Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Life-giving Salt

Instead of regularly salting my food, I use other spices. Of course, every now and then I crave something salty and dive into cheese twists or a bowl of popcorn. 

Salt is vital to human life. Without it, the human body cannot perform vital functions like regulating blood and body fluids and maintaining nerve signals. Salt deficiency can lead to muscular weakness, cramps and exhaustion. Severe salt deprivation can even prove fatal. 


In the Bible, salt illustrates some important principles. Since it is so vital to life, it was included in offerings made to God and even used in naming His covenant.
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. (Leviticus 2:13)
Here, salt stands for permanence and incorruption. Used in this “covenant of salt,” it signifies the everlasting nature God’s promises to His people. Salt symbolizes perpetuity. In other words, I everlastingly belong to Him, and He everlastingly belongs to me!

This Old Testament use of salt to signify permanence is seen in other passages like 2 Chronicles 13:5, “Don’t you know that the LORD, the God of Israel, has given the kingship of Israel to David and his descendants forever by a covenant of salt?” and Numbers 18:19, “All the holy contributions that the people of Israel present to the LORD I give to you, and to your sons and daughters with you, as a perpetual due. It is a covenant of salt forever before the LORD for you and for your offspring with you.”

After the Babylonian captivity, the Jews were allowed to rebuild their city and their temple in Jerusalem. To do that, the king sent out a decree concerning supplies to help them. He included salt.

And I, Artaxerxes the king, make a decree to all the treasurers in the province Beyond the River: Whatever Ezra the priest, the scribe of the Law of the God of heaven, requires of you, let it be done with all diligence, up to 100 talents of silver, 100 cors of wheat, 100 baths of wine, 100 baths of oil, and salt without prescribing how much. Whatever is decreed by the God of heaven, let it be done in full for the house of the God of heaven, lest his wrath be against the realm of the king and his sons. (Ezra 7:21–23)
Every commodity was measured except salt. For this, the supply should meet whatever the need, no matter how much.

As I read these verses and remember some of the others in the New Testament, I think of the grace of God and how He supplies the Holy Spirit to meet the needs of His people. This supply is everlasting and has the purifying and savoring properties of salt. In fact, the presence of the Holy Spirit is vital to my Christian life. Without Him, I cannot do anything in obedience to God, yet He supplies the need, no matter how much.

The New Testament adds a further dimension to the supply of God using the symbolism of salt. One of the most difficult to understand is found in Mark:

And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another. (Mark 9:47–50)
In the context of the verses prior to these, the idea of being “salted with fire” likely is not about the eternal judgment of hell in verse 48, but more likely the fires of trial and testing in the life of the believer. This kind of “fire” purifies rather than destroys, and is good for me. It prevents me from losing my saltiness and teaches me to live by the grace of God.

That means having “salt in yourselves” is most likely about the humility and dedication to one another that is reinforced by trial and testing. If I lose this salt, I am not easily made salty again, but by maintaining this salt, I can more easily be at peace with others. Purity of dedication to Jesus, not seeking my own advantage and serving others promotes peace. It is part of being salty and could be described as the opposite of a “me first” attitude. When the Spirit of God is in control, that is what happens.

In today’s world, we don’t easily think of salt losing its saltiness, as the above verses describe, but in Bible times, salt came from the Dead Sea and could lose its salty taste if mixed with impure and foul compounds.

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)
Again, reading these verses speaks to me of the Holy Spirit. Christians are earthen vessels with a treasure inside. The Holy Spirit dwells in us, and His light and saltiness go forth to purify and preserve to the world. Yet impurity in me can ruin that saltiness. While my everlasting covenant with God cannot change, its effectiveness to a dying world can. This is why God also says,
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. (Colossians 4:5–6)
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Lord, this was a long study to come down to a simple truth: be filled with the Holy Spirit. I need to always rely on You for the grace needed to be a blessing to those that cross my path. When I crave salt, or even when I do not, I need to remember that the people in this world will perish without Jesus Christ and without the salt You give Your people.

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