A Tiny Particle With a Mighty Purpose
Each spring, the world blossoms to life! By the next winter, much of that life has died off. God created that seasonal cycle to teach us a spiritually valuable lesson: just how temporary our physical lives are (e.g. Psalm 103:15-16).
God’s earthly creation—which He designed specifically to prepare us for life in His eternal Family—brims with thousands of such profound physical analogies of spiritual principles. By thinking upon the material things God has made, we can learn about the invisible things, even His eternal power and Godhead (Romans 1:20).
The Days of Unleavened Bread are built around one of these wonderful analogies. God strategically designed this substance called leavening to supply us with insights about one of the most vital spiritual concepts we grapple with in the flesh: sin. Leaven’s properties teach us about sin’s characteristics, how it can come into our lives, and what happens when we allow it there. The process of deleavening teaches us what God wants us to do with sin and how we can conquer it.
This lesson is right at the heart of what God seeks to do in our lives: to convert our carnal mind that loves sin and hates God into a spiritual mind that hates sin and loves God. So it makes sense that God made this analogy so detailed and precise.
What Leavening Does
Just before emancipating the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, God revealed to them this analogy: “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). For this seven-day period only, leaven is a type of sin.
What makes these two things similar?
Generally, when you mix leavening agents with certain other ingredients, they create carbon dioxide and air. When you put leavening in bread dough and heat it—such as baking the bread in an oven—those gasses form bubbles that get trapped in the loaf, causing the product to rise.
Likewise, sin puffs us up with vanity and selfish pride. Just like that bloating caused by leavening, sin causes us to lose godly perspective, and we become more and more inflated with ourselves—puffed up with the substanceless gasses of arrogance and self-confidence. Psalm 36:1-2 describe how sin lies deep in our heart, urging us to do evil, and how, when we sin, we can fool ourselves into thinking we won’t be found out—a very foolish and vain thought.
The punishment God commanded for the individual who consumed leavening during this seven-day period is also revealing: “that soul shall be cut off from Israel.” In like manner, sin cuts us off from God. In fact, if we “regard iniquity”—or cherish sin—in our hearts, God won’t hear us (Psalm 66:18). In Isaiah 59:2 we learn, “[Y]our iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.”
The way God commands we treat leavening during these days is exactly the way He demands we treat sin all the time.
A Sanctuary From Sin
In establishing the Days of Unleavened Bread, God said, “[T]here shall no leavened bread be seen with thee, neither shall there be leaven seen with thee in all thy quarters” (Exodus 13:7). As anyone who has diligently kept this festival can attest, getting leavening completely out of all your quarters—your home, your garage, your car, your workplace as much as possible—is a real job.
But consider the marvelously practical advice for combating sin that we can meditate on throughout that process: Keep sin out of your home. The world, with all of its troubles and problems, lies outside the door. But for the most part, we have control over what we allow into our own quarters. How well are we doing at keeping sin out?
Make your home a little sanctuary from sin!
Our home life should revolve around God, not the world. We should be generally happy, free from the spiritual leavening agents of anger, bitterness, competition, strife and selfishness. When those attitudes emerge in us or in our families, put them out quickly.
This command has special meaning today, when we have numerous means of bringing the sins of the world into our homes: television, satellite, radio, videos, the Internet and so on. Your home could be completely free of physical leaven, but then switch on the tv and you could have spiritual leaven filling your living room!
Apply this wisdom and do your best to remove the spiritual leaven and keep it out of all your quarters.
Another lesson that deleavening teaches is that sin resides in unexpected places. We may find leaven wedged in a filing cabinet or a light socket and be utterly perplexed as to how it got there.
Sin also lurks in our lives in places we’re not looking. That is why King David asked God to cleanse him of his “secret faults” (Psalm 19:12). We can’t see all the areas where we are violating God’s law—certainly not as God does. But He expects us to examine ourselves for sin with the help of His Holy Spirit—so we can quit it! (1 Corinthians 11:28; 2 Corinthians 13:5).
Physical leaven may be invisible in a lump of dough, but, like spiritual sin, it does its work anyway.
It is interesting, as well, how leaven is used in many products you wouldn’t necessarily think would have it. Prior to and throughout the week of Unleavened Bread, we often find ourselves scrutinizing the ingredients of what we buy at the store, what we bring into our homes, what we eat.
That is a habit we can apply spiritually. Check the “ingredients” of the music you listen to, the books you read, the television or movies you watch. Many children’s books and videos, for example, look harmless, but they promote terrible messages for our young people. The “leaven” of upside-down families, children disrespecting parents and adults, violence, even occultism are remarkably common.
It can be difficult to completely avoid eating leaven for seven days. Not only does it require cleaning out your cupboards at home, it also means making sure it doesn’t pass your lips when you’re out. Many have stories about eating leavening out of habit, not realizing until too late that it was the Days of Unleavened Bread.
Likewise, if you’re not careful, you will unwittingly ingest a lot of sinful ideas—from conversations, from people at work or school, from wrong entertainment. To keep sin out of your life, you must remain vigilant.
