Matthew 13:33 Another parable spake he unto them; The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.
One parable. Isolated, without explanation. Yet what a wealth of understanding it holds! At first glance it seems to make little sense, and one almost wonders why Jesus bothered to mention it. But then you start to wonder – WHY is the Kingdom of God like LEAVEN, of all things? Why use LEAVEN, which appears to represent SIN throughout the Bible, to represent the Kingdom of God?Why are there THREE measures of meal – not twelve or seven or some other number? Why was the leaven HID in them? And how did the WHOLE get leavened?
And it’s from such questions that new understanding is born…
In leading into this verse, Jesus had told the parable of Mustard Seed:
Matthew 13:31-32 Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field: Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof.
Now this makes sense enough; the Kingdom of heaven starts very small, but then when it is mature becomes the greatest of herbs and is a veritable tree. In real-world terms, God started with the lowest and weakest – Christ – and “sowed” Him into the Earth (compare to 1 Corinthians 15:35-38). Then through the workings of the Early church the tree grew, being pruned heavily at times, and always small – until one day it will fill the entire Earth.
But the parable of the leaven? That doesn’t sound as easy. Granted, the concept seems to be similar since it appears to have been said in practically the same breath, but what is He trying to convey? Let’s start at the end and work backwards.
Matthew 13:33 … which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.
Clearly the end is the same as in the case of the Mustard Seed parable. “The whole is leavened” with the Kingdom of God. In other words, the whole Earth is filled with the Kingdom of God in the end. But before that happened, the woman took the leaven and hid it in three measures of meal. And it was from these three measures that the whole earth was filled with that Kingdom. And that immediately makes me think of this scripture:
Genesis 9:19 These are the THREE sons of Noah: and of them was the WHOLE EARTH overspread.
So there we have three divisions who grew and filled the whole Earth. From the sons of Noah we have every race present on Earth today. And since “…God is no respecter of persons: But in EVERY nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.” (Acts 10:34-35), we know that the Kingdom of God will be composed of representatives from each of those three races – or each of those “three measures of meal” which together comprise the whole of humanity.
But today, those measures of meal are not full of the spirit of God. In fact, they scarcely know God at all, even in the so-called Christian nations. So it won’t be for some time yet that the WHOLE EARTH is filled with the physical Kingdom of God, and all the people in it fear Him and work righteousness.
For now, the Kingdom of God is “hid in three measures of meal” – it is not overpowering, taking over it, it is HIDING in that meal. Because today’s Kingdom is a SPIRITUAL Kingdom of God – a Kingdom composed of all those who are led by the spirit of God.
Romans 8:9 But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. (see also vs. 1)
The Kingdom of God is composed of those who have Jesus’ spirit; He is the source of the “leaven” which is hidden amongst the world with which the whole world will be filled. But who planted that leaven in the measures of meal? What woman “hid” the spirit of Jesus among those three measures of meal? Why, God’s Church – (Mark 16:15), always portrayed as a woman in the Bible.
Revelation 12:5,13 And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne. … And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man child.
And Satan has always hated this church, and persecuted it. And so this church is HIDDEN in amongst that meal, lost in the masses of humanity, slipping through the cracks as the persecuted “little flock” of God until it will one day fill the world.
To recap, the woman (the church that gave birth to a man child) took leaven (the spirit of God), and hid it in three measures of meal (the three races of Noah) and over time, the whole Earth was leavened with truth. That’s the meaning of the Parable. But we still haven’t explained one thing; why does God use LEAVEN to represent His Kingdom, and specifically His spirit?
The answer is easy; the only reason we don’t understand it immediately is that we’ve always assumed leaven meant something that it didn’t. But to explain that, allow me to briefly explain how leavening worked in the days of Moses;
Leavening as we all know makes bread rise; it means the difference between a hard cracker and a loaf of bread. But yeast didn’t come in a package, nor could it be bought at the local supermarket; yeast had to be cultivated by mixing flour and water, and perhaps salt and a few other frivolous ingredients for taste, and then laying it out on a rock. Someplace with access to plenty of air. Virtually all air, even that in the desert, contains yeast spores, and some of these get into the bread if you leave it out long enough – usually a matter of several hours at least. Then these yeasts eat some of the carbohydrates in the dough and give off, as waste, tiny bubbles of CO2 which puffs up the bread. The bread will have to be kneaded to mix the yeasts around in the dough a few times, but eventually you’ll have enough yeasts dispersed through the dough to make a fluffy loaf of bread.
But each place has a different species of yeast that is most prominent, or a blend of several; some of these yeasts are quite rambunctious, some are rather bland; they each impart a different flavor to the bread. This is why “San Francisco” sourdough bread is so special. It can’t be properly made anywhere else in the world, because only in San Francisco are those particular yeasts present. And so everywhere else it tastes different.
