paid by every Jew in the Roman empire to be used for the upkeep of the Jupiter Capitolinus in Rome; This tax was still being collected in the third century as a punishment for the 1st Jewish Revolt in 66-70CE (Cassius Dio 66.7.2, see Goodman page 581).
There are two outstanding claims to be the worst sinner; one by Rav Sha'ul: "It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Messiah Yeshua came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am the foremost" (1 Timothy 1:15, NASB); the other by John Newton in his famous hymn: "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me". In both cases, the price of redemption was exactly the same: more than they could ever afford and yet free for the asking. Yeshua's death at the stake paid the judicial price for sin for all those who acknowledge Him as Saviour and L-rd as it says, "there is no difference between Jew and Gentile - Adonai is the same for everyone, rich towards everyone who calls on Him, since everyone who calls in the name of Adonai will be delivered" (Romans 10:12-13, CJB). G-d isn't concerned by what He can get out of us, since just like fields, some of us are well-drained and some of us are not; He is concerned by what He puts into us: His Son, "who gave Himself as a ransom on behalf of all" (1 Timothy 2:6, CJB). G-d has provided that ransom for each of us - every man, woman and child who will turn to Him - so that we who could never afford the penalty for sin might be free of the law of sin and death and live for righteousness in Him!
Further Study: Acts 4:34-37; 1 Corinthians 15:9-10; Ephesians 3:7-8
Application: Do you worry that you are not good enough for G-d? That He can't have saved you because you just aren't worth it? G-d values each of us exactly the same and wants to redeem everyone who will turn to Him. Whether a bad or a light sinner, we all need a saviour and He will be that for you if you ask Him. What are you waiting for?
© Jonathan Allen, 2008
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