What was Hyssop used for in the Bible?
People in biblical times did not have the products we have. They relied on natural resources like plants, animals and minerals for cleaning, cooking, food and medicine. Hyssop has medicinal qualities, and it has a stiff stalk which is why it was used to hold a sponge soaked with wine vinegar. I found two possible plants that could be the biblical hyssop. They don’t look alike (one has purple flowers and the other has white flowers) so I’m not going to say which one it is, but they have some of the same useful qualities.
The Bible mentions hyssop several times, mostly in the Old Testament. In Leviticus, God commanded His people to use hyssop in the cleansing of people and houses. God told the priests to use hyssop, cedar wood, scarlet yarn and the blood of a clean bird to sprinkle a person healed from a skin disease (like leprosy.) This act would ceremonially cleanse the formerly diseased person and allow him/her to reenter the camp. The same method was used to purify a house that had mold (Leviticus 14:33-53 NIV).
The LORD said to Moses, "These are the regulations for any diseased person at the time of their ceremonial cleansing, when they are brought to the priest: The priest is to go outside the camp and examine them. If they have been healed of their defiling skin disease, the priest shall order that two live clean birds and some cedar wood, scarlet yarn and hyssop be brought for the person to be cleansed. Then the priest shall order that one of the birds be killed over fresh water in a clay pot. He is then to take the live bird and dip it, together with the cedar wood, the scarlet yarn and the hyssop, into the blood of the bird that was killed over the fresh water. Seven times he shall sprinkle the one to be cleansed of the defiling disease, and then pronounce them clean. After that, he is to release the live bird in the open fields. (Leviticus 14:1-7 NIV)
In Exodus, hyssop was used by the Israelites to mark their doorposts with lamb’s blood so that the angel of death would pass over them. God instructed them to use a cluster of hyssop like a paintbrush.
Then Moses summoned all the elders of Israel and said to them, "Go at once and select the animals for your families and slaughter the Passover lamb. Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it into the blood in the basin and put some of the blood on the top and on both sides of the doorframe. None of you shall go out of the door of your house until morning. (Exodus 12:21,22 NIV)
No matter which plant you think it is, the hyssop was sturdy and could withstand the brushing. It also signified that God was marking His people as “pure” and not targets of God’s judgment like the Egyptians.
When the LORD goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, he will see the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe and will pass over that doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down. (Exodus 12:23 NIV)
Psalm 51:7 says: “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.” It’s not a physical cleansing, but a spiritual cleansing and confession of sin.
"Come now, let us settle the matter," says the LORD. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. (Isaiah 1:18 NIV)
I have to talk about it here, Jesus didn’t have any sin! Who was getting cleansed? Whose sins were forgiven? Whose sins does Jesus take away?
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29 NIV)
When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, "Look, the Lamb of God!" (John 1:36 NIV spoken by John the Baptist)
Okay, back to hyssop. When Jesus was crucified, the Roman soldiers offered him a drink of wine vinegar on a sponge at the end of a stalk of hyssop.
Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:28-30 NIV)
This was Jesus’ last act before He declared His work on earth finished and gave up His life for you and me. What was finished? Our salvation. Jesus paid the price for you and me with His life. He became sin for us.
Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. (Luke 23:34 NIV)
God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (1 Corinthians 5:21 NIV)
Just as in the Old Testament blood and hyssop purified a defiled person, so Jesus’ shed blood purifies us from the defilement of our sin. (Got Questions: Biblical Answers)