After keeping a night of watch and remembrance, the ancient Israelites started the process of coming out of slavery when they departed on the night of Abib 15. Six hundred thousand men left the land of Egypt, together with their families—an estimated total of between 2 and 3 million people—and much cattle. This was truly a sight to behold.
The Bible states that Israel “went out with an high hand” (Exodus 14:8; Numbers 33:3). Why were the Israelites so elated to emigrate in haste?
For several generations, Israel had been in cruel slavery. Historian Josephus wrote: “[H]aving, in length of time, forgotten the benefits they had received from Joseph, particularly the crown being now come into another family, [the Egyptians] became very abusive to the Israelites, and contrived many ways of afflicting them; for they enjoined them to cut a great number of channels for the river, and to build walls for their cities and ramparts, that they might restrain the river, and hinder its waters from stagnating, upon its running over its own banks: they set them also to build pyramids, and by all this wore them out; and forced them to learn all sorts of mechanical arts, and to accustom themselves to hard labor. … [T]hey strove one against the other which should get the mastery, the Egyptians desiring to destroy the Israelites by these labors, and the Israelites desiring to hold out to the end under them” (Antiquities of the Jews).
Josephus described the persecution the Egyptians afflicted upon Israel: “While the affairs of the Hebrews were in this condition, there was this occasion offered itself to the Egyptians, which made them more solicitous for the extinction of our nation.” The Israelites “were obliged to be subservient to the destruction of their own children, but as it was to be supposed to tend to the extirpation of their nation, while upon the destruction of their children, and their own gradual dissolution, the calamity would become very hard and inconsolable to them. And this was the ill state they were in.”
No wonder they were eager to leave. This forced labor nation was facing a king eager to exterminate them, not unlike the atrocious Nazi regime in World War ii.
The joy and desire with which Israel left Egypt should impress upon us just how oppressive the ways of sin truly are. How eager are you to depart from sin? How determined are you never to look back or return?
Through miraculous and divine intervention, the nation was saved from extinction. God commanded Israel to keep the Days of Unleavened Bread as a memorial of this deliverance. “And ye shall observe the feast of unleavened bread; for in this selfsame day have I brought your armies out of the land of Egypt: therefore shall ye observe this day in your generations by an ordinance for ever” (Exodus 12:17). God draws attention to the reason for observing these days through the word therefore. Unleavened Bread is to serve as a reminder to us of what God does to bring His people out of bondage.
This word translated therefore means to hedge about (as with thorns). God places great emphasis on us remembering why we keep these annual holy days. The exodus was not just an event, but a symbol of two opposing ways of life. In verse 42, God uses the same root word in instituting the Night to Be Much Observed. We are to observe, to be circumspect of, to regard and mark this time of year for this very reason.
The only way for the people to exit Egypt was to obey all God’s instructions to a tee, or death would be certain (verses 21-24).
One of those instructions was to put away all their leaven. Let’s examine God’s instruction for the Days of Unleavened Bread to be our complete departure from sin, and the point at which we set our minds to never return.
The Israelites were saved through obedience to God’s instruction. They were required to leave Egypt! Likewise, Christians are saved from their sins, not in their sins. Unleavened Bread is a reminder of how to flee sin with haste (verse 39).
God’s Chosen Route
Like Israel anciently, we have a tendency to fear conflict and shun confrontation. God chose a specific route for Israel to take for this reason: “And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt” (Exodus 13:17). God didn’t take the Israelites on the most direct route. Why? Because He knew they’d return to Egypt, despite how horrible their treatment had been. His intent was to free the Israelites’ minds from anything that represented Egypt.
God also reminded Israel how He is always near (verse 22). The cloud and pillar of fire were symbols of God’s leadership. He wants us to know how He will always be there to lead us and fight our battles for us if we will look to Him. But the people of ancient Israel lacked the faith to trust and rely on God to fight for them.
As a result, the elation and joy of the exodus quickly turned to fear and anger (Exodus 14:10-12). Humanly it seemed impossible to escape pursuing Pharaoh and his armies. “For Pharaoh will say of the children of Israel, They are entangled in the land, the wilderness hath shut them in. And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, that he shall follow after them; and I will be honoured upon Pharaoh, and upon all his host; that the Egyptians may know that I am the Lord. And they did so” (verses 3-4). God actually led Israel into this apparent trap. He wanted to show Israel that He alone could offer salvation and delivery. When we lose sight of God’s direction in our life, the chosen route may seem a dead end to us—but do we trust the God of salvation?
“And Moses said unto the people, Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will shew to you to day: for the Egyptians whom ye have seen to day, ye shall see them again no more for ever. The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace” (verses 13-14). This was a corrective message God delivered through Moses, yet it produced a positive result.
