Just a morsel. That is all it takes. A bit of a particular food touches your tongue and—whoosh!—your brain recalls memories in vivid detail.
A mouthful of grilled corn on the cob: suddenly, you are 8 years old and sitting outside on a warm summer evening with your uncle. You are rocking back and forth in a two-person wooden swing, the cool grass brushing against your bare feet.
A forkful of bread pudding: in an instant, you are sitting with your daughter at a favorite eatery that was torn down years earlier.
A dollop of homemade whipped cream on pumpkin pie: a special Thanksgiving flashes through your mind, a cherished time spent with family and close friends.
This rush of mental imagery is often accompanied by a flood of emotion. The strongest forms of nostalgia—a deep yearning for something out of reach—often involve memories of family and a person’s hometown. And due to how the senses of taste and smell work within the brain, food is often what causes this.
One particular trigger is bread, a staple of diets around the globe. There is foccacia with herbs in Italy, slices of baguette dipped into olive oil and balsamic vinegar in France, naan served with curried vegetables in India, muffins in England, and pita in the Holy Land.
Then there are various national and manmade religious practices, which also often involve bread. Germany’s Oktoberfest has wiesn-brezn, a special large, light-brown pretzel baked for the fall festival. Britons have hot cross buns for Lent (based on ancient pagan traditions). Israel’s Rosh Hashanah has challah, a roll filled with raisins to signify a “sweet” new year. The list could go on…
For those who observe such celebrations, the taste of a person’s local breads likely elicits fond memories of home.
Each of us also has a physical birthplace and country of origin, and naturally has an emotional bond with its landscape, customs and food.
Unlike those around us, however, there are very few national holidays in which we take part. Instead, we are usually on the outside looking in. We know that we were called to do this when we were chosen to forsake this world (John 15:19).
While this detaches us from society, it does not leave us homeless. In fact, it should make us feel an even stronger pull toward the city that is described as our own in Hebrews 11—the same city on which many other men and women in the Bible focused.
Note one example. Called the father of the faithful, the patriarch Abraham “sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country…for he looked for a city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (vs. 9-10).
Abraham and his family all “died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (vs. 13).
This city, “whose builder and maker is God,” is our true home. For this article, we will call it “the city afar off” and, borrowing terms from verse 16, the “heavenly country.” We must be able to clearly picture this future location in our minds and yearn for it much more than our physical homes.
Like any great city today, ours has its own distinct culture and national observances—with a monumental difference. Unlike all manmade cities, our Holy Days were ordained by God.
Our heavenly country even has a festival that symbolically focuses on bread: the Days of Unleavened Bread. This annual command, along with Passover and the Night to Be Much Observed, is rich with historical importance and vital lessons for citizens of the city afar off.
As sojourners in this age, this weeklong observance should carry additional meaning. It should leave us yearning for our true home.
In order to build a strong desire for the city afar off, we must envision what it will be like. Make the heavenly country real in your mind. Think of ruling with Jesus Christ in God’s kingdom (Rev. 5:10). Picture yourself being there!
Each element of the Days of Unleavened Bread was designed as a yearly physical/spiritual reminder to help make this happen.
God’s command for this festival is found in the Old Testament: “And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the feast of unleavened bread unto the Lord: seven days you must eat unleavened bread…” (Lev. 23:6).
Exodus 12:17 calls this celebration “an ordinance forever,” and the directions for these days are laid out two verses earlier: “Seven days shall you eat unleavened bread; even the first day you shall put away leaven out of your houses...” (vs. 15).
To those in the world, these requirements can seem laughable—meticulously cleaning our homes to ensure all leavening is removed, eating “strange” matzo sandwiches in the break room at work, and meeting for two high Sabbaths on the first and seventh days. These physical actions do set us apart from the world, but their spiritual counterparts create an even starker contrast between Christians and modern society.
The Days of Unleavened Bread are a memorial of ancient Israel coming out of bondage in Egypt in haste, an event that has deep meaning for those living God’s Way.
Ancient Egypt represents a sinful way of life. We were in bondage to sin until being freed through the death of Jesus Christ and the waters of baptism. Romans 6:20 states, “For when you were the servants of sin”—the Greek here means slaves to sin—“you were free from righteousness.”
In addition, leavening represents sin throughout the Bible. Matthew 16:6 states, “Then Jesus said unto them, Take heed and beware of the leaven [sinful conduct and false doctrines] of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.”
Paul also summarized this idea in I Corinthians, which was written during the Feast of Unleavened Bread: “Your glorying is not good. Know you not that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?” (5:6).
