Purify Me with Hyssop: Psalm 51 (part 8)

“Purify me with hyssop and I will be clean;

deep clean me, and I will be made whiter than snow.”

(Psalm 51:9 {Psalm 51:7 in English Bibles})


David understands well one of the most important lessons that any human can learn:  it is only God and God alone who can cleanse from sin.  No amount of good deeds or sacrifice on our part can atone for our sin—certainly, by human effort we can satisfy our human judges and often placate the other humans we have offended—that is all well and good—but dealing with God is an entirely different matter.  God is not impressed by even our greatest feats—has not the skill to perform such feats come from God to begin with?  God is not impressed by all the wealth in the world—does not all the wealth of the universe come from His creative hand?  Oh, beloved, as we have spoken earlier, though our offense may be against another human being, our sin is against God, and our efforts fall woefully short of being able to satisfy his justice.

You might say, ‘were there not sacrifices made by the priests to atone for sin throughout the history of ancient Israel?’  Indeed, there were many sacrifices.  On the Day of Atonement and on the Day of Passover, blood poured out of the temple and onto the streets of Jerusalem from the hundreds of thousands of animals slaughtered.  Yet, friends, these sacrifices were not only temporary sacrifices, they also pointed to a far greater sacrifice that would come, when Jesus Christ, the Son of God himself, allowed himself to be sacrificed on the day of Passover for our sins—your sins, if you are a born again believer in Jesus Christ, and my sins.  Loved ones, the only reason that ancient sacrifices were of any value was because of what would come; their only power and effectiveness came from the reality and the potency of what they pointed to—namely the death of God’s divine Son on the cross.

Thus, forgiveness is God’s to give, not man’s to earn.  How often we seek to do things to atone for our own sins, as if these things will impress God.  How often we punish ourselves by depriving ourselves of God’s good blessings, thinking that God will be pleased by our actions.  Dear friends, remember, God is the one who gives out and who takes away all good blessings—if he desires to strip you of blessings as a means of chastising you and rebuking you, he will do so.  If God desires to chastise you in other ways, he will do so, for he chastises those he loves (Hebrews 12:6) just like a father chastises his children.  At the same time, if we repent with a broken and a contrite heart and God desires to show mercy upon us, why do we shun such affection?  Indeed, we are unworthy of such blessing in the wake of our sin, but are we not always unworthy of the blessings of God?  Are we not deserving only of wrath and judgment even on our best days?  Beloved, it is God’s to forgive, and it is God’s to wash you clean.

The Hebrew word that David uses in the second line is the word sb;k’ (kabas), which normally is the verb that means “to wash” or “to clean.”  Yet, David uses it in the Piel stem, which is a grammatical form that adds not only intensity, but a sense that it is repeated over and over.  In Hebrew, when this verb is used in the Piel, it refers to a deep cleansing that is done, much like you may scrub a stain over and over again to make sure every last remnant of the stain has been removed.  Forgiveness is a deep cleansing from God, one that not only removes the surface stain, but one that cleanses even to the core of our being. 

One other note of importance:  hyssop was an important element in ancient purification rituals.  It was a small, bushy plant in ancient times that the priests would pluck small branches from, dip the bushy end into either water or blood (depending on the ritual), and then sprinkle the water or blood onto the person as a sign of their cleansing (some have argued that it was likely a hyssop branch that John the Baptist was using, dipped into the Jordan river and sprinkling on those who came for baptism rather than immersing them into the river—for a great discussion on this, read Edmund Fairfield’s “Letters on Baptism”).  This sprinkling was meant as a visible sign of the forgiveness that the repentant person sought.  In seeking forgiveness from God, David is placing before him the request that the forgiveness be both visible and on the surface (the hyssop), but also deep down and to the very depth of his being (sb;k’).  Oh, how we need such total forgiveness in the wake of our manifold sins!

Beloved, hear these words of David and apply them to your own lives.  Is this how you repent, falling on the mercy of God and recognizing it is only in God’s hands that forgiveness can be given?  Or do you seek to “earn” forgiveness by doing certain things that you perceive as being noteworthy before God?  Loved ones, let grace be grace.  Come to Christ with nothing in your hands and do not despise it when he fills your hands with mercy and grace.  Come to him with a broken and contrite heart and let him heal you—let him deep clean you to the deepest recesses of your soul.  The hyssop is good and important, but it is the deep cleaning we need and it can only be given by God in his abundant grace and mercy.  Come to Jesus, beloved, come to Jesus and live!

Weak and wounded sinner, lost and left to die,

O raise your head for Love is passing by.

Come to Jesus, Come to Jesus,

Come to Jesus and live.

Now your burden is lifted, carried far away,

And precious blood has washed away the stain,

So, sing to Jesus, sing to Jesus,

Sing to Jesus and live.

-Chris Rice 


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