How many of us remember where we were and what we were doing the day that John Kennedy was assassinated? Or what was happening the day we married or the day our children were born? How many of us remember the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag or the Ten Commandments? Or how to spell the name of one's fourth-grade teacher (mine was S-M-I-G-I-E-L-S-K-I!).
If we remember these things, it is because they were burned into our brains by shock, awesome uniqueness, or repetition. Sometimes the actual incident did not even happen to us but was just repeated to us with such powerful clarity that it affected us the rest of our lives.
For instance, when I was very young, my father was trying to warn me of the dangers involved in playing near the railroad tracks. He told me a story that he himself had experienced in 1939, when he was 12 years old. While he and some friends were playing by the trains, one of his friends tried to jump on a boxcar but slipped under its wheels. His legs were cut off! There was a pickup truck close by, and they put him in it and rushed him to the hospital where he died!
I have never forgotten that story or even the look on my father's face as he repeated it to me, even though I was just barely old enough to understand such things. Whenever any of my friends wanted to go play by the tracks, I never once even considered it. I usually convinced them to do something else.
How many of us remember what we were doing last April between the 22nd and the 27th? I caught a cold. My wife and I celebrated our thirtieth wedding anniversary. I worked for two days and was off for five. On Sunday, I spent most of the day working on my 2001 budget for the hotel. Last but not least, I ate nothing with leavening in it, as far as I knew. The only bread my family ate all week was brittle and flat.
We really did not do very much that week. We merely observed a very simple teaching God commanded us to do: We kept all leavening out of our houses and off our properties and ate only unleavened bread for seven days.
That week's effort could not compare to the weeks of preparation it took to deleaven our homes. It took nowhere near the physical preparations preparing for, traveling to and keeping the Feast of Tabernacles away from our homes entails. It did not even require the small, personal sacrifice it takes to keep the fast on the Day of Atonement.
Those short seven days flew by. It was seven days of easy but careful vigilance to ensure that no leavened products crept into our houses and that we ate only unleavened bread every day.
But did we get the point? Why did God give us the Days of Unleavened Bread in the first place? Are we merely performing a ritual or are we making sure the real point of deleavening our homes and keeping these days does not get lost in the physical activity? We must keep in mind God's real purpose and our part in it!
God explains why in Exodus 13:3-10:
And Moses said to the people: "Remember this day in which you went out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage; for by strength of hand the LORD brought you out of this place. No leavened bread shall be eaten. On this day you are going out, in the month Abib. And it shall be, when the LORD brings 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. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a feast to the LORD. 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. 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. You shall therefore keep this ordinance in its season from year to year.
The word for "sign" in verse 9 is ‘owth, which can be translated as signal, flag, beacon, monument, omen, prodigy, evidence, mark, miracle, sign or token. The word for "memorial" is zikrown, meaning memorable thing, reminder, remembrance. If we change "sign" to one of the other translations, it puts this section in a new light. For instance, ‘owth can be translated as "prodigy," which means "something extraordinary"!
Verse 9 could be paraphrased, then, "And this observance of the days of Unleavened Bread shall be something extraordinary for you to do, to make a memorable impression on your mind so that the law of God can be written in your hearts."
How do we look at the days of Unleavened Bread? Are they merely a week of yearly ritual participation, or do we vicariously take part in events that are extraordinarily remarkable and force us to our knees before the Eternal? Are we making sure that these days fulfill the promise that they have in our lives so that His mind becomes ours?
The Israelites missed the point. They saw only the physical.
Adam Clarke makes these comments on verse 9:
This direction, repeated and enlarged Exodus 13:16, gave rise to phylacteries or tepillin, and this is one of the passages which the Jews write upon them to the present day. The manner in which the Jews understood and kept these commands may appear in their practice. They wrote the following four portions of the law upon slips of parchment or vellum: "Sanctify unto me the first-born," see Exodus 13:2-10. "And it shall be, when the Lord shall bring thee into the land," see Exodus 13:11-16. "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord" see Deuteronomy 6:4-9. "And it shall come to pass, if ye shall hearken diligently," see Deuteronomy 11:13-21. These four portions, making in all 30 verses, written as mentioned above, and covered with leather, they tied to the forehead and to the hand or arm.
