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The Festival of Unleavened Bread: what’s it about?

Leaven, Unleavened, Wave Sheaf, omer, passover, seven, sinlessnes, Zion, Mt. Zion

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6  ‘And on the fifteenth day of the same month [Abib, Nisan] is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the LORD; seven days you must eat unleavened bread.  7  ‘On the first day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall do no customary work on it.  8  ‘But you shall offer an offering made by fire to the LORD for seven days. The seventh day shall be a holy convocation; you shall do no customary work on it.’ (Lev 23:6-8)

This instruction appears in a number of places in the record of Moses.  Just before the quote above, the Creator asserts that this occasion is one of His special appointed times.  It obviously had significance to ancient Israel because it was on this occasion they were freed from their slavery to Egypt by the Creator.

Ex 12:17So you shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, for on this same day I will have brought your armies out of the land of Egypt. Therefore you shall observe this day throughout your generations as an everlasting ordinance.  18 ‘In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at evening, you shall eat unleavened bread, until the twenty-first day of the month at evening.  19  ‘For seven days no leaven shall be found in your houses, since whoever eats what is leavened, that same person shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he is a stranger or a native of the land.

According to this instruction, anyone in Israel who ate leavened bread during the festival was to be separated from the nation.  To be direct, that meant death.  That’s a pretty severe penalty for cheating on your diet.  Was diet the problem, or was the Creator trying to teach Israel and us as well, something deeper?

In some ways ancient Israel was a type and forerunner of believers today.  For instance, their Passover lamb was equated with Messiah and His sacrifice for believers (I Cor 5:6-7, Rev 5:12, John 1:29).  Their escape through the Red Sea was connected with baptism experienced by a believer (I Cor 10:1-4). 

On the other hand, the circumcision Israel administered is contrasted with full service toward the Creator and Messiah without any dependence on physical heritage.  “For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh” (Phil 3:3).  Indeed the Creator uses many of ancient Israel’s experiences to foreshadow future events or experiences.  The Passover sacrifice is certainly a prime example in that it was a type of the sacrifice of Messiah.  The early event looked forward to the later event.

Beginning with Passover

Hebrew ‘pesach’ normally translated Passover originally indicated protection and/or compassion (See Isa 31:5 LXX).  “Three traditions about the meaning of the stem p-s-h have survived. The oldest, and apparently the most reliable, is “to have compassion”, another is “to protect”, and a third is “to skip over”.  Although this last is the interpretation that has gained the widest currency, it is the least likely because the term was originally independent of the Exodus events.” (JPS Torah Commentary, Exodus 12:11).  Certainly, our Savior has compassion on those who humble themselves and submit to His will.  They come under His protection. 

The Passover sacrifice was the beginning event in the seven day festival of Unleavened Bread (Deu 16:4).  The original Passover was sacrificed in the narrow window of twilight, after sundown, before dark.  The Creator specifies that His Passover is also set ‘between the evenings’ (Lev 23:5) like the original Passover (Ex 12:6).

A believer’s full relationship with the Savior begins when they repent of their human ways, submit to His ways and come under His protection by His graciousness.  This begins their walk with Him in His way.  It appears the festival of Unleavened Bread is picturing the spiritual journey of faithful believers through to their arrival in spiritual Zion, when they rule with Messiah.  Messiah’s sacrifice of Himself is the beginning of the story and enables the acceptable response of a believer leading to their full redemption.

Acceptance of Firstborn

Messiah’s sacrifice on the occasion of Passover enables our reconciliation to the Father (Rom 5:10).  The new covenant held out to believers was confirmed by that sacrifice (Heb 9:15).  However, there was also a special grain offering done shortly after the Passover.  No produce from the new crop could be eaten until that ‘wave sheaf’ was offered.  Some was for the priests, but some was burned directly to YAH (Lev 2:1-3). 

This sheaf was symbolic of the very first human produce of the kingdom, Yeshua, Savior, the Messiah.  He was the first resurrected from the dead (Col 1:18).  This occurred on the day after the weekly Sabbath during the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Mat 28:1-7).  This fits well with when the wave sheaf was cut, offered and accepted according to the instruction of Leviticus 23:11. 

Lev 23:10  "Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When you come into the land which I give to you, and reap its harvest, then you shall bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest to the priest.  11 He shall wave the sheaf before the LORD, to be accepted on your behalf; on the day after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it.  …  14 You shall eat neither bread nor parched grain nor fresh grain until the same day that you have brought an offering to your God; it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings.

Still early on His resurrection day, Yeshua shrank from being touched because He had not been formally accepted by the Father (John 20:17).  Later that afternoon He walked until evening to Emmaus with two disciples (Luke 24:13, 15, 29).  Later that evening He encouraged the disciples to handle Him and be assured who He was (Luke 24:10, 13, 15, 31, 33, 36, 39).  So likely by the afternoon of that day after the Sabbath the Firstborn, Messiah, had been accepted by the Father.  This acceptance likely happened about the time the priest waved the barley sheaf to be accepted. 

