Sunday, May 23, 2010

What in the World Is Hyssop?

Thoughts from my reading in Whiter Than Snow: Meditations on Sin and Mercy by Paul David Tripp. Devotional is indented.

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Psalm 51:7

It seems such a strange request from a man who's in the throes of grief over sins that he can't deny and can't take back. I would propose to you that it was exactly the right thing for David and for each of us to pray whenever we're confronted with our sins. But when you first read the word in Psalm 51, it does make you wonder, "What in the world is hyssop?"

What you really need to know, in order to understand the grieving in David's request, is Old Testament history. David's mind goes to that original Passover, when the firstborn of Egypt were stricken dead and the houses of Israel that had blood on the door frames were passed over. What does this have to do with David's request? Here it is: God directed the Israelites to take a branch of hyssop and dip it in blood and paint the door frames with it.

Here is David, grieved by his sin and bowed before God between the "already" and the "not yet." Already the blood of the first Passover had protected Israel from death and made their exodus to freedom and the land of promise possible. Already the Mosaic system of constant animal-blood sacrifices covered the sins of God's people. But the promised Lamb had not yet come. Not yet had his blood been spilt, once and for all, in the final moment of sacrifice that forever ended any need for further sacrifice.

What a blessing to live in this time where we can experience Christ’s blood shed for us. We live in the reality of that not just hope of what will come.

When your sin really does become ugly to you, when it produces pain in your heart and sickness in your stomach, you celebrate forgiveness, but you want something more. You want to be clean. You long to be once and for all purified from all sin whatsoever. You want your sin to be once and for all washed away. You want to be free of every dark residue of sinful thought, desire, word, or deed.

That is where we live. We can be clean – whiter than snow. That is what God tells us; our sin isn’t just covered, it is gone.

I don’t think we can really grasp that. We hold sin over our own heads and we’ve all had someone else hold our sin over our head. It doesn’t matter if it has been confessed and grieved over; it’s still the wedge, the trump card that can be pulled out whenever it’s needed. So it’s hard to think that God isn’t that way and He knows the depths of our heart. He knows all the sins, big and small and yet He chooses to forgive and with that forgiveness the sin is cleansed and gone, never to be brought to our attention again. He more than anyone could uses it against us but never does.

David never sang that great, old hymn "Nothing but the Blood," but maybe he'll hear it some day and remember the tear-stained prayer that followed the visit of Nathan. Maybe someday he'll celebrate final cleansing with a chorus of the ages singing:

What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
O precious is the flow,
That makes me white as snow.
No other fount I know,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Here is a question from the meditation:

Look back on your life. Identify the many, many places where you need to celebrate how God daily delivers you from sin. What things that once plagued and controlled you are no longer part of your life? (Be concrete and specific.)

Look ahead. Where do you see the need for more of God's cleansing? What things still tend to tempt and trap you? Pray and seek God's help.


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