Exodus 12:15-19 - The Feast of Unleavened Bread
LEAVEN* (Leeaw' vehn). A small portion of fermented dough used to ferment other dough and often symbolizing a corruptive influence. The common bread of Old Testament times was made with leaven. Such bread was acceptable as wave offerings for the priests and as loaves to accompany the peace offerings (Lev. 7:11-13; 23:17). However, bread made with leaven or honey, both associated with the process of fermentation and thus a source of corruption, was never to be used as offerings to be burned on the alter (Lev. 2:11-12).
Unleavened bread was also prepared in times of haste (1 Sam. 18:24) and was required for the Feast of Unleavened Bread which was celebrated in conjunction with the Passover festival (Lev. 23:4-8). This unleavened bread, or bread of affliction, reminded the Israelites of their hasty departure from Egypt and warned them against corruptive influences (Ex. 12:14-20).
In the New Testament, leaven is a symbol of any evil influence which, if allowed to remain, can corrupt the body of believers. Jesus warned His disciples against the leaven of the Pharisees, their teaching and hypocrisy (Matt. 16:5-12; Luke 12:1). Paul urged the Corinthians to remove wickedness from their midst and become fresh dough, unleavened loaves of sincerity and truth (1Cor. 5:6-13). Jesus also used leaven to illustrate the pervasive growth of the kingdom of God (Matt. 13:33).
A. The Commands Of the Feast (v.14-16)
1. The Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread (v.14).
a) They are close but yet distinct.
(1) The OT uses both names to refer to the same feast:
(a) “Passover Feast” (Exodus 34:25; Ezekiel 45:21).
(b) “Feast of Unleavened Bread” (Deuteronomy 16:16; 2 Chronicles 30:13, 21; Ezra 6:22).
(c) Yet the two rites are treated separately, even if in sequence (Leviticus 23:5-6; Numbers 28:16-17; 2 Chronicles 35:1, 17; Ezra 6; Ezekiel 45:21).
(2) Likewise the NT uses this twofold designation for the same feast:
(a) pascha (John 2:13, 23; 6:4; 11:55)
(b) azymos (Matt 26:17; Luke 22:1, 7; cf. Mark 14:12).
b) “This day” of (v.14) refers to (v.1-13) the slaying of the lamb.
2. The Removal of Unleavened Bread (v.15)
a) To be eaten for Seven Days (v.15)
(1) They did this to remember Israel’s haste in leaving Egypt:
After the Lord struck all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, Pharaoh told the people to leave "So the people took their dough before it was leavened, with their kneading bowls bound up in the clothes on their shoulders. " (Exodus 12:34, NASB95)
"And 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. " (Exodus 12:39, NASB95)
"You shall not eat leavened bread with it; seven days you shall eat with it unleavened bread, the bread of affliction (for you came out of the land of Egypt in haste), so that you may remember all the days of your life the day when you came out of the land of Egypt. " (Deuteronomy 16:3, NASB95)
b) To be removed from their houses on the first day (v.15).
(1) The whole household needed to be pure and clean of heart; therefore all the yeast was to be removed. The greatest care was always taken by the Jews to free their houses from leaven. The owner searched every corner of his dwelling with a lighted candle. Figurative allusion to this is made:
Paul writes "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. " (1 Corinthians 5:7, NASB95)
c) To be “cut off” if leaven is eaten (v.15).
(1) There are thirty-six places in which this “removal” or “cutting off” is threatened against the Jews for neglect of some particular duty.
(2) It s a general expression for coming under God’s curse, what is implied is not well known.
(a) A eternal death; A violent death; A premature death by execution:
"Therefore you are to observe the sabbath, for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people. ‘For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there is a sabbath of complete rest, holy to the Lord; whoever does any work on the sabbath day shall surely be put to death. " (Exodus 31:14-15,; Lev.7:20; 20:1-6; 22:9; Num.15:30-36)
(b) It may mean death without children. In any event, God put the offender to death, with or without human agency.
d) A Holy Convocation (assembly) (v.16)
(1) The First and Seventh Day
(2) No Manner of Work Shall be done.
