THE MEANING OF LEAVENING
Because we live in a physical world, Yahweh impresses lessons upon us that we learn only through physical activity. Our minds do not always retain many of the spiritual truths we have learned because of our fallibility. We often cannot recall the dates of some of the most memorable occasions in our lives. How many husbands forget such an all-important event as their wedding anniversary?
When Yahweh gave Israel His special holy days, He prescribed their observance with some acts to perform to make them more memorable. Before the death and resurrection of the Messiah, animal sacrifices were a part of worship even on the Sabbath day, Numbers 28:10. However, these sacrifices pointed to the great sacrifice by Yahshua and are done away in Him, Hebrews 10:1-10.
While the way a holy day is observed may be changed, the observance of the day itself continues. The weekly Sabbath and annual holy days (Unleavened Bread) will also be kept even after the Messiah returns to rule, Isaiah 66:23, Ezekiel 45:21.
UNLEAVENED BREAD FOLLOWS PASSOVER
Immediately following the Passover observance, Yahweh commanded the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Exodus 12:15-20. The Days of Unleavened Bread were also a part of the Old Covenant, Exodus 23:14-15. What is the meaning of these days, and what is the New Testament believer supposed to do during this time?
Ancient Israel was told to keep the Passover as a day of remembrance and to celebrate it as a Feast in Yahweh’s honor forever, Exodus 12:14. It commemorated the deliverance of Yahweh’s people from the destroying angel because they had applied the blood of the lamb to their doors and lintels.
Immediately following that, they were to keep seven days, during which they were to eat no leavened bread, nor were they to have any leaven in their houses, Exodus 12:15-20. Verse 17 says it is to be kept from age to age as an irrevocable ordinance. Anyone eating leavened bread during this time was to be cut off from the community of Israel.
The Assembly at Corinth was undoubtedly the most worldly and paganized of all the groups with which Paul worked. They were very cosmopolitan, and proud of their liberal and enlightened attitude of humanistic tolerance. Most Bible scholars contend they were not Israelites, but were of Gentile origin. They had just come out of heathenism, but carried some pagan, idolatrous ways into the Corinthian Assembly.
There was incest, and Paul scolds them for their obvious pride in tolerating a man having his father’s wife. He tells them to remove such a man from among them so that he will come to his senses and repent. But the interesting point is that Paul makes an analogy to the leavening power of yeast working in the Assembly.
He uses it here in a bad sense, The pride that you take in yourselves is hardly to your credit. You must know how even a small amount of yeast is enough to leaven all the dough, so get rid of all the old yeast, and make yourselves into a completely new batch of bread, unleavened as you are meant to be. Messiah our Passover, has been sacrificed; let us celebrate the feast, then, by getting rid of all the old yeast of evil and wickedness, having only the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth, 1 Corinthians 5:6-8, Jerusalem Bible.
IS LEAVEN SIN?
Exactly what is the meaning of leaven? Is yeast representative of something bad? Does it stand for sin, wickedness, and corruption? Or does it represent being “puffed up” as some teach?
If leaven is used in Scripture as evil, then we should never eat it, but avoid it entirely. Neither would it ever be allowed in any offering to Yahweh. Yet, we find that in Leviticus 23:17 leaven is to be placed in the two wave loaves offered at Pentecost. Also, Leviticus 7:13 shows leaven used in the cakes of the praise offering to Yahweh.
Yahshua spoke to His disciples in a parabolic discourse in Matthew 13, using many extended metaphors about the Kingdom. In verses 31-32, He likened the mustard seed to the Kingdom. In verse 33, He said, The Kingdom of Heaven is like the yeast a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour till it was leavened all through, Jerusalem Bible.
If leaven or yeast is representative of sin, wickedness, and corruption, then how could Yahshua say the Kingdom of Heaven is like leaven? Do we not read in Scripture that the Kingdom is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit, Romans 14:17?
The Pharisees and Sadducees came testing Yahshua and asked for a sign from heaven in Matthew 16:1. Rather than exercise His supernatural power for their benefit, Yahshua upbraided them for not observing the signs of the times. Then added that there would be no sign given except the sign of Jonah. He abruptly left after that exchange and went on to the other side. Yahshua then said to be aware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
The disciples reasoned that He was chiding them for not bringing along any bread. He plainly reminded them of the feeding of the 5,000 and the later feeding of the 4,000 with baskets of surplus bread remaining. Plainly He told them, Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees, verse 11. Then it dawned on the disciples. Yahshua was speaking about the doctrine or teaching of His critics.
