In the middle of the law that explains the Days of Unleavened Bread as a Holy Day to God, there is a very clear command about eating unleavened bread in Leviticus 23:6: “And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the Lord; seven days you must eat unleavened bread.” This is not an isolated command, it is repeated in slightly different languages in at least two other places. Exodus 12:19-20 reads: “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 an native of the land. You shall eat nothing leavened; in all your dwellings you shall eat unleavened bread.” Deuteronomy 16:3 phrases it this way: “You shall eat no leavened bread with it [the Passover]; seven days you shall eat unleavened bread with it, that is, the bread of affliction (for you came from Egypt in haste), that you may remember the day in which you came out of the land of Egypt all the days of your life.”
So why does the Bible consider this a point that needs to be repeated over and over again? Let us briefly examine the different aspects of why unleavened bread must be eaten during the days of unleavened bread according to the different phrasings of the laws in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy, and examine what those laws have to say for us today. Let us start with the law in Leviticus, because it is the most direct. Leviticus 23:6 is very plain in saying that we must eat unleavened bread for seven days. Why is that the case? Part of the reason appears to be that the Feast of Unleavened Bread is not merely abstaining from leavening, though this is true also, but in actively partaking leavened bread.
Exodus adds something intriguing to the law. Even though only circumcised Israelites could partake of the Passover lamp during that time (just as in the Christian era only baptized members can partake of the bread and the wine), all people, whether they were foreigners or native-born Israelites, were commanded both to abstain from eating leavening as well as eat unleavened bread in all their homes. Thus the commandment about not eating leavened bread and eating unleavened bread is about a broader group of people than those who are already being called by God, but about the whole human race. Under the rule of godly leaders, obedience of the law is required even for those who are not being saved within a godly community.
The account in Deuteronomy adds another element as well. The generation that entered the Promised Land was told that they had to eat the bread of affliction (unleavened bread) all the years of their life during the Days of Unleavened Bread as a reminder of how they left Egypt in haste. And so would their children and grandchildren and onward, generations who had never even physically seen Egypt, but would have to choose generation after generation to leave Egypt in their hearts as the original generation of the Exodus never did. The Unleavened Bread was supposed to remind them that they had left Egypt and they were not going back, and that leaving Egypt requires eating “bread of affliction,” in that it is a trial and causes suffering to uproot ourselves from the heathen ways we are often accustomed to.
And that is part of the point we need to realize. Eating unleavened bread for seven days is symbolic of a greater practice in our lives as believers. It is one thing to leave the ways of the heathen, to stop practicing pagan practices and behaviors, but that is only halfway. We must then start to fill our lives with the behaviors of godly biblical culture rather than the ways of our syncretistic or heathen cultures around us. We are not to be either full of sin or empty, but rather full of godliness, practicing God’s ways, being an example of the culture of the Kingdom of Heaven to those people around us. To do that we have to replace the ways we formerly walked with different (and better ways). In the same way, symbolically, we cease to eat leavened bread for one week a year and then eat in its place unleavened bread, because the Days of Unleavened Bread are not simply about abstaining from evil, but about replacing evil with good. And that’s a hard thing to do.
Let us remember, of course, that it is not the mere eating of bread that makes us holy, but rather that we ought to take the symbols of God’s Holy Days seriously. Rather than seeing eating unleavened bread for seven days as an empty legalistic ritual, we ought to see it as a picture of the process by which we as Christians not only cease from our wicked ways at conversion (and continue to struggle throughout our lives) but then replace those wicked ways with godly behaviors and actions of showing love towards God and our fellow human beings. The unleavened bread is merely a symbol and a picture of this much larger truth, but the symbol helps us to remember that truth and apply it in our lives. We learn spiritual truths through physical obedience, so long as we don’t get so caught up in the ritual that we forget it has deeper meaning and significance. Hopefully we can all remember that in this and every future Days of Unleavened Bread.