The Festival of Unleavened Bread

The Lord’s Passover begins at twilight on the fourteenth day of the first month. On the fifteenth day of that month the Lord’s Festival of Unleavened Bread begins; for seven days you must eat bread made without yeast. On the first day hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work. For seven days present a food offering to the Lord. And on the seventh day hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work.’” (Leviticus 23:5-8)

Today marks the last day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. We often lump Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread together into one holiday, but in reality they represent two different festivals. As mentioned last week, Passover foreshadows Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross as the Lamb of God. It lasts for 24 hours, from evening to evening.

The Feast of Unleavened Bread is not the same as Passover, and has its own customs and meanings. It commemorates the haste in which the Israelites had to leave Egypt, with not even enough time to allow their bread to rise. This feast lasts for an entire week, with special celebrations on the first and last days.

We first encounter this festival in Exodus 12:14-20, immediately after God tells Moses and Aaron about the upcoming death of the firstborn and the need for a blood sacrifice:

“This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord—a lasting ordinance. For seven days you are to eat bread made without yeast. On the first day remove the yeast from your houses, for whoever eats anything with yeast in it from the first day through the seventh must be cut off from Israel. On the first day hold a sacred assembly, and another one on the seventh day. Do no work at all on these days, except to prepare food for everyone to eat; that is all you may do.

“Celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread, because it was on this very day that I brought your divisions out of Egypt. Celebrate this day as a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. In the first month you are to eat bread made without yeast, from the evening of the fourteenth day until the evening of the twenty-first day. For seven days no yeast is to be found in your houses. And anyone, whether foreigner or native-born, who eats anything with yeast in it must be cut off from the community of Israel. Eat nothing made with yeast. Wherever you live, you must eat unleavened bread.”

So what’s the big deal about bread and yeast? Why, for seven days every year, do the Jews have to eliminate all traces of yeast from, not only their houses, but from the entire country?

In many places throughout Scripture, yeast symbolizes sin. That’s why the bread that was offered at the alter in the temple couldn’t contain yeast—how can it atone for our sin if we still have sin in our lives?

  • “Do not offer the blood of a sacrifice to me along with anything containing yeast.” (Exodus 23:18)
  • “And from the finest wheat flour make round loaves without yeast, thick loaves without yeast and with olive oil mixed in, and thin loaves without yeast and brushed with olive oil.” (Exodus 29:2, regarding bread baked to consecrate the priests.)
  • “‘Every grain offering you bring to the Lord must be made without yeast, for you are not to burn any yeast or honey in a food offering presented to the Lord.” (Leviticus 2:11)

Jesus continued this theme, specifically comparing yeast to the sin of hypocrisy.

  • “‘How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.’ Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Matthew 16:11-12
  • “Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, … Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, saying: ‘Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.’” Luke 12:1

Finally, Paul ties it all back to Passover and the Exodus when he warns the Corinthians,

  • “Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.” 1 Corinthians 5:6-7

Yeast is similar to sin in that we can’t get rid of it by ourselves. Have you ever tried to get the yeast out of the dough, once it’s mixed in? It’s impossible! Similarly, while the Israelites were told to get all the yeast out of their house—and eventually, everywhere within their borders—that too is impossible. Yeast spores are floating in the air. If you’ve ever made sourdough bread, you know that simply leaving out a mixture of flour and water is sufficient to attract these spores. There’s no way us humans can get rid of every particle of yeast.

Why did God give us an impossible commandment?

Think about how God arranged the timing of these two festivals. First, the lamb is sacrificed. It is only then that we’re told to get all the yeast (sin) out of our lives. It has to come in this order. Without the Lamb provided by God, we are powerless to overcome sin. The shedding of the lamb’s blood (and ultimately, Jesus’ blood) means that God can forgive us. Once we receive God’s forgiveness and agree to submit to His authority, then we can receive the Holy Spirit, who empowers us to overcome our sin.

Like those fleeing the Egyptians, we should be in a hurry. Sin isn’t something we can ignore and decide to deal with later. Why would we even want to, when freedom is available? Rather, as the Holy Spirit shines His spotlight on each part of our lives, we need to acknowledge that we’ve fallen short, ask for forgiveness, and allow Him to lead us in another direction—God’s direction.

It’s fitting that, according to the (God-ordained) Hebrew calendar, both Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread come at the beginning of the year. Our first step must be to accept Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf. Only then He can begin the process of remaking us in His image.





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