Ancient Israel and the Days of Unleavened Bread
After many years of exile Moses, the adopted son of Pharaoh's daughter (Ex.12), returned to Egypt demanding the release of the Israelites on behalf of the Creator God. Because of Pharaoh's refusal to free the Israelites, God began to systematically destroy Egypt through the hand of Moses.
As Moses pronounced plague after plague upon Egypt, Pharaoh continued to refuse to free the Israelites because he did not believe in the God of Moses. The Nile river turned into blood, fish died by the millions, and the stench from the river of blood and dead fish filled the land. Swarms of frogs, flies, locusts, and lice plagued the land, and a terrifying hail of fire destroyed what little of the crops the insect plague did not consume. Cattle died of a mysterious disease. A strange, eerie darkness blanketed the land for three days. Terror gripped the population of one of the world's most advanced and prosperous nations. Egypt was on the brink of collapse, but Pharaoh still refused to give the Israelites their freedom.
The Final Ultimatum
Because of Pharaoh's refusal to free the Israelites, God instructed Moses to give Pharaoh one more opportunity to let his people go. If Pharaoh still refused to release the children of Israel after this last warning, God said he would kill all the firstborn of Egypt. Knowing full well that the God of Moses had already destroyed most of Egypt, Pharaoh still refused to let the Israelites go.
Moses and Aaron returned to warn the Israelites of this final plague and they instructed them to prepare to make a sacrifice to God in order to avoid being killed by the destroyer:
"I will pass through the land of Egypt this night, and kill all of the firstborn of Egypt, both man and beast: and I will execute my judgment against all the gods of Egypt: I am the Lord. And the blood [blood of the sacrificial lamb] that you place on your house will show me where you are. And when I see this blood I will passover you, and spare you from death, when I strike the land of Egypt with death" (Ex.12:12-13 Para.). See also Ex.12:23-38.
During and After the Passover
When the Israelites heard the cries of mourning from the Egyptians who were not protected by the lambs' blood, they knew that God had again made a difference between the Israelites and the Egyptians.
Every firstborn man, woman, child and animal throughout the land of Egypt that was not protected by the blood of the lamb was killed. From the palace of the Pharaoh to the hovel of the lowest Egyptian serf, every home that the destroyer visited was filled with sorrow. The terror and apprehension generated among the unprotected by this final plague from God was enormous.
After midnight on the 15th day of Nisan and the passing-over of the destroyer, the Israelites were finally freed by Pharaoh.
It is important to point out that the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread cannot be separated, because together they picture the sequence of God's plan and process of salvation. The second part of the Passover observance (the eating of the lamb) actually began at the end of the 14th day of Nisan and the beginning of the 15th day after sunset on the first day of Unleavened Bread. Therefore, the Feast of Unleavened Bread is an integral part and a continuation of the process which began with the sacrifice of the Passover lamb.
Before the lamb's sacrifice at the end of the 14th day, the Israelites had taken much of the wealth of the Egyptians (Ex.3:21-22; 11:2-3) and were packed and ready to leave Egypt (Ex.12:10-11).
After the destroyer passed through the land of Egypt, Pharaoh issued a command for the Israelites to leave Egypt (Ex.12:30-34). During the early morning hours of the 15th day, while it was still dark, the Israelites began to gather and leave Egypt:
"And they departed from Rameses in the first month, on the fifteenth day of the first month; on the day after the Passover the children of Israel went out with a high hand in the sight of all the Egyptians" (Num.33:3 KJV).
430 Years in Egypt
"Now the sojourning of the children of Israel, who dwelt in Egypt, was four hundred and thirty years. And it came to pass at the end of the four hundred and thirty years, even the selfsame day it came to pass, that all the hosts of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt. It is a night to be much observed to the Lord for bringing them out from the land of Egypt: this is that night of the Lord to be observed of all the children of Israel in their generations" (Ex.12:40-42 Para.).
There are two important points in this text concerning the Israelites and their departure from Egypt:
- God instructed Jacob who was the last of the Patriarchs to receive confirmation of God's promises made to Abraham (Gen.46:2-7) to go into Egypt where his descendants would become a great nation.
- Within the safety and security of Egypt, Jacob's descendants multiplied into a large nation. However, while they were in Egypt, they became lax in obedience to God and lost most of the knowledge of him and his laws. Thus, they brought to fulfillment the prophecy of their 430 year sojourn and slavery in Egypt, which was told to Abraham.
