Christianity Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for committed Christians, experts in Christianity and those interested in learning more. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

There is just one verse in the New Testament that refers to hyssop and is not referring to the Old Testament:

John 19:29 (NLT)
A jar of sour wine was sitting there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put it on a hyssop branch, and held it up to [Jesus'] lips.

Why is the fact that a hyssop branch was used significant enough to mention it by name?

share|improve this question
up vote 11 down vote accepted

Hyssop represents common faith. Hyssop was a weed that grew practically anywhere. The blood is applied by common faith in God's word.

EXODUS 12:22 And ye shall take a bunch of hyssop, and dip it in the blood that is in the bason, and strike the lintel and the two side posts with the blood that is in the bason; and none of you shall go out at the door of his house until the morning.

In many of the Old Testament sacrifices (the two turtle doves for the cleansing of the leper, and especially the sacrifice of the red heifer), hyssop was burned in the fire, with the sacrifice, along with scarlet and cedar.

Numbers 19:6 And the priest shall take cedar wood, and hyssop, and scarlet, and cast it into the midst of the burning of the heifer.

Hyssop represents the first step of salvation, believing on the Lord through common faith (justification).

Scarlet represents the blood sacrifice which atones for our sins, and being set aside for service (sanctification).

Cedar represents a Holy God coming to dwell in our hearts (baptism of the Holy Ghost).

The reference to hyssop in John 19:29 ties together the Old Testament prefigure of the red heifer (who died for the sins of the people) with the death of Christ (who died "once for all"). There on Golgotha was Hyssop, the Blood Sacrifice (Scarlet), and Emmanuel (God with Us, Cedar).

share|improve this answer

Psalm 51:7 says,

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.

According to Wikipedia,

Hyssop is also antibacterial, anticapillary fragility, antiinflamatory, etc., and can help with about 81 different medical conditions including cancer, bronchitis, insomnia, edema, colds, etc.

As a cleansing and medicinal agent, it has clear allegorical meaning. In the Old Testament, it is often associated with salvation.

I have never read or explored the presence of hyssop in the crucifixion so I am going to venture a guess as to its significance in this circumstance. The first two things that come to mind are that,

  • the hyssop foreshadows the cleansing that comes through Christ's death and resurrection, or,
  • that the fact that hyssop was offered by fallible humans represented a salvation through works or salvation offered by men. Jesus' rejection of the sponge would then mean Jesus' rejected the notion of salvation by works or by man in favor of salvation through faith in Jesus and his resurrection.

Again, those last two points are my "off-the-hip" speculation. +1 for a good, thought-provoking question.

share|improve this answer

Just to add to what has already been said, here are a few other facts to note about the particular hyssop used in the Old Testament. Hyssop blooms in three colors--pink, white, and purpleish-blue--but only the purplish-blue hyssop releases the essential healing oil when crushed (Ex 12:22 - STRIKE the lintel). Since purple is the color of royalty, it would make sense that it was used in the Passover, as Christ is the King of kings.

The hyssop is also a perennial herb. Christ was 100% man but also 100% God, who has been since the beginning of time (Jn 1). God never changes; He is constant, permanent. Salvation through faith in His blood sacrifice on the cross are also permanent. Once we accept Christ as Savior, no man can take that salvation away.

Finally, hyssop is a fairly common herb that grows throughout the Mediterranian. Christ was born to a common couple and grew up in the common city of Nazareth. The fact that He rejected the vinegar on the cross could also signify, as was mentioned, that though He came from a common root, His sacrifice and our acceptance of it are not common at all. Just as he did not accept the common hyssop for salvation from thirst, we can not accept the common idea of a works salvation from our sin.

share|improve this answer

This answer is based on the Bible interpretations written by the Christian theologian Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772), which are accepted in the "New Church" or Swedenborgian denominations.

Like other Christian commentators, Swedenborg bases his interpretation of hyssop in the Bible on its use in ceremonial cleansing rituals. However, he interprets it somewhat more abstractly than most traditional Christian interpreters, stating that it refers especially to the cleansing properties of truth in relation to the human spirit.

In Arcana Coelestia ("Secrets of Heaven") #7918 he takes up the meaning of hyssop in the Old Testament as he explains Exodus 12:22, in which hyssop is used to put blood on the lintels and doorposts of the Israelites' dwellings in preparation for the event of the passover. Here is Swedenborg's explanation, in a somewhat archaic translation:

"And you shall take a bunch of hyssop" means the outward means by which purification is effected. This is clear from the meaning of "hyssop" as outward truth, the means by which purification is effected, dealt with below. It says that they were to take a bunch of hyssop because "a bunch" is used to refer to truths and the arrangement of them, (see #5530, 5881, 7408). The reason why "hyssop" means outward truth, the means of purification, is that all spiritual purification is effected by means of truths. For the earthly and worldly types of love from which a person has to be purified are not recognized except by means of truths. When these truths are instilled by the Lord a horror of those types of love, as of things unclean and damnable, is also at the same time instilled. The effect this horror has is that when something similar enters the person's thinking the feeling of horror returns, producing a loathing of those types of love. That is how a person is purified by truths, which serve as outward means.

