Psalm 51 – Confession of Sins and Repentance & Hyssops and the Rituals of Cleansing

To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came unto him, after he had gone in to Bath-sheba.

1 Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.

2 Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.

3 For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.

4 Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou Judgest.

5 Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.

6 Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.

7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

8 Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.

9 Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities.

10 Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.

11 Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.

12 Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.

13 Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.

14 Deliver me from blood guiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness.

15 O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise.

16 For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering.

17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.

18 Do good in thy good pleasure unto Zion: build thou the walls of Jerusalem.

19 Then shalt thou be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt offering and whole burnt offering: then shall they offer bullocks upon thine altar.

David condemneth the wickedness of Doeg and fortelleth his destruction.  Letting failure lead us to deal with God to the bottom for the sake of Zion and His building.

Hyssops and the Rituals of Cleansing

Hyssopus officinalis, hyssop is a herbaceous plant of the genus Hyssopus native to Southern Europe, the Middle East, and the region surrounding the Caspian Sea.

Due to its properties as an antiseptic, cough reliever, and expectorant,

it is commonly used as an aromatic herb and medicinal plant.

History and Cultivation

Hyssop has been in use since Classical antiquity. Its name is a direct adaptation from the Greek ὕσσωπος .

The Hebrew word אזוב (esov or esob) and the Greek word ὕσσωπος probably share a common (unknown) origin.

The name hyssop appears in some translations of the Bible, notably in verse 7 of Ps 51 – “Thou shalt purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean” (King James Bible).

Researchers have suggested that the Biblical accounts refer not to the plant currently known as hyssop but rather to one of a number of different herbs.

The biblical plant translated as hyssop is discussed further at ezov.

The species as a whole is resistant to drought, and tolerant of chalky, sandy soils. It thrives in full sun and warm climates.

It is questioned whether the hyssop of the Bible is the European Hyssopus officinalis or if it is the Origanum syriacum, sometimes referred to as “Bible hyssop” or “Syrian oregano.”  A variety of oregano or marjoram that grows in rocky soil in Israel, it has hairy, gray leaves that absorb liquid well – probably accounting for its use in rituals involving cleansing. 

In Leviticus 14 a person with a skin disease was to be ritually cleansed by means of two clean birds, hyssop, a piece of scarlet cloth, and some cedar wood.  Under a priest’s direction one bird was to be slaughtered and the other, along with the hyssop, yarn, and cedar, dipped into the blood.  The individual would be sprinkled with the blood (apparently using the hyssop) and the living bird released.

Hyssop was also used for wiping sacrificial blood on the lintel and doorposts of Israelites houses in Egypt at the time of the First Passover (Ex 12:21-22), as well as in a cleaning ritual involving a red heifer (Num 19:6).  Because of its association with purification rites, David in Ps 51:7 asked in his prayer for forgiveness to be cleansed with hyssop.

This is an herb of great antiquity.  It was frequently mentioned in the Bible from Moses through John.  It is also mentioned in Arab literature. The Greeks used it as a cough remedy. 

The herb was cultivated in Europe mainly for its essential oil. It was also grown in gardens for ornament.  It was used as flavoring for salads and soups and Hyssop oil was used in bitters and tonics, especially in French liqueurs of the Chartreuse and Benedictine type.  It’s oil was also used in making perfumes with a spicy odor.

It is a bushy evergreen herb, native to Southern Europe. It grows 1 to 2 feet high with a square stem that is woody at the base, from which grow a number of straight branches. Its leaves are lanceolate, dark green in color and it produces spikes of small pink, blue, and more rarely, white fragrant flowers.

The plant has a sweet scent and a warm, bitter taste. A strong tea made of the leaves and sweetened with honey is a traditional remedy for nose, throat, and lung afflictions and is sometimes applied externally to bruises. 

Origanum syriacum; syn. Majorana syriaca (also Origanum maru, although this primarily refers to a hybrid of O. syriacum), bible hyssop,

Biblical-hyssop, Lebanese oregano or Syrian oregano, is an aromatic perennial herb in the mint family, Lamiaceae.

It is a preferred primary ingredient in the spice mixture za’atar, and the plant may also be called za’atar.

In Modern Hebrew, it is called ezov, and it may have been the ezov of Classical Hebrew.

In many English translations of the Bible, ezov is rendered as hyssop, hence the common name bible hyssop.

However, in English, hyssop generally refers to a different plant.

Origanum syriacum is native to the Middle East.

Origanum syriacum grows to a height of 1 meter.

The plant is pollinated by bees.

Flowers are small and white or pale pink.

In the European Middle Ages Hyssop was a stewing herb; its modern uses are for flavoring meats, fish, vegetables, salads, sweets, and liqueurs such as absinthe. Honey made from hyssop pollen is considered especially fine.

Historically, lepers were required to cleanse themselves with hyssop before they were allowed to receive visits from healthier relatives. More recently, it has been discovered that hyssop leaves can sometimes grow the type of mold which produces penicillin, making it an effective antibiotic.

CAUTION:  Diabetics should not take hyssop internally.

Hyssop is used in the treatment of lung inflammation, sore throats and laryngitis. It can be particularly beneficial to individuals who are required to use their voice, such as lecturers, public speakers or singers, as it also soothes tired vocal cords.

Hyssop is used as an expectorant, diaphoretic, stimulant, pectoral, and carminative. The healing virtues of the plant are due to a particular volatile oil, which is simulative, carminative and sudorific.

It promotes expectoration, and in chronic catarrh its diaphoretic and the stimulant properties combine to render it of great value. It is usually given as a warm infusion, taken frequently and mixed with Horehound. 

Syrian Oregano is a giant among oreganos.
Not only does it get tall when it blooms (about 4 feet), but it is also big on flavor.

Similar in taste to the popular Greek Oregano, Syrian Oregano is a much more accommodating plant in the garden.

While it is tall when in bloom, it does not creep and sprawl over the garden like Greek Oregano.

In the picture to the left, the new spring growth has shot forth from the ground and grows rapidly.

This early growth is quite attractive with soft, bright green leaves and reddish stems.

The leaves can be harvested at this stage and right on up until the bloom has been on the branch for a while.

As the leaves age, they will become a dark, dusty green and the stems will become a woody brown.

These older leaves (like those pictured below) are not quite as good for fresh use but can be dried and powdered.

Hyssop Tea, brewed with the green tops of the herb, is also a great tonic that improves the tone of a weak stomach. The tops are also boiled in soup to help with asthma. 

An infusion of the leaves is used externally for the relief of muscular rheumatism, and also for bruises and discolored contusions, and the green herb, bruised and applied, will heal cuts promptly.

Hyssop grows from seed, which should be planted in spring. It grows very quickly, and requires very few special conditions. Its only real requirement is plenty of sunshine, without which it will not flower.

The small white butterflies which eat cabbages in the garden can be lured away by a few hyssop plants growing nearby. The butterflies will always choose the hyssop over the cabbages, particularly if the Hyssop is in flower. 

In addition, Hyssop flowers will coax bees into the garden, and its roots cleanse the soil and discourage soil pests. It should not be planted near radishes, however, as the two are incompatible and the hyssop will cause the radishes to have little flavor.