Why Unleavened Bread?                                                      Study No. 258


Did you ever ask yourself, “Why is this Feast called the Feast of Unleavened Bread?”  The Feast could be called, “First Day of Flat Hard Cakes,” “First Day of Enduring the Dry Matzos,” or even “First Day of Savoring the Filling Wheat Thins.”  We could give God glory by calling it: “The Feast of the Spoiling the Egyptians,” “The Feast of the Liberation of God’s People,” “The Feast of the Parting of the Red Sea,” or, “The Feast of the Mighty Hand of God.”

But God calls it the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Leviticus 23:5-6.

So why unleavened bread?

Is it because it is something that is hard to swallow?  Is it because it is something we have to endure?  Is it because it is something we have to condition our bodies and psych ourselves up to, in order to tolerate?  In Exodus 12:39, we see that the Israelites departed hastily from Egypt, and did not have time to wait for bread to rise. There has got to be more to unleavened bread than that!  To answer this question, I have for now just two more questions:

How is unleavened bread used in the Bible, and what lessons can we learn from it?



What is Unleavened Bread?


Today, let’s look at some of the uses of unleavened bread in the Bible, not necessarily the “days of,” but the bread itself.  Let’s see how this helps us to have a better understand­ing of what God wants us to get out of these “days of unleavened bread.”  What is unleav­ened bread?  Simple answer: Bread without leaven.

What is bread?  Genesis 21:14; I Kings 19:1-8, part of man’s basic nutritional needs.  Luke 11:1-3, a mainstay of man’s nourish­ment. Isaiah 3:1; Ezekiel 4:16-17; Proverbs 30:8.

Isaiah 30:20, shows one’s physical condi­tion. I Kings 22:27; II Chronicles 18:26.

Proverbs 4:17, also used to describe one’s character, one’s moral condition. Pro­verbs 31:27.

Briefly what is leaven?

Two Basic Hebrew words for leaven:

(1) Hebrew root word (hames, hamezStrong’s #2557). Basic meaning is to have become fermented or sour.  It refers to that which the leavening has been added.

Fermentation according to the American Heritage Dictionary is any of a group of chemical reactions induced by living or nonliving ferments that split complex organic compounds into relatively simple substances.  In more simple terms, the process in which something rots or decays.  In the case of bread, fermentation causes the breakdown of the dough (flour and water) which produces carbon dioxide and alcohol, which in turn creates little pockets or holes in the dough, which causes the dough to rise. Strong’s #2557: Exodus 12:15, 13:3-7, 23:18, 34:25; Leviticus 2:11, 6:17, 7:13, 23:17; Deuter­onomy 16:3; Amos 4:5.

(2) The other Hebrew root word (se’or, sor, srStrong’s #7603). Basic meaning is to leaven, or more specifically, refers to the leavening agent.  Strong’s #7603: Exodus 12:15, 19, 13:7; Leviticus 2:11; Deuter­onomy 16:4.  Both words are seen in the scripture — that which has been corrupted and the agent as well.  Exodus 13:7, “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.”  A derivative of this word means exaltation, dignity (Genesis 49:3), swelling (Leviticus 13:2), uprising (Job 41:17).

These words can used to describe people as well as bread (Strong’s chamets, #2556).  Exodus 12:34, 39; Psalm 71:4, 73:21; Isaiah 63:1; (dyed) Hosea 7:4.

(Comparison) Hosea 7:1-4, “They are all adulterers, as an oven heated by the baker, who ceaseth from raising after he hath knead­ed the dough, until it be leavened.”

Psalm 71:4, “Deliver me, O my God, out of the hand of the wicked, out of the hand of the unrighteous and cruel man.”

Psalm 73:21, “Thus my heart was grieved, and I was pricked in my reins.”

Greek: Matthew 16:6, 11-12, “Then Jesus said unto them, Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees . . . How is it that ye do not understand that I spake it not to you concerning bread, that ye should beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees? Then understood they how that He bade them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.”  See also Mark 8:15; Luke 12:1.

I’d be amiss if I didn’t mention that leaven is not always used negatively. Some of its characteristics can be used positively, i.e., the way leaven spreads is also used to describe the kingdom of GodMatthew 13:33, “Another parable spake He unto them; The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.”

So unleavened bread is bread (one of the basic necessities of life) without any fer­mentation (decay or rotting). By definition: without fermentation, sour, negative attitudes, cruelty, exaltation, dignity, swelling, or upris­ing.  Therefore we so far have the Feast of the Days of Man’s Basic Substance or Needs, pure and defiled, without any decay or break­down.  Interesting to think that Israel went out of Egypt during this feast with only God to guide them and to provide for them (pillar of smoke and fire, manna, quail, water).


Unleavened Bread


The Hebrew word for this unleavened bread, massa, mazzah, Strong’s #4682, comes from the Hebrew root word (massas) which means to drain out.  Bread baked from unfermented dough, or dough without yeast or “leaven.”