Acts 2:33  "Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear.

As a human Yeshua could be with His close disciples, but He was limited in His reach.  At the right hand of the Father He can dispense the spirit of the Father to all who seek Him (John 15:26).

Rom 5:15  “But the free gift is not like the offense. For if by the one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many.  …  17  For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.

Messiah is commissioned to give the Father’s Spirit to those who obey (Acts 5:31-32).  It is likely Messiah’s function of gifting the Spirit of the Father that caused Paul to say earlier “we shall be saved by His life” (Rom 5:10d).  The acceptance of the First Born enables spirit life in believers.


Seven Days

This festival is seven days long.  Seven days are often required as a time of proving or examination.  Unclean things and people often had to wait seven days after they were deemed clean until they were officially considered to be clean (Lev 13:34, 14:8-9, 15:28).  The Companion Bible, complied by E. W. Bullinger, indicates that the number 7 is indicative of spiritual perfection.  This may well be why the Creator set aside seven days of Unleavened Bread to picture the journey of the faithful toward their redemption.

In order for Aaron to be consecrated as the high priest he had to go through a seven day consecration ceremony.  "Thus you shall do to Aaron and his sons, according to all that I have commanded you. Seven days you shall consecrate them.” (Ex 29:35) 

This author is unaware of a literal seven day consecration for believers.  However, after true repentance and acceptance by the Savior they are not immediately given their full reward of spirit life.  They are given a Helper (John 14:16-17), a piece of the divine nature (2Pet 1:4).   This is a down payment or guarantee, so to speak, toward the reward that is reserved in heaven (I Pet 1:4-5, II Cor 5:5). 

The rest of their physical life is a time of proving, examination and maturing in the ways of our Creator.  Believers are focused on understanding the ways of their Creator (I Cor 2:10).  They are expected to conduct themselves as the Creator would conduct Himself (Mat 5:48). 

Rom 6:4  “Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

Believers are to be fundamentally different in their approach.  Instead of depending on their own cunning to find short-cuts to success, they are committed to live according to Messiah’s instruction and trusting Him to make up for any loss they might suffer.

II Cor 6:14Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?  15 And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever?  16 And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: "I will dwell in them And walk among them. I will be their God, And they shall be My people."  17 Therefore "Come out from among them And be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, And I will receive you."  18 "I will be a Father to you, And you shall be My sons and daughters, Says the LORD Almighty."  7:1 Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.’

During the seven days of Unleavened Bread Israel was to eat absolutely no leavened bread.  Leaven was not even to be found in their homes (Ex 12:19-20).  There is no period of gradual leaven removal for those seeking redemption.  A thorough self examination should be done before one commits himself to live as Messiah lived (Luke 14:26-33, I Cor 11:28, II Cor 13:5).  Once someone makes the commitment there is no turning back (Luke 9:62).

Leaven puffs dough up.  It looks like something more than it really is.  What you see is not exactly what you get.  Paul describes leaven as representing malice and wickedness as opposed to sincerity and truth.

I Cor 5:8  “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.”

A big problem with malice and wickedness is that they grow.  This is also the case with yeast in dough with water.  Malice and wickedness are not isolated events, but reflect a more deeply rooted problem.  Romans’ describes sin, which revolves around malice and wickedness, as a domination of the physical over the spiritual (Rom 7:23-25, 8:5).  The physical dominance can be overcome by a faithful relationship with our Savior (Rom 7:25, 8:2).  There is no place for malice or wickedness in a believer.  This leaven was not to be growing in believers as it grows in bread dough.  It was to be left behind by ancient Israel.  There was no place for leavened bread in Israel during this festival.   Anyone who ate leaven was to be separated (executed) from Israel (Ex 12:19).  In the same way there is no place for malice or wickedness in a believer after repentance.  Walking in the ways of our Savior is incompatible with any sort of sin.

I Cor 2:17  "But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is Christ therefore a minister of sin? Certainly not!  18 For if I build again those things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor.”

Israel’s time in Egypt is equated with a time of bondage (Ex 13:3).  Their departure from Egypt released them from that bondage.  Grasping the spirit of God and His truth enables believers to leave the enticements of the flesh behind (Rom 7:25, 8:2).  It follows that they are to leave that bondage completely behind.

Transgression destroys our relationship with our Savior.  There is no fellowship between light and darkness.  Fortunately, our Savior is very merciful.  We are saved by His life.  He distributes God’s spirit to those seeking to obey.  As the Wave Sheaf He can intervene with the Father on our behalf  in case of failure (I John 2:1).  He expects us to forgive others if they repent.  However, eventually time will run out on persistent wickedness (Rev 22:11).   There is a distinction made between those that are truly faithful and those who are not quite where they should be (Rev 12:14-17, 3:15-17).