God wants action on the part of His people. He wants us to move forward, wherever He leads, through the seemingly impossible route (verses 15-22).
This particular event took place on the seventh day of the feast of Unleavened Bread, to symbolize Israel’s complete delivery from bondage (verses 23-28). An event like this should have brought a complete change of mind and outlook for the Israelites, but because of their carnality it was very short-lived.
In the same way, we can take God’s miraculous interventions in our life for granted, and not let them change our mind-set. Unless we change our thinking about how God wants to direct our life, we too are in danger of longing for Egypt.
Less than a year before his death, Mr. Armstrong warned the Church, during his last Days of Unleavened Bread sermon, that “there are more sins that have been getting into lives today than there were in the days of the early apostles!” He continued, “[T]here are more mechanisms today that increase the amount of sins—more opportunities for sin—with the motion picture, and the automobile, and all of the things that we have today, and the printing press” (April 12, 1985). That was 29 years ago! How many more mechanisms of sin are there today?
Mr. Armstrong then cut right to the core when he said: “Today, instead of coming out of sin, in the world it seems that the public media (not only newspapers and magazines but radio, television, every means of reaching the people) are trying to show people how to sin and get away with it. In other words, how to avoid the penalty of sin! Not how to avoid the penalty by quitting sin, by coming out of sin; but go ahead and sin, and then avoid the penalty.”
Is it possible to cheat God out of the penalty of sin? Certainly not! Law, when broken, exacts a penalty. The Bible describes that penalty as eternal death (Romans 6:23). In the same verse, however, God also states that eternal life is His gift to those who willingly become His servants (verse 22); those who will allow themselves to be led by God.
As Christ took upon Himself the penalty that every sin inflicts, He made the following comment: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). People in the world are unaware that they walk contrary to God. But God’s elect should be hypersensitive to this. Judgment is now upon the house of God (1 Peter 4:17).
The vast majority of people know not what they do when they sin. The Days of Unleavened Bread should sharpen our awareness of sin and of God’s law. Just like we double-check the ingredients in many of our foodstuffs, so too should we be ultra-aware of falling prey to Satan’s mechanisms that increase sin. His priority is to influence our thinking. Jesus Christ said that to us it is given to understand (Luke 8:10). How? Through deep meditation on God’s law and way of life. After all, it is the law that shows us what sin is (Romans 5:13, 20; 1 John 3:4).
Saturating our minds with the intricacies of God’s laws will help us to fight against the leaven of looking back. It will aid us in seeing the deceptive destructiveness of Satan’s methods to lure us back to a way of sin.
As we strive to come out of sin, we should grow in our disgust for that way of life. It is so easy to become calloused to sin and accept it as part of the times we live in. The more on fire we are for God’s law, God’s way of life and God’s Kingdom, the greater our passion will be to usher in a mass departure from sin. We will focus more and more on what God will do to free all mankind from the slavery of sin.
Christ died so we don’t have to die forever. But God expects us to obey His laws and live unleavened lives. If we fail to do this, and longingly look back, we crucify Christ again (Hebrews 6:4-7). It also will ultimately result in our death (Genesis 19:26)—eternal death! (Hebrews 6:8; 2 Peter 2:6, 13-15, 19, 21).
Living in sin is misery. Ancient Israel’s plight was no different than that of those robbed of their freedom when placed in concentration camps during the last world war. When those prisoners were liberated, who in their right mind would ever desire to return? Yet the account in Exodus shows us that the Israelites wanted to return (Exodus 14:11-12). They failed to see the curse of bondage.
When we fail to see beyond the immediate, when we lack vision, our human nature will always seek the way of least resistance. Carnally, we prefer the easy life of giving in to sin. Satan will exploit that to bring us back into slavery.
Absence of Righteousness
Righteousness brings so much peace, happiness and joy (Galatians 5:22-23). However, it is the difficult and narrow way (Matthew 7:13-14). It is the absence of it that brings sorrow, suffering and pain, anguish, discouragement, frustration and remorse (Galatians 5:19-21).
If we experience any of the latter, we know that righteousness is absent. The long-term consequences of sin are never pleasant. It is why our world is suffering!
“By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward” (Hebrews 11:24-26). Moses had to choose between a life of licentiousness and serving God.
God showed Moses that serving Him would require he put away all leaven from his life, just like we must dispose of any leaven found during the days of this festival. We cannot allow ourselves to store it in a locked cupboard, in the shed or on a pole over our fence.