Let’s take a quick tour of some of the ways God uses unleavened bread.  Strong’s #4682, massah, Genesis 19:3; Exodus 12:8, 15, 17, 18, 20, 39, 13:6, 7, 23:15, 29:2, 23, 34:18; Leviticus 2:4, 5, 6:16, 7:12, 8:2, 26, 10:12, 23:6; Numbers 6:15, 17, 19, 9:11, 28:17; Deuteronomy 16:3, 8, 16; Joshua 5:11; Judges 6:19, 20, 21; I Samuel 28:24; II Kings 23:9; I Chronicles 23:29; II Chronicles 8:13, 30:13, 21, 35:17; Ezra 6:22; Ezekiel 45:21.  In the New Testament, the word for unleavened bread is Strong’s #106, azumos (ad’-zoo-mos), Matthew 26:17; Mark 14:1, 12; Luke 22:1, 7; Acts 12:3, 20:6; I Corinthians 5:7, 8.


Bread of Affliction


Deuteronomy 16:3, “Thou shalt eat no leavened bread with it; seven days shalt thou eat unleavened bread therewith, even the bread of affliction; for thou camest forth out of the land of Egypt in haste: that thou mayest remember the day when thou camest forth out of the land of Egypt all the days of thy life,” (KJV).  A bread of reminder, reminder of where we’ve been, a reminder so we remember, not just during these days, but every day of our lives.

Exodus 12:8, “And they shall eat the flesh in that night, roast with fire, and unleavened bread; and with bitter herbs they shall eat it.” Also see Numbers 9:11.

Bitter Herbs — Does from where we have come leave a bitter taste in our mouths?

According to the Encyclopedia Judaica, whereas the prohibition against eating hamez or having it in one’s possession applies to the whole of Passover, the positive duty of eating mazzah applies only to the first night. (Numbers 9:11), “In the evening ye shall eat mazzot” (Exodus 12:18). For this reason there is the widespread custom of eating only mazzah shemurahon the night of the seder, although some, as a special act of piety, eat it throughout the festival. Accord­ing to the letter of the law one must abstain from eating mazzah on the eve of Passover from the time that the eating of hamez is forbidden, i.e., from 10 a.m. on the 14th of Nisan, but the custom has been adopted of abstaining from eating mazzah for the month before Passover so that its novelty can be enjoyed.


Bread of Poverty


Poverty is the state of being poor, without substance, lowly.

Here is the opening statement of the Jewish Passover ceremony: “Behold the poor bread, which our fathers ate in the land of Egypt. Let anyone who is hungry come in and eat; let anyone who is needy come in and make Passover.”

Barley ripens first (Exodus 9:31-32). The Omer (“sheaf”), the first fruit of the harvest, was reaped (Leviticus 23:9-15).

I Kings 4:28, Wheat largely replaced barley as human food, and barley was used mainly as animal fodder (it is referred to in this connection only once in the Bible).  Numbers 5:12-15, Reason for the offering of barley meal in the ordeal of a woman suspected of adultery “that she had behaved like an animal” (cf. Sot .9a).

Joshua 5:11, “And they did eat of the old corn of the land on the morrow after the Passover, unleavened cakes, and parched corn in the selfsame day.”

It became principally the poor man’s food; hence the Hebrew proverb, “Why do you eat barley bread? — Because I have no wheaten bread” (Numbers 49).

II Kings 7:1, Price of barley flour is given as half that of fine wheaten flour, the nutritive value of the former being regarded as half that of the latter (Pe’ah 8:5).

II Kings 23:4-24, At Josiah’s time, the priests of the high places ate unleavened bread among their brethren. Instead of death, these priests were lowered to the status of eating unleavened bread with the brethren, and were not allowed to approach the altar of God!  The idolatrous priests were all put down. Those of them that were not of the house of Aaron, or had sacrificed to Baal or other false gods, he put to death, according to the law, verse 20. Those that were descen­dants from Aaron, and yet had burned incense in the high places, but to the true God only, he forbade ever to approach the altar of the Lord; they had forfeited that honour  (Verse 9): He brought them out of the cities of Judah (verse 8), that they might not do mischief in the country by secretly keeping up their old idolatrous usages; but he allowed them to eat of the unleavened bread (the bread of the meat-offering, Leviticus 2:4-5) among their brethren, with whom they were to reside, that being under their eye they might be kept from doing hurt and taught to do well; that bread, that unleavened bread (heavy and unpleasant as it was), was better than they deserved, and that would serve to keep them alive. But whether they were permitted to eat of all the sacrifices, as blemished priests were (Levit­icus 21:22), which is called, in general, the bread of their God, may be justly questioned (from Matthew Henry’s Comment­ary).


Bread of Hospitality


The speed with which mazzot could be prepared identifies it with the bread made in the Bible when there was no time to prepare ordinary bread (cf. Genesis 18:6, 19:1-3).  Judges 6:19-21; (Gideon); I Samuel 28:22-25 (Saul visiting with the divining women after Samuel death).  Hebrews 13:1-2, When we entertain, we need to ask ourselves what kind of bread do we serve up.


