One of the beloved chapters of Scripture for many Christians is Psalm 51, which relates King David’s confession after his sinful encounter with Bathsheba and subsequent murder of her husband, Uriah. Verse 7 contains a statement that rings somewhat strange to our 21st Century ears:
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Having been confronted by the prophet Nathan, David was filled with an overwhelming godly sorrow for having sinned against Bathsheba, Uriah, all of Israel . . . but most importantly, against God. With a broken and contrite heart David cried, “Purge me with hyssop.”
So . . . what in the world is hyssop and why did David want to be purged with it?
The dictionary defines hyssop as a small, perennial garden herb of the mint family, with small, violet-blue or sometimes pink or white flowers. The hyssop of the Scriptures (also in 1 Kings 4:33 and John 19:29) may have been a similar plant. But knowing about the hyssop plant will not provide insight into David’s heartfelt confession. Knowing Old Testament history will.
David’s prayer recalls the time of the Passover, when the angel of death struck down the firstborn of Egypt while God protected His people.
Then Moses called all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go and select lambs for yourselves according to your clans, and kill the Passover lamb. Take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that is in the basin. None of you shall go out of the door of his house until the morning. For the Lord will pass through to strike the Egyptians, and when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you. (Exodus 12:21-23)
David was undoubtedly remembering God’s instruction to “take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood [of the lamb].” The bloody doorposts were a sign for the angel of death to pass over the homes containing the firstborn of Israel. Frankly acknowledging the reality of the depravity of his own heart, David cried out to the only One who could help him—God. David needed protection. David needed forgiveness. David needed cleansing. David needed what only God can provide.
We, too, need protection and forgiveness and cleansing, and we have it in the once-for-all shed blood of the Lamb of God. The first Passover was but a shadow of that great Passover, when Jesus Christ would lay down His life for sinners. Because of what Jesus did for us on the cross, we can cry out with David, “Purge me with hyssop,” knowing that our protection is promised, our forgiveness is freely given, and our cleansing is continual.
David had the promise. We have the Person, and His name is Jesus Christ. Because of His saving blood, we are finally and fully clean from all our sin in the sight of God . . . He sees us as whiter than snow!
This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!