Wednesday, February 04, 2015

What's the Deal About Unleavened Bread?

About fifty people at Living Water Lutheran Church are reading the Bible together this year. We gather for weekly discussions of the readings, one during the day and one in the evening every Tuesday.

Last night, we discussed Exodus 19-40. One participant asked what the big deal about unleavened bread was in the Old Testament. It's required in many sacrifices and it's used at Passover.*

The answer I gave is one that I think I was taught and is based on God's instructions for the Passover given in Exodus12. There, in verse 11, God says: "This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord’s Passover."

What I was taught was that if you're in a hurry, as the Hebrews were when they prepared to leave Egypt, you don't have time to wait for leavened bread to rise. And that was the explanation for the use of unleavened bread.

But something about it just didn't set right with me. I knew that there was more to it than that and as I was studying this morning, I realized that, while the answer I gave was true enough for Passover possibly, it doesn't the mandate for unleavened bread in so many other Old Testament rituals. In studying today, I realized that there was a lot more to it than that.

In Matthew 16:6 and Mark 8:15, Jesus is quoted as warning His disciples against the "yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees."

According to footnotes in the Life Application Bible:
Yeast is a bacterial fungus or mold, the active ingredient in leaven. Yeast, therefore, is an appropriate symbol for sin. It grows in bread dough just as sin grows in a life. A little yeast will affect the whole loaf, just as a little sin can ruin a whole life.
And The Lutheran Study Bible echoes this point in one of its footnotes:
Leavening was a symbol of sin (cf. Lk. 12:1). Abstaining from leaven symbolized the new life cleansed from the sinful nature.
Leaven is a symbol of sin. That's the main reason God's ancient people were sometimes mandated to abstain from its use.

Of course, after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, Old Testament ritual or sacrificial law was no longer needed. Jesus is the definitive sacrifice for the human race: "the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world." That means, of course, that all who trust their sins and their lives to Him, in other words, all who believe in Him, have no need of further sacrifices. Dietary regulations in the Old Testament all were related to the ritual/sacrificial system. In Acts 10:13-16, God definitively proclaims that these laws are no longer essential for a relationship with Him.

[You might want to go here for a discussion of the three different types of law in the Old Testament.]

*Passover, of course, commemorates when the angel of death passed over the dwellings of the Hebrew slaves in Egypt, sparing their first born, while the first born of Egypt all were killed. That grim event was the final sign from God that caused the hard-hearted Pharaoh to let God's people go. Passover celebrates God's deliverance of His people from slavery and foreshadows the eternal deliverance from slavery to sin and death God grants to all who believe in the crucified and risen Jesus Christ.

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