Exodus 12:7-8, 14-17; Leviticus 23:6-7
Israel’s second feast is named after the bread that was they were required to eat during the holiday. Matzah is the Hebrew word for “unleavened bread,” and the feast itself is a reminder of how God miraculously delivered the Children of Israel from their Egyptian bondage. They were told to eat in a hurry and be ready at any time in the night to escape from Egypt. Since it takes time to place leaven in a batch of dough and allow it to rise, God instructed His people to eat bread made without leaven during their Passover meal. To commemorate the event, God said, “You shall eat no leavened bread with it. Seven days you shall eat it with unleavened bread, the bread of affliction—for you came out of the land of Egypt in haste—that all the days of your life you may remember the day when you came out of the land of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 16:3; see also Exodus 12:39).
The Feast of Unleavened Bread is observed in the early spring, beginning on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan, and lasts for seven days. Messianic Jews understand this day to be Friday of Christ’s passion week, and that He was crucified on Thursday, which was Passover. The Passover meal was eaten in the evening, and after 6:00 p.m. the day changes. Because the Feast of Unleavened Bread is also a high Sabbath day (John 19:31), two Sabbaths occurred back-to-back: Friday, the high Sabbath of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and Saturday, the regular Sabbath. John 19:31 says, “Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away.” Thus, Christ was in the grave for three days—Thursday, Friday, and Saturday—with His resurrection coming on Sunday.
Because the seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread begins the day after Passover, the two are often blurred together and called the eight days of Passover. In Luke 22:1, 7 the entire eight days were called the Feast of Unleavened Bread. These two feasts were the only feasts instituted by God while the Children of Israel were in Egypt. It was during the Feast of Unleavened Bread that Jesus, at age 12, astounded the teachers in the temple (Luke 2:41-46).
The Bible gives us three instructions regarding the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
1. Special sacrifices were to be offered each day—Leviticus 23:8; Numbers 28:19-24.
2. The 1st and 7th days of the feast were Sabbaths, and all work was prohibited—Exodus 12:16; Leviticus 23:7-8; Numbers 28:25; Deuteronomy 16:8.
3. All leaven was strictly prohibited. This applied not only to its consumption but even to its presence within the home—Exodus 12:14-20; 13:6-8; 23:15; Deuteronomy 16:3, 4, 8.
Furthermore, no less than six passages emphasize the prohibition of leaven during this feast (Exodus 12:14-20; 13:6-8; 23:15; 34:18; Leviticus 23:6; Deuteronomy 16:3, 4,8).
In Hebrew, leaven is called hametz, which literally means sour. In the time of Moses, the lady of the house did not have convenient access to jars of yeast or premeasured packets. In making her bread, the leaven she used was a piece of dough leftover from the previous loaf. This lump of dough was preserved and then either dissolved in water or mixed in with the new dough (Matthew 13:33). This leaven brings about fermentation, in which tiny gas bubbles are produced causing the dough to rise.
Not only was the eating of leavened foods forbidden during the feast, but also the mere presence of leaven within the home was forbidden. God told Moses, “Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall remove leaven out of your houses, for if anyone eats what is leavened, from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel” (Exodus 12:15). We see that disobedience to the instructions of God could bring serious consequences. God further commanded Moses, “Unleavened bread shall be eaten for seven days; no leavened bread shall be seen with you, and no leaven shall be seen with you in all your territory” (Exodus 13:7). This restriction against leaven is further emphasized in Deuteronomy 16:4, “No leaven shall be seen with you in all your territory for seven days.”
“The clarity of God’s command allows no room for debate. Any leaven, no matter how small the amount or how discreet its presence, is not permitted during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. It is not enough to simply refrain from eating leaven, or from touching leaven, or even from looking at leaven by storing it away in a hidden place. All leaven must be purged out. Failure to do so is a serious breach of biblical law” (Howard and Rosenthal, The Feasts of the LORD, p. 67).
In modern observant Jewish households, preparation for the Passover begins weeks before its arrival. Walls are washed, cooking utensils are scalded, clothing is washed with the pockets turned inside out, carpets are cleaned and the vacuum bags are then discarded. In order to conform to the biblical law prohibiting the possession of leaven, some Jewish business owners will go through a ritual called “The Sale of Leaven.” With the help of a rabbi or his appointed aide, the Jewish business owner legally “sells” his business to a Gentile for the duration of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. When the feast is over, he buys back his business for the same amount of money, and in this manner, he ensures that he possessed no leaven during the feast. There are attorneys today who specialize in just such cases.
