Hyssop, Blood and Water
© C. O. Bishop 2013 THCF 3/17/2013 revised 5/29/2021
Exodus 12:22; Leviticus 14:1-7; Psalm 119:9; John 15:3; Ephesians 5:26
Recently, I was reading Psalm 51, the prayer of David for forgiveness and cleansing after his sin with Bathsheba, and I was drawn to the passage (v.7) “Purge me with Hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.”
What a curious thing to say! In our culture, Hyssop is unheard of, let alone being associated with cleansing of any sort. But from the time of the Exodus to the time of Christ, the woody shrub called “Ezov” in Hebrew, commonly translated “Hyssop,” was used in the blood sacrifices for sin, as well as the ritual cleansing of those whom God had healed of leprosy, and other such things.
Hyssop and Blood: Salvation
When God ordained the Passover (Exodus 12:22), he did not just say, take some of the blood of this lamb, and smear it on the door-frame: he specifically said “ye shall take a bunch of hyssop, and dip it into the blood in the basin, and strike the lintel, and the two doorposts with the Blood.”
The result was to be that the family thus protected was shielded from the wrath to come.
Hyssop, Blood and Water: Cleansing
Later, in Leviticus 14:1-7 (read it), hyssop was used again, in the ceremonial cleansing of a leper whom God had healed. Interestingly, in that passage, there was not only blood but water mentioned. There were two birds needed for this ceremony—one to die, and one to live. One shed its blood; the other was covered with the blood but was released to fly free. It took two birds to demonstrate the reality of Christ who bore our iniquities, and by whose stripes we have been healed of our dreadful disease…called Sin. The live bird, coated in the blood of the sacrificed bird represents the new life we have in Christ. We live under His blood.
Have you thought about the fact that leprosy was used in the Old Testament as a picture of sin? It was incurable, except by God, and it was contagious, unlike some other diseases. When God healed a leper, that person was to present himself to the priest, who would examine him and declare him clean (if indeed he was), and a sacrifice would be brought. The one bird was to be killed over running water, in an earthen vessel. Then the live bird was to be dipped in the blood of the dead bird –along with some cedar wood, scarlet (cloth?) and hyssop. Then the blood was sprinkled seven times on the person cleansed of leprosy and the priest was to pronounce him clean. The living bird was to be released to fly free.
Some other things to note—the leper did nothing to “get clean”—God did the healing. The leper only brought the required offering so that the priest could make the public declaration that the man was clean. Further, the priest came out (Completely outside the camp) to see the leper—the leper did not approach the priest inside the camp. We did not come to God for cleansing. He came to us in the person of Christ, to bring about our salvation, our healing, and our cleansing.
I can easily connect the sprinkling of blood to the blood sacrifice brought by Christ; and the living bird to the resurrection of Christ and that of the believer. But what about the Hyssop, the Cedar wood, the scarlet and the running water? I don’t know… maybe the hyssop was to remind them of the connection of the blood sacrifice to the Passover. The Passover is certainly a picture of Christ; and all the other blood sacrifices of the Old Testament, in one way or another, look forward to the Cross, as well. Perhaps the earthen vessel, for instance, speaks of the humanity of Christ as well as our own limitations as humans. What about the water? Possibly it is in reference to the Holy Spirit, as Jesus referred on more than one occasion to the well of “water” that, springing up within the believer, would result in eternal life. And in those passages, he definitely was referring to the Holy Spirit, as the scripture plainly states this to be the case. But it seems to me it could be something else, as well. Here in Leviticus it could be in reference to God’s Word. Why? Because he does this in reference to cleansing. It is not just a ceremony—it is pointing out a spiritual truth.
The Water of the Word
“How shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to…”— what? The Holy Spirit? Well, the Spirit is obviously the author of cleansing, it’s true, but in this specific passage (Psalm 119:9) it says that by taking heed to one’s life according to God’s Word, the believer can be cleansed. No one is saved, apart from the ministration of God’s Word—we are saved by Grace through faith. (Ephesians 2:8, 9) Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. (Romans 10:17) Jesus told his Disciples (the eleven who remained after Judas’ desertion) that they were clean—how? Through the Word which he had spoken unto them (John 15:3). His blood had yet to be shed: though they did not know it, when they placed their faith in the temple sacrifices, they still were looking forward to the Cross. But they had believed His Word, and had been cleansed before God.
Did you know that this particular prescription for cleansing (God’s Word) is the only way God says he can change your life? Of, course, if you haven’t placed your faith in His blood at the Cross, then even his Word can’t change you—you haven’t been saved; you haven’t been born again! The disciples had placed their faith in the blood of God’s chosen sacrifice, years before, and specifically, had believed His words, when they met Jesus face to face. But Jesus told Peter, who was already a believer, that if He, the living Word, was not allowed to “wash” Peter, then the two of them could have no fellowship at all. (John 13:8) He further reiterated that Peter and the rest (excluding Judas Iscariot) were already clean. (John 13:10) The foot-washing was not a representation of salvation, but of restored fellowship.
So there are two things at work, here—the hyssop, as it were—representing the application of the blood, by which we are purged from sin; and the washing—the cleansing by the Word. “Purge me with Hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.” In David’s day, the Holy Spirit had not been given (God says so, John 7:37-39). He knew of the Holy Spirit, and had tasted of His ministry in his own life (“…take not thy Holy Spirit from me…”), but the Spirit was not yet given in the personal presence of an eternal indwelling.
