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THE SABBATIC YEAR. Still more to impress the minds of his people with the great truth, that their time, as well as their property, was not their own; and to carry out still more completely, the ceremonial scheme, God set apart every seventh year, also, in addition to the days that have been already noticed, to be, in some measure, sacred and free from the labours of other years. It was not required, indeed, that it should be all kept after the manner of a Sabbath, or solemn festival, by a continual attendance upon religious duties. We hear of no extraordinary public sacrifices appointed for it, and the people seem to have been left to occupy the time in a worldly or religious way, according to their own choice, about as much as in ordinary years. The land, however, enjoyed a complete rest: the fields were not allowed to be tilled, nor the vineyards to be dressed; and whatever they yielded without culture, was required to be regarded as common, for all to make use of as they needed, without being reaped or gathered. (Lev. xxv. 2-7. Ex. xxiii. 11.) The inquiry might naturally suggest itself, how the nation could be secure from the distress of poverty and famine, in the observance of such an institution; but God, himself, silenced fear on this account: If ye shall say, What shall we eat the seventh year? behold, we shall not sow, nor gather in our increase? Then I will command my blessing upon you in the sixth year, and it shall bring forth fruit for three years; and ye shall sow the eighth year, and eat yet of old fruit, until the ninth year. (Lev. xxv. 20-22.) As no produce was gathered from the soil, it was made a law, also, that no debts should be collected during the Sabbatical year; and it was, at the same time, solemnly enjoined, that no person should be moved by this consideration, to refuse lending to such as were in want, when it was at hand. The year was called, on this account, the year of release. Some have entertained the opinion, that this release required not merely, that debts should be allowed to lie over, without being exacted, till the eighth year, but that they should be altogether cancelled and never again called
for: which, however, as it seems not easy in itself to be received, so it cannot be positively established from the language of the law. (Deut. xv. 1-11.) The Sabbatical year, we must believe, had its beginning with Tishri, the first month of the civil year, when the produce of the land was all gathered in, and before the time of sowing for another
During the feast of tabernacles this year, the whole law was to be publicly read over at the Sanctuary. How important such a regulation was, when copies of the sacred writings were, of necessity, extremely scarce, needs not to be observed. (Deut. xxxi. 10—13.)
THE YEAR of JUBILEE. There was another year of peculiar and extraordinary character, appointed to be observed, in the Jewish economy. Its return was still at the end of every seventh sabbatical year, that is, only once in 50 years. The law directed that it should commence on the great day of atonement, and that it should then be ushered in with the sounding of trumpets, through all the land.
This Year of Jubilee, as it was called, was to be, in all respects, as much as the common sabbatical years, a year of rest to the land, in which there might be neither seed time, harvest, or vintage. It enjoyed, however, additional distinctions, exclusively its own. It was a year of restitution, when the whole state of society was to be, in some incasure, re-organized, and brought back, as far as possible, to its original posture. It was ordained, that on every return of the Jubilee, all servants of Hebrew origin, should obtain their freedom; and that inheritances, which had been sold or given up, in the way of mortgage or pledge for debts, and not previously redeemed, should return, all over the land, to the families to which they at first belonged. A particular account of these regulations, and of the manner in which they were to be understood and regarded, as well as of the institution of the year of Jubilee in general, is found in the 25th chapter of Leviticus.
We may well conceive, that the return of the Jubilee would be hailed through the land, not merely with the sound of trumpets, but with much gladness of heart and general manifestation of joy. It commenced, we may sup
pose, on the evening of the day of atonement, after its great solemnities were over; and so brought with it, as it were, a proclamation of peace and forgiveness, in answer to the deep humiliation, and the expiation so awful, with which the season had been distinguished. And truly, an interesting spectacle it must have been, and such as might well excite the most pleasant emotions, even in those who had no direct personal concern in the privileges of the time, to behold the gladsome change that was all at once accomplished throughout the nation; when the bond and the poor found themselves restored to freedom and a home; when the unfortunate were raised from distress, and brought back, each to his ancient patrimony, and the dwelling place of his fathers; when the obscure were seen suddenly rising into notice and importance; and when the whole face of the community, in short, was moulded by an almost instantaneous transformation, into something of the same general semblance of order and arrangement that it carried fifty years before. The whole formed a lively emblem of the joyful blessings, holy and spiritual, that are brought to men by the gospel of Jesus Christ, wherever it is received by faith; and hence, accordingly, it is said of the Messiah in prophecy, with allusion to the proclamation of the Jubilee, that he should come to preach or proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord. (Isa. lxi. 2. Luke iv. 19.)
