Many people find the Days of Unleavened Bread especially ridiculous for a Christian, astonished that anyone would toss out their bread annually. Even Jews react quizzically upon learning that a non-Jew keeps these days. It turns to surprise when they learn that true Christians interpret “leaven” differently than they do! The difference between their view of what leaven is and the intent of God’s command is revealing.
Most Jewish people who still observe these holy days do so as a ritual, interpreting God’s commands by judgments in the Torah rather than by the spiritual intent of God’s command. In fact, instead of banning leaven, the Jews ban grain. The idea is that grain left out to ferment could become chametz—leavened.
The notion that something might puff up—the actual principle of the day according to your Bible—is not at play here. As an example, the Jews do not prohibit baking soda or baking powder. “They’re just minerals,” said Rabbi Soloveichik. “What do we care about minerals?” Soy milk, though, might contain grain and is therefore banned.
A Jew would remove beer from the home because it contains yeast. They would also remove noodles, which contain grain that might become leavened.
One acceptable way for a Jew to remove leaven is to sell it to a third party and buy it back after the festival. Less scrupulous observers will keep their leavened items in a locked box on their own property, sell them to a third party, and buy them back when the days have ended—with the leavened items never having left their property! Many are now comfortable arranging their chametz sale online.
We must ask, why does God give the command to remove leaven from our homes?
The Effects of Leaven
During the Days of Unleavened Bread, God uses leaven to represent sin because of its effect: Leaven causes bread to puff up (1 Corinthians 5:1-8). This festival shows that we are to become unleavened spiritually through the physical labor of deleavening our homes—removing anything that will cause bread to puff up.
There are three common leavening agents used to puff up or produce fermentation, causing dough to rise: yeast, bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) and baking powder. Since these items are primarily leavening agents, they should be removed from your property for the duration of these days. Yeast is a biological leavening agent. Baking powder and baking soda are chemical leavening agents, which means they leaven your food much faster! Leavening agents cause baked goods, such as bread, cake, certain crackers and cookies, cereals and pies to rise by trapping carbon dioxide and air in the dough, forming tiny bubbles. Even some candies and other foods are leavened, so careful label reading is a must.
Sourdough was the most popular leaven in ancient Israel, as it caused baked goods to rise and become light in texture. The Egyptians also had an early form of baking soda called natron that they used for cleaning and making bread—they even embalmed mummies with it.
God’s people follow the spiritual intent of the law. That means, if it will cause bread to rise, we don’t do it. This principle means that leaven is not restricted to the three basic leavening agents listed above.
For instance, consider that you can make sourdough without including an initial leavening agent. Not only is sourdough a leavened product, it was the primary way the Israelites made leavened products. “A starter begins as a mixture of flour and water, mixed to a thick batter consistency. This mixture provides an environment for good bacteria and wild yeasts that are in the air to settle and cultivate, feeding on the carbohydrates in the flour,” explains Chef Jamie Oliver’s website. “They form a relationship and colonize, so that the flour and water are filled with the living micro-organisms. The mixture becomes a fermented, sour, live culture. When added to bread, it causes the bread to rise (which is why it’s called a ‘starter’ for bread).”
Of course, using flour itself does not create leavened products. But with the ancient practice of leaving grains out on the counter overnight to ferment having gained popularity recently, remember that during these days, it should not be done!
Egg whites are another example. Nothing should be used as a leaven substitute to purposely skirt the spirit of the law—angel food cake, for instance. Yet egg whites may be used in meringue for pies and in other desserts when their use is not as a leavening agent—that is, to puff up any baked product composed of flour or meal.
Products with yeast extracts are acceptable if they do not contain any actual leavening agent. Brewer’s yeast is totally inactive or dead and not to be considered leaven. Cream of tartar, by itself, is not a leavening agent.
Questions come up about beer, wine and other fermented beverages, but there is nothing in the Bible that restricts the kind of drinks allowed during these Days of Unleavened Bread. Leaven in the Israelites’ dough is always mentioned (Exodus 12:39, for example), but never the invisible yeast or its effect in beer, wine or other libation. Wine, naturally fermented, was a customary staple at God’s ancient festivals. If God would have banned wine and other fermented beverages, the Bible would certainly have recorded this admonition for us.
Other non-food products contain leavening, such as antacids, some medicines, bath powders, toothpastes, cat and dog foods and even fire extinguishers, but none of these needs to be discarded. These items are not bread, and God does not command the Days of Unleavened Toothpaste.
However, if a so-called non-food product is a leavening agent by itself—baking soda, for instance—it should be discarded, regardless of its purpose. Remember that Exodus 13:7 instructs us to not let any leavening be seen in all your quarters.
The question is one of both properties and intent. If an ingredient has caused or can cause the rising of dough, it should be disposed of. You do not need to dispose of eggs, but using the ingredient to mimic the rising of dough (as in beaten egg whites) violates the spirit of the law and should not be done.
