The transformational power of salt in each generation

Core of the Bible Podcast #22 – The transformational power of salt in each generation

In this episode we will be exploring the topic of compassion, and how Yeshua uses a metaphor of salt, drawing on its various qualities to show how believers can transform relationships in every generation.

Yeshua stated it this way:

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.” -Matthew 5:13

This is such a fascinating saying of Yeshua. It actually appears to be a standalone saying that is recorded for us in several other passages as well.

Mark 9:50 – “Salt is good; but if the salt becomes unsalty, with what will you make it salty [again?] Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

Luke 14:34-35 – “Therefore, salt is good; but if even salt has become tasteless, with what will it be seasoned? “It is useless either for the soil or for the manure pile; it is thrown out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

So, there are a couple of aspects for us to explore. First and foremost, Yeshua seems to be cautioning against losing a salty flavor, because then salt becomes useless, and is only good to be thrown out and walked upon. Secondly, he is encouraging the retention of saltiness because it provides a measure of peace.

Now, in today’s jargon, saltiness has a connotation of someone being abrasive or rude. So in order for us to have a better understanding about what  Yeshua was saying, it may be helpful for us to see how salt is used in the Bible.

Of course, one of the most famous examples has been Lot’s wife, who was turned into a pillar of salt after disobeying the command to not look back at the judgment being poured out on the plain of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Genesis 19:24-26 – Then the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven, and He overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground. But his wife, from behind him, looked [back,] and she became a pillar of salt.

Later on, within the instructions of the sacrificial offerings, the grain offerings were commanded to be offered with salt as well.

Lev 2:13: “Every offering of your meal offering you shall season with salt; neither shall you allow the salt of the covenant of your God to be lacking from your meal offering. With all your offerings you shall offer salt.”

Also, salt is mentioned in the context of covenants with the idea that since salt acts as a preservative and therefore the covenant would have an everlasting nature to it.

Num 18:19: “All the wave offerings of the holy things, which the children of Israel offer to Yahweh, have I given you, and your sons and your daughters with you, as a portion forever: it is a covenant of salt forever before Yahweh to you and to your seed with you.””

Salt is also a means of causing fruitlessness, destroying the ability of an area to produce vegetation or grow anything.

Judges 9:45 – Abimelech fought against the city all that day, and he captured the city and killed the people who [were] in it; then he razed the city and sowed it with salt.

Conversely, salt can restore that which is not useful by purifying it for safe and healthy use, as in the case of Elisha and a spring of water.

2 Kings 2:19-21 – Then the men of the city said to Elisha, “Behold now, the situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord sees; but the water is bad and the land is unfruitful.” He said, “Bring me a new jar, and put salt in it.” So they brought [it] to him. He went out to the spring of water and threw salt in it and said, “Thus says the LORD, ‘I have purified these waters; there shall not be from there death or unfruitfulness any longer.'”

In the context of the Sermon on the Mount where we are taking our passage today, Yeshua is cautioning his hearers to not lose their saltiness, their distinctive nature and unique influence. The flow of this teaching moves immediately after this saying into the city on the hill parable.

Matthew 5:14-16  – “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does [anyone] light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

The primary meaning of the salt reference in the context of the city on the hill is a reference of Yeshua to his own people for their unique place in the world. God had called Israel out of the nations to be distinctive, a people ruled only by him who would follow his ways as an example to the rest of the world. They were the physical forerunner of the prophetic Zion, the city on the hill that all nations would stream to to learn his ways.

Psalm 86:8-9  – There is no one like You among the gods, O Lord, Nor are there any works like Yours. All nations whom You have made shall come and worship before You, O Lord, And they shall glorify Your name.

Isaiah 2:3 – And many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, To the house of the God of Jacob; That He may teach us concerning His ways And that we may walk in His paths.” For the law will go forth from Zion And the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

Haggai 2:6-7  – “For thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘Once more in a little while, I am going to shake the heavens and the earth, the sea also and the dry land. ‘I will shake all the nations; and they will come with the wealth of all nations, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the LORD of hosts.

Yeshua was reminding his hearers of their unique calling in the world, to not lose their distinctiveness amidst the corruption and evil of their day. They were to remember that they, as Israelites who were believing in God’s Messiah, were that city on the hill. Through their faithfulness and commitment to the Kingdom of God and his Messiah, God would ultimately reach out to all nations in compassion and hope.

Yeshua choosing the metaphor of salt was enlightening on many levels. Just like Lot’s wife and Abimelech overthrowing the city of Shechem, if they retained their saltiness, it would represent a measure of finality in judgment upon that rebellious generation. But the metaphor also recalls the seasoning of offerings, as many of them would be giving their lives in the persecution that was going to come upon them after his death. Finally, their saltiness would have a purifying effect among those whom he was calling, and would be a preservative of the peace and unity that God intends for all believers.

JUDGMENT

As salt is a type of judgment, the generation of Yeshua had filled up the measure of wickedness that God could tolerate, and they were about to be wiped out. This is the urgency contained in John the baptizer’s message to repent, and likewise Yeshua’s message of repentance.

Matthew 3:1-2  – Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Matthew 4:17  – From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Yeshua spared no words of condemnation upon the corrupt leadership of his day.

Matthew 23:13 – “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.

Luke 11:42 – “But woe to you Pharisees! For you pay tithe of mint and rue and every [kind of] garden herb, and [yet] disregard justice and the love of God; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.

There are numerous other examples of this type of denunciation of the corrupt leadership; just type in the word “woe” into any Bible app to search many other instances where this is the case. The generation alive at the time of the ministry of Yeshua was under the pending condemnation of God, and he spent most of his time in public conveying the urgency and finality of the coming judgment upon them.