Bread that Ends Separation


Numbers 6:13-15, 17, 19, ends the sep­aration of the Nazarite vow.

Ephesians 4:1-6, “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentle­ness, with patience, showing forbear­ance to one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. {There is} one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.” (NAS)


Bread of Consecration


Exodus 29:1-2, 23-25, 32-35, offered in sacrifice to consecrate Aaron and his sons to the priesthood.

Revelation 1:6, “And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.”

Revelation 5:10, 20:6, are we reminded of our calling to be priests to the almighty God?



Bread of Burnt Offerings


Leviticus 2:1-11, that which was burnt on the altar, as soothing aroma to God, could contain no leavening.

Exodus 23:14-20, right up there with keeping the feast days (also Exodus 34:24-25).

Leviticus 6:14-18, the Priests were given the right to share of the grain offerings but only as unleavened bread and only in the holy place (also: Leviticus 10:12).

Leviticus 7:11-13 Peace offerings con­tained both leavened and unleavened bread (also: Amos 4:5).

Leaven was not allowed on the altar of God (side note: Levites assisted with its offering I Chronicles 23:27-29).

Romans 12:1-21, we are to be offering ourselves as daily sacrifices.

Leavened Bread in offerings — other grain offerings were presented alone. These included the two loaves of Pentecost (Levit­icus 23:17), the loaves of thanksgiving (Leviticus 7:13), and the grain offering of first fruits (Numbers 15:17-21). No part of these offerings was placed on the altar and for this reason they could be made of leavened dough.

The “bread of display” (le hem ha-panim) represented another type of grain offering (Exodus 25:30, 35:13, 39:36; Leviticus 24:5-9; Numbers 4:7; I Samuel 21:6; I Kings 7:48; II Chronicles 4:19; Exodus 40:22-23).

Deuteronomy 26:10, the operative princi­ple was the viewing of the offering by God, and his seeing it constituted either his acceptance or his actual consumption of it. The offering was placed before Him.


Bread of Redemption


Exodus 13:1-3, 6-13, Encyclopedia Judaica — The eve of Passover, firstborn males fast. This fast is a symbol of the sanctification of the Jewish firstborn, who were saved during the tenth plague in Egypt (Exodus 13:1ff.). It is also kept in order to stimulate the appetite for the mazzah (unleav­ened bread) at the festive meal (Sof. 21:3).

Luke 22:13, 19, Christ’s Body is the Bread.  I Corinthians 5:6-8, Christ is our Passover, His body is our bread of redemption.


Prevent Leaven from Taking Root


We are to become pure sifted flour. Sifted fine, so that all the leavening has been removed. Unsifted flour in Jewish thought is dough, or that which is unknown. Sifted flour alone could be considered unleavened.

The widow of a man who was of doubtful descent was called a dough widow.

Dough that was mixed with water, would become fermented (leavened) unless contin­ually kneeded and worked.  Ancient author­ities set the time for leaven to start to take its hold under normal conditions to eighteen minutes. We must take note about leaven in our lives. It takes constant activity to continue to be unleavened, otherwise the natural process takes over and leaven creeps in.

James 1:26-27 mentions pure and undefiled religion. What is “pure and unde­filed”? It is unleavened religion [threskeia (thrace-ki’-ah) Strong’s #2356] refers to worship especially external, derivative of #2357 from #2360 (throeo, thro-eh-o) to cry aloud, to make a noise by outcry (Thayers): verse 26 uses #2357 — diligent performer of divinely ascribed duties of outward service to God; verse 27 implies worship.

Unleavened Bread should be that daily reminder of pure/undefiled basic nutritional necessities.




Thus we see the lessons learned from the symbolism of unleavened bread:

Bread of Affliction — It should be a reminder that we know where we have been and that we need to move forward depending on God for direction and our basic sustenance,

Bread of Poverty — It should be a reminder that our current physical state is one of poverty, needing the forgiveness we have been offered.

Bread of Hospitality — It should be a reminder that we are to serve those that enter our lives, no matter how brief the contact.

Bread of Consecration — It should remind us that we have been consecrated as priests.

Bread that Ends Separation — It should remind us that we are to change our lives to end our separation from God.

Bread of Burnt Offerings — It should be a reminder that we are to offer ourselves as daily sacrifices.

Bread of Redemption — It should be a reminder that we have been redeemed.

It should be a reminder that we need to be continually working, kneading, so leaven does not take hold.

“Unleavened bread” cries aloud, that which is pure and undefiled, a love that serves to continually worship our God.

This is what I believe are some of the things God thinks of by “unleavened bread”!

What more appropriate name could we have for these days!


— Matthew J. Gaffney, Sermon, Rapid City, South Dakota, April 17, 2003 Ω



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