Exactly 430 years from the day Jacob, his sons, and their families entered Egypt, God caused Pharaoh to release the Israelites from their captivity.
The date of Israel's initial entry into Egypt and the date of their departure was no accident nor was it arbitrarily chosen by God. Remember that the sun, moon, and stars were placed in their specific orbits in order for man to be able to calculate the time of year to observe God's commanded assemblies, observances, and festivals.
The symbolic value of the number 430 shows the great care and planning necessary to bring the nation of Israel to this exact place and time in history. The number 400 is the product of 8x50. One of the meanings of the number 8 is a new beginning. The number 50 is the product of 5x10: 5 is symbolic of grace, and 10 is symbolic of God's law. It is through God's grace and his law that one finds a new beginning and a release from one's old ways. The number 50, is therefore, symbolic of deliverance, release, freedom, and rest.
The number 30 is the product of 3x10. One of the symbolic meanings of 3 is divine perfection. Therefore, the number 30 denotes in a higher degree, the perfection of divine order, such as the perfect timing of an event (e.g., Christ began his ministry at age 30, Lk.3:23).
The symbolic meaning of the number 430 constitutes a divine perfection of time and the culmination of an event that is divinely guided. And this event (the Israelites leaving Egypt) was divinely guided in order to initiate God's plan for the salvation of humanity, which is shown through the literal, prophetic, and symbolic meanings of the Passover and the annual festivals.
A FESTIVAL OF BEGINNINGS
"Three times you shall keep a feast to me in the year. You shall keep the feast of unleavened bread: (you shall eat unleavened bread seven days, as I commanded you, in the time appointed of the month Abib; for in it you came out from Egypt: and none shall appear before me empty:) And the feast of harvest, the first fruits of your labors, which you have sown in the field: Three times in the year all your males shall appear before the Lord God" (Ex.23:14-17 KJV).
"Three times in a year shall all your males appear before the Lord your God in the place which he shall choose; in the feast of unleavened bread, and in the feast of weeks, and in the feast of tabernacles:" (Deut.16:16 KJV).
The Days of Unleavened Bread begin the annual festivals of God. These days are unique because they picture five major beginnings within the plan of God for the salvation of humanity:
- The beginning of the process of salvation through Jesus Christ as the sacrificial Passover lamb of God—the Savior of humanity.
- The beginning of coming out of a life of bondage and slavery to sin through repentance.
- The beginning of the process of spiritual growth by remaining sinless and practicing righteousness.
- The Lift offering through which Jesus Christ is revealed as the beginning of the Father's new creation—his firstborn son.
- The beginning of the counting toward the Festival of Weeks (Pentecost—count 50), which pictures those of the first resurrection and their transformation into sons of God through the power of the holy spirit.
Exodus 12:14-17 KJV
"And this day shall be for you a memorial; and you shall keep it a feast to the Lord throughout your generations; you shall keep it a feast by an ordinance forever" (v14).
A Memorial And A Festival
In verse 14, the English word feast is translated from the Hebrew word hag, which has the connotation of demanding that a celebration or festival be kept.
The day on which the Passover was eaten (the first day of Unleavened Bread) was to be a memorial festival commemorating the day of Israel's departure from Egypt and it was to be observed forever.
A Seven Day Festival
"Seven days shall you eat unleavened bread; even the first day you shall put away leaven out of your houses: for whosoever eats leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that soul shall be cut off from Israel" (v15). See also Ex.34:18; Num.28:17.
The following are three important things to note in verse 15:
- Unleavened bread must be eaten during all seven of the days of Unleavened Bread.
- Leavening products must be removed from the houses sometime before the beginning of the first day of the feast.
- Anyone who eats leavened bread during these seven days will be cut off from Israel.
Notice the warning of punishment in the last part of verse 15 for anyone who eats leavened bread during these seven days. Why did God consider the eating of leavened bread during these days such a serious violation?
There are two primary reasons for this severe punishment for the willful disobedience of God's instructions not to eat leavened bread during this festival:
- The eating of unleavened bread was a part of the covenant relationship between the Creator and the Israelites. Therefore, anyone who disregarded God's instructions were not entitled to the benefits of this relationship and must be removed from Israel.
- This physical punishment foreshadows the eternal punishment for those who disregard God's instructions concerning the real, symbolic, and prophetic meaning of leavening as it relates to those under the New Covenant and their righteousness. See Heb.6:4-6, 8;10:26-29.