Crossing the Sea

Jewish tradition holds that the seven day Unleavened Bread festival concluded on the day Israel came through the Red Sea.  The Sea was likely the de facto border of Egypt.  They came though the sea at night (Deu 16:1), just before dawn.  Of course, the Creator considers days to begin in the evening, so that was all the same 24-hour day that Israel sang and danced in celebration (Ex 15).  Of course, as of this day there was no more rush to flee Egypt. 

It takes a few days to make a thriving yeast culture for leavening bread.  So even though the factors that dictated unleavened bread were diminished they were undoubtedly unleavened throughout the full seven days. 

Paul equates Israel’s experience with the cloud and crossing of the Red Sea to baptism (I Cor 10:2).  Both the cloud and the crossing were astounding signs of the power of the Creator.  However, Israel did not evidence the change of mentality that comes from repentance.  Baptism is supposed to come after repentance as one comes under the full protection of our Savior.  Repentance and baptism of the faithful really fits the festival type in the beginning of the seven day festival, not the end. 

Ac 2:38  ‘Then Peter said to them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”’

However, there is an interesting connection in Isaiah that describes Israel’s march through the sea.  “Are You not the One who dried up the sea, The waters of the great deep; That made the depths of the sea a road For the redeemed to cross over?  11 So the ransomed of the LORD shall return, And come to Zion with singing, With everlasting joy on their heads. They shall obtain joy and gladness; Sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”  (Isa 51:10-11, see also 35:10). 

Zion can refer to the land of Israel, but it also can refer to the Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem (Heb 12:22).  The ransomed of the Creator appear in Zion in Revelation 14:1-4.  These are the first fruits.  Sorrow and sighing did not disappear from physical Zion, but they will from the Zion above (Rev 21:4). 

Rev 14:1  “Then I looked, and behold, a Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His Father’s name written on their foreheads.… 3 They sang as it were a new song before the throne, before the four living creatures, and the elders; and no one could learn that song except the hundred and forty-four thousand who were redeemed from the earth.  4 These are the ones who were not defiled with women, for they are virgins. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These were redeemed from among men, being firstfruits to God and to the Lamb.”

After the true believers live out their physical life faithfully there will come a resurrection and/or a change.  Being raised in newness of life (Rom 6:4) takes on a double meaning.  Ancient Israel had the opportunity to fulfill this, but, “…with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.” (I Cor 10:5)  The intention was that the whole nation would be priests and represent the Creator (Ex 19:5-6).  They were not sufficient to the task.  So, those who claim to follow the Savior should be very careful to walk in His ways (I John 2:6, I Cor 10:12, Mat 7:21-23).

In the Festival of Unleavened Bread we have the initial commitment by our Savior to provide compassion and protection for those who repent of their ways and walk in His.  Because of His compassion, they come under His protection.  Messiah gives the Spirit of God and advocates for them according to His graciousness.  Believers live out their lives faithfully in sincerity and truth free from maliciousness and wickedness.  At the end of their human time, as they have proven faithful they pass into a new realm under the full and direct ruler ship of Messiah.  They may indeed be co-rulers with Messiah their Savior (Rev 20:4).

Wave Sheaf

The Wave Sheaf offering mentioned earlier begins a count to the harvest of the first fruit, Pentecost.  It is interesting that the day of this first sheaf of grain is ‘the day after the Sabbath’.  Typically the day after the Sabbath day is called the first or ‘one of the Sabbath’, the first day of the week (See the Greek of Mat 28:1, I Cor 16:2).  That wording ‘one of the Sabbath’, connects that day to the following week and Sabbath.  A full weekly cycle is six days with the Sabbath that follows.  In the mind of the ancients, the week revolved around the Sabbath, the 7th day, which defined it. 

However, ‘the day after the Sabbath’ connects the day of the wave sheaf to the prior week.  It does not want to be considered the first day of the new week, but the 8th day of the prior week.  Why would that be?

The very first of the harvest was our Savior.  He is the firstborn (Col 1:15, 18) and the Wave Sheaf.  Firstborn are to be presented to the Creator on the 8th day (Ex 22:29-30).  Messiah also underwent a period of examination and testing after His baptism (Luke 3:21-22 , 4:1-2) like believers do during the model seven days.  In order to be accepted on the 8th day the wave sheaf day will float around in the seven days of Unleavened Bread.  However, it makes little sense for it to be before Passover when our savior was crucified.  Neither does it make sense that it be after the time that pictures the arrival of the first fruit in Zion.  This would reinforce that the Wave Sheaf day was during Unleavened Bread. 

The harvest of first fruits is begun by the acceptance of the wave sheaf.  As both the Firstborn and Wave Sheaf, Messiah was accepted on the 8th day immediately after his resurrection.  The repentance, conversion and ultimate redemption of believers is enabled by the life, example, sacrifice and acceptance of Messiah, the very first born/resurrected of the faithful.  The redeemed participate as they repent and replace maliciousness and wickedness with sincerity and truth.  Redemption is complete when believers cross the divide between physical and spirit to reign with Messiah in Zion.