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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. (Matthew 13:33)
What is leaven? Leaven is an agent that causes fermentation and expansion of dough. Baking soda and yeast are both leavening agents. Also, dough that has yeast can be used to leaven a new batch of dough.
Why leaven? Bruce R. McConkie wrote:
The mustard seed became a tree that displayed the kingdom of heaven on earth before the world, but the leaven worked silently, without observation, unknown to many among men, to establish the plans and purposes of Divine Providence.
In this parable of the leaven we see the glory and triumph of the kingdom in the hearts of men. The Messianic kingdom comes not in martial splendor; there are no rolling drums and tramping feet; the Son of David does not march before his armies; trumpets do not herald his coming, and standard bearers raise no visible ensign to the nations. The new kingdom like leaven, is hidden in the hearts of men. The leaven of life, the leaven of righteousness, the leaven of the word of Godthe yeast of eternal truthis "kneaded" into the souls of men. Then its spreading, penetrating, life-giving effect enlarges the soul and "raises" sinners into saints.
Legal administrators teach the gospel and testify of its divinity; their testimonies, hidden in the hearts and minds of men, begin the soul-enlarging process of conversion. Lumps of lifeless dough live, and after being baked in the ovens of life become as desirable to the taste as the manna once rained from heaven upon the Lord's people. (Bruce R. McConkie, The Mortal Messiah, Vol.2, p.262)
James E. Talmage remarked on the parable of the mustard seed and the parable of the leaven:
Points of both similarity and contrast between this parable and the last are easily discerned. In each the inherent vitality and capacity for development, so essentially characteristic of the kingdom of God, are illustrated. The mustard seed, however, typifies the effect of vital growth in gathering the substance of value from without; while the leaven or yeast disseminates and diffuses outward its influence throughout the mass of otherwise dense and sodden dough. Each of the processes represents a means whereby the Spirit of Truth is made effective. Yeast is no less truly a living organism than a mustard seed. As the microscopic yeast plant develops and multiplies within the dough, its myriad living cells permeate the lump, and every bit of the leavened mass is capable of affecting likewise another batch of properly prepared meal. The process of leavening, or causing dough to rise," by the fermentation of the yeast placed in the mass, is a slow one, and moreover as quiet and seemingly secret as that of the planted seed growing without the sower's further attention or concern. (James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ, Ch.19, p.291 - p.292)
However, leaven has some bad connotations, such as pride or insidious spreading of evil. James E. Talmage explains some of the positive and negative aspects of leaven:
The Symbolism of Leaven. -- In the parable, the kingdom of heaven is likened unto leaven. In other scriptures leaven is figuratively mentioned as representing evil, thus, "the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees" (Matt. 16:6, see also Luke 12:1), "the leaven of Herod" (Mark 8:15). These instances, and others (1 Cor. 5:7, 8) are illustrative of the contagion of evil. In the incident of the woman using leaven in the ordinary process of bread-making, the spreading, penetrating, vital effect of truth is symbolized by the leaven. The same thing in different aspects may very properly be used to represent good in one instance and evil in another. (James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ, Ch.19, p.302 - p.303)
With all of these connotations about leaven, why is the Passover bread unleavened (Exodus 13:6)? It takes time to make leaven bread, it has to rise. The children of Israel left Egypt in a hurry and did not have to time to leaven their bread. Thus, unleaven bread reminds them of their rescue from Egypt. (see Exodus 13:8)
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