Verses 6 and 7 of Leviticus 23 (the Festivals Chapter) tell us that the Days of Unleavened Bread are in the first month of the Hebrew calendar, which falls in March or April. The Days of Unleavened Bread had an important meaning for the Israelites of the Old Testament, and they have an even deeper significance for Christians today.
THE OLD TESTAMENT MEANING
Let us look at some of the physical meanings of the Days of Unleavened Bread as described in Exodus 12. We find that the nine plagues had occurred and the tenth was about to occur– the Passover, in which the firstborn of Egypt was to be killed. We’ll break into the story in verse 15 as God is giving His instructions to Moses and begins talking about the Days of Unleavened Bread. Exodus 12:15: “’Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall remove leaven from your houses. For whoever eats leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel. On the first day there shall be a holy convocation’” (a commanded assembly, if you want to call it that) “’and on the seventh day there shall be a holy convocation for you.’” (The Last Day of Unleavened Bread, of course). “’No manner of work shall be done on them; but that which everyone must eat– that only may be prepared by you. So you shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, for on this same day I will have brought your armies out of the land of Egypt.’” And that is really the meaning of the Days of Unleavened Bread in the Old Testament– God bringing the Israelites out of Egypt. “’Therefore you shall observe this day throughout your generations as an everlasting ordinance.’”
Verse 18: “’In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at evening, you shall eat unleavened bread, until the twenty-first day of the month at evening.’” If you look at the context as well as other scriptures, this verse is referring to the end of the fourteenth day until the end of the twenty-first day. Remember, the days started at evening in the Bible.
Verse 19: “’For seven days no leaven shall be found in your houses, since whoever eats what is leavened, that same person shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he is a stranger or a native of the land. You shall eat nothing leavened; in all your habitations you shall eat unleavened bread.’” These instructions were given, and afterwards the firstborn of the land of Egypt were struck and killed. Go on to verse 31: “Then he” (referring to Pharaoh) “called for Moses…” (The Companion Bible actually says “sent a message to Moses,” not implying that Moses and Aaron were out running around after they had been told to stay in for the night.) “Then he sent a message to Moses and Aaron by night, and said, ‘Rise and go out from among my people, both you and the children of Israel. And go, serve the Lord as you have said. Also take your flocks and your herds, as you have said, and be gone; and bless me also.’”
Verse 33: “And the Egyptians urged the people, that they might send them out of the land in haste.” That is important– they were getting out of there fast. “For they said, ‘We shall all be dead.’ So the people took their dough before it was leavened, having their kneading bowls bound up in their clothes on their shoulders.” This was a simple, poor slave people. I suspect their primary food was bread. It is generally fairly inexpensive, something that they would have on hand. Here the only method of feeding themselves on a trip was to take the bread before it even had time to be leavened.
Verse 35: “Now the children of Israel had done according to the word of Moses, and they had asked from the Egyptians articles of silver, articles of gold, and clothing.” They did have a lot to pack up. “The Lord had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they granted them what they requested. Thus they plundered the Egyptians.” Skip down to verse 39: “And they baked unleavened cakes of the dough which they had brought out of Egypt; for it was not leavened, because they were driven out of Egypt and could not wait, nor had they prepared provisions for themselves.” So here we have the Old Testament physical meaning of the Days of Unleavened Bread.
THE NEW TESTAMENT MEANING
Let us look at the spiritual meaning of putting out of leaven. There is a New Testament scripture that some people have used in the past to try to prove that the holy days (and Sabbaths, for that matter) are no longer to be kept. Read Colossians 2:16: “Therefore let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.” I am reading from the New King James version.
FESTIVALS SHOW GOD’S PLAN
Let’s look at this verse a little more carefully. It says “…let no one judge you in food or drink…” Festival, of course, refers to God’s festivals. Verse 17: “…which are a shadow of things to come.” Now this also means to foreshadow something. In other words, we are looking here at festivals which show future events, and in the case of the Passover, a past event, in God’s plan. It isn’t something to be disregarded.
THE CHURCH DETERMINED HOW TO KEEP THE FESTIVALS
It says, “…but the substance is of Christ.” A better translation of this is “but the body of Christ.” The word “is” does not even belong in there; it was added by the translators because they did not know what else to do with the verse. It says, “…let no one judge you” in these things but the body of Christ. Now what is the body of Christ? If you go back to Colossians 1:18 that term “the body of Christ” is defined: “He is the Head of the body, the Church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.” The body is the Church. So verse 17 is actually saying, let no one judge you but the body of Christ, or the Church, in other words. The body of Christ is to determine how the festivals, Sabbaths, etc. are to be kept. If anything, this verse shows us that the Church is to be keeping the festivals.
THE MEANING OF LEAVEN
The full spiritual meaning of these festivals is explained further in the New Testament of the Bible. Turn to Matthew 16:5 for Christ’s teaching about the meaning of leavening in the spiritual sense: “And when His disciples had come to the other side, they had forgotten to take bread. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.’ And they reasoned among themselves saying, ‘It is because we have taken no bread.’” They thought they were in trouble because they forgot to pack a lunch, and that wasn’t it at all, of course.