LEAVEN—BOTH KINDS OF DOCTRINE
If we understand leaven to mean a doctrine or influence, we will be on safe ground. It can be an influence for good or for evil. Matthew 15:14 shows that the perverse doctrine of the religious leaders threatens to misguide those for whom they are responsible. This Yahshua told His disciples to watch for.
Note the three types He specifically called attention to: Religious hypocrisy in external ceremonialism was evident with the Pharisees, Matthew 23:14, 16, and 28. A skeptical attitude toward the spirit realm was the leaven of the Sadducees, Matthew 23:23, 29. The spirit of worldly compromise, political guile, and formalism was the leaven of the Herodians, Matthew 22:16-21; Mark 3:6.
In the warm countries around Palestine, leaven would spring up spontaneously in a lump of dough. In the tepid climate of Syria, 24 hours was sufficient for a mass of dough to become thoroughly leavened, according to Hastings’ Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics.
Leaven is that which produces fermentation in a mass of dough. In Hebrew, it is seor. From this we get our word “sour.” Physical leaven putrefies. It breaks down flour, causing decay or disintegration in the dough. Rabbinical writers often used leaven as a symbol of man’s hereditary corruption.
There are, however, two verses in Leviticus stating that the showbread contained leaven (23:17) and the praise offering already mentioned (7:13).
An interesting comment is made in the New Testament where Yahshua speaks of the Kingdom of Heaven as being like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, Matthew 13:33. These verses show that leaven has a more symbolic meaning, as revealed by Yahshua in alluding to the pervasive character of leaven as it works slowly and surely until the whole lump is leavened. Paul stated the same in Galatians 5:9.
Patrick Fairbairn in The Typology of Scripture observes, “There can be no doubt that leavened bread was used in ordinary life by the covenant people, without apparently suggesting any idea of corruption. It is thought to be more natural and altogether more in accordance with the original prohibition of leaven, to understand by it simply the old, that which savored of the state of things to be done away, whereas the unleavened was the new, the fresh, the unmixed, consequently pure,” p. 312.
Further, he says, “The putting away of the leaven, that there might be the use only of unleavened bread, may also be regarded as carrying some respect to the circumstances of the people at the first institution of the Feast. And on this account it seems to be called ‘the bread of affliction,’ (Deuteronomy 16:3) because of the trembling haste and anguish of spirit amid which their departure was taken from Egypt. But there can be no doubt that it mainly pointed, as already shown in connection with the meat-offering, to holiness in heart and conduct, which became the ransomed people of Yahweh—the incorrupt sincerity and truth that should appear in all their behavior. Hence, while the bitter herbs were only to be eaten with the lamb itself, the unleavened bread was to be used through the whole seven days of the feast, the primary sabbatical circle, as a sign that the religious moral purity which it imaged was to be their abiding and settled character.”
ACCEPT BLOOD, REMOVE FALSITY
If we understand leaven to mean doctrine or influence for good or evil, then we can see the fuller meaning of Yahweh's command to Israel to eat unleavened bread for seven days.
Yahweh was redeeming a people for Himself as He brought the 10 plagues upon Egypt. Each of the plagues was directed against a pagan deity worshiped by the Egyptians. As Israel had been redeemed by the blood struck on their doorposts and lintels, they were now to leave the influence of pagan Egypt behind and, for seven days, eat only unleavened bread. On the last day of Unleavened Bread, Israel marched through the Red Sea and were forever free of the Egyptians.
No wonder Paul said in his letter to the Corinthians that they should purge out the old leaven—that old doctrine of tolerating sin and wickedness right in the Assembly at Corinth. They were to be a new lump, untainted from the attitudes and influences of the wicked. He added, For even Messiah our Passover is sacrificed for us, therefore, let us keep the feast, not with the old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth, 1 Corinthians 5:7-8.
We also are to keep the Passover as did Yahshua and His apostles once a year. Then we are to take all the leavened products out of our homes and eat unleavened bread each day. Seven days shall you eat unleavened bread, Leviticus 23:6.
This is to remind us each year we are to examine all the doctrines we believe and follow, performing a “spring housecleaning” of what we have accepted as truth.
We first accept the shed blood of the Savior and put out all the false ideas and erroneous doctrines so that we believe and follow the words of Yahweh with sincerity and truth.
Just as newborn babes desire the sincere milk of the word, so we should seek the truth of the Bible without any hypocrisy, without worldly compromising with Scripture, without doubting Yahweh’s truth. Each year, we become a “new lump” from the Bread of Life.