Feast of Unleavened Bread in Old and New Testament

Except from God’s Festivals in Scripture and History: Part 2 – The Fall Festivals by Samuel Bacchiocchi available for download here. For an in-depth study of the Feast of Unleavened Bread by Samuel Bacchiocchi, please read God’s Festivals in Scripture and History: Part 1 – The Spring Festivals by Samuel Bacchiocchi available for download here.

The Feast of Unleavened Bread in the Old Testament

The seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread is connected to Passover, since its observance began the day after Passover, Nisan 15th. During the seven days of the feast only unleavened bread could be eaten. While Passover commemorated the night of the deliverance from Egypt, the Feast of Unleavened Bread served to remind devout Jews of the circumstances of the Exodus and symbolized for them God’s call to holy living (Ex 12:39; Deut 16:3; Lev 23:6-8).

The Unleavened Bread was known as “the bread of affliction” (Deut 16:3) because of the haste and anguish of spirit with which they left Egypt. But there is no doubt that it also pointed to the religious and moral purity which was to be the abiding character of the ransomed people of the Lord. This is suggested by the fact that leaven was absolutely prohibited in connection with any sacrifices to the Lord (Ex 23:18; 34:25) and in meal offerings (Lev 2:11; 6:17).

While the offerings to the Deity were unleavened, those eaten by the priests or others such as the peace offering (Lev 7:13) and the offering of the wave loaves (Lev 23:17) were leavened. This could be reflective of the difference between God’s sinless nature and the human sinful nature.Leaven became emblematic of moral corruption, presumably because a small piece of fermented dough is capable of corrupting the mass of the dough.

This view prevailed also in the pagan world. The Greek moralist Plutarch (about A. D. 46-120) explains that the pagan priests were not allowed to touch leaven because “it comes out of corruption, and corrupts that with which it is mingled.”[1] The New Testament leaves us in no doubt that leaven was commonly understood as symbolizing malice, hypocrisy, and wickedness (Mark 8:14-15; 6:14-18; Matt 16:5-12).

By partaking of unleavened bread for seven days, the Israelites were reminded that God had delivered them from the Egyptian bondage so that they might live free from physical and spiritual bondage. They were to be consecrated and separated to do the work of God who had called them to a life of holiness. It is noteworthy that unleavened bread was used in the consecration of the priests to their ministry (Lev 8:2, 26; Ex 29:2. 23) and in conjunction with the vows of separation of the Nazarite (Num 8:1-12). Thus, by eating unleavened bread during the feast, the Israelites were constantly reminded of their consecration to God and separation from all things that are sinful (leavened).

The Feast of Unleavened Bread in the New Testament

In the New Testament, the antitypical fulfillment of the Feast of Unleavened is related to that of Passover as cause and effect. While Passover celebrates the deliver- ance from the bondage of sin offered to us through the sacrifice of Christ, our Paschal Lamb, the Feast of Unleavened Bread typifies Christ’s provision for the removal of sin in our lives. As believers, we accept the salvation offered to us by Christ, our Passover, by living new lives of purity and sincerity as typified by the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

The ethical implications of the Feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread are expressed by Paul in his letter to the Corinthians where he challenges the members to proper Christian behavior by appealing to these feasts as a model for what Christians should be. “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us, therefore, celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Cor 5:6-8).

This passage suggests that the Feast of Unleavened Bread has profound ethical implications for the Christian’s life-style. Celebrating Passover, the feast of our redemption from sin, demands a new way of life typified by the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The old and sinful ways must be cleansed out of our lives the way the old leaven is removed from Jewish homes before Passover begins. The new period initiated by Passover demands that we live a new life characterized by the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

The Feast of Unleavened Bread serves as a model for the Christian lifestyle because it reminds believers that Christ was sacrificed as the spotless Paschal Lamb, not only to pay for the penalty of our past sins, but also to empower us to live upright and holy lives. In a sense, this Festival points to the heavenly ministry of Jesus who is actively working in our behalf to cleanse us from the presence and power of sin (Heb 7:25). The Feast of Unleavened Bread assures us that God is still setting His people free from the bondage of sin, just as He freed the Israelites from Egyptian bondage.

 

Endnote:

[1] Plutarch, Questionis Nom. 2, 289.

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