B. The Observance Of the Feast (v.17-20).
1. To be observed throughout your generations (v.17).
a) This was to benefit the forthcoming generations
(1) The Passover & the Feast of Unleavened Bread was to be a lasting ordinance (v.14, 17). Together they were to be obeyed (14, 17, 24) and observed (v.25-26). Although this feast was instituted like the Passover before the departure, the observance of it did not take place till after.
b) The Lord delivered them from the House of Bondage (v.17; 13:1-3).
(1) The believer should remember God:
"Beware that you do not forget the Lord your God by not keeping His commandments and His ordinances and His statutes which I am commanding you today; otherwise, when you have eaten and are satisfied, and have built good houses and lived in them, and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and gold multiply, and all that you have multiplies, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. “He led you through the great and terrible wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water; He brought water for you out of the rock of flint. “In the wilderness He fed you manna which your fathers did not know, that He might humble you and that He might test you, to do good for you in the end. “Otherwise, you may say in your heart, ‘My power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth.’ “But you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth, that He may confirm His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day. “It shall come about if you ever forget the Lord your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I testify against you today that you will surely perish. “Like the nations that the Lord makes to perish before you, so you shall perish; because you would not listen to the voice of the Lord your God." (Deuteronomy 8:11-20, NASB95)
(2) What happens when a generation does not know the Lord (Judges 2:6-23)
2. The Time It is to be observed (v.18).
a) For Seven Days
(1) Before the Passover: First month 14th day until the 21st day
(2) After the Passover (13:6-7). From the 15th to the 21st month (Lev.23:6; Num.28:17)
(3) The day Christ died
3. The Consequences of Eating Leavened Bread (v.19-20)
a) Shall not be found in your houses, nor eat of it (v.19)
(1) Mentioned in (v.15) already each family was to keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread. In Egypt, the necessity of a hasty departure would allow no time for the bread to rise. Therefore, to put “leaven” in one’s bread and allow time for it to rise would carry the risk of not being ready to leave, signifying unbelief and lack of confidence in God’s promise (Ex.11:1).
(2) Unleavened bread is not palatable. There are a great many people who do not like the study of the Bible, the pure, unleavened Word of God. Many people love to come to church for the social time, of the music, or the beauty of the place, but not for the Word of God. They do not want the Word of God because it is not palatable to them.
b) Believers are to be ready, wasting no time in separating from Egypt.
(1) Lot had a lack of urgency (Gen.19:12-16), his wife looked back (v.26).
(2) Thought 1. This symbolizes that we are to eat, partake of, Christ quickly. We are to lay hold of the death of Christ immediately. The hour is urgent: now is the day of salvation. We are to immediately accept Christ, rush away from the world and begin our new life, our new life marching to the promised land of heaven. We are to live as though Christ might return today.
"“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”" (Matthew 3:2, NKJV)
"Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect." (Matthew 24:44, NKJV)
"“Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming." (Matthew 25:13, NKJV)
"And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”" (Joshua 24:15, NKJV)
c) Shall be cut off (v.19)
C. The Figurative Language—Negative
1. The Doctrine of the Pharisees (Matt.16:6-12; Mk.8:15; Lk.12:1).
a) The Legalism of religion (23:14-16; Gal.5:1-9)
2. A Picture of Sin, Malice and Wickedness (1Corinthians 5:1-8)
a) Leaven, Yeast is a picture of sin: it begins small but spreads quickly.
(1) It puffs up; and it works secretly. When you are saved by the blood of Christ, you want to have a life that is pure and free from known sin. The Jews were not saved by getting rid of the leaven; they got rid of the leaven because God had saved them:
"Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. " (2 Corinthians 7:1, NASB95)
"Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness.” " (2 Timothy 2:19, NASB95)
D. The Figurative Language—Positive.
1. The Rapid Spread of the Gospel (Matt.13:33; Luke 13:20-21)
a) Essentially two interpretations of this parable.
