Theme: Cleanse Me with Hyssop
In this week’s lessons we see from the life of David the biblical way to deal with our sin, and learn what God’s response is toward us when we do.
Scripture: Psalm 51:1-9
I mentioned earlier that the psalm seems to move in triple parallel statements. The same is true in verses 7-9. These list three things David wanted God to do: “cleanse me with hyssop” (v. 7), “wash me” (v. 7) and “blot out all my iniquity” (v. 9). The verbs are repeated from verses 1 and 2.
“Cleanse” means “purge.” But it is based on the word for sin (chattah) and literally means “de-sin” me. David wanted to have his sin completely purged away. He did not want to retain even a stain of it. “Wash” refers to the lustrations of the law. Centuries later Isaiah would write, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool” (Isa. 1:18). David wanted to be washed until he was as clean as that. “Blot out” refers to removing writing from a book, perhaps removing an indictment. It is the exact opposite of Pilate’s words at the time of Jesus trial and crucifixion: “What I have written, I have written” (John 19:22).
Here is an illustration. There are certain ancient Bible manuscripts called palimpsests. They are pieces of papyrus (or some other ancient book material) which at one time contained a different text. But because this text was no longer needed and the material on which it was written was expensive, someone rubbed out the old writing, turned the sheet sideways and wrote new words. This is what David wanted and what we all desperately need. The books of our lives have been written upon with many sins, and these stand as a terrible indictment against us. Unless something is done, they are going to be read out against us at the last day. But God can and will do something, if we ask him. God will rub out the ancient writing, turn the pages sideways and write over the newly prepared surface the message of his everlasting compassion through the work of Jesus Christ.
This is not possible without great cost, of course. This is taught in the four words that begin verse 7, words which I think are the most important in the entire psalm though they are probably also the least understood. They are the words, “Cleanse me with hyssop.”
Hyssop was a small plant frequently found growing in the crevices of stone walls, as Solomon observed (1 Kings 4:33). Because of its shape and structure, it was used as a small brush. In the ceremonies of the temple it was used to sprinkle blood. The first time it is mentioned in the Bible is at the Passover when the Jews were leaving Egypt: “Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it into the blood in the basin and put some of the blood on the top and on both sides of the doorframe” (Exod. 12:22). When the angel of death saw the blood he passed over the Jewish households and the firstborn in those homes did not die. After that we are told how hyssop was used to sprinkle blood on one who had been healed of some infectious skin disease in an act of ceremonial cleansing (Lev. 14:4, 6) and how it was used in a similar ceremony to cleanse one who had defiled himself by touching a dead body (Num. 19:18).
The author of Hebrews is informative. He indicates that hyssop was used of the enacting of the covenant in Moses’ day: “When Moses had proclaimed every commandment 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 blood both the tabernacle and everything used in its ceremonies.” The author then adds, “In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Heb. 9:19-22).
Of course, this is what David understood and meant when he asked that God cleanse him with hyssop. He meant “cleanse me by the blood.” Forgive me and regard me as cleansed on the basis of the innocent victim that has died. That is how we must come to God too. Forgiveness? We need it badly. But “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” It is only on the basis of the shed blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, that we may find God’s mercy. Have you found mercy? Your sin may be as great as David’s, even greater. But however great it is, you will find God to be wonderfully merciful if you will come to him as David did.
List and define the three words David uses to describe what he wanted the Lord to do for him.
What illustration does Dr. Boice use to explain verse 9?
What is the historical and theological significance of David’s asking the Lord to cleanse him with hyssop?
Reflection: Read Hebrews 9:11-15, and use this as a basis to praise the Lord for his work of redemption through the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ for you.