The Day of Atonement is the most solemn day of the year in which the whole nation sought and received collective forgiveness for all its sins.
The Day of Atonement is the most solemn day of the year in which the whole nation sought and received collective forgiveness for all its sins. On this day “liberty” is proclaimed: all debts are cancelled, landowners who have leased their inherited land can return to it, and Israelite debtor-slaves are freed. Every Israelite is to become a free citizen living on his own land at the beginning of the new Jubilee cycle. When left unchecked this process led to serious social division between rich landowners exploiting and abusing large numbers of homeless day-workers such as in Amos and Isaiah.
6 Thus says the Lord:
“For three transgressions of Israel,
and for four, I will not revoke the punishment,
because they sell the righteous for silver,
and the needy for a pair of sandals…
8 Woe to those who join house to house,
who add field to field,
until there is no more room,
and you are made to dwell alone
in the midst of the land.
It was a deep concern of Jesus in the Gospels (Matthew 20:1-16 – Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard).
Interestingly, the practice of general forgiveness of debts and freedom from slavery seems to have originated among the ancient Babylonians. It is referred to in the Code of Hammurabi and in other ancient Babylonian documents. The practice of the general cancellation of contracts upon the king’s proclamation was already being implemented. However, this legislation on the Jubilee year in Israel differs in that it sets fixed intervals for this proclamation of liberty rather than relying on the good will declarations of monarchs.