Those which were for the HEAD (the frontlets) they wrote on four slips of parchment, and rolled up each by itself, and placed them in four compartments, joined together in one piece of skin or leather. Those which were designed for the hand were formed of one piece of parchment, the four portions being written upon it in four columns, and rolled up from one end to the other. These were all correct transcripts from the Mosaic text, without one redundant or deficient letter, otherwise they were not lawful to be worn. Those for the head were tied on so as to rest on the forehead. Those for the hand or arm were usually tied on the left arm, a little above the elbow, on the inside, that they might be near the heart according to the command, Deuteronomy 6:6: "And these words which I command thee this day shall be in thine heart." These phylacteries formed no inconsiderable part of a Jew's religion; they wore them as a sign of their obligation to God, and as representing some future blessedness. Hence, they did not wear them on feast days nor on the Sabbath, because these things were in themselves signs; but they wore them always when they read the law, or when they prayed, and hence, they called them tepillin, "prayer, ornaments, oratories, or incitements to prayer." In process of time the spirit of this law was lost in the letter, and when the word was not in their mouth, nor the law in their heart, they had their phylacteries on their heads and on their hands. And the Pharisees, who in our Lord's time affected extraordinary piety, made their phylacteries very broad, that they might have many sentences written upon them, or the ordinary portions in very large and observable letters. (Emphasis ours.)
Notice what Jesus says on this subject in Mathew 23:1-7:
Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, saying: "The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments. They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi.'"
Later in the chapter, Christ calls them hypocrites. They had made God's Word of no effect. They were missing the point completely—even missing the point of who Christ was! Rather than stepping out in faith, they had made physical things the objects of their worship!
We Are Involved
We may be doing the same thing! We deleaven our homes and eat unleavened bread, which we must, but then we tell ourselves, "Boy, if I would have witnessed the miracles that Israel witnessed to free them from slavery in Egypt, I never would have rebelled against God! If I had been spared as the death angel passed over, I would have been absolutely careful to follow every word God spoke!" The point is that we are part of every one of these events!
This works in much the same way as my involvement with that fatal train accident my father witnessed in 1939, eleven years before I was born. My dad made it so real to me, and I believed what he told me. I followed his instructions, and his fearful respect of trains became my fearful respect of trains! Though he related the incident to me many years ago, it is still with me—and affects me—just as it did then!
The days of Unleavened Bread are about remembering the events of the Exodus and becoming involved in them so that we can use the lessons to enhance our journey toward God's Kingdom. It is not time for us to rest and pat ourselves on the back because we worked so hard to get the physical leavening out of our houses. It is not time to make a show of eating flat bread and counting the minutes until we can have that next hamburger on a bun.
It is a time for getting the leavening out, eating the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth (I Corinthians 5:8) while seeing and believing the awesome power of the great Creator God in delivering His people.
It is a time to count the cost of our deliverance and to see God's justice and mercy in action.
It is a time to know that He has set apart His firstborn for Himself because He spared us from the death angel, while the rest of the world's firstborn died the death that we should have died for sin.
It is a time to recognize that, because we were bought at such a great cost, we have a responsibility to make His law our law from the inside out so we may accomplish His purpose.
We can keep the days this year just as the Israelites did—and we have indeed done this in the past with great bravado, faithfully deleavening our homes and eating flat bread. These can be our phylacteries. Or we can make this year's feast the most remarkably memorable time in our personal history. We can march out of Egypt with the nation of Israel and see the mighty hand of God delivering us all along the way. We can be driven to make the Eternal's way our way because, in faith, we have already seen it work!
So now, as we prepare to deleaven our homes, keep the point of these days in mind. God has given us an extraordinary feast, a spiritual banquet, to remind of many vital lessons, principles and instructions that will nourish us in our trek toward our Promised Land, the Kingdom of God!