As leaven puffs up bread, so will any sin not repented of spread in a person until it consumes him entirely and puffs him up with vanity.
The passage continues, “Purge out therefore the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, as you are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: therefore let us keep the feast [of unleavened bread], not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (vs. 7-8).
We are to live an unleavened (sinless) life as Christ did. For this reason, the Feast of Unleavened Bread occurs over seven days. In the Bible, the number seven represents completion and perfection. For this festival, it means a continuous effort to put sin completely out of our lives and build God’s perfect character.
Each geographical region is known for a different kind of bread. The type of grain and yeast in each area will change the color, consistency and flavor. In Berlin you will find a lot of rye. San Francisco is renowned for sourdough. Cities in northern China favor mantou, or steamed bread.
Just as cities have their own varieties of bread, they also are often known for a particular kind of spiritual leavening. Some metropolitan areas are known for their haughty attitudes, others for gambling, others for homosexuality, and still others for violent acts.
These environments can pose a serious danger for Christians. Again, the analogy of bread-making brings this threat to life. Yeast is found in the air and on almost everything. If you were to leave unleavened dough on the counter, it would eventually puff up naturally, just as if you had added a leavening agent.
Similarly, there is spiritual leavening all around us. As the “prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2), Satan supercharges our environments with his negative attitudes, moods and emotions. He does this to make us “puffed up” with sin. Heed Paul’s words: “a little leaven leavens the whole lump”!
For this reason, a Christian must constantly search for and overcome sin. If any is allowed to linger, it will spread through him until he is out of the Church!
In addition, if you are not actively putting sin out, then society will affect you. Inaction equals a slow-but-sure leavening process.
The more we focus on allowing God to build His holy, righteous character in us, the more clearly we will see past the sinful world of the “here and now” and be spiritually minded (Rom. 8:6).
During the Days of Unleavened Bread, we are not to allow any leavened bread products to pass our lips. Instead, we are to eat unleavened bread on every day of this seven-day period.
Notice Exodus 13: “Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, and in the seventh day shall be a feast to the Lord” (vs. 6).
Verse seven adds for emphasis: “Unleavened bread shall be eaten seven days; and there shall no leavened bread be seen with you, neither shall there be leaven seen with you in all your quarters.”
This physical act—eating unleavened bread—helps us redouble our efforts in removing spiritual leaven from our lives.
Yet the focus on physical/spiritual leaven does not begin at the first day of this weeklong festival. God commands serious preparation to begin much earlier.
Leading up to the First Day of Unleavened Bread, Christians are to entirely remove leavened products from their properties. This process takes some time.
There is also a spiritual element to this preparation, which leads to the Passover service that occurs the day prior to the first Holy Day. This command can be found in I Corinthians 11: “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eats and drinks unworthily, eats and drinks [condemnation] to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body” (vs. 28-29).
This requires intense self-examination to discern where he has successfully overcome over the last year and where he has fallen short. (Use the article “Overcoming the Works of the Flesh,” also found in this issue, as an aid during the time of pre-Passover examination.)
Like leaven, the Passover has deep symbolic meaning that must be internalized so that baptized members of the Church do not take the bread and the wine “unworthily.”
These symbols are thoroughly explained in The True Jesus Christ – Unknown to Christianity. The book discusses the vital importance of the bread: “The small, broken pieces of unleavened bread that Christians are to eat at the Passover service symbolize Jesus’ ‘broken’ body. Consider all the abuses and torment Jesus took upon His body because all human beings have broken God’s physical laws.
“‘His visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men’ (Isa. 52:14).
“‘I am poured out like water, and all My bones are out of joint [but not broken]…I may tell all My bones: they look and stare upon Me’ (Psa. 22:14, 17).
“‘Surely He has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; 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: He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He opened not His mouth’ (Isa. 53:4-7).
“For the past 6,000 years, men have judged for themselves right from wrong, without seeking instruction and direction from God. Consequently, mankind has reaped sicknesses, diseases, cancers, degenerative syndromes, deformities—physical penalties derived from breaking God’s commandments, statutes, judgments and overarching principles of living the right way. Through Jesus’ ‘broken’ body, we can be healed: ‘Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes you were healed’ (I Pet. 2:24).”
The book continues by explaining the symbolism of the wine: “When God redeemed ancient Israel from slavery in Egypt, He entered into a covenant with them. He promised to grant national blessings in the Promised Land as long as the Israelites faithfully served Him. The covenant was then ratified in the blood of animal sacrifices (Ex. 24:7-8).
