HYSSOP >> External Truth, which is a medium of purification
Among the materials of which the sweet incense was made was “onycha,” which is believed to be a sweet-scented shell. The shellfish seem to be representatives of the love of protection and repose; and their shells, of the truth which gives such protection. The fragrant shell used in the incense may represent the grateful pleasure in the acknowledgment of this protecting truth; which is one appropriate element in spiritual worship.
A lower order of aromatic plants we find in the large family of mints. They are herbs or small shrubs, many of them pleasantly stimulating as perfumes, and some also as flavors for food or medicine. Among them we find lavender, thyme, sage, pennyroyal, savory, horehound, spearmint, and peppermint. Not one seems to be harmful, though there are some coarser kinds that are not specially valuable. Peppermint is perhaps the most extensively used, chiefly as a flavor, and with confectionery. It is an old remedy for simple colic, and in sensitive persons produces colic. The abundance of such plants in Palestine makes the whole air fragrant and delightful to breathe, when they give out their perfume in the dewy evenings. They are all square-stemmed, with irregular flowers producing each four little nutlets for seeds.
Such plants cannot represent a very exalted wisdom; but a very sweet, humble, domestic wisdom they certainly do represent to us. The squareness of the stems and the fruit suggests as their animating principle a love of spiritual squareness—of considering fairly all sides, and making sure of what is both right and wise. It is a modest wisdom, applicable to a great variety of subjects, springing up afresh for every occasion, and in general discerning what is wholesome, fit, and thoroughly good. With an unconscious sense of this meaning, mints are used to garnish dishes, to perfume the clean linen, to adorn cottage dooryards and gardens. Their pleasant, homely fragrance is a grateful expression of the satisfaction in fitness and wholesomeness.
It is probable that the hyssop of the Bible, like the modern hyssop, was a mint, growing in little bunches from the cracks in old walls; and that these little bunches made natural brushes for sprinkling the blood of the sacrifices upon the altar, and the water of purification upon the tent and furniture of the dead. It has been supposed that the “cedar wood, scarlet, and hyssop,” commanded in Leviticus 14:4, were arranged as a brush with a handle; and Miss Callcott suggests that such was the arrangement of the hyssop, called by Matthew and Mark “a reed,” upon which the sponge of vinegar was offered to the Lord. She adds: “To this day the long-haired brush used in Roman Catholic churches for aspersing with holy water, is called in many places the hyssop.”
A sense of what is both good and right, or thoroughly wholesome and useful, discerns also why the contrary things are not good, and wherein they must be corrected or removed. A plant representing such a sense would, therefore, appear to be an appropriate instrument for the application of the water or the blood of purification, to represent the removal of what is unwholesome or unclean.
Author: JOHN WORCESTER 1875