What is the big deal with yeast? I wondered that again as I read Leviticus 6. During the Passover in Egypt, the Israelites were strictly warned to eat bread prepared without yeast (Ex 12:20). And now, in the instructions for the sanctuary system, the priests are warned that none of the bread brought to the sanctuary as an offering is to be baked with yeast. In the New Testament, Jesus continues to bang that particular drum, warning people to be on guard against the "yeast of the Pharisees" (Mk 8:15).
What’s the big deal with yeast? Well, I did a bit of highly-unscientific internet research and discovered that many scholars believe yeast was discovered by... drum roll, please... the Egyptians! They used it to make bread and alcoholic beverages, and it would have no doubt been a very big part of the Israelite’s experience of living in Egypt.
So, what can we sense about God from this command over yeast? That God is not afraid of a little radical parenting. No sir. Have you ever seen The Dr. Phil Show when he has guests on with problem children? Sometimes the problems are so out-of-control that he advises the parents to do things like take away everything the child has except for the basics necessities: a bed, a set of clothes, food, and water. All the luxuries, gone. All the extras, history. Those are drastic measures, to be sure. But sometimes drastic situations require drastic measures.
Dr. James Dobson once wrote a book called Love Must Be Tough. And here we see that God is not squeamish about tough love. He has removed the Israelites from Egypt, but He knows that it will be infinitely harder to remove Egypt from the Israelites! Nevertheless, He sets about doing just that, mercilessly cutting out of their existence anything He can that would tie them to their previous home.
This might be sounding pretty bad for God. But the fact is that separating Egypt from the Israelites in such swift, decisive, and unrelenting ways was the kindest thing He could do for them. Although they didn’t know it at the time, their ultimate happiness and best good was in coming to believe and surrendering to the fact that God is the one, true God. Anything else that they clung to, put their trust in, or worshiped was going to end up destroying them. Putting their faith in God was what they needed in order to have true life, and God was willing to help them realize that, even when it meant doing things that were extremely uncomfortable for them.
God practices commando-style parenting, and that’s great news! For we are still like little children in many ways — children who don’t know where all the dangers in life are, children who need guidance, direction, and (sometimes) a very firm hand. Yes, Paul said it can be a terrifying thing to fall into God’s hands. But it’s only terrifying to us because we don’t want Him to remove the things we love so much that are hurting us. It’s terrifying to us just as it’s terrifying to a two-year-old who throws a tantrum because he doesn’t get his way.
But as wise parents, we know it’s not right to encourage the two-year-old in the tantrum. Instead, we correct him and discipline him. And in that way, we can glimpse the marvelous grace of God in His refusal to leave us attached to the things that harm us while we run willy-nilly into destruction.
To the Israelites, yeast was a big-time reminder of Egypt. And for God to restrict them from yeast was to tell them, "Hey! I don’t want you to have anything to do with that old land of slavery. Come with Me to the Promised Land instead."
You and I have yeast that God would like to separate us from. So be prepared! When necessary, God practices very tough love. And thank God for that!