Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Psalm 51:7
Many of us who live in northern climes have what we might call a ‘love-hate’ relationship with snow. What beauty there is on a cold, sunny morning after a newfallen snow! Snow means fun for the children—making a snowman or sledding on a nice hill. Many enjoy winter recreation in the snow—skiing or snowmobiling. The ‘hate’ part of it usually comes with the hazardous driving conditions on slippery roads or in blowing snow. Heavy snowfall often entails work in clearing the snow from driveways and sidewalks. As a boy, I sometimes dreaded the extra time and work needed doing the farm chores like caring for the livestock during snowy weather.
The scientific study of snow is fascinating. There are four main types of snowflakes: needles, dendrites, plates, and columns. The shape and size of the snowflake is primarily determined by the temperature where the snowflake is formed in the upper atmosphere. Each snowflake is composed of tens, perhaps hundreds, of individual snow crystals. Each snowflake is a symmetric, hexagonal, branched, fern-like crystal. Snow is white because visible sunlight is white and the complex structure of snow crystals reflects sunlight instead of absorbing sunlight. Snow is a wonderful example of the intricacies of God’s design in His creation.
The Scriptures speak of snow. In Job 38, the beautiful chapter emphasizing God’s sovereignty in creation, the Lord asks the rhetorical question: “Hast thou entered into the treasures of the snow? Or hast thou seen the treasures of the hail?…. Out of whose womb came the ice? And the hoary frost of heaven, who hath gendered it?” (Job 38:22, 29). It is our mighty God who makes and sends the snow, each individual snowflake in each flurry, storm, or lake-effect squall. It is the work of the Lord, according to Job 37:6, “For he saith to the snow, Be thou on the earth….” The psalmist speaks of it too, as we sing from Psalm 147,
He sends His swift commandment,
And snow and ice enfold
The world, and none are able
To stand before His cold.
Can you imagine anything that is whiter than the newly fallen snow? Perhaps we are so accustomed to seeing snow that we fail to consider that characteristic of snow. But those who come from southern climes and see fresh snow for the first time are often amazed by its brilliant whiteness. The sun shining upon the snow is nearly blinding. Yet there is such a thing that is whiter than snow. In the realm of the natural it may well be that we can conceive of nothing that is whiter than snow. But in the realm of the spiritual God has made something that is whiter even than the fresh-fallen snow.
The psalmist David was convinced of that. He was not exaggerating when he declared here in Psalm 51, “Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” For God by His Spirit had given David to see and know this amazing whiteness by way of the stark contrast with the awful darkness of his own sin. The man after God’s own heart had fallen so far into this dark, black abyss of sin. His hands were bloody with the blood of Uriah whom he had murdered in order to cover up his sin of adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah. It makes us cringe! There is something about the sin of David that makes it most abhorrent among the notable sins recorded in Scripture. In its own way it repels us even more than almost anything that his predecessor, king Saul, had done. For these sins were not crimes of passion, but willful, premeditated sins in which he walked for a time. He knew the depths of sin’s darkness.
For God had graciously sent the prophet Nathan to David with His Word. As applied by the Spirit, that Word broke him. It penetrated to the depths of his heart: “Thou art the man” (II Sam. 12:7). It brought him down as one horribly blackened with sin, humbled in the dust before his God. By grace he was bowed down in heart-felt sorrow and repentance before God. He is given to confess how blackened with sin he was. “For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. Against thee, thee only have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight…” (vv. 3, 4). Even more, he also sees the blackness of his very nature, that from his infancy he has walked in ways of darkness: “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity and in sin did my mother conceive me” (v. 5).
Now he is able to plead for washing from his iniquity and cleansing from his sin. He beseeches God to create in him a clean heart and to renew a right spirit within him (v. 10). He yearns for the joy of the Lord’s salvation to be restored unto him, for the gladness that forgiveness full and free affords.
“Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean.”
David would be rid of the sin and guilt that blacken him. He would be made pure. God alone can purge us with hyssop. Hyssop, as referred to in Scripture, clearly points to spiritual cleansing. Hyssop was evidently a rather common plant in the land. It was required for the cleansing of the priests, as well as when a leper who was healed came to the temple to be pronounced clean by the priest. But, most importantly, it was used in the celebrating of the Passover. The Israelites were to take a bunch of hyssop, dip it in the blood of the Passover lamb, and then sprinkle that blood on their doorposts (Ex. 12:22).
So hyssop focuses our attention upon the Passover. To be purged with hyssop is to be cleansed by the blood that was applied with hyssop, the blood of the lamb that was slain. And the blood of the Passover lamb was a type of the blood of Christ, the Lamb of God. Hyssop points us to the cross of Christ and the shedding of His blood to remove the blackness of our sins. David needed that spiritual cleansing. He needed the Lamb of God. He needed the shedding of the blood of Christ to wash away his sins.
“Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.”
David would be washed from the blackness of his sin. He desired to be made supernaturally white, spiritually white. He would be whiter than snow through the blood of Christ. For his sins and his sinfulness demand punishment. The justice of God must be satisfied. In true faith David knew that God had provided a way for His people to be cleansed. Those sprinkled by the blood of the Lamb would be made whiter than snow!
Do we see and know our sin and misery? Are we mindful of the blackness of our sin and sinfulness? Do we have spiritual ears to hear God’s Word, “Thou art the man! (or woman or young person)”? There is a remedy to remove our blackness and every guilty stain. There is that which can purge and cleanse the most vile sinner.
Make no mistake, we need purging, true washing! Not just a dusting off, a slight touch up, or a quick rinse! We need to be made whiter than snow. Only the blood of Christ provides that cleansing. And what is whiter than snow? Obviously, it is not of man, not of us. But it is of God—it is the righteousness of Christ! We are washed by the blood of Christ. We are clothed in His righteousness. We are sanctified by His Spirit unto newness of life so that with love and delight we would serve God.
Let us not overlook the fact that this psalm is a heartfelt prayer. And this verse about purging and washing is an earnest petition. Is this our prayer of sincere repentance? Are we characterized by a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart that God will not despise (v. 17)?
In that way may our petition also be that of David in verse 15: “O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall show forth thy praise.”
“Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.”
As we gaze through the window at the newly fallen snow, or if we just look at pictures of winter snow scenes, or if we only in our minds imagine the beauty, purity, and whiteness of snow, let us call to mind this beautiful Word of God! And may our hearts sing from Psalter #140, stanza 3,
I am evil, born in sin;
Thou desirest truth within.
Thou alone my Savior art,
Teach Thy wisdom to my heart;
Make me pure, Thy grace bestow,
Wash me whiter than the snow.