Deleavening is hard work. God uses it as a way to test how much we prize obedience. We are to search for leaven, find it and remove it (Deuteronomy 16:4, 8). We must come out of Satan’s way of life entirely. If we don’t, it won’t be long before we are drawn back into the ways of sin. In short, sin is the absence of righteousness.
If we do not use these days to take on more of God’s mind and righteousness, then we only found the leaven in our life but failed to remove it. In so doing, we actually stifle the growth of God’s Work.
It is one thing to hear God’s instruction, but another to act upon it (Ezekiel 33:30-33). This is exactly what Felix did when he refused to respond to Paul’s message of righteousness (Acts 24:25).
In addition to putting out sin from our lives, we are positively commanded to eat unleavened bread, symbolizing obedience and submission to God’s will (Exodus 12:20). God wants us to show Him how much we hunger for righteousness. If we do, God will fill us (Matthew 5:6). He will provide the desire and the means to root out sin completely from our lives, if we ask. How massive a departure from sin to righteousness will you make this year?
Prepare Your Mind for a Mass Departure
Merriam-Webster defines exodus as “a mass departure.” Satan’s favorite trick, however, is to make people want to return to the life of sin they know they should be forsaking. We could call this a reverse-exodus.
God allows these tests on us, as He did with ancient Israel. Exodus 14 shows that, even during the Days of Unleavened Bread, the Israelites were ready to throw in the towel.
Just a few weeks later, “they took their journey from Elim, and all the congregation of the children of Israel came unto the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after their departing out of the land of Egypt. And the whole congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness: And the children of Israel said unto them, Would to God we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots, and when we did eat bread to the full; for ye have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger” (Exodus 16:13). The Israelites were ready to return to their Egyptian concentration camp. Even as they stood on the borders of the Promised Land, this thought kept cropping up (Numbers 14:3-4).
How profound, considering God led them through the desert to prevent this thought of returning to Israel from saturating their minds (Exodus 13:17).
Why this drastic reversal? The answer may be blunt: Some people blindly prefer to continue in sin! The people of ancient Israel did not depart from the ways of Egypt in their minds. Their thoughts were constantly and longingly focused on a way of life they should have forsaken.
Today, some people simply refuse to quit sinning! The Israelites displayed this same selfish attitude as they journeyed out of Egypt through the desert to Sinai. Do you really prefer a life of righteousness? Or is something luring you back to the captivity that God delivers you from?
God promises to help us if we sincerely set our minds to flee sin (1 Corinthians 10:13).
A satirical booklet of the 1950s, How to Sin in Hollywood, gave this worldly definition of sin: “Sin is thinking thoughts you ought not to be thinking about things you ought not to be doing while you are thinking that kind of thoughts.” There may be more truth to that statement than first meets the eye.
The Apostle Peter points out that a longing to return to the ways of sin comes through the lusts of the flesh (2 Peter 2:18). Lust simply is the inability to stop our covetous thoughts, or evil desires, which balloon inside our mind until they control our every action. It is lust that drives us to sin (James 1:14-15). It is that lust that brings us back to the bondage of corruption (2 Peter 1:4).
Animals don’t lust—only man has the power of imagination in this physical creation. Satan therefore battles for your mind, trying to corrupt your thinking. In many ways, we are what we think (Proverbs 23:7). Realize that if it is wrong to do a certain thing, it is also wrong to harbor thoughts of that thing in your mind!
Christ said, “That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness” (Mark 7:20-22). All these are violations of the Ten Commandments, including evil thoughts.
As you prepare for the spring holy days this year, strive mightily against sin, the way our Savior did (Hebrews 12:1-4).
Our deliverance from this “body of death” is through Him and the indwelling of God’s Holy Spirit. Yet we have our part too—a part that centers on the mind.
As you deleaven, be sure to look on sin the way God does. Know where it starts and don’t let it plant roots.
Mr. Armstrong wrote: “The temptation is in the mind. When you think about the thing that tempts you—let your mind dwell on it—turn it over in your mind—whether it be a desire to go someplace, to do something, or to have something you know is wrong—that thinking about it finally conceives … and breeds sin. You finally do the thing you kept thinking about, wanting to do. If you keep thinking about it, after a while you’ll be unable to resist it. That’s why you’ve lost so many of these struggles against sin—you kept thinking about it, desiring it, wanting it.
“The way to prevent sin is to let God’s Spirit fill the mind. … The way to put a thing out of the mind is to put an opposite thought in the mind” (Good News, June-July 1983).
This year, prepare your mind for a mass departure from the ways of sin, by setting your affections on the things above (Colossians 3:2). A mind firmly focused on the things of God—a completely deleavened mind—never even contemplates a return to the bondage of sin.