The Bible records seven annual festivals that God commands us to keep. The first begins in just a few days: the Passover. The second, a weeklong festival called the Days of Unleavened Bread, begins one day later. (For more information on God’s seven yearly festivals, read our free booklet,Pagan Holidays—or God’s Holy Days—Which?)
The Days of Unleavened Bread are named after a unique and important physical symbol God uses to teach an amazing lesson. This symbol is something that has been a staple in virtually every society throughout history. It is one of the few foods eaten by people of every race, culture and religion. The typical American consumes an average 53 pounds of it per year. American fast food restaurants take in about $190 billion in annual revenue, and the majority of their menus revolve around some form of this substance. No doubt it was a staple in ancient times as well—it is mentioned 361 times in the Old and New Testaments.
As you might have guessed, this physical symbol is leavened bread.
Days of Unleavened Bread
“Seven days shall you eat unleavened bread; even the first day you shall put away leaven out of your houses: for whosoever eats leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that soul shall be cut off from Israel” (Exodus 12:15).
Leavening is a substance used to produce gas inside of dough in order to lighten it and puff it up. Almost all the bread, crackers, cakes, cookies and other baked goods we enjoy contain some form of leavening.
There is nothing inherently wrong, unhealthy or evil about leavening. But during this unique one-week period, God uses leavening to represent sin. God commands that we get it out of our lives during this time—every last loaf, slice and crumb!
Old Testament Israelites kept the Days of Unleavened Bread every year, but God’s command didn’t just apply to the ancient Israelites. Genesis 19:3 indicates that Lot kept these days centuries earlier. And over a millennium later, Jesus Christ and the apostles set the same example (Matthew 26, Mark 14 and Luke 22).
Jesus warned against “the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees” in Matthew 16. The Apostle Paul focused on leaven in 1 Corinthians 5:6-8: “Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”
The Bible makes a very strong connection between the way leavening puffs up dough and the way sin has the tendency to spread and permeate our life. It only takes a tiny pinch of leavening to puff up an entire loaf—and it only takes a single compromise to fill our life with sin.
How Do I Keep God’s Days of Unleavened Bread Today?
Just like with the ancient Israelites, God focuses us on “cleaning house” during the Days of Unleavened Bread: ridding our lives from every bit of sin—and keeping it out. He commands us to perform this spiritually and physically, removing every crumb of sin (leavening) from our homes, our workplaces, our vehicles and every nook of personal property in between. Physically it is no easy task, but neither is getting sin out of our lives.
It takes real effort and sweat to “deleaven” your possessions, just like it is a constant, lifelong battle to remove sin from your life and to keep it out when it inevitably begins to creep back in. The observance represents a great gift from God, reminding us every year that, physically and spiritually, we have to work hard to get the leaven out.
We keep God’s Days of Unleavened Bread the same way today that the ancient Israelites kept them some 3,500 years ago. We literally have to remove all traces of leaven.
How do we accomplish this task? “Unleavened bread shall be eaten seven days; and there shall no leavened bread be seen with thee, neither shall there be leaven seen with thee in all thy quarters” (Exodus 13:7). God doesn’t say some bread or a little bread. He says, no leavened bread. It shouldn’t exist within our property or come near our lips during this seven-day period.
How Do I ‘Deleaven’?
Just like in your spiritual life, physical deleavening consists of 1) locating the leaven, 2) removing it, and 3) keeping it out. Physical deleavening means consuming or throwing out all of your leavening before the Days of Unleavened Bread arrive. (Leave ample time; don’t try to accomplish this all the day beforehand!) The first step is to find out what leavening is.
Examples of Leavening Agents
A leavening agent is any substance causing expansion of doughs and batters by the release of gases within such mixtures. Common leavening agents include:
- sour cultures (sourdough starter)
- baking powder
- sodium bicarbonate (baking soda)
- ammonium bicarbonate (horn salt)
- potassium carbonate
Look at the ingredients lists on the back of your bread packages, cereal boxes, cracker packaging, chip bags, granola bars, baked goods and anything else that you think may include one or more of these leavening agents. You’ll find these agents in pancake mixes, flour tortillas, croutons, cheese puffs and almost anything that looks puffy in appearance—as well as a lot of things that don’t! You’ll also find raising agents in foods that you would never think had leavening in them. If in doubt, check the label, and check it closely.
Once you know what leavening is, you have to get it out! That means not only eating up or throwing out all your leavened bread, muffins, crackers, it also means finding every crumb of leavening that has accumulated in your home/office/car/etc. over the year! This is an even more strenuous task, since leavened crumbs can be found along baseboards, on shelves, on mattresses, under car seats, in pants cuffs, all over the toaster, in garage corners, on top of refrigerators, inside books—just about anywhere!
A Family Project
Deleavening is a family affair where husbands, wives and children all pitch in and help. You can make a checklist to make sure that nothing gets forgotten, and progress through the house, perhaps marking rooms that have been deleavened with a sticky note so that you don’t accidentally wander into the bedroom with a cookie and have to deleaven it all over again. Once you have thrown out or vacuumed up all your leavening, don’t forget to remove the leavening from your vacuum cleaner as well and your garbage cans. These types of precautions are exactly the type we need to take to make sure we thoroughly deleaven ourselves spiritually—and stay deleavened.
This is not a normal spring-cleaning process, but a specific search for raising agents. It should be much more thorough. More importantly, it must accompany meditation about removing sin from our lives.
What If I Find Leavening After the Days Begin?
Just like in our spiritual lives, we may find a crumb we overlooked—or a loaf. If this happens, obey God’s command and get it out immediately! Get it out of your home and off of your property so that you can continue to live leaven-free. If you accidentally eat some at a restaurant and catch yourself, stop immediately and determine to become even more vigilant for the rest of the Days of Unleavened Bread. This is the same way that we should treat the sin in our lives. When sin appears in your life, react quickly and work hard to get it out as quickly as possible. You can’t afford to let sin linger—it will quickly leaven your whole life.
What Bread Can I Consume?
The word unleavened is mentioned 61 times in 50 verses of the Bible—in both the Old and New Testaments. Exodus 12:15 and 13:7 show that during this one-week period we are given a positive command: Seven days shall you eat unleavened bread. So not only should you identify sin, get it out and keep it out, but you should also replace it with righteousness—typed by unleavened bread. This instruction means that whenever bread is eaten during this Festival it must be unleavened.
Enjoy this special, flat, type of bread with your meals in place of common leavened bread. One simple form of unleavened bread is Jewish Matzo, which you can find at most grocery stores around this time of the year. You can also find other flat breads and crackers that do not contain any raising agents, or choose to bake your own unleavened bread. This bread can be just as tasty if not more enjoyable than store-bought leavened breads.
Assemble for Worship on Feast of Unleavened Bread
God also commanded the Israelites to assemble on the first and seventh days of the feast of Unleavened Bread. These are holy days, which God’s people are to rest from regular work and assemble for worship (Leviticus 23:7-8). Today, members of God’s Church assemble and God’s ministers use these opportunities to explain more about the meaning of God’s festivals and His master plan.
Get the Leaven Out
In the lead-up to and throughout the Days of Unleavened Bread, focus on what God wants you to focus on. Getting physical leavening out of your home and your possessions pictures getting sin out of your life. It truly is a wonderful annual reminder that our all-wise Creator has put in place for our character growth and development. Work harder than you ever have to get sin out of your life. Keep God’s wonderful Days of Unleavened Bread, and keep its powerful lessons at heart, throughout your daily Christian life.
Note: You can find the dates of Unleavened Bread with this link: Holy Day Pocket Calendar.