Two Commanded Assemblies
"And the first day there shall be a holy convocation, and the seventh day there shall be a holy convocation to you: no manner of work shall be done in them, except that which every man must eat, that only may be done of you" (v17).
On both the first and last days of the festival there is a commanded assembly of the people and a prohibition of all work except that which is done in order to prepare food.
"And you shall observe the feast of unleavened bread; for in this selfsame day have I brought your armies out of the land of Egypt: therefore shall you observe this day in your generations by an ordinance forever" (Ex.12:17 KJV). See also Deut.16:1; Ezk.45:21.
Again, we see the primary reason that the Israelites are supposed to keep this feast is for the purpose of reminding them of the day in which the Lord brought them out of Egypt.
How important was this day? For the Israelites, it was very important because it pictured their release from years of physical bondage and slavery. Prophetically, it pointed toward humanity's release from the bondage, slavery, and the penalty of sin through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. See also Gal.3:16-19.
Exodus 13:3-10 KJV
This first day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover meal was eaten was one of the most important days in human history. What could be more important than the day that God began his plan through the nation of Israel to redeem all of humanity from its self-imposed death penalty?
"And Moses said to the people, Remember this day in which you came out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage; for by strength of hand the Lord brought you out from this place: there shall no more leavened bread be eaten" (v3).
Remember This Day
Just as God had instructed the Israelites to keep the Passover service as a reminder of the meaning of the events which led to their dramatic release from Egypt, he also instructed them to keep the first day of Unleavened Bread as a memorial festival to remind them of their departure from Egypt.
This commanded festival is also passed on to the followers of Christ and to those who live after his return as King of kings and Lord of lords to rule the earth.
"This day came you out in the month Abib. And it shall be when the Lord shall bring you into the land of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, which he swore to your fathers to give you a land flowing with milk and honey, that you shall keep this service in this month" (vs.4-5).
Verses 4 and 5 show that one of the reasons God freed the Israelites was to fulfill his promise to their forefathers.
"Seven days, you shall eat unleavened Bread, and in the seventh day shall be a feast to the Lord" (v6).
Unleavened bread must be eaten for seven days and, like on the first day, the seventh day is a day of feasting.
"Unleavened Bread shall be eaten seven days; and there shall be no leavened bread be seen with you, neither shall there be leaven seen with you in all your quarters" (v7).
Notice that not only is it mandatory to eat unleavened bread during these seven days but also there is a prohibition against having any leavened bread within the boundaries of the Israelites' personal property and the nation as a whole.
"And you shall show your son in that day, saying, This is done because of that which the Lord did to me when I came forth out of Egypt" (v8).
Again, we see that the events of the Passover and the subsequent departure of the Israelites were to be rehearsed on this first day of the festival.
"And it shall be for a sign to you upon your hand, and for a memorial between your eyes, that the Lord's law may be in your mouth: for with a strong hand has the Lord brought you out of Egypt. You shall therefore keep this ordinance in its season from year to year" (vs.9-10).
The proper observance of this festival was meant to keep the Israelites continually conscious of God, his laws, and the knowledge that it was God who gave them their freedom.
The First Born
"And it shall be when the Lord shall bring you into the land of the Canaanites, as he swore to your fathers, and shall give it to you, That you shall set apart all that opens the matrix, and every firstling that comes of the beast which you have; the males shall be the lord's. And every firstling of an ass you shall redeem with a lamb; and if you do not redeem it then you shall break his neck; and all the firstborn of man among your children you shall redeem" (vs. 11-13).
Prior to freeing the Israelites from Egypt, God proclaimed that the nation was his firstborn (Ex.4:22). Here and in verses 1-2 of chapter 12, God declares his ownership of all the firstborn animals and male children of Israel.
"And it shall be when your son asks you in time to come, saying, What is this? That you shall say to him, By strength of hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt from the house of bondage" (v14).
The first lesson taught by the redeeming of the firstborn was that the Creator God had claimed Israel as his own and freed them from slavery. The second is a two part prophetic lesson that revealed the following:
- If there is no redemption, the death penalty must be administered.
- The Creator would come to redeem humanity through his sacrificial blood, which would provide freedom from sin and its death penalty.
