The Lowly Hyssop Plant

The last post on Bitter Herbs did a lot of toe stomping. There is hope! This week, we will start a multi-part series based on Exodus 12:22.

Exodus 12:22 (CJB)
Take a bunch of hyssop leaves and dip it in the blood which is in the basin, and smear it on the two sides and top of the door-frame. Then, none of you is to go out the door of his house until morning.

God wants His church and His people to live holy lives. After the exhorting in unleavened bread, how can we achieve it? God, our loving Father, always provide a way. Let’s study the lowly hyssop plant and enter the blood stained door.

What is Hyssop?

There are about 10 to 12 different species of hyssop. Hyssop varies from a small bush of about 27 inches to giant hyssop with erect branches up to 60 cm (perfect size to place a sponge on). They are aromatic and covered with small blue flowers. Some have white flowers during the summertime. The spongy leaves are narrow oblong, 1 to 2 inches (2 to 5 cm) long, and are covered with fine hairs at the tips. The hairy surface of its leaves and branches held liquids well and made it suitable as a sprinkling device for use in purification ceremonies. It was also perfect for applying the lamb’s blood on the doorposts.

The name hyssop can be traced back to the Greek word hyssopos (ὑˊσσωπος - hússōpos) [g5301] and Hebrew ezov (אֵזוֹב - ēzôḇ) [h231]. Hyssop is a sacred plant used in Judaism, as Ezov. The Talmud considers it to be a herbal remedy for indigestion and other medical needs.

Hyssop in the Bible

Hyssop occurs 12 times in 12 verses in the KJV.

Some examples of hyssop in the Bible:

  1. Exodus 12:22 – The hyssop was used to dip the lamb’s blood on the top and both sides of the door frame.
  2. Leviticus 14:3–4 – Used as a cleansing from infectious skin diseases (cedar wood, scarlet yarn and hyssop).
  3. Numbers 19:11–12,16,18 – Purification from touching a dead body or a grave.
  4. Psalm 51:7 – Cleansed and washed “I will be whiter than snow.”
  5. Hebrews 9:19–22 – Used to help put the first covenant into effect.
    1. The blood of calves at the first covenant lead to temporary forgiveness.
    2. The blood of Jesus on the cross is permanent forgiveness.
  6. John 19:29–30 – Lifted up to Jesus’ lips.

By the smearing the blood over the door in Exodus 12:22, God promised that He would pass over their household. The salvation from calamity and death was accomplished by putting faith in the blood as a sacrifice before God. It was to be acceptable based on God’s promise.

The Tanakh (Old Testament) used hyssop to point to salvation when used to smear the blood:

  1. During Passover
  2. In the tabernacle and temple during sacrifices
  3. In David’s prayer of repentance.

Hyssop at Calvary

John 19:28–30 (NKJV)
28After this, Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, “I thirst!” 29Now 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. 30So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.

The Greek word translated “wine vinegar” is oxos (ὀˊξοςóxos) [g3690], a sour wine or vinegar. The English word “vinegar” is from the French words vin (wine) and aigre (sour). Vinegar, or sour wine, is made when alcohol changes into vinegar by the formation of alcohol into acetic acid. Yeast is used to induce this change. As stated in earlier blog posts, yeast represents sin. Jesus tasting of the vinegar was a fulfillment of the prophecy of Psalms 69:21, “they…gave me vinegar for my thirst.”

John 19:29 mentions hyssop as a key detail because the hyssop stalk is pointed at the Messiah in His final moments on the cross, the final sacrifice and final complete salvation. It is by Jesus the Messiah’s blood we are saved and redeemed. Hyssop points to salvation. Even though hyssop is known for its own cleansing and purifying properties, it was used to point to our ultimate source of cleansing and purification, Jesus the Messiah. Hyssop was at the beginning (Passover) and hyssop at the end (Calvary).

The Sponge

But, the interesting and overlooked detail is that a sponge (spunge in the KJV) soaked in cheap sour vinegar was placed on the hyssop and raised to Jesus’ lips. Is it possible that the sponge represented us (sinners)? Think about it. What did Jesus say in the latter part of John 19:28? “I thirst.” Do you think that Jesus would want water or wine when He said He was the Living Water and the New Wine? No! He thirsts for us to come to him!

The sponge (us) was placed on the hyssop. Hyssop can only clean externally. It cannot cleanse our sins. So, the sponge (us) on the hyssop stalk (the pointer to our salvation) was lifted up for the Messiah to sip. Who wants to put their lips on a filthy sponge filled with cheap, awful tasting, sour vinegar? Jesus does!

In John 2:1–11, John tells us about Jesus’ first miracle of turning the water into wine. When Mary asked Jesus to make wine for the wedding, He replies that his time has not yet come. Now that Jesus is on the cross, his time had come.

By Jesus placing his lips on the sponge, did the sour vinegar turn into new wine? The Bible doesn’t say. But, in John 2:10, the master of the banquet was surprised that the best wine was saved for the last. Also, 2 Corinthians 5:17 states that when we are united with the Messiah, the old life is gone and a new one begins.

This is what the Bible does say. After that final act of placing his lips on the sponge (us), Jesus said, “It is finished,” and gave up His spirit.

Come to Jesus, the Messiah, for He thirsts for you!

Next time, we will present the blood stained door.

Until then,
שָׁלוֹם (Shalom!)