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What Is Hyssop in the Bible and Why Do We “Wash” in It?

What Is Hyssop in the Bible and Why Do We “Wash” in It?

What is hyssop? Have you heard or read about using hyssop in cooking? Perhaps you have read about hyssop in the Bible. Maybe you've been asked the question ‘what is hyssop?’ during a Bible study. Or you may have asked the question ‘what is hyssop?’ during quiet time. When seeking the answer to ‘what is hyssop?’ we can search on the computer or in books or discuss with scholars or clergy. There is always an opportunity to learn something new.

What Is Hyssop in Scripture?

Hyssop is a small bushy plant with minty leaves which can be used in cooking. The plant has also been used for medicinal purposes. In Scripture, hyssop is a wild shrub used for purification.

Scripture shares how hyssop was used as a sign of spiritual cleansing (Psalm 51:7 NIV).

Hyssop played a special role in history. This shows us that people were not the only ones to have an important role. Plants and animals were used for unique purposes. We learn in the book of Exodus that hyssop was used to sprinkle blood over door frames at an important time. The hyssop itself was not attached to the door frames. The plant was used for applying the blood as instructed by God.

Scripture tells us that Pharaoh was in a conflict with God about the fate of Israel. The Egyptians of that time believed that their firstborn sons were gods. God had sent plagues including things like reptiles, insects, hail, and darkness. Pharaoh would still not change his way of thinking. Pharaoh refused to release Israel from slavery. When he refused, God responded in a significant way.

A plague of death came and covered all the firstborn Egyptians. This includes Egyptian children and animals. Yet, Pharaoh still refuses to let the Israelites out of slavery.

God gives specific instructions to Moses to give to the people. Each family is to take a one-year-old lamb or goat, without blemish, and sacrifice that animal. If a family could not afford or didn’t have a lamb or goat, they were instructed to join with another family.

Specific details were given to the people. The animal was to be slaughtered, roasted, and eaten at night, with unleavened bread and bitter herbs (Exodus 12:1-14 NIV). The people were told what to wear when they consumed the animal and how to eat the food. Then, more instructions were provided. The people were told to take some of the blood in a basin and place it on the doorposts and above the door of the house. They were instructed to use hyssop branches to apply the blood on the doorposts.

God said He would pass through the land of Egypt that night and strike down every firstborn in the land, both humans and animals. The blood on the doorposts would be a sign. When God saw the blood, He would pass over that particular house.

Can you imagine the sights and sounds of the time? Movies have portrayed the scene. Loud cries of the families of firstborns as death came. Darkness over all the land. Were the people who obeyed afraid, or did they have full trust in God? Consider the sighs of relief as death passed over the households with blood on the doorframes.

Since hyssop was the plant God told the people to use, hyssop must have been readily available. Where did it grow? Perhaps beside the road. Perhaps next to the houses where the people resided. Wherever hyssop grew, the people were able to obtain the plant and followed the directions to save their firstborn.

This “passing over” is the religious holiday called Passover, which remembers when God used Moses to free the Israelites.

Passover is celebrated by Jews in spring and lasts seven or eight days. The first night of Passover includes a special meal called the seder. The people remember the history of the Israelites and the way God “passed over” homes with the blood on the doorposts.

What Does Hyssop Do for the Body?

Hyssop has been used in several ways. Hyssop can be used for digestive problems. Some studies show that hyssop can be used for respiratory issues. Of course, always consult with a physician before trying anything new for medicinal purposes.

Hyssop can be used to cleanse the palette. Years ago, my husband and I, along with other family members dined at a unique restaurant. We were able to make our food choices using the specialized menu for the evening. There were several courses of food and in between each serving, we were given a small amount of sorbet with hyssop. We were instructed to taste the sorbet between each course in order to fully cleanse our palette and enjoy the meal. We followed instructions and the meal was truly delicious and memorable.

How Do We Cleanse Ourselves Metaphorically with Hyssop?

When saying we are washed by the “blood of the lamb,” we are referring to being made new in Christ Jesus. Our sins are forgiven. Through the death of Jesus, we are new in Him.

When cleansing with hyssop, we are referring to spiritual cleansing (Psalm 51:7 NIV). Research shows that the hyssop plant grows about three feet in height. Yet, there is no depth or height that can control the cleansing of our souls when we go to God, repent, and are forgiven.

While hyssop may be used for medicinal purposes to help cleanse the body from some illnesses, the use of hyssop in the Bible is used for various reasons.

We read of the cleansing David requested of God when he asked to be purged with hyssop and to be made whiter than snow. The actual plant would not make David whiter than snow. The cleansing David wanted was the reminder that salvation can only come from God. David knew he had sinned. David knew he needed to be made clean from all his sinful ways.

What Does This Tell Us about God?

Every time I read Scripture, I learn something new. Even if I have read a particular passage over and over, God will provide a fresh outlook on the words. Reading about hyssop and cleansing reminds me of the love God has for His creations.

Reading about hyssop also reminds me that God lets us know there are consequences for our actions. When we follow God and obey His instructions, we draw to a closer relationship with Him. God doesn’t promise that heartache will never visit us. He does promise that whatever we encounter in life, He will always be with us. We can go to God in every moment of day or night. David knew he had sinned. Not one sin, but many sins. David asked God to cleanse him with hyssop so he would be made new.

God provided a way for people to escape the death of their firstborn. He gave directions to Moses and those directions were shared with the people.

God never gives up on His children. He will provide a way of spiritual healing. He will provide a way for physical healing whether on this earth or in Heaven.

From reading and researching about hyssop, I am reminded of the strong devotion God has for His beloved children.

We can always seek God and ask for forgiveness. We can always seek Him and give praise and thanksgiving for all He has done and will do.

Have you learned about hyssop and how it is used today? What can you share about hyssop?


Melissa Henderson

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Madeleine_Steinbach

Melissa HendersonAward-winning author Melissa Henderson writes inspirational messages sometimes laced with a bit of humor. With stories in books, magazines, devotionals, and more, Melissa hopes to encourage readers. 

Melissa is the author of Licky the Lizard and Grumpy the Gator. Her passions are helping in the community and church. Melissa is an Elder, Deacon, and Stephen Minister. 

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