The principle properly applied will answer any question you might have about food items as well. Sodium bicarbonate in bottled water, for instance, clearly does not constitute leavened bread—in fact, it is naturally present in spring water. Mineral packets such as Emergen-C contain tartaric acid; this too is clearly not a leavening agent. If you are still in doubt whether a particular product is leavened, ask someone with more expertise and experience in this area.
God also gives us a positive command that whenever bread is eaten during the spring holy days, it must be unleavened bread. Eating the “bread of affliction” (Deuteronomy 16:3) reminds us that we were in bondage to sin before being delivered from such abject slavery.
Unleavened bread can be easy to make, and there are many recipes. There are also products available on the market such as Matzos, Rye Krisps, some types of Wheat Thins, Triscuits, etc. Again, a careful check of the label is recommended because different brands or flavors of these products may have leaven in them. Over time, manufacturers may change their recipes. If you have any doubts about a particular food and cannot determine if it is safe to eat, it is best to avoid it, “for whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Romans 14:23).
To picture our deliverance from sin, earnest effort should be made to put leavening out of our homes—just as we must exert effort to put sin out of our lives. Despite our best attempts, some leavened products may be discovered in our home or accidentally enter our premises during this festival. This is not surprising, as it types the hidden sins that were not immediately revealed upon our conversion. We should get rid of them immediately, to represent the desire we should have not to become comfortable with our sins. Putting out the leaven (sin) is not a one-time event but something we must keep doing until the process is complete. This explains why there are seven days of Unleavened Bread—seven signifying the number of completeness.
God planned the Days of Unleavened Bread to remind us to deleaven ourselves spiritually. This is typed physically, but our prime concern should be the complete putting out of the spiritual leaven of sin, replacing it with spiritual, unleavened righteousness, not just for seven days, as explicitly commanded, but every day of our lives.
Qualities of Leaven
One: It puffs up
When you mix leavening agents with other ingredients, they create carbon dioxide and air. When you put leavening in bread dough and heat it, those gases form bubbles that get trapped in the loaf, causing the product to rise. Likewise, sin puffs us up with vanity and selfish pride. Just like that bloating caused by leavening, sin causes us to lose godly perspective, and we become more and more inflated with ourselves—puffed up with the substance-less gases of arrogance and self-confidence. 1 Corinthians 5:1-2 show how tolerating sin caused the Corinthians to become puffed up. Lucifer was the first sinner because he was filled with vanity—puffed up. Read Psalm 10:3-5 for a perfect description of a vain man who puffs at his enemies.
Two: It is soft and easy
Because of its soft texture, leavened bread is usually easier to eat than unleavened bread. Likewise, going the way of sin and this world is easier than living righteously because we still have the nature that wants to sin (Romans 7:14-15). It is through the battle against sin that we develop the character of God—this is our part in God’s master plan. It continues all of our natural lives.
Three: It spreads
When you put leaven in a lump of dough, you can’t see anything happening at first. But once it does its work, the whole loaf is leavened. Likewise, sin can start small—even invisibly—but it spreads. One sin leads to another. That is why we must put sin out completely! There is a danger in thinking we can handle just a little bit of spiritual leaven. The Apostle Paul said that “a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump” (1 Corinthians 5:6). Sin not only spreads through our lives after it starts, but if tolerated, it can spread through an entire family, or even a Church congregation as it did in Corinth.
Four: It gives a false image
The bubbles left behind have no substance to them, so even though a loaf of leavened bread may appear larger than unleavened bread, it has far less substance to it. Jesus Christ used a similar metaphor in Matthew 23:27: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.”
Rather than looking on a false outward appearance, God looks on the heart. When He sent the Prophet Samuel to anoint a king, Samuel had to learn not to judge men by their outward appearance: “But the Lord said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart”
(1 Samuel 16:7).
Five: It is popular
Leavened products are more popular than unleavened products. Likewise, most follow a sinful path rather than the way of righteousness. Matthew 7:13-14 tell us: “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”
Six: It spoils more quickly
Leavened bread spoils more quickly than unleavened bread. Sin is the same way. In Proverbs 12:19, we read, “The lip of truth shall be established for ever: but a lying tongue is but for a moment.” Similarly, in Proverbs 10:25, Solomon recorded: “As the whirlwind passeth, so is the wicked no more: but the righteous is an everlasting foundation.”
Seven: It cannot be removed physically
Once a product is leavened, the leavening cannot be removed physically. If you bake a batch of chocolate chip cookies, you might eventually be able to pick out the chocolate chips, but no matter what you do, the cookies will always be leavened. This is why we have to physically throw out any leaven we find—it can’t be deleavened. Likewise, we can’t physically remove sin—only God can. That required the sacrifice of Jesus Christ (Isaiah 53:5). We might think that when we sin, we have to deal with the problem ourselves, but the truth is that the removal of sin requires the power of God. Psalm 103:12 tells us He will remove our sins as far as the east is from the west—but He has to be the One to do it. We cannot do it any more than we could take leaven out of a cake and leave unleavened cake behind.
Recommended reading: Pagan Holidays—or God’s Holy Days—Which?