“Go Out in Haste!” The Feast of Unleavened Bread

In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord‘s Passover. (Exodus 12:11)

Jewish people famously eat unleavened bread called matzo for the seven days over Passover. In fact, there's a whole separate feast called the Feast of Unleavened Bread to make sure that the matter is thoroughly attended to! Leaven is right out. Spring cleaning to rid houses of every trace of leaven happens well in advance, and stores severely restrict what they can and cannot sell over the holiday.

But there is one small problem with all this.

There doesn't seem to be any real reason why there would be no time for bread to rise, should the Israelite slaves have wanted fluffy pita instead of flat matzo bread as they left Egypt. It's not as if they couldn't have started the process of kneading and proving the bread beforehand, since God gave his instructions to Moses about the Passover well in advance. He told them to choose their lamb on the tenth of the month, ready to be slaughtered on the fourteenth… so they had at the very minimum four days to get ready. So what's the deal? Yet these are the instructions:

Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers' houses, a lamb for a household… Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old… and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight. Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it… In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord‘s Passover. (from Exodus 12:3-11)

These words were spoken to Moses well before the actual night that the Destroying Angel paid his deadly visit.

But perhaps this is not about bread.

This is about the salvation of God—His ways, His timing, and our need for readiness.

And they baked unleavened cakes of the dough that they had brought out of Egypt, for it was not leavened, because they were thrust out of Egypt and could not wait, nor had they prepared any provisions for themselves. (Exodus 12:39)

Haste and delay in God's plan of salvation

They COULD NOT WAIT. Other versions say they could not delay, or tarry. The Hebrew word used here is somewhat onomatopoeic, with the idea of lingering or delaying in the way it sounds: lehitmaameaah (לְהִתְמַהְמֵהַּ). In the Bible, it's always bad when human beings linger and tarry, but when God chooses to delay the opposite is true. The first time this word is used in the Bible is in Genesis 19 when Lot and his wife linger and take their time leaving Sodom.

As morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Up! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, lest you be swept away in the punishment of the city.” But he lingered. So the men seized him and his wife and his two daughters by the hand, the Lord being merciful to him, and they brought him out and set him outside the city. (Genesis 19:15-16)

Lot and his family were slow to obey, but God in His mercy grabbed them and took them out to safety. Of course Lot's wife famously tarried and looked back, to her peril. God, on the other hand, waited 400 years to allow the sin of the Canaanites to reach its full measure. He held back and delayed His judgement to allow ample time for repentance. But when God says time's up, then that's that. Similarly, the Israelites had been in Egypt for 400 years. But when it was time to go, haste was the name of the game! And this is often the way with God. When it's time to go, it's time to go. We should be quick to obey and jump at the chance of rescue without a moment's delay. Lingering is a dangerous game.

The unleavened bread was symbolically significant, representing the HASTE with which they had to flee from the land of slavery. Leaven also represents sin and pride, the puffed-up carnal man, thinking we know better than God. Getting rid of leaven is such an important aspect of the entire story (and appointed feast) that it is emphatically repeated, with a threat of excommunication for transgressors:

Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall remove leaven out of your houses, for if anyone eats what is leavened, from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel. (v.15)

And you shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, for on this very day I brought your hosts out of the land of Egypt. Therefore you shall observe this day, throughout your generations, as a statute forever. In the first month, from the fourteenth day of the month at evening, you shall eat unleavened bread until the twenty-first day of the month at evening. For seven days no leaven is to be found in your houses. If anyone eats what is leavened, that person will be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he is a sojourner or a native of the land. You shall eat nothing leavened; in all your dwelling places you shall eat unleavened bread.” (vv.17-20)

Are you ready?

God's delays are often full of mercy. God's promises often take a very long time to come to pass from our perspective. But He graciously waits to enable as many as possible to be saved.

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

Given that God often takes His time, it's worth thinking about how ready we are to wait patiently wait for God. Will we be found ready at the critical moment? Or will we fall into idolatry when God delays? The golden calf incident happened because the Israelites couldn't wait patiently when Moses was delayed on Mount Sinai. Impatience and dissatisfaction often cause us to fall into idolatry of some kind or other. Many of Yeshua's parables have people making bad decisions due their inability to wait. The antidote I think is trust: trust that the delay is important because God is both loving and wise. He doesn't want any to perish. He will wait as long as possible to save as many as possible. His heart is to save, and His plans are more intricate and amazing than we could ever understand.

But when God's time has finally come, will we be ready? When He calls us to act, how quick are we to respond? Our swift response to God's offer of salvation is critical, as Lot's wife will tell you. We must live in a state of readiness at all times. We need to be ready to wait, and ready to go, like those wise virgins that Jesus told us about, or the Israelites ready for the Exodus, with our belt fastened, our sandals on our feet, and our staff in our hand. When God stretches out His hand to save, we need to be ready to grab it at a moment's notice. When He says it's time to act, let's be quick to obey and leap into action. Get ready to go, and with haste!


Thanks to Johnny Khoury for his inspirational thoughts on the matter.

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