The parable of leaven hidden in flour.
The bible is full of metaphors, symbols and stories that convey a deeper truth. Those who are not so familiar with the scriptures may miss some of the meaning behind these symbols. Some of them may even seem strange to our ears. There is a simple one verse parable in Matthew 13 spoken by Jesus that often gets misunderstood.
33 He (Jesus) told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”
Leaven is the yeast that is added to a batch of dough and causes it to rise to ultimately become a loaf of bread.
For very good reasons, this parable is often interpreted with the view that the leaven is a symbol of something good and it is how the church grows but this interpretation is not consistent with the rest of the Word of God.
Consider the following scriptures which clearly indicate that leaven is a symbol of something to get rid of:
6 Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
1 Corinthians 5:6-8
6 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? 7 Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
In the life of Israel adhering to the laws written by Moses in the Old Testament (eg Leviticus 2:11), leaven was something to be removed completely from the house at certain times of the year and in particular during the feast of unleavened bread which is linked to the Passover feast which was the time of year when Jesus was crucified. Jewish children were taught that every crumb must be removed completely from the home to prepare themselves for this worship feast and no leaven/yeast risen bread is consumed at this time.
So now read the parable of Jesus once again with the above in mind:
33 He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”
The women hid the leaven in the flour and it leavened all three measures of flour. The evil one likes to hide things and if allowed to, it can permeate everything. The Kingdom of heaven here on earth, in our churches and lives, is under attack by the enemy. The parable of the wheat and tares in Matthew 13:24-30 has the same idea of the enemy planting that which is evil in the Kingdom.
So what might leaven be a symbol of? Here are some examples:
- False (non-biblical) teaching such as that from the Pharisees (legalism), Sadducees (liberalism) (Matthew 16:6).
- Pride – it puffs up and God hates pride. (1 Corinthians 5:6)
- Envy and malice poisons fellowship with each other and with God. (1 Corinthians 5:8)
These are things that we need to get rid of from our lives just as the Jewish children helped the family cast out every crumb of leaven from the home. We cast out these things by identifying them and by repentance or turning away from them. We replace this with a humble and forgiving heart and we need to love and follow the true Word of God.
Why every crumb? If you put a bad apple in with good apples, we all know the bad apple will quickly make the other apples bad. It is the same with sin in our lives, small sins lead to bigger sins and spread to others. In the same way, if you discount one part of scripture then this may ultimately lead you to discount all of it which is the progression of false teaching. The news recently reported that an Atheist could keep her role as a Church minister in a Canadian Church is a good example of the impact of false teaching over time. This church is now led by someone who does not believe in God.
Firstly, we need to be awake and beware. Don’t be caught out. Second, we need to take action, repent and rededicate our lives to the Lord.
It is not that risen bread is bad, but it is something that is part of everyday lives and therefore makes the teaching of Jesus easier to understand.