Sermon on the Mount Series · Thoughts

Salt in the Bible

On Sunday KPaul preached on Matthew 5:13-16. You can listen to the sermon here if you wish. I decided to look up salt in the rest of the Bible just to see what else the Bible says about salt. The majority of references are to the Salt Sea (the Dead Sea) or the the Valley of Salt (no idea where that is). But I did find some really interesting usages that have not stood out to me before.

First and probably the most familiar to people, Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt (Genesis 19). The angels were trying to save Lot and his family from the destruction that was going to rain down on Sodom and Gomorrah. They told them, “Escape for your life. Do not look back or stop anywhere in the valley. Escape to the hills, lest you be swept away.” The hills were too far for Lot. So he asked to go to a small town (still in the valley), and they allowed it. He ran to the city of Zoar and the destruction came down on Sodom and Gomorrah. Then the Scripture simply says, “But Lot’s wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.” (Gen. 19:26) Why salt? I don’t know.

Next I found it in Exodus 30:34-36. Here Moses is instructed to make an incense, pure and holy, seasoned with salt. Then he is supposed to grind it to a powder and sprinkle it in front of the Testimony in the tabernacle where God would meet with Moses. “It shall be most holy to you.” That’s interesting. The incense seasoned with salt is on the ground that Moses or the priests have to step on to go meet with God. Does it consecrate the ground? The tabernacle would move around and the ground before the Testimony would change. Is this a task that has to be repeated each time the tabernacle is set-up? So many questions!

In Leviticus 2, God is giving instructions for the grain offerings that the Israelites would be offering. Verse 13 says: “You shall season all your grain offerings with salt. You shall not let the salt of the covenant with your God be missing from your grain offering; with all your offerings you shall offer salt.” Three times he repeats that salt must be there. What is important about the salt? And what is a covenant of salt? I found that phrase again in Numbers 18:19 where God promises Aaron and his descendants the offerings of the people perpetually as his inheritance. “It is a covenant of salt forever before the Lord with you and your offspring with you,” and in 2 Chronicles 13:5 describing the covenant with David. I had never noticed that phrase before, and wasn’t sure what this meant, so I looked it up.

Covenant of Salt. Biblical phrase for a two-way agreement, the inviolability of which was symbolized by salt. A Middle Eastern saying, “There is bread and salt between us,” meant that a relationship had been confirmed by sharing a meal. Salt symbolized the life and enduring nature of the alliance. In the OT salt appears in the relationship between God and Israel (Lv 2:13). As a purifying agent and preservative in the cereal offering, salt symbolized the indissoluble nature of the covenant between God and Israel.
An everlasting “covenant of salt” (Nm 18:19) was made between God and Aaron, who represented the whole priesthood of Israel. Since the Levites received no inheritance in the Promised Land, God himself was to be their special portion forever. God’s covenant with King David and his sons was also called a covenant of salt (2 Chr 13:5).”

Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). Covenant of Salt. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 1, p. 538). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia mentions the Arab expressions, “There is salt between us,” and “He has eaten of my salt.” These are phrases that describe a friendship. So the phrase “covenant of salt” refers to an enduring covenant between two parties. And the fact that the salt is included on the bread offered to God would mark the relationship between the person offering and God. There literally was bread and salt between them.

The remaining Old Testament passages (beyond those talking about it as an item of commerce) mention salt as a purifier (2 Kings 2), a flavor (Job 6) and a sign of friendship with the king in Ezra 4. Ezekiel 34 mentions it in the context of offerings again. And the final way it is used is as an adjective describing ruined ground, a salt land.

The New Testament uses salt in the Matthew passage and a similar one in Luke 14. Mark also repeats this line but adds a phrase, “Have salt in (or among) yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” (Mk. 9:50) This is probably referring to the idea of friendship that I talked about above. James uses salt in a metaphor of salt versus fresh water in James 3. And finally, there is Colossians 4:5-6. “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time.  Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” Season your speech with salt.

So how do all those things connect to Matthew 5? Colossians 4 seems to be a way to act out being the salt for one thing. Beyond that, if Jesus is somehow referring to the metaphor of sharing salt denoting friendship, how does the fact that we are salt relate? Or the covenant between God and the Israelites? If salt is an integral part of an offering to God, and as Romans 12 states, we are living sacrifices, salt would be necessary right? I don’t know the answers. I am just pondering the connections. I did learn some things in this scan of the Bible’s use of salt. I’m glad I don’t have to offer bread with salt every day to God anymore to participate in His covenant. And instead of friend, I might just start saying, “You have eaten of my salt,” or “There is salt between us.”

May you be blessed by God’s word today.

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