Psalm 51, Day 2 – Minty Fresh to Death

Triad Study Psalm 51 Bible with Theo Orange Dark Chocolate

Today’s Chocolate: Theo Orange Dark Chocolate

Today’s Passage: Psalm 51

Here’s David’s psalm of penitence again. I forgot to mention something yesterday, though. As I’m typing up these posts, I often stream Switchfoot’s album Where the Light Shines Through, front to back. As I was listing off the various “clean-related” words that David uses, I fired up the album, and the very first track came on: “Holy Water.” The song is as much about sanctification, being set apart for a purpose and receiving anointing with the “holy water” of the Holy Spirit, as it is about cleansing from sin. But with opening lines like “Wash the dust off dirty wheels, / Give me the waters that could help me heal,” I couldn’t help but be struck by the parallels. The confluence was in fact so striking that I forgot to mention it, whoops.

But for today, let’s get curious about the details of these “cleanliness” words. Today I read the line “Purify me with hyssop” (7) and found myself wondering: why hyssop? What even is hyssop? Some quick-and-dirty research reveals that it’s a herbaceous shrub in the mint family, with some medicinal properties (an antiseptic, cough reliever, and expectorant, according to Wikipedia).

Most pertinently for us, though, it’s used in the Jewish purification rituals prescribed in the Torah. The purification of a former leper who has recovered from his leprosy involves the use of “two live clean birds and cedar wood and a scarlet string and hyssop” (Leviticus 14:6), and when a man dies in a tent, in order to restore cleanliness, “a clean person shall take hyssop and dip it in the water, and sprinkle it on the tent and on all the furnishings and on the persons who were there” (Numbers 19:18). David considers himself a leper in need of healing and purification, or a tent in which a man has died. And he’s not making reference to some dry passage of text when he talks about hyssop. He’s talking about something he and his countrymen do whenever someone gets over a case of leprosy or dies indoors.

While looking up the hyssop stuff, I noticed a note from Rev. Joseph Benson’s commentary about the verb in David’s petition “purify me.” Looking up its Strong’s Concordance entry for myself, I found that it’s a particular form of חָטָאchata, whose root meaning is “to sin or miss the mark.” In the construction David uses here, it means “to make a sin-offering, o purify from sin, to purify from uncleanness.” As far as I can tell, David is asking God: de-sin me. Un-evil me. Take me out of this tent contaminated with death and injustice, and set me back where I should be. Make me stop missing the mark.

And as I finish up this entry with fifteen minutes ’til midnight, I can’t help but feel that I myself have been missing the mark in so many ways, right down to my literal actual sleep schedule. God, please purify me with hyssop, because days like these I feel like a corpse.

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