The same Psalmist who said “wash me and I shall be whiter than snow” also said “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to thy Word.” The connection is there for us to see.
Saved and cleansed for the purpose of Service
So…does the blood of Jesus continue to cleanse me, or is it strictly God’s Word, now? John says, (1st John 1:7) that “if we walk in the light as He is in the light (in obedience to God’s Word), we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son, cleanses us from all sin.” Yes! The blood shall forever continue to be the thing that makes us stand clean before God. So what does the “washing of water by the Word” accomplish? It brings about the practical cleansing of the believer’s life.
Jesus is in the process of cleansing the Bride of Christ, the Church, by the “washing of water, by the Word”, according to Ephesians 5:26. That is not how he saved us, but how he is cleansing us. And to what purpose does he cleanse us? Several things come to mind:
- Hebrews 10:19-22 says that we are to draw near to God, by the blood of Jesus, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. Do you think that “pure water” means plain old H2O? I really doubt it.
- Revelation 5:10 We are to be functioning as priests before God: We draw near to God with the sacrifices of Praise and Thanksgiving (Hebrews 13:15) Old Testament priests were cleansed first by the blood, and also the water of separation (Num. 19:1-19, v. 9).
- 2nd Corinthians 5:20 We are called to be ambassadors of God. We draw near to God with the sacrifices of Praise and Thanksgiving and we draw near to Men with the bread of Life, the Gospel; seeking to reconcile men to God. That takes a clean life.
- Ephesians 2:10 (We are created unto good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them.) We are to serve as those who have been redeemed; bought back out of the Marketplace of Sin, never to be sold again, set free, as was the bird of Leviticus; serving by a free will, clean and whole again. (How are we bought? We are bought by the Blood of Christ. How are we cleansed? We are cleansed by the Washing of Water, by the Word.)
So, then, the primary need of the unbeliever is to be saved—to have the blood of the sacrifice applied to the lintel and doorposts of his own heart. Only the individual can apply that blood by faith. Only that individual can make that choice. The lamb has been slain, and there is no question that it was the Lamb of God—there is abundant eyewitness testimony to that effect, as well as the living witness of the believers today. But only the individual sinner can choose to receive that gift of eternal life—or choose not to do so.
The continuing need of the believer is to daily be cleansed by God’s Word, through reading, listening, studying, memorizing, reciting, and meditating upon it day and night. He is already positionally clean…eternal life is his. But the fellowship of God is for those who are in full agreement with Him. And God’s Word is what can “rein in” our old nature and strengthen our new nature.
Perhaps it would be good to think back to the passage in Leviticus 14. The sacrificed bird was to be killed in an earthenware vessel, over running water. Consider this: is the Bible-study by which I was nourished, over 40 years ago, sufficient to cleanse me today, and to strengthen my new life in Christ today, and to protect me from the snares of the Wicked one today?
NO! The Water needs to be Living water—running water—constantly being renewed, for cleansing, healing, nourishment, and refreshment. I cannot feed on the bread of last year, nor can I be cleansed by water that was fresh and flowing many years ago. I need the water of the Word flowing in my life today. The Holy Spirit has never ceased to work in my life, but there have been times during which I have neglected the Word, and, as a result, to one degree or another, I have dried up. God’s supply of Living Water is eternally the Holy Spirit, but He administers that supply through the Living Word.
Notice that when Jesus talked with Nicodemus he said that a person must be born of water and of the Spirit. Many have conjectured that the “water” in this passage (John 3) was the amniotic fluid of natural childbirth. If that were true then the statement would be pointless, since every person has experienced that natural, fleshly birth. The New birth is not only by the Spirit, but by the Word of God. (Remember, Jesus said, “Now you are clean through the Word which I have spoken unto you…”) No one has ever been saved apart from the ministry of the Word, and that of the Spirit. No one has ever been cleansed except by the same means.
When Jesus had already died, on the Cross, and the soldier stabbed Him through his heart with a spear, to make certain He was dead, it specifically states that Blood and Water immediately came forth. (John 19:34-37) So, the means for cleansing was fully supplied by the Cross. The blood for salvation and the water for cleansing were both found in the person of Christ.
Remember the words to the Hymn, “Rock of Ages:”
“Rock of ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee!
Let the Water and the Blood, from thy wounded side which flowed,
be of Sin the double cure! Save from Wrath, and make me Pure!”
That hymn-writer obviously knew the truth we have spoken today: The sinner requires the blood of the sacrifice to be saved. He applies that blood by faith, confessing his need for a Savior. The saint requires the water of the Word to be clean. He applies the Word of God by faith, confessing his sins and his need for cleansing. “If we confess our sins He is faithful and just, to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1st John 1:9) We need both the blood and the water—and we find both in the person of Christ, the Chosen Lamb of God, and the Living Word of God. All thanks be to Him.
Lord Jesus, focus the eyes of our hearts upon yourself, so that we see our need for cleansing and nourishment, so that we may feed freely on the Living Bread, and drink deep of the Living Water. Use our lives as tools in your hands, and build Your Church according to Your will.