“But the blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sins (Heb. 10:4). Another, infinitely greater, blood sacrifice was needed: ‘For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies to the purifying of the flesh: how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?’ (Heb. 9:13-14).
“Jesus was perfect in all His ways—‘a lamb without blemish and without spot’ (I Pet. 1:19). It took the sacrifice of a flawless, sinless life to redeem the blemished and spotted lives of men. To fulfill this purpose, innocent blood had to be shed: ‘For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that makes an atonement for the soul’ (Lev. 17:11).
“The Old Covenant served as a type for the New Covenant, which is also ratified in blood (Heb. 9:20), but it is a ‘better covenant [testament, compact, contract], which was established upon better promises’ (Heb. 8:6; also read verses 7-13).
“The ‘blood of the [new] covenant’ delivers Christians from their ultimate enemies: sin and death. This is why Jesus said, ‘Whoever eats My flesh, and drinks My blood, has eternal life’ (John 6:54).
“Just as God delivered Israel from slavery so that they might ‘serve’ Him (Ex. 3:12; 8:1, 20), He is delivering Christians from spiritual slavery to sin, so that they might ‘serve [God] without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him, all the days of our life’ (Luke 1:74-75).”
Christ’s sacrifice brings great importance to the proper preparation we must do before partaking in the bread and wine.
Yet deleavening our properties works hand in hand with self-examination. As we clean our houses, cars, workspaces, etc., we should also meditate on all of the spiritual nooks and crannies where sin may be hiding.
Self-examination, the forgiveness offered through the Passover, and the Days of Unleavened Bread are the perfect foundation for another year of serving God “without fear” and “all the days of our life”—en route to our city afar off.
Do Not Look Back
The recipe for bread has changed little since the time of ancient Israel: water, grain flour, and an option to include leaven. The only changes have come relatively recently with the use of instant-rise yeast packets and other leavening agents such as baking soda and baking powder.
Throughout time, however, bread has primarily come in two basic forms: leavened and unleavened.
Unleavened cakes are likely the first type of bread to specifically make an appearance in the Bible. This occurred when Abraham met with Jesus Christ, as the God of the Old Testament, and two angels. (Read Genesis 18:6 and notice the bread was made “quickly,” which indicates it was unleavened.)
In ancient times, bakers making leavened bread would keep back a small portion of dough from each batch for the next time they made bread. This set-aside dough was called “leaven” and could be preserved for more than a week. The lump of leaven would then be mixed into the next batch to help it rise.
The meaning of the Hebrew words for “leaven” and “unleavened” emphasize these baking methods.
Leaven: Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible defines this word as “barm or yeast cake (as swelling by fermentation).” The root for this word, shawar, is translated throughout the King James Bible as “leave, (be) left, let, remain, remnant, reserve, the rest.”
Unleavened: Strong’s defines this term as “properly sweetness; concretely sweet (that is, not soured or bittered with yeast).”
Ancient Israel was not allowed to take any leaven (lumps of starter dough) out of Egypt. At that time, this was the only easy way to make bread rise. The alternative was the slow and labor-intensive process of having dough rise from the yeast in the air. This fact brings more clarity to Paul’s admonition to keep the Days of Unleavened Bread “not with old leaven” (I Cor. 5:8).
We have left spiritual Egypt behind and should not have brought any leaven with us. Any old sinful habit could act as “starter dough” that could ultimately leaven our lives.
In addition, we must not forget how “sour” and bitterly harsh a life of sin really is. We should instead remember that our lives, while still involving many trials, is very “sweet” by comparison: “For My [Christ’s] yoke is easy, and My burden is light” (Matt. 11:30).
The Israelites in the time of Moses serve as a warning for us as they are a type of spiritual Israel. They constantly yearned for the “niceties” of Egypt—while they forgot they had once been in slavery! Notice:
“And the children of Israel said unto them, Would to God we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots, and when we did eat bread to the full; for you have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger” (Ex. 16:3).
“And the people thirsted there for water; and the people murmured against Moses, and said, Wherefore is this that you have brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst?” (Ex. 17:3).
“And wherefore has the Lord brought us unto this land, to fall by the sword, that our wives and our children should be a prey? Were it not better for us to return into Egypt? And they said one to another, Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt” (Num. 14:3-4).
Any time sin is found in our lives, we must put it out completely, look to God to grant us repentance, and rely on Him to help us overcome. Instead of constantly looking back and longing for the ways of this world, we must look forward to our heavenly country.
Time for Family
Think of your fondest memories. Undoubtedly they are of your family, friends or hometown. The Feast of Unleavened Bread and all of God’s Holy Days should be times we build bonds with children, spouses and fellow Christians.
