By Robert Halsey Pine
“You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.” (Psalm 51 NRSV).
David recognized his sinful nature and made many appeals to God to save him from himself. Our hearts easily become unclean and need cleansing. It is interesting that David chooses the hyssop plant to be figuratively purged with by God. It was hyssop that Moses instructed the Israelites to use to dip in lambs blood and brush the lintel and door posts of their homes at the first Passover (Exodus 12:21,22).
Just before his death on the cross, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” And as St. John tells us (19:28,29 NRSV), “A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, ‘It is finished.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” Hyssop must have been a handy and useful plant of Jesus’ time. In these examples we see it used in three different ways. That is to cleanse, to help protect and to facilitate comforting.
There may have been some hyssop around when I had my brain surgery several years ago. The Lord was at work in my situation and I certainly felt cleansed, protected, and comforted. When I read David’s words, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow,” they bring back memories of God’s intervention in what outwardly appeared to be a troublesome situation for me. He turned it into a blessing.
I had a specific sense of being forgiven for my sins by God. As David requested for himself, I felt that I had been purged of all sin, and washed and scrubbed squeaky clean and white. In all of it, I felt a peace and comfort that gave me an understanding of the love of God for me and for everyone. I heard joy and gladness. My broken body rejoiced. He hid His face from my sins. He created in me a clean heart, and put a new and right spirit within me!
Robert Halsey Pine was born at Newark, Ohio in 1943. He is a graduate of Northeastern University and completed the program of Theological Education by Extension: Education for Ministry, School of Theology, the University of the South.