Spring is almost here! Warmer, sunny days are bringing the spring flowers out in some of the more temperate climes, though it is officially still winter until March 20. Passover occurs a month later on April 19, and the Feast of Unleavened Bread begins the following day.
Are we looking forward to the spring holy days? Are we looking forward to—or dreading—the "Days of Spring Cleaning"?
Yes, there is a real danger that the days preceding the Feast of Unleavened Bread have become the Days of Spring Cleaning! The very mention of the word "deleavening" conjures dismay in the minds of many a Christian. How terrible is the thought of all that vacuuming, scrubbing, dusting—not to mention the exhaustion that seems to increase each year as our bodies age!
How often have we put so much into our physical deleavening work that we have had little energy and attentiveness left over to learn the important spiritual lessons of Passover, the Night to be Much Observed and the Feast of Unleavened Bread? Is this what God intends?
Just what deleavening does He want His children to do? What has He commanded His people? This article will offer some guidelines on deleavening our homes, so let's review "The Five Ws of Deleavening": why, where, what, who and when.
Why should we deleaven? After all, the word "deleaven" never appears in Scripture! God's original command to His people on this subject appears in Exodus 12: "Now the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying. . ." (verse 1). In verses 2-14, God proceeds to give them instructions on how they should keep the Passover, then in verses 15 and 19, He gives this command regarding the Feast of Unleavened Bread:
Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall remove leaven from your houses. For whoever eats leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel. . . . 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.
So the simple answer to the question, "Why should God's people deleaven?" is that the great God commands it! Yes, but why does He command it? All of His commands are for a good reason. Verses 17 and 39 give the answer:
So 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. . . . And they baked unleavened cakes of the dough which they brought out of Egypt, for it was not leavened; because they were driven out of Egypt and could not wait, nor had they prepared provisions for themselves.
The words "the Feast of" are not in the Hebrew of verse 17, but were added by the translators. God says here that His people are to keep the annual practice of deleavening because He brought His Old Testament church out of Egypt. We find later that this great and miraculous event symbolized freeing His New Testament church from sin. Many scriptures show that both Egypt and leaven are symbols of sin. Sermons and sermonettes given on the First and Last Days of Unleavened Bread commonly review these spiritual aspects.
Did God really intend His people to observe this practice forever, as we read in verse 17, or was it nailed to the cross of Jesus Christ? These three scriptures from the early church after Jesus' crucifixion show that it is indeed a New Testament practice:
» And because he saw that it pleased the Jews, [Herod] proceeded further to seize Peter also. Now it was during the Days of Unleavened Bread. (Acts 12:3)
» But we sailed away from Philippi after the Days of Unleavened Bread. . . . (Acts 20:6)
» Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. 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. (I Corinthians 5:6-8)
We know that Jesus kept the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and perhaps what is more important for our example, these scriptures prove that His early New Testament church kept it after His death, resurrection and ascension.
Where should we deleaven? Again, God gives the instruction on this point through Moses: "On the first day you shall remove leaven from your houses. . . . Seven days shall there be no leaven found in your houses. . . (Exodus 12:15, 19). The English phrases, "from your houses" and "in your houses," derive from a single Hebrew word, bayith, which can also mean "homes," "households" or "families."
Exodus 13:7 expands on this: "Unleavened bread shall be eaten seven days. And no leavened bread shall be seen among you, nor shall leaven be seen among you in all your quarters." The English words "your quarters" come from the Hebrew word gebul, which can mean "borders," "coasts," "bounds," "landmarks," "space," "limit," "territory" and "region."
God's instruction shows that we should deleaven all the areas for which we are responsible. Obviously, this includes our homes, but what about our cars, garages, yards and workspaces? Should we deleaven them? Where do our "quarters" end?
Many centuries ago Galileo wrote, "I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use." God expects His people to be sensible. He should not have to explain every single detail for long-time members of His church. He does not expect us to deleaven areas where there has been no chance of leaven getting into it. Think about it! Is it possible that leavened products have made their way into the downstairs bathroom or into the tool cupboard or work bench? Does anyone ever eat in the car? Have groceries been carried in the trunk? Has anyone eaten in the office? Are we sure?
If a person has young children, of course, there can be no guarantees! But if we are absolutely sure that no leaven has been taken into an area over which we have responsibility, then there is no need to deleaven it! Our time at this period of the year is so valuable. Why waste any of it? We would spend it better preparing for the Passover and searching for spiritual leaven.
Exactly what should we put off our property for the duration of the seven Days of Unleavened Bread? What is leaven? What are leavening agents and leavened products? Here is a brief review:
There are two main Hebrew words for "leaven" in Exodus 12 and 13: seor means "leaven" or "swelling by fermentation"; chamets can mean "leaven," "leavened bread," "the thing leavened," "fermented" and—interestingly, in regard to leaven's symbolism—"cruel," "grieved," "sour," "embittered," "oppress" and "ruthless."
