The Salt Of The Earth
By sis Sophia Tay
There is a jar of salt in the kitchen cupboard at home, and I often wonder how long it has been sitting there. Currently, it is kept in a label-less peanut butter jar with no indication of its true expiry date, and occasionally family members would add a pinch of salt to their cooking, reasoning that it ‘still works’. I have no memory of my family buying salt from the supermarket in recent years. At my own peril I tasted the salt and found that it still has a strong salty flavour (I’m glad to report it did not make me sick). Perhaps table salt produced in modern times has additives, but I have always thought that salt loses its flavour over time, more so if it has been kept for a while. This reminded me of Matthew 5:13, where Jesus said to his disciples:
Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.
During Jesus’s lifetime, most of the salt used in Israel came from the Dead Sea and was full of impurities, causing it to lose some of its flavour. In the verse, Jesus drew on this fact, that naturally occurring salt cannot be re-flavoured after it had inevitably lost its flavour. The implication is that there is urgency to use salt well while it still possesses the savour that gives it its value, before it becomes worthless and no different from the dirt and sand on the ground.
Its literal cost
Other than its taste, Jesus’ disciples would also have appreciated salt for its other aspects. Since ancient times, the savour of salt and its preservative nature had made it highly valuable in both a material and religious sense. While often costly, salt was an important and necessary part of the diet. Perhaps because of its cost, God had required the Israelites to season all their offerings to Him with salt:
Leviticus 2:13 And every oblation of thy meat offering shalt thou season with salt; neither shalt thou suffer the salt of the covenant of thy God to be lacking from thy meat offering: with all thine offerings thou shalt offer salt.
Naturally, it was not the taste that mattered to God, but the sacrifice of something worth a lot of money for a purpose other than enjoyment and sustenance. The salt added to the offerings would have really brought out the meaning of ‘sacrificial offering’.
Its sign of a good covenant
Salt also came to mean a covenant sign or promise. Not only were sacrificial offerings made to God to be seasoned with salt, the heave offerings in particular were called an eternal ‘covenant of salt’ between God and the Levites, in Numbers 18:19:
All the heave offerings of the holy things, which the children of Israel offer unto the Lord, have I given thee, and thy sons and thy daughters with thee, by a statute for ever: it is a covenant of salt for ever before the Lord unto thee and to thy seed with thee.
Salt represented good things, especially things God promised to provide to an individual and his generations. It is interesting that this meaning came to be when salt, being a preservative of other foods, was also prone to lose flavour itself.
When Jesus said to his disciples in Matthew 5:13 that ‘Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted?’, the disciples would have been reminded of all the things salt was that stemmed from its savour – that it was valuable to many people and that it also symbolised the promise and providence of God to people. The metaphor of being the salt of the earth means that Jesus’s disciples and Christians possess very distinct and important value to people’s lives here and after, and should fulfil this purpose in the world. Some examples of the Christian’s value and purpose to the world are found in the preceding verses where Jesus taught his disciples about the ‘meek’, the ‘peacemakers’, those who yearn after righteousness, and those who suffer persecution because of Jesus but who can rejoice because of their reward of Heaven (Matthew 5:1-12).
3 Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
10 Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.
Christians resemble salt in many ways. If Christians do not possess these godly qualities written in Matthew 5 and elsewhere in the Bible, they become no different from non-believers, and ‘good for nothing’ when it comes to fulfilling God’s will on earth. More importantly, they will not be able to add ‘savour’ to the lives of non-believers by bringing them to the truth of God’s word. The responsibility of every Christian, then, is to ensure that the salt does not lose its savour. Unlike the savour of salt, which will irrevocably deteriorate like all things of the earth, Christians can always choose to strengthen their faith at any stage of their life (Hebrews 3:13) to work the much needed will of God in the people around:
But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.
However, like salt, humans also have a natural lifespan. It is therefore quite important to start seasoning the good news of salvation today, while we have good health and strong abilities to serve God (Ecclesiastes 12 – it is worthwhile reading the whole chapter, which describes a once bustling place coming to a standstill as an allegory of aging). Just as impurities can cause salt to lose some of its flavour, spiritual impurities can weaken the Christian, as the Bible says:
Luke 21:34 And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares.
Galatians 5:17 For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.
Just a little good salt can make a big impact. For example, think about a word spoken that hurt your feelings, then think about a kind word said in passing that brought much encouragement and made your day. Like salt, God’s word is powerful such that just a small act or word from you can introduce God’s value into someone’s life. Isaiah 55:11 reads, ‘So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.’ Even a little salt of the earth can make a difference if we choose to use it today.