SACRED SEASONS OF HUMAN INSTITUTION.
To the sacred times which God himself appointed in the law, to be remembered and observed by his people, there were added, in later ages, some others, that rested, as far as we know any thing about them, on mere human authority. These remain to be briefly noticed.
ANNUAL FAST-DAYS. From the beginning, the Jewish nation was accustomed to observe public fasts, on occasions of general calamity or danger; yet they had not, in the earlier periods of their history, any stated yearly day for
fasting, except the great day of atonement, that has been already considered. During the captivity, however, no less than four additional days of this sort were established, which continued to be observed in all subsequent times. These were, first, The fast of the fourth month, in memory of the capture of Jerusalem. (Jer. lii. 6, 7.) Second, The fast of the fifth month, in memory of the burning of the temple. (Jer. lii. 12, 13.) Third, The fast of the seventh month, in memory of the death of Gedaliah. (Jer. xli. 1— 4.) Fourth, The fast of the tenth month, in memory of the commencement of the attack upon Jerusalem. (Jer. lii. 4.) Mention is made of all these in the book of Zechariah, vii. 3, 5. viii. 19.
THE FEAST OF PURIM. This festival, as we have the account of its origin in Esther ix. 17-32, was instituted to keep up the memory of that great deliverance which the Jews had from the wicked plot of Haman, in the days of Mordecai and Esther. It was celebrated about the middle of Adar, the twelfth, and regularly, the last month of the year, and had its name from the word Pur, which means a lot, because Haman had made use of the lot, in some way of idolatrous superstition, to determine the time when the massacre of the Jewish nation might be undertaken with the best success. (Esther iii. 6, 7.) Two days, viz. the 14th and 15th of the month, were set apart to be observed; though it was usual to confine the principal celebration to the first, while it became the practice to keep a preparatory fast on the 13th, in memory of that in Shushan, on account of the decree that had gone forth for the destruction of the nation. The manner of celebrating this festival became, in time, very extravagant and licentious, and so it has continued to be down to this day. A principal service has been, to read over all the book of Esther, in the synagogues, and for all present, even the children, at every inention of the name of Haman, to clap with their hands, and stamp with their feet, and strike with mallets upon the benches, in token of deep abhorrence, crying out at the same time, Let his memory perish! The part of the time that is not required to be spent in the synagogue, is occupied with all manner of festivity and mirth; which it has not been unusual to carry to a length not merely of ridicu
lous folly, but of downright intemperance, indecency, and outrageous revelry.
THE FEAST OF DEDICATION. This feast was instituted by Judas Maccabeus, not more than 164 years before Christ, to be a memorial of the new dedication of the Sanctuary, that then took place, after it had been profaned by that wicked wretch Antiochus Epiphanes. This monarch had set himself, with all his might, to crush the Jewish religion, and introduce idolatry in its room. He ordered the service of the temple to cease; Sabbaths and festivals to be entirely neglected; altars, groves, and chapels of idols to be set up through the land; sacrifices of swine and other unclean beasts to be offered, and incense to be burned at the doors of houses, and in the streets; the whole law, in short, to be disregarded, and the whole Sanctuary polluted; thus requiring the people to "make their souls abominable, with all manner of uncleanness and profanation, to the end they might forget the law, and change all the ordinances." The Bible was hunted with diabolical persecution, to be torn in pieces and burned; and it was made an awful law, that whosoever was found with the sacred volume in his possession should be put to death. Among other things, the tyrant himself "entered proudly into the Sanctuary, and took away the golden altar, and the candlestick of light, and all the vessels thereof, and the table of shew-bread," with every precious vessel of the place, and carried them off into his own land; and afterwards he proceeded so far in his malice and profanity as to cause an image of Jupiter, the chief god of the heathen, to be placed in the temple, the Sanctuary itself, and its courts to be sprinkled with broth of swine's flesh, and a sow to be offered in sacrifice upon the altar of burnt offering. At length, however, God gave his people deliverance. Judas Maccabeus prevailed over the oppressor in war; liberty was recovered to the land; the worship of God was rescued from restraint and persecution. Whereupon, immediately, it was held necessary to make a public purification of the Sanctuary, and to dedicate it anew, as having been stripped of its sanctity by the wickedness of the heathen. New holy vessels were made for its service, and a new altar also erected, in room of the old one, which it was thought best to pull down, lest