The Danger of Prosperity
Consider another lesson from deleavening. For the ancient Israelites living in tents, the deleavening process might have taken only a day or two. In our larger, well-furnished, multi-room homes today, it can be a major project lasting several weeks.
Have you ever considered the spiritual parallel? How much easier it is for us, in this materialistic world, to fixate on physical things, thus increasing the potential for harboring sin.
The more property we have, the harder we have to work to keep sin out. As Christ said, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God (Matthew 19:24).
God knows human nature. Before He gave the Israelites the Promised Land, He anticipated a major spiritual trap they would encounter—one very pertinent to us today. As they were about to inherit a bountiful, prosperous land with every good thing just handed to them, God warned them to beware of forgetting Him (Deuteronomy 6:10-12).
That is not to say a rich man can’t enter the Kingdom—but those of us who enjoy prosperity, so widespread in the birthright Israelite nations, do have to work harder to keep the sins of materialism and coveting out of our lives!
Commonly, during the Days of Unleavened Bread, when those who keep the festival encounter leaven—perhaps finding it in some overlooked nook, or realizing we are about to ingest it—we have an instinctual revulsion, a desire to expunge it as quickly as possible.
How well do we apply that lesson spiritually? When we find sin, God wants us to remove it immediately! Being complacent about sin creates serious problems.
Consider the example of Cain. Read the account in Genesis 4. Cain began to develop a sinful attitude, which was reflected in his offering. He grew jealous of his brother. And look how that sin affected him! “… And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell” (verse 5). Sin has that effect. If you are really miserable, evaluate your life for sin.
God tried to work with Cain, saying, “Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is couching at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it” (verses 6-7, Revised Standard Version). If only Cain had accepted this wise counsel and taken action to master his sin right then, that sin never would have led to murder (verse 8).
By putting out spiritual leaven as soon as we discover it, we stop its damaging effects in our lives. “If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). When we have been made unclean by sin, we need that cleansing immediately! Don’twait to repent. Don’t let that sin fester. Get it out of your life right away.
That lesson is reinforced by another characteristic of leaven.
The Apostle Paul gave the best description in the Bible of just what God was thinking when He created the leavening analogy. “Your glorying is not good,” he wrote to the Corinthian congregation. “Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?” (1 Corinthians 5:6).
This group of God’s people had allowed a member who was flagrantly committing a grievous sin to remain in their midst. Paul commanded them to put the man out in order to ensure the problem didn’t spread in the congregation.
When you put leaven in a lump of dough, you can’t see anything happening at first. But once it does its work, the whole loaf is leavened. Likewise, sin can start small—even invisibly—but it spreads. One sin leads to another, which leads to another.
That is why we must endeavor to put sin out completely! There is a danger in thinking we can “handle” just a little bit of spiritual leaven. But the command regarding this festival is not, “Try to stay away from leaven”—“Be balanced; don’t eat too much leaven”—“Use moderation in the amount of leaven you consume.” Do we have that attitude with the sinful ways of society?
Many people think, Well, this is just a little sin. It isn’t so bad. But the lesson of this festival is, get that leaven out!
Leaven and sin are potent agents of change. Even a little leaven will completely leaven a lump. The Apostle James said that if you break one of God’s laws, you’re guilty of breaking them all (James 2:10).
We cannot afford to think that a moderate amount of sin is okay. We should never be comfortable with a sin in our lives. Jesus Christ was completely unleavened, and it is His example we should be striving to emulate.
However, there is something else important to remember about this process.
A New Lump
Paul continues his epistle with this profound thought: “Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:7-8). Here is another monumental lesson about sin.
You could never take a loaf of leavened bread and remove the leaven from it the way you could remove raisins from raisin bread. It is completely baked into the loaf. In like manner, you simply cannot take your life and scientifically try to eliminate each and every little sin. That will not make you unleavened. The fact is, you are a leavened lump! You are filled with leaven!
You must become a completely new lump.
Individuals seeking baptism should deeply understand this point. You don’t just repent of a particular list of sins when you make that lifetime covenant with God—you repent for being a sinner. You are a slave of sin. You cannot tweak your life into becoming a slave of God—you must leave all your old ways behind.
Elsewhere, Paul described this as killing off our “old man”—destroying that body of sin, as Paul says in Romans 6:6. We are “resurrected” out of those baptismal waters to a new life (verse 4)—Jesus Christ living in us.
This lesson must also remain with us throughout our converted lives: We need to continually purge our sins and look to God to make us a new lump—a new creature—a new man—day after day after day (2 Corinthians 4:16).
Simply getting the leavening out doesn’t completely fulfill the command in Exodus 12:20. For seven days we not only avoid leavening, but we also eat unleavened bread, representing God’s way of sincerity and truth. That is the “bread of life”—the bread we must eat if we are to inherit eternal life (John 6:35, 48). As we ingest Jesus Christ and allow Him into us, He transforms us into a new and different person. That is yet another beautiful lesson of the Days of Unleavened Bread—and the subject of a different article.