We recently observed Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Chag haMatzot). I suppose studying what the Bible has to say about bread is an obvious topic after that, but it’s been a more interesting study than I’d expected for something that seems so basic. Even the Lord’s model prayer that so many of us memorize talks about bread, and it has more to say on that topic than I’d assumed. Bread also acts as a spiritual symbol in scripture–Jesus calls Himself the “Bread of Life” and Paul talks about what kind of bread we’re supposed to be.
Bread for Each Day
So pray this way:
Our Father in heaven, may your name be honored,Matthew 6:9-13, NET
may your kingdom come,
may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts, as we ourselves have forgiven our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
The phrase “our daily bread” involves a curious word. In Greek, “daily” is epiousios (G1967) and it’s only used here and in Luke’s account of this same prayer. It’s not even used outside of the Bible anywhere but other “early Christian literature,” which makes the meaning hard to figure out (NET footnote). “Daily” is just a best-guess for the translation. Other suggestions include “the coming day,” “for existence” (NET footnote), “the bread of our necessity,” and “the bread that suffices for each day” (Thayer’s dictionary).
I wonder if, in using a word that indicated sufficient, needed bread for each day, Jesus might have been thinking about Proverbs 30. Here, Agur asks for two things from God: “Remove falsehood and lies far from me; do not give me poverty or riches” (Prov. 30:7-8, NET). This last one might seem an odd request–who wouldn’t want to be rich?–and Agur provides further details.
feed me with my allotted portion of bread,Proverbs 30:8-9, NET
lest I become satisfied and act deceptively
and say, “Who is the Lord?”
Or lest I become poor and steal
and demean the name of my God.
It seems there’s as much of a danger in feeling as if you are “rich and have acquired great wealth, and need nothing” (to quote the Laodiceans from Revelation 3) as there is in being so poverty stricken that you’re in danger of starving. Neither extreme is healthy, and so balance in prosperity is a prayer worth praying. We need balance–both in the physical things like Agur is talking about and in the spiritual things that Jesus is talking about in the letter to Laodicea (Rev. 3:14-22).
I usually think of the request in the model prayer as asking for provision of needs, with bread standing in for all the things like food and clothing that Jesus tells us we don’t need to worry about just a little later in this same sermon (Matt. 6:25-34). I recently heard someone point out, though, that the focus of this prayer isn’t on physical things. It’s about honoring God’s name, praying for His will and His kingdom, and asking for forgiveness and deliverance. There’s no reason not to assume physical provision is included, but it’s likely that Jesus also intended for us to think about spiritual bread. He is, after all, the bread of life.
Living Bread from Heaven
After one of the loaves and fishes miracles (recorded in John 6), Jesus crossed over to the other side of a lake and the whole multitude followed Him. There, He told them they’d followed Him not because they believed He was the Messiah or because they saw miracles, but because they’d eaten a free meal. He advised them, “Do not work for the food that disappears, but for the food that remains to eternal life” (John 6:27, NET). To work for this eternal food, they must do “the deed God requires—to believe in the one whom he sent” (6:29). Then, these same people who’d just seen Jesus turn five loaves of bread and two fish into enough food for more than 5,000 people with 12 baskets full of leftovers, actually asked Him, “what miraculous sign will you perform, so that we may see it and believe you?” They even brought up the manna in the wilderness miracle, showing full well that they knew they’d seen one bread miracle and were asking for another (John 6:30-31).
Jesus and His Father weren’t focused on delivering physical bread this time, though. There wasn’t going to be a repeat of free food on the ground every morning when the Israelites woke up (Ex. 16:4-36). Rather, they’d planned a far more enduring way to satisfy a deeper, spiritual hunger. Yes, Jesus fed the people when they were hungry but the plan was to go far beyond providing for physical needs. Just as Jesus was here on earth to take the Law and the Covenants to a deeper, higher, fuller level, He did the same thing with the miracle of bread from heaven.
“I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that has come down from heaven, so that a person may eat from it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats from this bread he will live forever. The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh. … the one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.”John 6:48-51, 54-55, NET
This brings us right back to where we started this post: Passover and Unleavened Bread. Jesus’s flesh is symbolized by the bread and His blood by the wine that form the core symbols of the New Covenant Passover (Matt. 26:26-30; 1 Cor. 11:23-26). The invitation for us to eat this bread from heaven is also an invitation to be part of His covenant community and be sustained by God.
Our Unleavened Lives
Grace and salvation through Jesus Christ are gifts that we can do nothing to earn. Once we accept those gifts, though, we enter a reciprocal covenant relationship with God. We are supposed to respond a certain way after we’ve received grace. In other words, it is because of the Bread of Life that we ourselves can take on the characteristics of a very particular kind of bread.
Purge out the old yeast, that you may be a new lump, even as you are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, has been sacrificed in our place. Therefore let’s keep the feast, not with old yeast, neither with the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.1 Cor. 5:7-8, WEB
Because we “eat” the Bread of Life, we become “unleavened” bread. Symbolically during the Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread, leaven represents sin. Eating unleavened bread for that seven-day festival pictures us putting sin out of our lives and replacing it with His character. During the remaining days of the year, though we are free to eat yeasted and otherwise leavened breads, the importance of turning to God to fill all our needs (including our need to daily take-in Jesus Christ) remains the same.
God is concerned about our physical needs. He appreciates it when we choose not to fret about where we’ll get our physical daily bread and instead ask Him to provide (as Jesus did in His model prayer), trusting that He can and will take care of us. Even more than that, though, He is concerned about supplying our spiritual needs because that has eternal ramifications. We also ought to pray for God to “give us today our daily Bread of Life,” trusting that He will satisfy our spiritual hunger.
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