“Seven days shall ye eat unleavened bread; even the first day ye shall put away leaven out of your houses: for whosoever eateth leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that soul shall be cut off from Israel.” (Exodus 12:15)
As we begin to read God’s instructions beginning at Exodus 12:14 concerning how the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread will be perpetually observed, we notice something peculiar. First of all, we know from reading the first 13 verses of Exodus 12, with its directions for preparing the Passover Lamb, that the Lord had given the Israelites sufficient notice that their departure was at hand. By comparing Verses 3 and 6, we know that no fewer than four days would have elapsed between the giving of the instructions and the night of the Passover, plenty of time for the preparation of regular leavened bread. So why was it necessary to prepare unleavened bread?
Secondly, Verses 15, 19, and 20 make it very clear how important it was that no leaven be used in the preparation of the bread. Why was this so significant?
“Thou shalt eat no leavened bread with it; seven days shalt thou eat unleavened bread therewith, even the bread of affliction; for thou camest forth out of the land of Egypt in haste: that thou mayest remember the day when thou camest forth out of the land of Egypt all the days of thy life.” (Deuteronomy 16:3)
The eating of the unleavened bread, the “bread of affliction”, would serve as a reminder of the circumstances that the nation Israel left Egypt under. Departing with great haste, the children of Israel would exit the land wherein they had lived in bitter servitude for more than 400 years, the land whose ruler had been stubbornly unwilling to acquiesce to the demands of the Lord of Heaven. It took no less than the death of every firstborn son of Egypt to persuade the reluctant Pharaoh to reconsider. When he finally granted permission for the Hebrews to leave, we can clearly understand the great sense of urgency which compelled the people to make it out of the land before the king’s bitterness and anger drove him to seek reprisal.
But why was it so crucial that, not only must the bread be baked without leaven, but that all leaven was to be wholly absent from every Jewish home?
“How is it that ye do not understand that I spake it not to you concerning bread, that ye should beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees? Then understood they how that he bade them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.” (Matthew 16:11-12)
Leaven, throughout the Bible, is symbolic of evil and false doctrine. Leaven is a wicked, deceptive influence which, when left unchecked, has the power to corrupt and taint that which is pure and holy. Leaven has a way of starting out small and then growing, expanding, becoming more and more mingled with the pure bread so that, eventually, it becomes nearly impossible to distinguish between where one begins and the other ends. Leaven, when tolerated and unopposed, can creep in and utterly destroy lives and can bring entire churches to their knees.
In the Fifth chapter of First Corinthians,the Apostle Paul addresses an issue of the utmost importance, although it appears that the Church in Corinth itself did not deem it important at all. The leaven of one man’s sexual perversion had been accepted, embraced, and unchallenged by the officers and members of the congregation and thus sin and corruption had found a foothold in the assembly. Far from condemning the man’s sin, the church applauded and even celebrated his perversion (are we not beginning to see uncannily similar responses to immorality in many churches today?). Paul’s soberly warned:
“Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?” (1 Corinthians 5:6)
As a little leaven can influence an entire loaf of bread, so can the sin, wickedness, and false doctrine of a single individual influence an entire congregation. So many cults and pseudo-Christian denominations were founded based on the false doctrines of a single individual. A little leaven went a long way as some of these organizations now boast membership in the millions.
Is it any wonder, then, that the Lord would be so adamant about making sure that His people are diligent to purge the leaven from their own houses? We are not necessarily called to go out and purge the leaven from other places, but we are expected to cleanse it from our own surroundings. It became a tradition in Israel to carefully search every inch of one’s home for any traces of leaven before the Feast began in order to make sure that absolutely no leaven found its way inside. With candle in hand, people would look high and low, painstakingly combing over their entire house just to make certain that all leaven had been purged.
What leaven do we allow to creep into our own homes? Are we diligent to purge it once we find it? What sin has a grip on those we love, what false teaching is influencing those in our own family? Have we stood up in love and clearly expressed our opposition to the leaven that is in our house?
What about the leaven that has crept into our very own lives? Those little “indiscretions” or “guilty pleasures” that seemed so small in the beginning have such a way of growing and expanding before we even realize it. The leaven of undealt with sin can “cut us off” from fellowship with the Lord and can render us completely unfruitful and useless for the Kingdom of God. Before we know it, our occasional “slip-ups” can become habits and addictions.
Leaven starts out small, almost imperceptible, but it never stays that way. Let us be resolute in searching out all of the leaven that is in our own midst and purge it. Let no trace of leaven be found with us!
To God goes all glory. In service to Him,