Bible Study Tools / Unleavened Bread

The Bread of Affliction

by Anthony Wasilkoff
Photo by Cottonbro Studio on Pexels

Some of the foods many of us enjoy today were those we had to acquire a taste for. Do you remember the first time you tasted something you now find quite palatable that was rather unpleasant to you at first sampling?

As a child, I remember having a great love of processed cheese. I especially enjoyed Velveeta and thought of it as the “real thing,” especially when spread thickly over slices of white bread. I recall the occasion when I was invited to sample a piece of genuine cheddar sliced off of one of those old fashioned giant “wheels.” The genuine cheddar was not something that I found at all appealing. The creamy processed cheese was still where it was at for me for quite some time to come. However, today I much prefer natural cheddar to the processed kind. It was a taste and appreciation that I had to acquire over a period of time.

The Feast of Unleavened Bread is upon us. Are we looking forward to not having our usual rolls, buns, sandwiches and toast for an entire week? Are we anticipating a whole week of matzos, rye crisp and flat bread instead? Deuteronomy 16:1-3 says, “Observe the month of Abib and keep the Passover to the Lord your God....You shall eat no leavened bread with it, seven days you shall eat unleavened bread with it, that is, the bread of affliction….” Why are matzos called “the bread of affliction”? Why is this term used? One commentary describes flat bread as “a sour, unpleasant, unwholesome, kind of bread.” Could this description possibly be appropriate and accurate?

In Genesis 18 we read about three spirit beings visiting Abraham. He persuaded them to stay with him at his home for a while. In the Middle East, the virtue of hospitality was, and is, highly regarded and actively practiced. Consequently, Abraham served them a delectable meal of butter and milk, succulent veal and fresh bread. Abraham stood by his special guests under a shady tree while they enjoyed their hastily prepared meal. First you’ll notice that the meal was not served according to kosher guidelines in that dairy products and meat were served and consumed together. Furthermore, the fresh bread that had been prepared was clearly unleavened. Yet Abraham decided to produce and serve unleavened bread to highly regarded guests. Thus unleavened bread would hardly have been deemed to be sour, unpleasant and unwholesome. Unleavened bread can actually be quite tasty when properly prepared and when one has acquired a taste for it.

Why then is the description “bread of affliction” applied to unleavened bread? The scripture is quite clear. There are two principal reasons. Firstly, to serve as an enduring reminder of the oppressive servitude the children of Israel spent in Egypt. Secondly, to serve as an enduring reminder of the haste with which the children of Israel exited Egypt thus not allowing their bread dough to rise through natural fermentation. Please read Deuteronomy 16:3 in this regard. Exodus 20 lists the wonderful Ten Commandments, the core of the law the apostle Paul described as “holy and just and good” (Romans 7:12). As God introduces the Decalogue to the reader, He boldly proclaims, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” (Exodus 20:2). There are some who erroneously teach that the law of God, especially the Ten Commandments, are a burden and hence a form of bondage. Can you imagine the Great God miraculously delivering the nation of Israel out from under the crushing bondage of Egypt only to promptly place them under the crushing bondage of His law? Fighting this grievous error in his day and age, the apostle James in his epistle twice boldly identifies and describes God’s law as being the “law of liberty.”

According to the Keil & Delitzsch Commentary, “unleavened loaves were symbolical of the new life, as cleansed from the leaven of a sinful nature. But if the eating of matzos was to shadow forth the new life into which Israel was transferred, any one who ate leavened bread at the feast would renounce this new life and was therefore to be cut off from Israel.” During the Feast of Unleavened Bread, unleavened bread continues to represent a new life in which the believer has been cleansed from sin as represented by leaven. Through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, our Passover, the Christian is transferred into a new life and this is rehearsed through the eating of matzo during the spring festival season.

The church today constitutes the “Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16) and has been delivered by God from a debilitating sinful life in spiritual Egypt into a way of life that is in harmony with Him and His law of love. That is not to say that we no longer have any afflictions. David was inspired to write, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all” (Psalms 34:19). This statement is corroborated by Paul and Barnabas who, under inspiration, taught early New Testament believers, “We must through many tribulations enter the Kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Afflictions that result from serving the Creator are relatively light when you consider the future reward and the current benefits.

However, compared to the afflictions that are the result of breaking God’s law, keeping God’s law is most worthwhile and rewarding. To the Corinthians the Apostle Paul wrote, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (II Corinthians 4:16-17). Afflictions that result from serving the Creator are relatively light when you consider the future reward and the current benefits.

I don’t especially look forward to consuming flat bread for an entire week during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. After all, it is the bread of affliction. However, I continue to see its purpose, place and value. Once I get into it, I begin to really enjoy it and appreciate it. During the spring Feast, each of us has a special opportunity to be “renewed day by day.” There is nothing quite like it! However, once the week has come and gone and the necessary lessons have been reviewed and learned, I go back to eating regular bread and I do so not too begrudgingly and without very much persuasion.

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