After everything is done to ensure that all leaven has been removed from the house, the father begins an ancient ceremony called “Searching Out the Leaven,” which ensures that every bit of leaven has been purged from the house. Earlier in the evening, the mother has placed small pieces of leaven in several corners of the house or upon window sills. After saying a prayer for the occasion, the father begins the search. He takes a goose feather and a wooden spoon and, aided only by candlelight, begins to search the house. The children follow with excitement as the father carefully uses the feather to brush the leaven he finds onto the wooden spoon. Finally, the bits of bread, the feather, and the spoon are placed in a bag or wrapped in a cloth. They are tied with a thread and set aside to be burned the next morning. And so all our sins (the leaven) have been cast upon Christ on the cross (the wooden spoon), who was buried (wrapped in linen). Our sins have been burned up and purged in the sight of God because of the sacrifice of His Son. The feather, symbolizing the Holy Spirit, and the candle, symbolizing the Word of God, help us to purge the sin from our lives.
Ancient rabbis understood leaven to represent the evil impulses of the heart.
Jesus taught us, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod” (Mark 8:15); “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matthew 16:6, 11). Jesus explained that this leaven, “the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matthew 16:12), was “hypocrisy” (Luke 12:1). Paul spoke against the leaven of legalism in Galatians 5:9, reminding them, “A little leaven leavens the whole lump.” When Paul heard of the sexual impurities taking place among the Corinthian churches, he reminded them also that “a little leaven leavens the whole lump” (1 Corinthians 5:6) and, in conjunction with God’s word to Moses, he told the Corinthians to ‘purge the evil person from among you” (5:13). And leaven is well-suited as a picture of sin: it rapidly permeates the dough, sours it, ferments it, and swells it to many times its original size without changing its weight. “Likewise, when we allow sin into our lives, it will puff us up in pride and arrogance” (Chumney, The Seven Festivals of the Messiah, p.55).
In the book The Feasts of the LORD, Kevin Howard tells about one particular Passover while growing up in Jerusalem. “It was the eighth day of the Passover season (the last day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread) and there was no “real” food in the house. My friend and I were tired of matzah, salads, and scrambled eggs. Since the grocery would not be selling bread until the following day, we caught a bus to downtown Jerusalem hoping to fare better. Imagine our disappointment when we discovered that our favorite pizza shop was still closed for Passover. Our hopes rose as we saw an open hamburger café, but they were dashed as we received our hamburgers on steamed matzah. Not to be defeated, my friend suggested picking up a loaf of bread at the Arab market. So what would it hurt? Only a few hours, and it would be sundown anyway. He purchased two long loaves of bread, and they were placed in a cellophane shopping bag with the ends sticking out. On our way home, we cut through a grassy park to enjoy the scenery. As we passed a group of university students studying on the lawn, they became excited and began to shout at us in Hebrew. Innocently, we presumed that we were not allowed to walk on the grass and hurried on our way. When we caught the bus. It was crowded, and my friend and I were forced to sit in separate seats. Suddenly, I noticed that all the passengers were scowling at my friend and eyeing the bag of bread. This fact was obvious to my friend as well, for his face was flushed, and he was sunken down in his seat. Fortunately, the bus was not stopping at an ultraorthodox neighborhood, or our lives would surely have been endangered. The presence of any leaven during Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread is an absolute outrage. Even the mere sight of it is a very serious matter.”
Since leaven pictures sin, then only unleavened bread could be used in the temple. Offerings had to be pure, and anything leavened was deemed impure and unfit for service to God. This is why the Feast of Unleavened Bread is a perfect type of Christ our Lord. Passover pictures the death of Jesus, the Feast of Unleavened Bread pictures the burial of Jesus, and the Feast of Firstfruits pictures the resurrection of Jesus.
Isaiah foretold a day when Jesus would be made a sacrifice for sin, saying, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so opened he not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people?” (Isaiah 53:4-8). It is in this way that the unleavened bread was also called the “bread of affliction” (Deuteronomy 16:3). Remember, Jesus was born in Bethlehem, which means “House of Bread.” Jesus was our Bread of Life (John 6:35) who was afflicted for us at Calvary so that we may live through Him.
Isaiah also spoke specifically about the burial of Jesus. “They made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth” (Isaiah 53:9). At the time of Jesus’ death, a criminal received a criminal’s burial, which usually meant being thrown out on the town’s garbage heap to be burned. But God knew that His Son was not a criminal, and His pure life, which contained no leaven or sin, made Christ the innocent Lamb, the substitute Lamb for guilty mankind. Therefore, God made sure He received a rich man’s burial, separate from criminals, in the private tomb of Joseph of Arimathea (Matthew 27:57-60), a member of the Sanhedrin.
But there is another prophecy that was fulfilled in relation to the burial of Jesus, and that is one made by King David in Psalm 16:9-10. “Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.” So Jesus fulfilled the Feast of Unleavened Bread in that He was pure and sinless and possessed no leaven in His life. Although He was crucified among criminals, He was buried among the rich. His body was not allowed to see decay because His pure life meant that His body was not to return to the dust of the earth like the rest of mankind, but was glorified.
So how does this apply to us?