God even included a family element when He ordained this weeklong festival thousands of years ago. Notice: “Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, and in the seventh day shall be a feast to the Lord. Unleavened bread shall be eaten seven days; and there shall no leavened bread be seen with you, neither shall there be leaven seen with you in all your quarters. And you shall show your son in that day, saying, This is done because of that which the Lord did unto me when I came forth out of Egypt. And it shall be for a sign unto you upon your hand, and for a memorial between your eyes, that the Lord’ s law may be in your mouth: for with a strong hand has the Lord brought you out of Egypt. You shall therefore keep this ordinance in [its] season from year to year” (Ex. 13:6-10).
The spring Holy Day season is a time for building lasting memories with our physical and spiritual family members. Parents, you have an added task to explain to your children all that these days represent. Church members, make sure your conversations during the Days of Unleavened Bread include discussions of all the symbolic meanings of leaven, Egypt, bread, wine, etc.
God emphasizes this important part of this festival with another command, the Night to Be Much Observed, which commemorates God bringing Israel out of Egypt. Exodus explains, “It is a night to be much observed unto the Lord for bringing them out from the land of Egypt: this is that night of the Lord to be observed of all the children of Israel in their generations” (12:42).
On the evening of the start of the Days of Unleavened Bread, all of God’s people across the world are to gather for special meals to commemorate Israel’s coming out of Egypt and our coming out of sin.
Strive to make this night special. Seek out the highest quality foods you can afford. You may wish to include a more expensive cut of meat or spend a little extra time creating a fancy dessert. Certainly, ancient Israel leaving Egypt was memorable. So should this night be!
Most important, make sure your conversation touches on coming out of Egypt, whether physical or spiritual. This could include how individuals sitting at the table were called into the truth.
Again, parents, be sure to include your children before and during the Days of Unleavened Bread. Depending on their ages, give them small tasks to help with deleavening. Include them while baking leaven-free bread. Make the story of the Exodus come to life for them.
As physical families are a type of the God Family, building these relationships through warm fellowship will help keep your reward of ruling in the kingdom of God in clear view.
Not So “Afar Off”
A passage in I Corinthians adds a sense of urgency for us to learn from the mistakes of Old Testament Israel: “Now all these things happened unto [ancient Israel] for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come” 10:11.
Unlike Abraham, the city “whose builder and maker is God” is no longer so “afar off” as we are living in the end times. God’s Work is booming. The Church is quickly growing. Prophetic trends and events are dramatically ramping up. Knowledge is being increased. The Return of Jesus Christ is near!
Yet the whirlwind pace of modern society can leave us thinking there is a significant amount of time remaining before this age comes to a close. Busyness can obscure our view of the heavenly country and draw us away from our purpose to overcome sin and allow God to build His character in us.
These facts make deleavening, self-examination, Passover, Night to Be Much Observed, and Days of Unleavened Bread all the more crucial for us.
Each year, use these events to re-center and refocus your life. Remind yourself as you take the Passover and fellowship during the weeklong festival that you are not in this alone. God is on your side. He delivered Israel from Egypt, and He can deliver you from your trials as well. In addition, your fellow Christians are in this with you: be sure to encourage one another to “press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14).
While we do not need to eat leaven-free bread year-round, God intends the lessons of the Days of Unleavened Bread to be constantly on our minds: “…remember the day when you came forth out of the land of Egypt all the days of your life” (Deut. 16:3).
As the Days of Unleavened Bread come and go, continue to diligently find and remove sin from your life. When you fall down, immediately get back up, ask God for forgiveness and repentance, and press on. Keep your eyes forward and do not look back to the spiritual Egypt from which you came. Make it your priority every day to “seek you first the kingdom of God” (Matt. 6:33), and allow Christ’s words to ring true in your life: “And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).
Work every day to capture a clearer vision of our city (not so) afar off. Realize that citizens of physical cities take on the customs and attitudes of where they reside. They are also affected by the character of their country’s leader. In a similar vein, strive each day to become more like Jesus Christ, who will rule as King of Kings in the world to come. He led a completely sin-free life and is our example.
With every passing unleavened bread season, make a concerted effort to build fond memories of these days. Each time you deleaven your house, think of your goal to rule in the kingdom of God. Each time you bake unleavened bread with your family, imagine the peace and harmony in the heavenly country. Each time you examine yourself, think of the rich meaning behind Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread. Each time just a morsel of unleavened bread touches your tongue, think of the city (not so) afar off.
Each time, think of your true home.