Monday, September 30, 2013

The Hyssop Connection

I am once again enthralled by the Scriptures.

The word hyssop came up in my reading of Psalm 51 and it caught my attention. 

"Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow." verse 7

What exactly does it mean here and where have I seen it before?

I began with a little research on what hyssop is. I found out it's a plant that is difficult to identify exactly. It was common in biblical times, but there's uncertainty about its precise use. Some say it functioned as an early type of sponge. Others suggest it was a sort of wrapping to keep the liquid from splattering from a more spongey type of plant.

This information seemed to make sense with the historical perspective of David asking the LORD to use hyssop, whatever it looked like or literal purpose it served, to purify him from the blood guilt sin of having Uriah killed.

More significance about cleansing jumped out at me the next place I found the word.

"Then Moses summoned all the elders of Israel and said to them, 'Go at once and select the animals for your families and slaughter the Passover lamb. Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it into the blood in the basin and put some of the blood on the top and on both sides of the doorframe. Not one of you shall go out the door of his house until morning. When the LORD goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, he will see the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe and will pass over that doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down.'" Exodus 12:21-23

In this setting God directed that hyssop be used to spread blood on Israelite doorways. The sign of the death of the sacrificial lamb would protect His faithful ones from the coming judgment and thereby bring them life in the face of death. 

So perhaps David's later request for hyssop in Psalm 51 implies a desire to be covered with a blood sacrifice. Maybe in addition to pleading for forgiveness David is crying out to God to protect him from judgment and extend his life as He did for the Israelites at Passover.

Leviticus also contains specific directions for washing with hyssop. It was to be an element in ceremonial cleansing - for a person from disease, and a house from mold. In both instances the blood of a bird sacrificed over water was required. Leviticus 4:4,6,49,51,52

In Numbers God gives instructions on using hyssop in cleansing rituals. First Eleazar the priest was to sprinkle the blood of a flawless heifer with its seven times toward the front of the Tent of Meeting. Later a man who was "ceremonially clean" was to sprinkle fresh water with it over the tent and all its furnishings, the people who were there, and anyone who had been in contact with a dead person. Purification is once again the explained purpose. Numbers 19:6,18

Once again I saw hyssop being used to apply blood as the God-required sanitizing agent.

1 Kings 4:33 tells us about Solomon displaying his wisdom by explaining about the hyssop plant. He reported that it grew in walls. Didn't get much else from that mini-fact.

By appearance I was back to Psalm 51, but my curiosity was not satisfied. I was delighted to see that the final two passages with hyssop are found in the New Testament, the most touching perhaps found in John 19:28-30.

"Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the 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 aid, 'It is finished.' With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit."

God did not randomly throw together the Bible. He inspired each word with His own breath and preserved every one down through the ages. This passage implies that there was something specific about the hyssop that required its inclusion in the closing moments of the life of His Son, our Savior - "so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, 'I am thirsty.'

He expressed the need which led to the lifting of the hyssop branch. Why?

In this scene vinegar is delivered to Jesus, blood is not sprinkled. The use of hyssop could not be a coincidence. My mind began to review the various Old Testament, God-directed ceremonies; to affect purification, most often to smear the blood of a sacrificed animal, to cleanse from sin, to protect from death, and to bring life. Another faithful and meaningful foreshadowing thread from the Old into the New Testament materialized. 

The lack of blood on the branches in the Calvary passage suddenly made sense. 

The hyssop raised to Christ's lips is a powerful symbol or clue concerning the blood of the spotless Lamb being sacrificed to purify the stain of sin, to protect from the sting of death, to furnish complete forgiveness, to bring new life to those for whom He came as a ransom.

The power of the image carried me over to Hebrews 9:19-22.

"When Moses had proclaimed every commandment of the law to all the people, he took the blood of calves, together with the water, scarlet wool and branches of hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll and all the people. He said, 'This is the blood of the covenant, which God has commanded you to keep.' In the same way, he sprinkled with the blood both the tabernacle and everything used in its ceremonies. In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin."

God declared through Moses that the hyssop was to be the applicator of the sacrificial blood according to His covenant promise. 

The sprinkling sanctified His Word, the meeting place for worship and everything connected with it, and anything else held holy to Him. The washing in shed blood was the specific pattern set down to grant forgiveness from God toward Man.

Eight different translations contain these same 12 references with the word hyssopThe continuity of understanding cannot be ignored. The application of Christ's sacrifice to relieve the debt before The Holy God follows the same Creator-ordained pattern. The sprinkling of the Savior's blood marks the believer, protecting us from death, providing forgiveness, and bringing us new life.   Hallelujah!

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