(1) Leaven represents evil that penetrates the Kingdom of God and His church. The main arguments of this position are threefold.
(a) Consistency with the Lord’s purpose points to this interpretation (Matt.13:31-32).
(i) Some say the birds are those who find protection, safety in the nest.
(ii) Others say the birds are the children of the evil one (13:4,9).
(b) The Lord’s very choice of “leaven taken by a woman and hidden in the meal” indicates a mixture of evil within the good.
(i) Leaven is always used to symbolize evil in Scripture (Matthew 16:6, 11; Mark 8:15). Leaven sours, ferments, and putrifies. It is a picture of corruption which penetrates and permeates the dough (1Cor.5:6-8; 2Cor.7:1; Galatians 5:7-9).
(c) The woman had to hide the leaven, camouflage it in the meal.
(2) Leaven symbolizes the Kingdom of God. It penetrates and works silently to transform men and society.
b) Small things can have a great influence.
(1) The woman responsible for baking would save a piece of leavened dough from a risen batch just before it was baked. When the next batch of dough was mixed, she took the saved piece from the previous batch and hid it in the new, in order that its leaven, or yeast, could ferment the new batch of dough and make it rise.
(2) The smallest part of the kingdom of God placed in the world, is sure to have an influence.
c) The Influence is Positive and Comes from within.
(1) Leavened bread tasted better than unleavened (Matt.5:13).
(2) The leaven must be hid in order to have any impact. The idea here is not that of hiding so as not to be seen but rather of hiding in the sense of penetrating deeply, completely permeating the world as leaven completely permeates the dough.
(3) Christians are not to be of the world, but we are to be in the world, because that is the only way the gospel can reach and affect the world:.
Jesus said: "I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world." (John 17:14-16).
(4) When the kingdom of heaven is faithfully reflected in the lives of believers, its influence has a spiritual and moral leavening in the world. It is the power of God’s kingdom within a believer that makes his witness effective (Phil.2:13; Rom.1:16).
Paul says "in all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified, " (Titus 2:7)
Paul, writing to young Timothy says: "The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, " (2 Timothy 2:24-25)
When Christianity came to Thessalonica, the cry was this: "These who have turned the world upside down have come here too." (Acts 17:6, NKJV)
Paul writing to the church in Thessalonica said: "For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance, as you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake. And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe. For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything." (1 Thessalonians 1:5-8, NKJV)
Paul goes on to tell them how the Word of God is working in them: "When you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe." (1 Thessalonians 2:13, NKJV)
Paul comments on the Bearean’s saying: “They received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. Therefore many of them believed" (Acts 17:11-12)
2. The Transforming Power of the Gospel.
a) Several Important Facts on How Leaven Works.
(1) Leaven Makes Bread Soft, No Longer Hard. The gospel does the same, it penetrates a hard heart and softens it toward the Lord and to others.
(2) Leaven Makes Bread Satisfying, No Longer Unfulfilling. The gospel transforms a dissatisfied life giving it meaning, purpose and fulfillment.
(3) Leaven Works Slowly, And Gradually. It takes time for the leaven to leaven the whole lump. It also takes time to grow in the Lord. With the proper nourishment, growth will happen:
Paul says: "I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. " (Acts 20:32, NASB95)
"Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. " (2 Timothy 2:15, NASB95)
"All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; " (2 Timothy 3:16, NASB95)
We are to desire the Word "like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord." (1 Peter 2:2-3, NASB95)
(4) Leaven Changes The Quality, Not The Substance Of The Dough, It Is Still Dough. A man who receives the gospel is still a man, but he man of quality.
Paul gives a horrible list of sins and then say something astounding: "Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God." (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).