He then goes on to quote and briefly explain several other Old Testament passages in which hyssop is used in cleansing ceremonies, including the well-known passage in Psalm 51:7:

You will purge me with hyssop and I shall become clean; you will wash me and I shall be made whiter than snow.

To put his explanation in more contemporary terms, also bringing in some of his other explanations of "hyssop":

Hyssop, Swedenborg says, represents the cleansing of our outward self, meaning our wrong actions, and especially the worldly, sense- and self-oriented desires and thoughts that those actions come from. Examples would be the desire for various types of self-indulgence such as overeating just for the pleasure of eating, taking pleasure in casual sex, or a general focus on glamour and excitement—not to mention our desires for specifically prohibited actions such as theft, lying, adultery, murder, and so on that we engage in for our own pleasure and benefit.

These, Swedenborg says, are cleansed by "external truth," meaning the basic commandments of the Bible prohibiting such self-indulgence and prohibiting the committing of these evil and sinful actions. When we accept the truth of those Biblical teachings, this causes us to see the evil thoughts, feelings, and actions we have indulged in as wrong, sinful, and horrible, so that we gain a sense of loathing for everything related to them. In this way, both our earth-oriented desires and thoughts and our outward actions are cleansed from these wrong and evil things.

In Apocalypse Explained #386:30, Swedenborg specifically quotes and explains John 19:28-30, which reads:

Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, said, "I thirst." And there had been placed a vessel full of vinegar; and they filled a sponge, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth. And when Jesus had received the vinegar he said, "It is finished."

Here is Swedenborg's exegesis of this passage, once again in a rather archaic translation:

Those who think of these things only naturally and not spiritually, may suppose that they involve nothing more than that the Lord thirsted, and that then vinegar was given to Him; but because all things which the Scripture said concerning Him were then consummated, and He came into the world to save mankind, therefore He said, "I thirst," by which is meant that from Divine love He willed and desired the salvation of the human race. But that vinegar was given to Him, signifies that in the coming church there would be no genuine truth, but truth mingled with falsities, such as exist with those who separate faith from charity, or truth from good, this being signified by vinegar. Their putting it upon hyssop signified a certain purification of it, for by hyssop is signified an external means of purification (as may be seen in Arcana Coelestia #7918).

Here Swedenborg first argues that since this event is presented as fulfilling Scripture, it must have greater meaning that Jesus simply being thirsty and being given vinegar to drink using a sponge and a branch of hyssop.

The scene, Swedenborg says, relates to Jesus' "thirst" to save the human race, which was his purpose in coming into the world.

The "vinegar" relates to the mixture of true and false beliefs that exists within the church on earth. This meaning of "vinegar" is based on "wine," as used in the Holy Supper, meaning divine truth, which is the "blood" of Jesus. Vinegar is a soured form of wine, which causes it to take on the meaning of truth mixed with falsity.

And, expanding a bit on Swedenborg's interpretation here based on statements he makes elsewhere in his writings, the "hyssop" in this passage represents a cleansing of that mixed truth from falsity when it is used in service of the Lord, and especially when it is used in satisfying Jesus Christ's "thirst" to save the human race.

Putting this all together, in our own lives offering Jesus vinegar extended on a branch of hyssop represents our willingness to work in service of Jesus' will and command to reach out with the Gospel to our fellow human beings in an effort to bring them eternal salvation. Though our human understanding of the Gospel may be mere "vinegar," meaning a mixture of true and false understandings of what the Bible teaches about salvation, when we use even that mixed understanding in an effort to satisfy the Lord's desire to save all people, it becomes purified because we are using it from a good heart to do the Lord's work here on earth.

From the perspective of Swedenborg's theology, this purification of our faulty understanding of the Gospel message due to our desire to serve the Lord and do his will in helping to save our fellow human beings is the specific meaning of "hyssop" in John 19:29.

share|improve this answer

Significant to note here as well is what was being offered here. Something I have yet to find someone ready to admit is that in John19 it says ..."and when He had received it...".

Jesus refused the same drink moments earlier according to the other gospels but accepts it now. Why? I'm not going to debate wether our Lord partook of fermented beverages but what needs to be understood is what is referenced. Jesus spoke about the wine making process in Matt. 9. This was not something he was ignorant of but he had a clear knowledge of how to make wine and not just miraculously. When grapes are allowed oxygen during the fermentation process, the product will not make good wine. It will turn to VINEGAR.

Jesus's reference to old wine being put into new wineskins was an allegory between the old and new covenants. As he hung there dying, the old covenant was in the ruination process. The old wineskin was about to burst because it would not hold the new wine or new covenant.

The hyssop is symbolic of the blood being applied to the doorposts, but the blood was not to be applied to Jesus, only a bitter cup of a cheap attempt at winemaking(christianity). This was the last fulfillment of prophecy because it was the last thing Jesus would do before He said "it is finished" or in Greek "paid in full".

share|improve this answer
2  
Welcome to C.SE. When you get the chance, please check out our tour and specifically How we are different than other sites. I'll admit, I found this answer to ramble a bit, but towards the end, I think you started answering the question. You may want to consider what answers the question and what doesn't – Affable Geek Dec 9 '13 at 21:09

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.