Pesach Shabbat: Unleavened Bread
The feast of Unleavened Bread is one of the appointed times God instructed the Israelites to observe. He commanded this time to be a commemoration of their redemption from slavery in Egypt. What value does this time have for those of us who have been grafted into Israel through belief in Yeshua (Jesus)?
After God instructs Moses that He is going to make a covenant with the people in Exodus 33, God reiterates the commandment regarding observing the Passover: “You shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread. For seven days you are to eat unleavened bread, as I commanded you, at the appointed time in the month of Abib, for in the month of Abib you came out of Egypt” (Exodus 34:18). The month of Abib is today called Nisan according to the Hebrew calendar. Only a few of the months are named directly in Scripture, but rather most are called by the month number, for example Abib is also referred to as simply “the first month” (Exodus 12:18).
What is the difference between the times of Passover and Unleavened Bread? Technically Passover is the evening which initiates the time of Unleavened Bread, but in modern usage the entire seven-day period is often referred to as Passover as well. The first evening is called Passover because it was the night when God passed over the people of Israel but struck down the firstborn of Egypt (Exodus 12:23). The seven-day period is called Unleavened Bread because the people of Israel were commanded, as we saw in the verse above, to eat no leaven during this period (Exodus 13:6-7).
In preparation for the time of Unleavened Bread, since no leaven is to be found within the houses of the Israelites, families will go through their homes and clean extensively to make sure there are no crumbs or any remnants of leaven which have somehow made their way into the corners and crevices. But what is leaven? No definition is given in Scripture, so it is assumed that those who are reading already know what it is. It must have been known of prior to the exodus, for we see Abraham and Lot both eating unleavened bread (Genesis 18:6, where the word for “cakes” here is ugah, which is a thin wafer, most often in the form of unleavened bread; Genesis 19:3). Some have used this and other contextual clues to assert that Abraham and Lot both celebrated a type or foreshadowing of Unleavened Bread celebration, which is not far-fetched considering we are told that Abraham observed all of God’s commandments and laws (Genesis 26:5).
But what exactly separates unleavened bread from leavened bread? We see in Exodus 12:39: “They baked the dough which they had brought out of Egypt into cakes of unleavened bread. For it had not become leavened, since they were driven out of Egypt and could not delay, nor had they prepared any provisions for themselves.” While some therefore interpret leaven to mean yeast, the truth is that it is more than that. According to the verse above, unleavened bread is bread that has not risen. While yeast makes flour rise quicker, the same rising effect can be obtained when grain comes into contact with water. Since steeping in water is part of the process of turning grain into a usable product, all grain is thus treated as leaven. Five types of grain were identified by the Jewish sages as rising in this way: wheat, spelt, barley, oats, and rye. Any food made with these types of grain is considered unfit for possession or consumption during the time of Unleavened Bread.
So what does this all mean for believers? Does the feast of Unleavened Bread have anything to teach us? Well, as Paul tells us, “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” The festivals are a shadow, a reflection, of our Messiah Yeshua (Jesus Christ). In Him they reach their ultimate fulfillment. Does this mean they should not be celebrated? If the feasts are a way in which we can experience Yeshua, should we disdain these times and judge those who wish to observe them?
Leaven represents several things in Scripture, some positive such as the Kingdom of God (Matthew 13:33), and others negative such as sin and hypocrisy/pride (Mark 8:15, Luke 12:1). Just as the people are to clean out their houses in preparation for Unleavened Bread, so too it is a good time for us to closely examine our life and clean out any leaven which we find by repenting and turning from our sin. While this is something which should be done on a regular, even daily basis, the time of Unleavened Bread is a special period which God set aside at creation in order to be a reminder and a time where this was to be emphasized (Genesis 1:14).
The question remains: is it our place as believers to join with the Israelites in this celebration of redemption? Even those who are not descended from the Israelites who came up out of slavery in Egypt can rejoice in our own redemption from slavery to sin (Romans 6:18, Colossians 1:13-14). Since we are “grafted in” to Israel by putting our faith in their Messiah (Romans 11:13-24), we also have been blessed with the opportunity to come alongside them and rejoice with them. As Paul tells us, “Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:7-8).