And they baked unleavened cakes of the dough that they had brought out of Egypt, for it was not leavened, because they were thrust out of Egypt and could not wait, nor had they prepared any provisions for themselves. – Exodus 12:39
Reading through Exodus a couple weeks ago, I came to the passage that describes the Passover, and it struck me as interesting that God emphasized that the bread that the Jews ate during the Passover had to be unleavened.
Why was this? I decided to find out, and also to find other passages in the Bible that talk about baking.
A little leaven…
Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” – Matthew 16:6
In 1st Corinthians, when Paul addresses the sexual immorality that is continuing in the Corinthian church, he commands the Corinthians to cast the unrepentant person from their midst, following this command with the explanation:
Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? 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. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. – 1 Corinthians 5:6-8
From these passages, we see a theme developing: leaven (or yeast) is often representative of sin. It is analogous in the the way a little yeast can cause a whole lump of dough to rise: even seemingly minor sins can have a corrupting influence on a body of believers.
In thinking about this reality–that even small sins can have a large corrupting influence–I remembered a post I wrote a long time ago, about the little foxes. Drawn from the verse in Song of Solomon that states that “the little foxes spoil the vines,” this post was about how discipline in small areas of life can lead to greater discipline in more important areas of life.
The Bible confirms this idea with the analogy of leaven, and it’s a reminder for believers that in being transformed into the image of Christ, there is no aspect of life that we may leave untouched.
But can holiness have a “corrupting influence” as well?
In a related vein (at least in my mind), there is a Youtube series called The Bible Project that has published a series of videos explaining different biblical concepts, and their video on holiness makes a really interesting observation about holiness, drawn from the book of Isaiah:
In Isaiah 6, Isaiah has a vision of the Lord that fills him with dread because he recognizes his unworthiness to come before a holy God:
And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” – Isaiah 6:5-7
The video points out that this passage is surprising in that it shows something corrupt (Isaiah’s lips) becoming holy by coming in contact with something pure–a burning coal from the altar. This was a radical idea for Israel: contact with corruption could cause uncleanness, but contact with holy things didn’t accomplish the reverse.
Yet in Isaiah, we see the reverse of the corruption of the leaven. So even though we have seen that little sins can have a corrupting influence, we also see that holiness can be imparted to have a conversely transformative influence.
We, like the woman in Matthew 9, may touch the edge of Jesus’s garment, and be made well.