First, the Feast of Unleavened Bread was to be kept for seven days (Exodus 12:15-19). The number seven is the biblical number for completion or fullness. Those who believe in Jesus the Messiah and choose to make Him the Lord of their lives choose to do so for the complete course of their lives until their days are full and they come to their eternal rest. There is no time in the life of a believer when a little bit of sin is acceptable.
Next, unleavened bread is used for consecration and separation in the consecration of the priests (Exodus 29:1, 2) and the sacred vows of separation by the Nazarites (Numbers 6:1-21). Believers in Jesus the Messiah are to be consecrated and separated to do the work that God has called us to do and live the life that is holy to Him. The feast also marked Israel’s divine separation from Egypt’s life of slavery and bondage. It is our line of demarcation between a life in the ways of the world and a life in the ways of the Holy God. The two cannot be mixed. The Children of Israel left the land where they ate garlic and leeks and entered a land of milk and honey. Can you imagine a more unsavory meal—a combination of garlic and milk and honey and leeks?
For Israel, keeping the feast meant a complete separation from the gods, religion, bondage, food, works, and slavery of Egypt. It also meant a break from its worldly glory, wisdom, power, strength, and popularity. By putting away the leaven, they put away all that was associated with the land of their slavery. God did not give them time to make bread with leaven. They did not have time to wait around in Egypt until the bread had finished rising so that they could bake it. And so today God is not calling us to believe in Him and then hang out in the world until all the stuff we have cooked up in the world is ready to be consumed. Instead, He requires a quick and absolute break from our slavery to the bondage of sin.
The Feast of Unleavened Bread is also a memorial. One of the ways we allow God to purge our hearts and minds is by remembering what He has delivered us from. The Feast of Unleavened Bread was to be a memorial. God told Moses, “It shall be to you as a sign on your hand and as a memorial between your eyes, that the law of the LORD may be in your mouth. For with a strong hand the LORD has brought you out of Egypt. You shall therefore keep this statute at its appointed time from year to year” (Exodus 13:9-10). Jesus established the Lord’s Supper and asked us to remember Him who delivered us from our bondage to sin (Luke 22:19-20).
But we are called upon not just to remember the purpose of the feast, but also to teach it to our children. “Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a feast to the LORD. Unleavened bread shall be eaten for seven days; no leavened bread shall be seen with you, and no leaven shall be seen with you in all your territory. You shall tell your son on that day, “It is because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt” (Exodus 13:6-8). It is commanded by the Lord that we teach our children the reasons for our beliefs. We must all be ready to explain to our children the fundamentals of our faith. But you must notice something critical here: The father explained to his son what he was doing, not just what he believed. Children cannot read our minds, but they can read our actions. Exodus 12:26 says, “And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’” can you tell them? Or, are they even asking? Furthermore, the Passover meal and the observance of the Feast of Unleavened Bread all took place within the home. These were not special events where the family got all dressed up in their Sabbath best and trotted on down to the local synagogue for a service and a potluck dinner. The children were asking questions because the events taking place were taking place in the home. Are your children asking you about your relationship with the Lord as they see it lived out in the home, and if not, why not?
We keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread by allowing the light of God’s Word to search every corner of our hearts because it is only by the light of God’s wisdom that we can distinguish what true sin is. Some hold onto habits and teachings believing they are not sinning, but the light of God’s Word reveals them to be full of leaven. Others among us avoid certain habits and teachings, sure that they must be listed as a sin in the Bible, but they are not. The Feast of Unleavened Bread is an ongoing feast, a “statute forever” (Exodus 12:14) in the life of the believer, because we will never run out of opportunities to allow the light of God’s Word to purge our hearts of malice and wickedness, and replace it with a spirit of sincerity, clearness, purity, and truth.
One of the main manifestations of the Feast of Unleavened Bread in the life of the believer is the fact that it is kept in sincerity and truth. Paul said, “Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians5:7-8). Sincerity also means clearness and purity, and is the opposite of impurity and hypocrisy. Truth is the opposite of lying and deceit. To keep the festival with the bread of sincerity and truth means that we must do more than simply put our sins on a shelf where we know they are available to us later. “Just as is done in the purging ceremony we need to thoroughly sweep out our lives. It is not sufficient to simply throw out the conspicuous loaves on the table and hide the favorite loaf of rye in the cupboard or allow the unnoticed crumbs to remain under the stove. We need to take the candle of God’s word and search our lives. Every corner, every crack, and every window sill must be scrutinized in its light. The task is not complete until every speck of leaven is purged. Why? Because ‘Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed’” (Howard and Rosenthal, The Feasts of the LORD, p. 72). His pure life showed us all how to live to the glory of the Father, and His resurrection, which we will study under the Feast of Firstfruits, shows us that even though our sins were cast upon Jesus at Calvary, God’s power overcomes sin. With Christ as our example, we have all been called to live as unleavened bread.