Verse 8: “But when Jesus perceived it, He said to them, ‘O you of little faith, why do you reason among yourselves because you have brought no bread?’” They were not looking for spiritual meaning. They were just looking at physical meanings here. But we have to dig a little deeper. “’Do you not yet understand, or remember the five loaves of the five thousand and how many baskets you took up? Nor the seven loaves of the four thousand and how many large baskets you took up? How is it you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread?–but you should beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.’ Then they understood that He did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” In my Bible here for “doctrine” it also says “teaching.” He was trying to get them to look at things spiritually, and here He compares leaven to this doctrine or teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
He fills in a few more details on this in Luke 12. He had just finished calling the Pharisees hypocrites. How does a person teach? Of course, he can teach by speaking to someone, but he can also teach by his example. In this case, the Pharisees had given an example of what their teachings were, and it was not good. Let’s read Luke 12:1: “In the meantime, when an innumerable multitude of people had gathered together, so that they trampled one another, He began to say to His disciples first of all, ‘Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.’” Here He has defined it a little bit further. “’For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, nor hidden that will not be known.’” Now the dictionary definition of hypocrisy is to pretend to have beliefs or virtues that one does not really have, or insincerity.
In verse 2-3: “’For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, nor hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have spoken in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have spoken in the ear in inner rooms will be proclaimed on the housetops.’” Christ saw through their hypocrisy, represented by leaven, and others would eventually, too.
The Apostle Paul wrote the scripture we often use for understanding the New Testament meaning of leaven in I Corinthians 5. Paul was looking at the spiritual meaning of the feast, not just the physical meaning. I Corinthians 5:8: “Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” What is malice? Malice is a desire to harm others– to see others suffer. What is wickedness? Wickedness is practicing evil. The Interlinear Greek calls it, “Evil disposition and tendency.” We are not to have this malice and wickedness, but instead the unleavened bread of sincerity. Sincerity is just the opposite of hypocrisy. I know a man who was once described as being exactly as he appeared: he had no front to him. In other words, he was a very sincere person, and that is the way we are supposed to be.
We read, “the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” Remember the Bible definition of truth in John 17:17: “’Sanctify them by Thy truth, Thy word is truth.’” We are to be sincerely living by God’s truth.
Romans 13:10 talks more about malice, the desire to harm others: “Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” Love is the opposite of malice; it does not harm a neighbor. Romans 13:10 says, “…love is the fulfillment of the law,” which is one of the definitions of love that is given in the Bible.
Leavening represents breaking God’s law, and the opposite is keeping God’s law–this law of outgoing concern, this law of love. Remember the same person who wrote Romans and I Corinthians 5 also wrote I Corinthians 13, the love chapter. He knew all about love and taught that way of outgoing concern.
Let’s go back to I Corinthians 5. This time I would like to pick it up in verse 7: “Therefore, purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore, let us keep the feast…” Of course, the feast they are talking about is the Days of Unleavened Bread. You can tell that from the context because he keeps talking about leaven and unleavened bread–another proof we should be keeping the feast. “Therefore, let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” We should not only be putting out the physical leaven out of our lives, but we put the sin out of our lives too.
Sin tends to puff up a person and make him feel rather arrogant about himself at times. Read again I Corinthians 5:1-2: “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles– that a man has his father’s wife! And you are puffed up.” My margin says, “arrogant,” which is another word for it. “…and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you. For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged, as though I were present, concerning him who has so done this deed. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.”
Verse 6: “Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?” His comparison here between sin and leaven is that leaven spreads through the whole lump of dough. Sin can also spread throughout a person, and it can spread from person to person. If we allow certain sins in ourselves and do not repent of them, we become callous to sin. We are going to sin again, creating a vicious cycle. We are supposed to be aware of sin, be sensitive to how we are acting, and judge ourselves.
REPLACE SIN WITH HOLY CHARACTER
When I was reading the verses in Exodus 12, more than one verse said “You shall eat unleavened bread.” The Bible doesn’t say merely to avoid leavening; it instructs us to replace leaven with something else. I Corinthians 5 talked about replacing the leaven of malice and wickedness with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
Romans 12, often known as the Christian Living Chapter, talks more about putting out sin and how we are supposed to be living as Christians. Verse 2: “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” Instead of being conformed to the world–in other words, living as much of the world does–we replace that behavior with a renewing of our minds. We are replacing the bad with the good. It is hard to just get rid of something without filling it up with something else; as the saying goes, “Nature abhors a vacuum.” When someone pours a glass of water, the water goes in and the air has to go out. With the air out of a glass, you have to put something in it otherwise it would just fill right back in. We are the same way: we take out the bad, and we have to put something good in.
How can we do that? What are some examples? I John 3:4 (King James Version) defines sin as “the transgression of the law.” The spiritual law is the Ten Commandments, which we have proven we need to keep. The Ten Commandments define the sin that we must put out of our lives. We are to develop character; a way in which character is defined is to know what is right, to choose the right, and to do it under all circumstances, whether we really want to or not. There is no such thing as “situation ethics” with holy righteous character. That is the message of the Days of Unleavened Bread– to help us develop God’s holy righteous character.