Leviticus 23:4-8 KJV
"These are the feasts of the Lord, Even holy convocations, which you shall proclaim in their seasons, In the fourteenth day of the first month at even is the Lord's Passover. 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. In the first day you shall have a holy convocation: you shall do no servile work therein. But you shall offer an offering made by fire to the Lord seven days: in the seventh day in an holy convocation: you shall do no servile work therein" (vs.4-8). See also Num. 28:17-25.
The Passover and the first and last days of Unleavened Bread are noted as mandatory assemblies for the people of Israel. On both these festivals, work is prohibited and sacrificial offerings by fire must be made.
Deuteronomy 16:1-8 KJV
"Observe the month (new moon) of Abib and keep the Passover to the Lord your God: For in the month of Abib the Lord your God brought you forth out of Egypt by night. You shall therefore sacrifice the Passover to the Lord your God, of the flock and the herd, in the place which the lord shall choose to place his name there" (vs.1-2).
When Moses was given instructions about when and how to observe the Passover, he was also shown which day was the first day of the first month of the year (i.e., the first New Moon of the sacred year) (Ex.12: 1-2). Because the first day of each month was to be observed with sacrificial offerings, it seems logical that, in verse 1, God says the Israelites must observe the new moon and the Passover in the place that he sanctifies for its observance.
Bread of Affliction
"You shall eat no leavened bread with it; seven days shall you eat unleavened bread therewith, even the bread of affliction; for you came forth out of the land of Egypt in haste: that you may remember the day when you came forth out of the land all the days of your life" (v3).
The English word affliction is translated from the Hebrew word oni, which expresses a state of pain or punishment resulting from affliction. Sin results in pain and punishment (Rom.6:23). It can be seen from verse 3 that God speaks of the unleavened bread which was to be eaten for seven days as a symbolic reminder of the pain and agony that the Israelites endured in Egypt.
The instructions concerning God's observances and festivals that are a part of the covenant relationship between God and his people are repeated many times throughout the Bible. In verses 4 through 8 there is a final summation of these instructions for the observance of the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread:
"And there shall be no leavened bread seen with you in all your coast seven days; neither shall there be any thing of the flesh, which you sacrificed the first day at even, remain all night until the morning. You may not sacrifice the Passover within any of your gates, which the Lord gives you: But at the place which the Lord your God shall choose to place his name in, there you shall sacrifice the Passover at even, at the going down of the sun, at the season that you came forth out of Egypt. And you shall roast it and eat it in the place which the Lord your God shall choose: and then you shall turn in the morning, and go into your tents. Six days you shall eat unleavened bread: and on the seventh day shall be a solemn assembly to the Lord your God: you shall do no work therein" (vs.4-8).
The Creator God who would become Jesus Christ delivered the Israelites out of years of bondage and slavery through his mighty power; then, he established them as a nation under his laws and protection through which they would receive many benefits.
Summarized below are some important points that are revealed through the instructions for ancient Israel's observance of the Festival of Unleavened Bread:
- Unleavened bread must be eaten all seven days of the festival.
- Refusal to eat unleavened bread during these days resulted in being cut off from the nation of Israel and the Creator God.
- No leavened bread or leavening was permitted within the land of Israel during these days.
- As the Israelites ate the unleavened bread each day of the feast, they were to remember the affliction of Egypt and that God had delivered them from it.
- The Festival of Unleavened Bread was to be observed by the Israelites forever.
The first day of Unleavened Bread was to be the following:
- A memorial of the Israelites' departure from Egypt
- A day of festivities commemorating the departure from Egypt
- A day to remember the bondage and slavery of Egypt
- A day to remember that it was by the power of God that Israel gained its freedom from Egypt
The last day of Unleavened Bread was also a day on which there was to be a commanded assembly and a day of rejoicing, feasting, and worshiping before their God in gratitude for his great mercy and blessings.
There is some speculation that Israel passed through the Red Sea on the seventh day of Unleavened Bread. Although this cannot be proved through the scriptures, the Israelites' deliverance from the Egyptian army at the end of the Days of Unleavened Bread would fit well within the prophetic and symbolic meaning of the seventh day, which is symbolic of the complete salvation and departure from sin and evil that is symbolized by Egypt.
Although the celebration of the Festival of Unleavened Bread had great meaning and significance to those of the Exodus and their descendants, its meaning and importance was not intended to be for the nation of Israel alone. Within the prophetic and symbolic meaning of these days, the first phase of God's plan for the salvation of all of humanity can be found.
By B. L. Cocherell b5w46