Matthew 12:41-42 – “The men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation at the judgment, and will condemn it because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. “[The] Queen of [the] South will rise up with this generation at the judgment and will condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.

Luke 11:50-51  – so that the blood of all the prophets, shed since the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the house [of God;] yes, I tell you, it shall be charged against this generation.’

Yeshua knew that the time was at hand and those who were unrepentant would not be spared. The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke all convey the urgency of that message of judgment.

Matthew 24:34; Mark 13:30; Luke 21:32 “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.

The fact that Messiah was raising up believers was as if he was sowing the salt of destruction among the corruption of that day. While this may not sound very compassionate, the fact that God was providing opportunities for the leaders to repent demonstrated that at the heart of judgment lies compassion in the admonition for repentance.

Each generation likewise needs to understand the judgments of God, and it is only with this type of salty compassion that believers can continue the transformation of the kingdoms of the world into the Kingdom of God.

OFFERINGS

Since salt was also to be used among the offerings of the sacrificial system, Yeshua was letting his hearers know that one of their purposes of transformation was also to be a seasoning of sacrifice for others. This would come to pass as many of the believers would perish in the persecutions of the first century. Here is a collection of verses about Yeshua warning his believers, and then those things coming to pass.

John 16:2  – “They will make you outcasts from the synagogue, but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God.

Matthew 23:34  – “Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city,

uke 11:49  – “For this reason also the wisdom of God said, ‘I will send to them prophets and apostles, and [some] of them they will kill and [some] they will persecute,

Luke 21:12  – “But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name’s sake.

This aspect of sacrificial transformation was exhibited starkly in the martyrdom of Stephen after he had boldly confronted the leadership with the truth of God’s word.

Acts 7:51-53, 57-58 – “You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did. “Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become; you who received the law as ordained by angels, and [yet] did not keep it.” … But they cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears and rushed at him with one impulse. When they had driven him out of the city, they [began] stoning [him;]

Acts 8:1  – And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.

Acts 11:19  – So then those who were scattered because of the persecution that occurred in connection with Stephen made their way to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except to Jews alone.

This type of persecution and sacrifice drove the apostle Paul to remind the believers of the underlying mission: the love of Messiah was to be the continual motivator in all distress, and a reminder even to their enemies.

Romans 8:35  – Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

Romans 12:14  – Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.

Romans 12:1 – Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, [which is] your spiritual service of worship.

The love that had been shown to the believers was to be exhibited in the compassionate outflow of that love to others.

PURIFYING

Remembering back to the incident with Elisha at the well of water, we can discern that salt has a purifying aspect as well. In his letters to Timothy and to Titus, Paul reiterates this dynamic with each of them to be conveyed to their congregations

1 Timothy 4:12  – Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but [rather] in speech, conduct, love, faith [and] purity, show yourself an example of those who believe

Titus 2:6-8 – Likewise urge the young men to be sensible; in all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, [with] purity in doctrine, dignified, sound [in] speech which is beyond reproach, so that the opponent will be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us.

Titus 2:11-14 – For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age … Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.

The grace of God purifies God’s people for good deeds. This message is all through the Bible. believers are encouraged to be engaged with good actions and doing positive things for others.

Psalm 34:14  – Turn away from evil and do good. Search for peace, and work to maintain it.

Psalm 37:3 – Trust in the LORD and do good. Then you will live safely in the land and prosper

2 Corinthians 9:8  – And God is able to make every grace overflow to you, so that in every way, always having everything you need, you may excel in every good work.

1 Timothy 6:17-18 – Instruct those who are rich in the present age not to be arrogant or to set their hope on the uncertainty of wealth, but on God, who richly provides us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do what is good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and willing to share,

Hebrews 13:16  – Don’t neglect to do what is good and to share, for God is pleased with such sacrifices.

Yeshua even goes so far as to instruct us that it is not just enough for us to do good to our friends and family, but those who are adversarial to us, as well:

Luke 6:27  – But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you,

With all of these admonitions to be doing good things, the purification that takes place in the lives of believers should result in compassionate opportunities for service to enrich the lives of those around us.

PRESERVING

Finally, in Mark 9:50, Yeshua says to “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” We can see that salt also has an everlasting quality as a preservative that is related to peace. Just as the everlasting nature of covenant was illustrated with salt, the preserving nature of salt is that it would facilitate an everlasting peace.

John 16:33  – “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”

Romans 8:6  – For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace,

Romans 12:18  – If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.

Romans 14:19  – So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.

Galatians 5:22  – But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control.

In reassuring the believers in Philippi, Paul relates an aspect of the Spirit of God in providing his people peace in the midst of anxious situations.

Philippians 4:6-7  – Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

The outworking of this peace should then be evident within the lives of believers. Since salt is a preservative, we need to apply that preservative to the compassionate peace and unity that should be evident among the people of God.

Ephesians 4:1-3 – I, therefore, the prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live worthily of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to keep [i.e., preserve] the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

In summary, let’s review where we started within this teaching of Yeshua on the Sermon on the Mount.

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.” -Matthew 5:13

According to Yeshua, we are called to be as distinctive and useful as salt while on this earth, otherwise we really have no purpose. Drawing on this metaphor, an encounter with a believer should be a unique experience, one that carries a distinctive taste amidst a world of bland, personal opinion and selfish actions. As we have seen, salt can be an instrument of destruction, but also has properties of sacrifice and purification, along with qualities of preservation. These are the characteristics and influences that a believer should have on those around them. These stem from a godly and compassionate heart that wants to influence others for their good through this transformational nature of salt.

If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive here. Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

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