Some wild yeasts, like the ones in San Francisco, are quite good; others are nasty enough to make bread virtually inedible. There are literally millions of species of yeasts. So what happens is, when someone finds a good strain of yeast that makes a good bread, they keep a little bit of the dough back without cooking it to use as “starter” for the next batch. Not only does this save time, but it gives this favored strain of yeast a big head start over any alien yeasts that might show up from the air.
But every year Israel was forced to throw away all their old yeast starters which they’d been keeping alive the whole year, and make unleavened bread – bread that is cooked before it has a chance to pick up any yeasts from the air. So every year, Israel had to start all over with “new leaven” by leaving something out on a rock for a starter until it was leavened by the wild yeasts in the air. Paul referred to this process in:
1 Corinthians 5:6-7 Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us:
So no matter what you do, if you leave water and flour on a rock, it will pick up yeasts. But there are good and bad yeasts. Most of the time it will not make the nice sweet bread we’re accustomed to when we use Red Star or another mass-produced yeast – instead, it will usually make sourdough or something even stronger and often quite unpleasant. This is because today’s yeasts are predominately bad, and tend to push all bread towards what modern society would call “nasty”.
Even when you start with a yeast that you know is good – let’s say, San Francisco Sourdough starter – if you keep that starter alive for a few months, making batches of bread off of it then saving a small portion back for the next batch, you’ll notice that gradually the taste changes as the local yeasts filter into the starter that you have. No matter how good your yeast is when you start, you will eventually be overcome by the local, wild yeasts. So today, all bread naturally tends towards a wild, unruly, sour yeast taste.
But what if we took all nasty yeasts out of the air and replaced them with sweet yeasts? Why, then all bread would automatically tend towards good, of course. And no matter what yeast you started with, it would eventually be overcome by local yeasts that were sweet and good and naturally tend towards a better quality bread.
So you see, leaven can work both ways; in this world, leavening generally works towards a state of decay, where worse yeasts overcome the good. But in a world where there was only sweet yeasts, even if you started with a bad yeast, the good would outnumber the bad and naturally tend to overcome it.
But today, the fundamental, background pressure of yeasts tends towards a state of sourness. So in the Bible, when leaven is talked about, it is with this wild yeast in mind. But leaven doesn’t necessarily mean “sin” – it just means the background pressure of all yeasts to leaven something – and that can be good or bad.
Luke 12:1 … he began to say unto his disciples first of all, Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.
Jesus said the leaven of the Pharisees was hypocrisy. Now hypocrisy isn’t a sin, per se – it is teaching or believing one thing and doing the opposite. There was little point in warning the disciples to avoid the Pharisees when they said “let’s sin!” for clearly the disciples would have known that. But the danger, the trap of the Pharisees was that they said “Obey God!” – and then did not obey God. This was the all-pervasive ideology that crept into everything they did. To quote just one example:
Matthew 23:4 For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.
This was the leaven of the Pharisees Jesus was concerned the disciples would be infected with. He knew that this was the “background pressure” of the entire Jewish religion of His day, and that it would be inevitable that the disciples would fall under that pressure. So He warned them to beware of that leavening “pressure”.
It’s time to wrap this up now and apply this to our day. In this world, Satan’s spirit is the background leaven. He is the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4), and we can see his influence literally everywhere we look, in every TV show and on every streetcorner. There is literally nothing he has not influenced and everything he touches tends towards sin and death acting just as wild leaven does – leavening everything it touches with decay.
So every year at the feast of unleavened bread, we are to purge out the leaven and start with a new lump – a new examination of our lives, with a refined set of goals if need be – and set forth in the world with a vision towards keeping those wild yeasts out of our loaf one more year.
1 Corinthians 5:7-8 Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
So while we are in this world, we should stay unleavened, for the background pressure is always towards Satan’s way – always towards death. And we must at all costs keep ourselves “unspotted from the world” (James 1:27). But that is only because today, the leavening is all with wild yeasts.
Isaiah 11:9 They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.
But when God’s spirit covers the Earth, as it will when His physical Kingdom arrives, the basic state will be towards righteousness; for all the earth will be filled with knowledge of God, and His spirit will be everywhere. And so everything will be leavened with God’s spirit, rather than the spirit of the adversary.
And so, in that day, leaven will work in the opposite direction, with every pressure in the world, except our own natures, tending towards righteousness. The leaven of truth will be wafting upon every breeze, anxious to leaven every lump which has been purged of the “old leaven”.
And of that leaven the whole Earth will be overspread.