Matthew 5:13 – “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt should lose its taste, how can it be made salty? It’s no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.
In the Bible, salt is useful for seasoning food, but also has a symbolic meaning. We read that the sacrifices of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, were required to have salt included.
Leviticus 2:13 – “You are to season each of your grain offerings with salt; you must not omit from your grain offering the salt of the covenant with your God. You are to present salt with each of your offerings.
In their Old Testament commentary, Keil and Delitzsch write:
The meaning which the salt, with its power to strengthen food and preserve it from putrefaction and corruption, imparted to the sacrifice, was the unbending truthfulness of that self-surrender to the Lord embodied in the sacrifice, by which all impurity and hypocrisy were repelled.
This purifying and preservative effect of salt was widely known and those qualities were symbolically applied to covenants and agreements to demonstrate their enduring nature. Keil and Delitzsch continue:
The salt of the sacrifice is called the salt of the covenant, because in common life salt was the symbol of covenant; treaties being concluded and rendered firm and inviolable, according to a well-known custom of the ancient Greeks (see Eustathius ad Iliad. i. 449) which is still retained among the Arabs, by the parties to an alliance eating bread and salt together, as a sign of the treaty which they had made. As a covenant of this kind was called a “covenant of salt,” equivalent to an indissoluble covenant (Numbers 18:19; 2 Chronicles 13:5), so here the salt added to the sacrifice is designated as salt of the covenant of God, because of its imparting strength and purity to the sacrifice, by which Israel was strengthened and fortified in covenant fellowship with Jehovah.
For Yeshua to apply the symbolism of salt to the life of a believer shows how strongly he views the sacrificial, distinctive, and enduring nature of the believer should be in this world.
The apostle Paul also leverages this imagery when writing to the congregation at Colossae. Salt is used here as a symbol of gracious speech, carrying the idea of extending favor to others.
Colossians 4:5-6 – Act wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer each person.
The context of Yeshua’s identification of believers as the salt of the earth comes amidst similar admonitions to be the light of the world, being filled with mercy, peace, and humility outlined in the Beatitudes. All of these qualities are demonstrated to have a distinct impact on the world around us: seasoning over flavorlessness; light over darkness. The life of believer is one of curing and preservative influence, a life that makes a difference by simply being what it is. Salt can’t help but be salty; light can’t help but shine. These are the very natures contained within the things themselves that alter whatever they touch or wherever they can be seen.
We are instructed by Yeshua that these qualities of grace and compassion are inherent within believers, and should be the identifying marks that leave changed circumstances and environments in their wake as they travel through this life.
Let us not lose our saltiness and be cast aside; let us strive to be whom God has called us to be, and so honor his name and calling.
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