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The word leaven is defined as a substance (example: yeast) used to produce fermentation in a dough or a liquid. In the Scriptures, this word can have literal and symbolic meanings. Let’s examine its use in the Word of God:
God instructed that Israelites to celebrate His deliverance from the bondage of Egypt, through a week of feasting following the Passover Day which fell on the 14th day of the 1st month in the Jewish calendar. This feast was called the “Feast of Unleavened Bread.”
During this feast, the Israelites were instructed to remove all leaven from their homes and eat unleavened bread (Exodus 12:15; 13:6–7). This special bread partly reminded them of their hardships in Egypt, and partly to commemorate their hasty deliverance, which did not allow them time to leaven it (Exodus 12:39).
The original word for unleavened signifies pure, unmixed, and un-corrupted substance. The use of this special bread was to show them the necessity of godliness. As the eating of the lamb symbolized feeding on Christ, so the putting away of leaven signified the putting away of all sin in order to approach the Savior (1Corinthians 5:8).
In the Sanctuary, the Lord prohibited the use of yeast grain offerings (Leviticus 2:11). In fact, no yeast was allowed to be burned on the altar along with any sacrifice. The grain offerings for the priests were also without yeast (Leviticus 6:17).
Christ resembled the teachings of the religious leaders of Israel to leaven. He said, “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees….” (Matthew 16: 6-12). Here the Lord pointed to the “doctrine” of the Pharisees and the Sadducees (Matthew 16:12). As yeast penetrates the dough, so the doctrines a man holds penetrate his mind and governs all of his actions. Therefore, it must be supported by the Scriptures (Isaiah 8:20).
Because the teachings of the religious leaders reflected their hypocrisy, pride, and legalism (Luke 12:1), which without a doubt affected the lives of those who looked up to them for guidance and direction, Christ warned His followers saying, “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” (Matthew 23:2,3).
Also, Christ warned His followers of the leaven of Herod (Mark 8:15), that is, the wicked influence of Herod, which was specifically shown in his worldliness, love for power, and vacillating spirit (Matthew 13:33; 16:6).
Paul spoke of yeast as representing sin and he warned the Corinthian church of the negative effect of one sinner among them (1 Corinthians 5:6 also Galatians 5:9). As a small amount of yeast, placed in a large quantity of dough affects the whole amount, so the presence of a rebellious member in the church has a harmful influence on the whole church (Galatians 5:9 also Matthew 13:33).
To keep in the church such a wicked person, in an effort to help him to change, overlooks the danger of his evil influence on the whole group of believers. It is often more beneficial to that person to be separated from the church in order to let him realize that his actions need to be corrected for his eternal good and the good of the body of believers.
On a different note, to describe the qualitative growth of kingdom of God, Jesus gave a parable saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened” (Matthew 13:33). As the parable of the Mustard Seed represented the great growth of the kingdom, this parable also showed the extensive success that would accompany the ministry of the humble disciples of Christ when their efforts are united with the Almighty God.
In His service,