How is unleavened bread significant in the Bible?
Unleavened bread is bread that is made without leaven, which is another word for yeast. Yeast makes bread rise, so when bread is unleavened, it remains flat and dense. The Israelites ate unleavened bread as part of the Passover celebration. It was symbolic of the haste with which the Israelites fled Egypt during the Exodus—they left so quickly that the bread did not have time to rise. God instructed them to commemorate the event by eating unleavened bread: "You shall eat no leavened bread with it. Seven days you shall eat it with unleavened bread, the bread of affliction—for you came out of the land of Egypt in haste—that all the days of your life you may remember the day when you came out of the land of Egypt" (Deuteronomy 16:3). Other verses that command the eating of unleavened bread are found in Exodus 12:8; 29:2; and Numbers 9:11.
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Leaven is also a symbol of sin, and the way sin spreads through its host, affecting the entire organism. Even a small amount of leaven is sufficient to affect an entire lump of dough, and likewise, a little sin will affect an entire church, nation, or the whole of a person's life (Galatians 5:9). Sin starts out small, in the thoughts, and then affects the will and the actions, and leads eventually to spiritual death (James 1:14-15). Paul warns the Corinthians that "a little leaven leavens the whole lump" and exhorts them to "cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed" (1 Corinthians 5:6-7).
Now, once a lump has been leavened, it is not possible to cleanse out the leaven, because it has permeated the dough. What Paul is asking the Corinthians to do in "cleansing out the old leaven" is impossible, for sin cannot be eliminated by human effort or obedience to the law. The law was given to make us aware of sin (Romans 3:20; Romans 7:7). The law is not meant to discourage us, but to encourage us toward Christ, who is the propitiation for our sins. His sacrifice on the cross paid for our sin and made it possible for us to remove the leaven from the lump, as Paul puts it. Another word for this is sanctification (Hebrews 10:10, 14). As we come into the light, and confess that we are indeed stained by sin, He is "faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).
Thankfully, unleavening is His work, not ours (Ephesians 2:8-10). The Bible teaches that we do not have the power to remove sin. It has permeated us completely, from birth, because—despite future good or evil actions—every person is born in sin simply because we are members of Adam's race. The first Adam brought this death to humanity, but the second Adam (Jesus Christ) brought life (1 Corinthians 15:22).
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