The type of leavening to be put off one's property is the type used for breads, cakes and cookies. It includes baking powder and yeast. Brewers' yeast and drinks containing it are permissible and may remain in our homes. As has often been said, this is not the Feast of Unleavened Beer.
Some church members, in their zeal to please God, have taken deleavening to extremes. Although household dust does contain yeast spores, God does not expect us to make our homes completely antiseptic! Besides taking care not to become pharisaical, we also must beware of the other extreme of carelessness. We should be thorough without be fanatical in our cleaning. With deleavening, as with most other areas of our Christian lives, we must strive for proper balance.
Please remember the symbolism! No matter how long we vacuum and how hard we scrub, it is physically impossible to get rid of every single bit of leaven from our homes. It would take God Himself, or an angel at the very least, to reduce himself to a microscopic size and to work his way through every inch of the nap of our carpets to do what even the most efficient vacuum cleaner cannot do. Just like the expulsion of spiritual leaven from our lives, we must be doing our part and working hard at it. With both physical and spiritual deleavening, if we do our best, God's grace will make up for the difference.
Who should do the deleavening? Throughout the year "poor ol' Mom" usually carries the main load of the housework. But should the lady of the house do the lion's share of the deleavening?
To answer this question, we must remember what leaven pictures. A simple question should make the answer obvious: "Can Mom repent of and get rid of all of my sins?" Even if she could, would we really want her to know all of our sins?
To picture properly the putting away of sin, all family members—including the children—must become involved and do their part. Here is what God commands about teaching our children about their involvement in the Feast of Unleavened Bread:
And you shall tell your son in that day, saying, "This is done because of what the LORD did for me when I came up from Egypt." It shall be as a sign to you on your hand and as a memorial between your eyes, that the LORD'S law may be in your mouth; for with a strong hand the LORD has brought you out of Egypt. (Exodus 13:8-9)
Even very young children quickly learn the lesson and meaning of the deleavening process. Our children really enjoy the annual deleavening project and have always looked upon it as a positive family activity, as well as a memorable prelude to the spring holy days.
Not every church member, though, however zealous, can do heavy housework, much less enjoy it. Increasing numbers of our aging church population are in poor health and cannot deleaven their homes. If this is the case for anyone, he should not hesitate to ask his fellow members for help. Again, think about what the process symbolizes, remembering that none of us can do it alone. We all need help to put out our spiritual leaven as well.
When should we begin our deleavening? What is more important, when should we be finished? Again, Exodus 12:15 provides the answer: "Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall remove leaven from your houses. For whoever eats leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel."
What? Does God really want us to be deleavening on the First Day of Unleavened Bread? Verse 16 clarifies what He means: "On the first day there shall be a holy convocation, and on the seventh day there shall be a holy convocation for you. No manner of work shall be done on them; but that which everyone must eat—that only may be prepared by you."
This "first day" is the first holy day of God's annual holy day season. He commands His people to hold special church services and to do no work other than what is necessary to prepare food. Even for ancient Israelites living in tents, this forbade deleavening work on the holy day. The phrase "On the first day you shall remove leaven from your houses" might therefore be better translated, "You shall have removed leaven from your houses by the first day." Verses 18 and 19 make this even clearer:
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. 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.
All leaven must be off our property by the sunset that closes Abib/Nisan 14. This sunset marks the Night to be Much Observed and the beginning of the First Day of Unleavened Bread. Many brethren, however, choose to have their deleavening work completed a little earlier so that they can spend more time preparing spiritually for Passover and physically for the Night to be Much Observed.
We should permit no leaven on our property until after the sunset that closes Abib 21, which is the Last Day of Unleavened Bread. This year (2000), we should have our deleavening completed and all leaven off our property by the evening at the end of April 19.
When should we begin our deleavening? Of course, our circumstances differ, so a hard-and-fast rule would not apply to all church members. Nevertheless, since we are getting close, we should all be starting to plan now for our physical and spiritual preparations. Consider the following as you plan:
» When is the last garbage pick-up before the Feast of Unleavened Bread?
» Where can we deposit our discarded leavened products after that last pick-up?
» Do we have enough vacuum cleaner bags and other necessary supplies?
» When would be the best time to put aside a day for fasting?
» Is there any particular problem that I should examine this year?
"The Five W's of Deleavening" may be new for some, but are timely reminders for most. Done properly, they help us look forward to the upcoming Feast of Unleavened Bread with the proper mindset: enthusiastic and balanced in our preparations with the accent on the spiritual meaning behind the physical, symbolic act of deleavening.