LEAVEN

 

I’ve heard in Church more than once that leaven is unconditionally bad. It supposedly represents evil. The pastor who makes this claim usually follows it up with a recital of the several passages in Scripture that describe leaven in a negative light.

But there’s a problem with that blanket statement. In Leviticus 23:15-17 the Lord spoke unto Moses regarding the observance of the Feast of Pentecost,

“And ye shall count unto you from the next day after the sabbath, from the day that ye brought the sheaf of he wave offering; seven sabbaths shall be complete: even unto the next day after the seventh sabbath shall ye number fifty days; and ye shall offer a new meal offering unto the Lord.

“Ye shall bring out of your habitations two wave loaves of fine flour; they shall be baked with leaven; they are the first fruits unto the Lord.”

Here is a case that includes leaven in an offering to God, and it represents an important exception to the generality that equates leaven with evil.

A relevant characteristic of the Feast of Pentecost is that it follows fairly quickly the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, where the old leaven is discarded. After this feast, the household resumes the use of leaven, but it is new. The discarding of the old leaven and its replacement with the new suggests that the old leaven had become contaminated over the course of the year. The use of the new leaven in the Feast of Pentecost adds weight to this suggestion.

With this understanding about leaven we come to realize that the term “bad” is a qualifying term to leaven, rather than representing an intrinsic characteristic of it. In other words, not all leaven is bad. Contaminated leaven is bad, but not all leaven is contaminated.

Jesus qualified leaven in another way. In His feeding of the multitudes, Jesus employed spiritual leaven to extend the meager number of original loaves to enough bread to satisfy the hunger of the masses. In doing so, he used bread to show how His Word would propagate like good leaven from the few disciples to the multitude throughout earth who would come to a saving knowledge of Him and His work in their behalf on the cross. In connection with these feeding events, in Mark 8:14-21, Jesus contrasts the good leaven of His Word with the bad:

“Now the disciples had forgotten to take bread, neither had they in the boat with them more than one loaf. And he charged them, saying, Take heed, Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, and of the leaven of Herod. And they reasoned among themselves, saying, It is because we have no bread. And when Jesus knew it, he saith unto them, Why reason ye, because ye have no bread? Perceive ye not yet, neither understand? Have ye your heart yet hardened? Having eyes, see ye not? And having ears, hear ye not? And do ye not remember? When I broke the five loaves among five thousand, how many baskets full of fragments took ye up? They say unto him, Twelve. And when the seven among four thousand, how many baskets full of fragments took ye up? And they said, Seven. And he said unto them, How is it that ye do not understand?”

Aside from the fact that this particular passage led me into a ten-year investigation into the details of the feedings, the results of which are presented in my books Family of God, Cathy, and Marching to a Worthy Drummer, Jesus is seen here as making qualifying statements about leaven, and not about leaven itself. Keep in mind that Jesus, in feeding the multitudes, showed the use of good leaven. His qualification of leaven to His disciples was very specific, addressing the personages of the Pharisees and Herod. Herod himself was evil, and the Pharisees represented the contamination of the Word of God over the centuries, just like old leaven become contaminated over the course of a year.

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