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Salt appears throughout the Bible, and people most readily identify it with its ability to season food that would otherwise be bland. Salt is also a well-known agent in the preservation of food and a means of purification. The prophet Elisha employed salt to heal a spring and remove impurities found in the water (2 Kings 2:20–21). Ezekiel’s reference to the practice of rubbing a newborn baby with salt was possibly to prevent infection (Ezek. 16:4). Salt in the ancient world was very expensive, and people used it sparingly and with care. These multifaceted characteristics of salt as a valuable, taste-enhancing, preserving, and purifying agent play varying roles in the passages where this compound appears.
The first reference in the Bible to salt as an ingredient occurs in Exodus 30:35. The perfumer who made incense for the altar combined sweet spices with frankincense and seasoned the mixture with salt. Since this incense was not for consumption, salt was not a flavor additive. It did, however, depict both purity and preservation. Incense wafting heavenward from the altar was a symbol of prayer (Ps. 141:2; Luke 1:10; Rev. 5:8). Salt added to the mixture reminded Israel that when the priest burned this incense on the altar, their prayers were pure before God and not forgotten. As Christians, we pray in Jesus’ name so that all the virtue and value of His atoning sacrifice will purify our prayers. We also pray with the assurance that the Lord never forgets what we pray (Ps. 38:9; Rev. 8:3–4).
In addition to the incense, Moses instructed the Israelites to season their grain offerings with salt, which he called “the salt of the covenant with your God” (Lev. 2:13). Similar language occurs in the book of Numbers. The holy contributions that God’s people presented to Him belonged to the priests and their families as a perpetual statute. It was “a covenant of salt forever before the Lord” (Num. 18:19). A similar expression occurs in 2 Chronicles 13:5, where the dynasty that God promised to David was to last forever “by a covenant of salt.” Since the priests ate a portion of the grain offering (Lev. 6:16), salt may have been used to season it.
What, however, did Moses mean by “a covenant of salt”? Some interpreters have speculated that salt was a component of a covenant meal. After coming to terms of agreement, the parties of the covenant would celebrate their arrangement by sharing a meal. Since salt was expensive, a person would share it only with someone he could trust to indicate that he valued their bond. Though salt may have been a part of covenant meals, however, no direct evidence from Scripture indicates it was.
In the three references to either “the salt of the covenant” or a “covenant of salt,” the term “salt” describes or explains the covenant. In other words, it was a “salty” covenant or a covenant that was characterized by salt. Once again, the traits of purity and preservation come to the fore. The covenant was genuine and true because God gave it to His people. It is also everlasting. Well preserved, a covenant of salt lasts forever (Num. 18:19; 2 Chron. 13:5).
In the New Testament, the Lord Jesus urged His disciples to have salt in themselves (Mark 9:50). This exhortation occurs at the end of various warnings about sin and temptation that conclude with the solemn reminder that a day of judgment lies in the future when “everyone will be salted with fire” (v. 49). Christ’s followers are therefore to possess the good qualities of salt and not let them dissipate (v. 50). The fire of God’s judgment will salt and purify the world. Believers should therefore be a purifying influence in the world through their Christlike testimony. Believers are, after all, the salt of the earth (Matt. 5:13).
A significant part of our sanctification involves our speech. Our words should be gracious and “seasoned with salt” (Col. 4:6). With this admonition, Paul focuses on salt’s ability to flavor. Savory speech winsomely presents the truth. Words seasoned with salt never compromise the truth because they preserve and reflect the purity of the gospel, but they need not be harsh, strident, or unkind.
Salt is a part of our daily lives, and yet we may not think much about it. When we reflect on God’s Word, however, we see the significant role it plays in both testaments as well as the challenge it presents to us to become savory saints.