What does it mean for us to be salt? How does salt manifest itself? Let me give you some thoughts.
Salt has always been valuable in human society. The Romans said nothing was more valuable than sun and salt, because in a time before refrigeration, the only way they could preserve meat was to salt it. Roman soldiers were even paid with salt. And if you were a lousy soldier, you “weren’t worth your salt.”
Salt was also used throughout ancient society and even today as a sign of friendship and as a mark of a covenant.
In 2 Chronicles 13:5, God speaks of a “covenant of salt” that He made with David. It was common in that time to add salt to a covenant. When you wanted to authenticate the legality of a document, the two parties who entered into the agreement would eat salt before witnesses. And when the witnesses saw them eating salt, they said, “The covenant is binding.”
By the way, God prescribed salt as a necessary part of the sacrifices:
Every grain offering of yours, moreover, you shall season with salt, so that the salt of the covenant of your God shall not be lacking from your grain offering; with all your offerings you shall offer salt. (Leviticus 2:13)
Salt was also used to season food. Food without salt has got something missing. In Job 6:6 it says,
Can something tasteless be eaten without salt,
Or is there any taste in the white of an egg?
Salt could also serve a destructive purpose. If you wanted to really mess up your neighbor’s field, you’d just salt it. That’s what Abimelech did to Shechem in Judges 9:45. So salt became a symbol of something that was sterile and barren, at the same time as it held the idea of something virtuous and valuable.
You can see, then, that Jesus’s statement, “You are the salt of the earth,” would have opened up His audience’s minds to a lot of different thoughts.
Jesus could be saying, “You are the salt. You’re to go out there and punish the world. I’m sending you out there to sprinkle their fields and kill their crops.” Or they could have heard it as, “You are the salt. You are the valuable people of the world; there is nothing more valuable than salt and sunlight, and you are the salt.”
Commentators have suggested several explanations for this salt analogy. Some say the whiteness of salt was meant as an image of the purity of believers. Others say the main idea is that believers add flavor to the world. Still others argue that the main idea is this: Believers, like salt, should sting the wounds of the world by confronting its sin.
So, are any of these aspects what Jesus means by believers being salt? I think, partially, yes. I think we ought to be pure in the world. I think we ought to bring flavor. And I definitely think we ought to sting. But I think there is something else at the core of Jesus’ words here, and that will be the topic of our next post.
This post is based on a sermon Dr. MacArthur preached in 1979, titled “You Are the Salt of the Earth.”
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