I’m thrilled to have collaborated with my friend AdeleAlys for this week’s edition of Word Nerd Wednesday to talk about the significance of Hyssop in the Bible.
noun: hyssop; plural noun: hyssops
1.a small bushy aromatic plant of the mint family, the bitter minty leaves of which are used in cooking and herbal medicine.
2.(in biblical use) a wild shrub of uncertain identity whose twigs were used for sprinkling in ancient Jewish rites of purification.
According to Britannica, Hyssop is an evergreen plant in the mint family with a sweet scent and a warm bitter taste (https://www.britannica.com/plant/hyssop). It grows natively from Southern Europe to central Asia and has been introduced in North America. It produces small purplish blue flowers that grow in clusters along a woody stem.
Hyssop in the Bible
As we begin this Advent season it is tempting to get caught up in the frivolity of Christmas. But I can’t help being reminded of the real reason Christ came to earth.
You see, Christmas is just the beginning of the story of our salvation. The full story is found in the cradle, the cross, and the crown. Jesus was born to die, and rise again so that we might live eternally through the purification that comes from being washed in His blood.
And hyssop plays a significant symbolic role in that purification process.
Bible scholars debate the actual plant most translations refer to as hyssop. It could refer to the hyssop defined above, a form of marjoram, or even a plant related to what we know today as capers. Further, evidence suggests that the word we read as “hyssop” might actually refer to the tool, a variety of plant stalks tied together in a bunch used to dip and sprinkle the blood in cleansing and purification rituals.
Old Testament Hyssop
First in the book of Exodus as God gives the commands that institute Passover prior to the final plague and Israelites release from Egyptian slavery.
“And you shall take a bunch of hyssop, dip it in the blood that is in the basin and strike the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that is in the basin.”
Again, in Leviticus as God gives His people the law, He directs them to use hyssop for the cleansing of those cured of leprosy before their re-entry into the camp (Leviticus 14:3-7) and to purify and cleanse homes where mold was found (Leviticus 14:33-53). Then in Numbers 19, hyssop is burned in the fire with the red heifer to make ashes then added to water to be drunk to purify the body of certain sins.
Outer physical sprinkling was always symbolic of inner spiritual washing. Hyssop, considered to have it’s own cleansing properties, then, was the vehicle that delivered the tangible agent of purification, which always included blood.
In one of my favorite Psalms, David cries out to God to cleanse him with hyssop so that he might be clean and have the joy of his salvation returned to him.
“Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
Wash me, and I shall be white than snow.
Make me hear joy and gladness,
That the bones You have broken may rejoice
Hide Your face from my sins,
And blot out all my iniquities.”
New Testament Hyssop
Then, in the New Testament, Paul quotes the books of law as he reiterates God’s requirement of shed blood for our forgiveness.
“When Moses had proclaimed every command of the law to all the people, he took the blood of calves, together with 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.”
We know that Paul is referring to the blood Jesus shed upon the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. And wouldn’t you know Jesus’ very last act before declaring the work of salvation complete was to take drink of sour wine delivered to him on what the gospel of John calls hyssop.
“After this, Jesus, knowing all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, “I thirst!” Now a vessel full of sour wine was sitting there; and they filled a sponge with your wine, put it on hyssop, and put it to his mouth. So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.”
Hyssop Comes Full Circle
Just prior to His crucifixion, Jesus celebrated the Passover feast with his apostles. He declared His blood the blood of the New Covenant as He shared the cup with them, calling to mind the blood sprinkled on the doorposts of the Israelites quarters in Egypt. Blood saved them then, and Jesus’ blood saves us today once and for all. It is only fitting, Bible authors mention hyssop in both places, too.
As we prepare the outward reminders of Christmas this year, let us also ponder the inward cleansing and purification Jesus’ blood makes possible.Hyssop was a tool used in purification rituals and was present at Christ's crucifixion. #hyssop #wordnerdwednesday Click To Tweet
The daughter of a Lutheran minister and a Catholic college professor, Adele-Alys faith life has always been a patchwork. Married to a Jewish man for 38 years, she delved deeply into his faith. It sharpened my picture of Jesus and popped my spiritual ears in ways I could not imagine.” You can connect Adele-Alys via Twitter (@morgantonrose), Pinterest, and her blog (adelealysblog.wordpress.com).
Linking Up With
For more encouragement please join the discussions on these fabulous blog link ups – Suzanne Eller, Faith On Fire, Susan B. Mead, Faith Filled Friday, Grace and Truth, Faith and Fellowship Friday, Soul Survival, Rah Rah Link Up, Tell His Story, Sitting Among Friends, Testimony Tuesday, Planting Roots, and Fresh Market Friday, Salt and Light.