Cleanse Me With Hyssop

Cleanse Me With Hyssop

Cleanse me with hyssop and I will be clean; wash me and I will be whiter than snow.
— Psalm 51:7 NIV

It's a familiar story.  One that I have read countless times.

I have a daughter who loves Moses.  Given the opportunity to read any story in the Bible, she always heads to the book of Exodus to read about her hero.  She loves to hear of his childhood, how he was saved by a mother who loved him, a sister who was so brave, and God who had a plan for his life. She loves to hear how he met God in a miraculous way when he was herding sheep, and his life was forever changed when he was sent back into the mess he ran away from. She loves to hear how God used him to set his people free in a show down that has us all cheering, and she even loves to see him lead a group of people that sometimes has us hitting our hands against our foreheads because we can't believe the things they do. 

When I got to Exodus in my Bible reading plan I felt the comfort of finding an old friend, and the temptation to skim through and assume I already knew the story as well as I ever could. This is a temptation that I face with many of the familiar stories in the Bible.

This year I am choosing to read carefully and look for the things that I might have missed before, to dig deeper and try to understand more.  I am so glad I did.

When I got to Exodus 12, I found a small detail that I hadn't noticed before.  If I had been skimming or speed reading just to check today's reading off the list, I would have missed it for sure.

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.
— Exodus 12:22 NIV

The only time that I had heard of hyssop was in Psalm 51;  a Psalm that we attribute to Kind David, when Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.  We use it often at church as a corporate confession, and I have wondered what hyssop was. Was it animal, vegetable, mineral? Was it the Brillo pad of the ancient world? Did it have natural cleaning properties? What was hyssop? 

I investigated further using an online Bible dictionary and found that hyssop is:

  • an indigenous plant to western Asia and northern Africa. (1 Kings 4:33)
  • used by the Israelites to sprinkle the blood of the lamb on the doorposts and lintels just before the Passover escape from Egypt. (Exodus 12:22)
  • is used to sprinkle blood in purifications. (Leviticus 14) (Hebrews 9:19)
  • is used in the sacrifices of separation. (Numbers 19:6)
  • is used in giving Jesus vinegar on the cross. (John 19:29)

Wait, what?  Hyssop was in this other very familiar story, and I missed it there too?  I flipped to John 19:29 to read it myself.

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 Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and he gave up his spirit.
— John 19:28-30 NIV

In this one word, I had found how God had woven together, over hundreds of pages, the first Passover, the acts required for purification in the law, King David's cry for forgiveness, and Jesus.

In this one word we see judgement deflected, freedom given, the complicated process of being right before God, what to do when we are faced with our own sin, our sin washed away by God, and Jesus. Jesus who deflected our judgement and sets us free. Who came so that we wouldn't have the complicated process to be right with God, and have to follow the law of the Old Testament any longer. Jesus who washes us whiter than snow because he became the Passover Lamb and took our sin upon himself.

I'm left wondering what if in John 19:28, when it says that "Jesus did this so that Scripture would be fulfilled" it wasn't just making reference to Psalm 22:15, and Psalm 69:21,  as I've read at other times, but he was also showing that he was the Passover Lamb?  After all, this was taking place as Jews were preparing to celebrate Passover that night.  Some scholars think that Jesus' death took place at the very same time as the evening sacrifice at the Temple. This evening sacrifice was a time where they would pray for redemption, the forgiveness of sins, the coming of the Messiah, and the resurrection of the dead. (www.thesacredpage.com)

The next Sunday when we recite Psalm 51, it will have new meaning for me.  I'm not just asking for my heart to be scrubbed with a Brillo Pad, but I am asking for the ultimate sacrifice; Jesus dying for me to cleanse me and make me whiter than snow. I'm acknowledging that in Jesus the work has already been finished.

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