Deliverance from Leaven

By Andrew McKain   •   April 16, 2009

For more than 3,000 years, Jews have celebrated their deliverance from slavery by keeping the festivals of Passover and Unleavened Bread, as commanded by God in the Bible (Exodus 12-13). Though initially two interconnected festivals, today they are celebrated as one: the week of Passover, beginning the first night with a Seder, a ceremonial dinner retelling the exodus story, and continuing for a week during which no leavened products are eaten.

Pharaoh had enslaved the Israelites for generations, forcing them to labor day and night building his empire. In complete bondage, they felt helpless, abandoned, and alone; but God saw their suffering. Their cries reached the heavens (Ex. 3:7-8). And in His mercy, He sent Moses to free them, proclaiming to Pharaoh, “Let My people go, that they may serve Me” (Ex. 8:1).

To this day, Jews take the commandment seriously, thoroughly cleaning their homes of any trace of leaven before the holiday. That includes any of the five types of grains that have been combined with water and left to ferment and rise: wheat, oats, spelt, barley, and rye. Together, families search every corner for even the smallest crumbs, because God commanded that, “No leavened bread shall be seen among you, nor shall leaven be seen among you in all your quarters” (Ex. 13:7).

The exodus from Egypt provides us with a blueprint for Divine deliverance. It speaks to us of God’s love, His desire to see us freed from captivity, and the lengths to which He will go to deliver us. It is not only the story of Israel, but our story as well, for with the death of Jesus, God ransomed us from our own Pharaohs. He delivered us from captivity to sin.

What are we believers, then, to make of this week of unleavened bread? A week without leaven may strike many as arbitrary, but it certainly is not. God does not make arbitrary demands of His people. He is not a capricious dictator, but a loving father, who desires for us to grow in wisdom and understanding – to know Him and His abounding love.

When He commanded the children of Israel to avoid leaven for a full week, it was not to burden them, but to teach them about redemption. Leaven symbolizes sin. As Jews searched their homes for leaven, they were to inspect their lives for sin. The days before Passover were to be a time of contemplation – a searching of the soul for those areas of one’s life where sin reigns.

In contrast to God’s loving nature, sin is cruel taskmaster. As Paul writes, it causes you to do that which you wish not to, and keeps you from doing that which you wish (Romans 7:14-15). Bondage to sin is as bondage to Pharaoh. We are powerless to free ourselves. Addictions, temptations, and false perceptions hold us captive, just as Pharaoh held captive the children of Israel. And in the face of our Pharaohs, we may even feel overwhelmed, abandoned, and alone. But God sees our suffering; He hears our cry.

That is the beauty of Passover. “God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). In his mercy, God has provided each of us with a way out of Egypt. He has ransomed our lives from captivity to Pharaoh with the life of His own son. He has broken the bonds of sin and set us free.

But that deliverance is not complete without the week of unleavened bread. As Paul writes, “For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:6-8).

If leaven is sin, then unleavened bread is righteousness. God did not free us for freedom’s sake. He set us free, as Moses said to Pharaoh, so that we might serve Him. The week of unleavened bread symbolizes the sinless lives we are called to lead, once redeemed.

Sin keeps us from serving God fully. God did not create us to be in bondage to addiction, fear, or false perceptions; He created us to serve him as “slaves of righteousness” (Rom. 6:18).

Consider that for a moment. God desires to free us from the sin in our lives, so that we can be fully His.

Passover is deliverance; it is radical change. The festival of Unleavened bread is renewal and righteousness. But they are just the beginning – the first step in a long journey that begins in Egypt and ends in the Promised Land.

That journey, as it was for the children of Israel, will not be easy. The Pharaohs in our lives will surely pursue us. In moments of weakness we will even be tempted to return to the old ways, much like the Israelites, who were tempted to turn back toward Egypt when times were tough. But God has called us to be a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation. He has called each of us for a purpose and He will see us through.

We need only take that first step. The Promised Land awaits.