Passover, Spiritual Leadership, and the Gospel

This e-Pistle article is an examination of an important lesson for families revealed in the symbolism of the ancient Jewish Passover feast. 

Passover, the most popular Jewish festival, is celebrated primarily in the home rather than at the synagogue. The feast dates to the time before the establishment of the formal priesthood in Israel and so, instead of a rabbi, the father of the family assumes the role of the “family priest” and presides over the Passover festivities.  

The Jewish family will often spend a lot of time and energy preparing for Passover. Mother and daughters will clean the house and the table linens and take out their best china and silverware. Some wealthy families have dishes and utensils that are used only at Passover. Some even have more than one set of Passover dishes for separate use with “meat” foods and “milk” foods, according to their understanding of Old Testament laws like Deuteronomy 14:21. A lot of care will go into preparing the Passover meal, being sure to use foods that are labeled “kosher for Pesach” (Passover). Jewish families enjoy all of their favorite kosher foods and probably eat more than they should like many American families do at Thanksgiving. Like Thanksgiving, Passover is an historical commemoration of the goodness and blessing of God, and is a memorable family celebration. 

An important part of the Passover preparations is traditionally the father’s responsibility. This involves removing all yeast and yeast products from the home. Yeast, or leaven, symbolizes sin, so this removal of the yeast from the Jewish home is a vital part of the preparations, representing purification. The Apostle Paul makes a spiritual reference to this purification rite in 1 Corinthians 5:7, 8: 

Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast – as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore, let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth.

Yeast products must be removed from every home that celebrates Passover, but in very traditional homes, the father will play a game with his children to accomplish this task. He will hide pieces of bread and cookies and cakes around the house. The children will then be sent on a hunt to “get rid of the old yeast.” When the children discover these yeast products, their purpose is not to eat them or even to touch them. Instead, they call their father who also does not touch the yeast products, but sweeps the crumbs into a wooden spoon with a feather. He then takes these impurities to the fireplace and casts them into the fire. The fire represents the fire on the altar of the Tabernacle and the Temple which consumed the sacrifice in order that men’s sins, placed upon that sacrificed animal, might be purged.

There is wonderful practical value and deep spiritual truth in the traditional game that the father plays with his children. It serves as an object lesson by which the father teaches his children how to be on the alert for and to recognize sin. Here the children are reminded not to try to deal with sin themselves, but to look to their father to help them deal with sin around them and in their lives. The father also illustrates his commitment to keep sin “at arm’s length,” refusing to touch that which represents sin, but dealing with it according to God’s instructions and entrusting to God the ultimate solution for sin. This is certainly a good depiction of the spiritual leadership that God has ordained for the well being of families in which fathers are charged by God to bring their children up “in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).

More importantly, this tradition reveals the more profound truth of how important it is that we, as God’s children, understand the dangers and the nature of sin and resist trying to deal with it ourselves. Only our heavenly Father can deal with the problem of our sin and the sin all around us, and He has done just that through the sacrificial death and victorious resurrection of His Son, Jesus the Messiah. This little preparatory game of purification really shows us what the Gospel is all about and what the deeper meaning of Passover is all about: the revelation of the Father’s plan of redemption through the sacrifice of His Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.