Purge me               13.  Purge me

  Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean . . .”     –  Psalm 51:7a

What do you use to purge yourself, to rid your body of toxins, to cleanse?

One resource used in Biblical times was the plant hyssop.  In its first occurrence in the Bible, the Israelites used hyssop to help ward off the angel of death at the time of the Exodus:   Then Moses called all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go, select lambs for your families, and slaughter the passover lamb.  Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood in the basin. None of you shall go outside the door of your house until morning (Exodus 12:21-22).

Later in Leviticus, hyssop is used to cleanse lepers:  The LORD spoke to Moses, saying: This shall be the ritual for the leprous person at the time of his cleansing . . .  The priest . . . shall take the living bird with the cedarwood and the crimson yarn and the hyssop, and dip them and the living bird in the blood of the bird that was slaughtered over the fresh water.  He shall sprinkle it seven times upon the one who is to be cleansed of the leprous disease; then he shall pronounce him clean, and he shall let the living bird go into the open field.  (Lev 14:1, 5-7)

Leprosy was a disease that would lead to the banishment of a person from the community.   Custom demanded that if anyone was unwittingly approaching a person with leprosy, the leprous person had to shout out “Unclean!  Unclean!”  so as to steer the uninfected away.   Could you imagine having to take such a step to enforce your own exile?   So what an extraordinary moment it would be if one was cured of this disease, if they could once again be considered clean.

In asking God to “purge me with hyssop,” the psalmist is seeking to be cleansed from all that stains their life and causes them to be isolated from others.  What stains separate us from one another?   Do we have our own shames and blotches which either lead society to push us to the outside — or do we just remove ourselves — a silent rendition of “Unclean!  Unclean!”


Dear God,

If only there was a plant by which we could remove all the blemishes and ailments of our lives.  Instead, we turn to you and ask you to purge from us the impurities and offenses that have separated us from others, and separated us from you.