“Purify me with hyssop till I am clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow,” Psalm 51:7 (NIV)
Hyssop, (Latin name: Hyssopus Officinalis) is a purple-spiked, fragrant, mint-flavored and slightly bitter plant, well known in Bible times.
For thousands of years it has been used in Middle Eastern and Arabic cooking.
God told the Israelites before they were to embark on their journey from Egypt to the Promised Land: “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. And none of you shall go out of the door of his house until morning.” Exodus 12:22 ( NIV)
While Christians during Passover (Eastern) celebrate Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection, around the same time the Jewish people celebrate Pesach – the commemoration of the Exodus.
The Samaritans living on Mount Gerazim (Samaria, Israel) still carry out the laws of the Pentateuch exactly as written, and use hyssop for their Passover rites.
Centuries after God had given Moses the Law, scientist admitted that throughout the ages many lives could have been saved if they had followed His rules for healthy living. Traveling through the desert with so many people, the Israelites hygiene was of utmost importance. When someone was healed of a skin disease, this is what had to be done:
“Then the priest shall command to take for him who is to be cleansed two living and clean birds, cedar wood, scarlet, and hyssop. And the priest shall command that one of the birds be killed in an earthen vessel over running water. As for the living bird, he shall take it, the cedar wood and the scarlet and the hyssop and dip them and the living bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the running water.” Leviticus 14:4-6
When Solomon built the Jerusalem Temple, the building was cleansed by the priests by using the strong-smelling hyssop. But even today, this practice can be found in the Roman Catholic Church, where priests sprinkle hyssop holy water on the congregants.
In Biblical times, even the common people had heard about the hyssop plant, described by King Solomon.
“Also he spoke of trees, from the cedar tree of Lebanon even to the hyssop that springs out of the wall; he spoke also of animals, of birds, of creeping things, and of fish.” 1 Kings 4:33
Now having ready made medication, the ancient people used hyssop for treating sore throats to the healing of wounds and bruises. Researchers from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem found that hyssop does have infection-fighting properties.
In 17th century Europe hyssop was a popular air freshener (used as a potpourri) and much used to improve the smell of sick rooms.
Pride, in Jewish tradition is symbolized with the lofty cedar tree, while modesty and humility is represented by the lowly hyssop.
After a leper was confirmed healed by the priest, he was cleansed by using cedar wood and hyssop. According to Rabbi Isaac bar Tavlai the leper had been proud like a cedar, but God humbled him like hyssop, that is crushed by everyone.
The story goes that when the High Priest on Yom Kippur (day of Atonement) offered the stipulated sacrifices to make atonement for the people, the scarlet woolen string that was tied to the Temple door turned white.
David probably refers to this in Psalm 51:7, “Purify me with hyssop till I am clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow,”
In order to be saved from certain death the Israelites were told to smear the blood of the Pascal lamb with a bunch of hyssop on the doorpost of their houses.
While Jesus hung on the cross,”… a vessel full of sour wine was sitting there; and they filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on hyssop and put it to His mouth.” John 19:29
Jesus, the unblemished Pesach Lamb, gave himself to be sacrificed during Pesach (Passover). By shedding his blood for us we are cleansed from our sins; as if purified with hyssop, we are washed and whiter than snow. Forgiven!