April 2, 2012

Passover Food: Lamb, Unleavened Bread & Bitter Herbs

Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats. Now you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month. Then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it at twilight. And they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses where they eat it. Then they shall eat the flesh on that night; roasted in fire, with unleavened bread and with bitter herbs they shall eat it. Exodus 12:5-8

According to Scripture, the three elements on the Passover table should be the Passover Lamb, the unleavened bread, and the bitter herbs.

It is important to note that with Jewish tradition, other dishes have been added to the Passover Feast.

~ The Passover Lamb ~

Old Testament meaning:

The lamb speaks of redemption and forgiveness. Among Israel, lamb was sacrificed every year for Passover to atone for the sins of the past year. It is also a reminder of the original Passover lamb from whose blood delivered Israel from death & slavery.

Then tell them, 'It is the Passover sacrifice to the LORD, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.' Then the people bowed down and worshiped. Exodus 12:27

New Testament meaning:

The lamb is symbolic of Jesus, who was sacrificed for the sins of the world. The blood of the Lamb of God delivered all who believe from death and the bondage of sin.

And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. Hebrews 10:10

And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood Hebrews 13:12

For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, 1 Peter 3:18

~ The Bread of Affliction (unleavened bread) ~

Old Testament meaning:

This bread commemorates when the Jewish people left Egypt in a hurry and did not have time to let their bread rise:

With the dough they had brought from Egypt, they baked cakes of unleavened bread. The dough was without yeast because they had been driven out of Egypt and did not have time to prepare food for themselves. Exodus 12:39

Do not eat it with bread made with yeast, but for seven days eat unleavened bread, the bread of affliction, because you left Egypt in haste—so that all the days of your life you may remember the time of your departure from Egypt. Deuteronomy 16:3

On the day before Passover (preparation day; also sometimes referred to as the First Day of Unleavened Bread), all leaven in homes was to be searched out and burned - this was in remembrance of departure from Egypt.

So you shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, for on this same day I will have brought your armies out of the land of Egypt. Exodus 12:17

In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at evening, you shall eat unleavened bread, until the twenty-first day of the month at evening. For seven days no leaven shall be found in your houses, Exodus 12:18-19

According to Jewish calendar, a day begins at sundown - this means that the leaven would have been burned around mid-morning on preparation day and Passover would begin after the sun had set.

Traditionally three peaces of unleavened bread were served at Passover. The middle piece is broken in half and is eaten after the meal (this is called Afikoman in Hebrew).

There is some speculation as to why there are three pieces of matzah. Some suggest that they represent Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Why then is the middle matzah (representing Isaac) broken in half? Does this suggest the binding of Isaac by Abraham? Is so, this is a clear allusion to the sacrifice of Jesus, since the first occurrence of the world love in the Scriptures (Gen 22:2) refers to a father’s love for his “only” son who was offered as a sacrifice on Moriah (the very place of the crucifixion of Jesus), a clear reference to the gospel message (John 3:16). Consider how this provides a prophetic picture of the Lord Jesus as the “Lamb of God” who takes away the sins of the world. Both Isaac and Jesus were born miraculously; both were “only begotten sons”; both were to be sacrificed by their fathers at Mount Moriah; both willingly took up the means of his execution; and both demonstrate that one life can be sacrificed for another - the ram for Isaac, and Jesus for all of mankind.

This afikomen ritual has been a part of the Passover ceremony since Second Temple times and would have been part of the Passover during the time of Jesus. The Greek word aphikomenos means “he is coming” and has Messianic overtones.

In Jewish custom, the middle piece is broken in half and the large of the two broken pieces if carefully wrapped in linen. The little children are asked to close their eyes and the piece is hidden somewhere in the room. As the seder progresses, the children are encourage to search for the lost piece. Once it is found, the child receives a small reward and a small piece of matzah is given to each person at the table to eat.

New Testament meaning:

Leaven causes bread to “puff” up & be full - sin causes man to be prideful, “puff” up & be full of himself. Unleavened bread is flat bread that contains no leavening agent, and symbolizes the absence of sin.

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. 1 Corinthians 5:8

Jesus replied, "I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. John 8:34

The three matzah represent the Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. As in Jewish tradition, the middle piece is broken and is a picture of the suffering of Jesus. Just as leaven represents sin, unleavened bread represents Jesus, who was born without sin. We partake of unleavened bread to symbolize our acceptance and gratitude for the Messiah's broken body:

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. 1 Peter 2:24

As in Jewish custom, half of the broken middle piece is carefully wrapped in linen and hidden and to be found after the meal by the little children, who then receive a small reward upon finding the broken piece of unleavened bread. This is an image of death, burial and resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Only after partaking of the Lamb of God who was slain for our transgressions do we understand and take hold of the reward given to those who seek for Him. See: Matthew 18:3; Matthew 19:14; Jeremiah 29:13

~ Bitter Herbs (Maror) ~

Old Testament meaning:

Bitter Herbs is usually fresh ground horseradish, however sometimes romaine lettuce or a plate of bitter vegetables such as radishes, parsley, and celery are served instead. These bitter herbs symbolize the bitterness of Egyptian slavery. Some prefer mild horseradish, although others say that it doesn't serve its purpose (to remind us of the bitterness of slavery) unless it's hot enough to bring tears to the eyes.

The fourteenth day of the second month at even they shall keep it, and eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Numbers 9:11

And they shall eat the flesh in that night, roast with fire, and unleavened bread; and with bitter herbs they shall eat it. Exodus 12:8

They made their lives bitter with hard labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their hard labor the Egyptians used them ruthlessly. Exodus 1:14

New Testament meaning:

Among believers, bitter herbs symbolize the bitterness of sin, and a life without Jesus.

For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin." Acts 8:23

For Passover in our home, we eat horseradish as bitter herbs. My husband prepares his own homemade horseradish. He skins the root and uses a grater to shred until it is finely ground. Horseradish will continue to get more pungent as it sits - getting hotter and hotter until the flavor eventually becomes very bitter. The next step is important, and very revealing. To properly “finish” horseradish and prevent it from becoming overwhelmingly pungent, you need to finish it with a little vinegar. Now, with this process in mind, read this scripture:

Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. John 19:28-30

Just as vinegar finishes the sting of horseradish, Jesus’ last step before his Passover sacrifice was to taste vinegar. With this, Jesus said, “It is finished”… The sting of sin has been quenched forever!


  1. What a beautifully written and helpful article. May it be used by God to enrich many.

  2. This is a Hebrew Christian tradition since their was no such thing as a Jew in the old testament. Nice article otherwise. Thanks

  3. Thank you for this post, it was very helpful to me. I am presently preparing a blog on Easter and the meaning it holds for Christians. The history and scriptures you provide are awesome.

    Pastor Billy Wade

  4. An excellent overview. Thank you for this timely summary.
    So do you observe the days of Unleavened Bread as the apostle Paul and the disciples did?
    There is so much meaning to be derived from their observance.