The Salt of the Earth
Douglas A. Wheeler, PhD, ThD
One of the greatest standards for Christian living was presented to us by Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount. The principles presented are of timeless value and contain the foundation for a dynamic way of life. Many pages have been written and many sermons preached concerning the Sermon on the Mount. Ten times in this teaching, Jesus uses the words blessed or bless. Jewish tradition teaches that there are ten ways in which God revealed Himself to man. These are called the ten sefirot. These ten sefirot are called by a variety of names such as ten countings, the ten spheres, or the ten emanations. It was believed that the sefirot bridged the gap between God and man. The ten sefirot are:
Din or Gevurah (Judgment or Power)
The ten sefirot are revealed in the Sermon on the Mount. It is through these ten sefirot that the Jews believed that the world as they knew it was both created and upheld. Sefirot is from the root saphar (ספר), and according to Gesenius' Hebrew/Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament, it means to write, scribe, bring into order, to number, to count and to measure. It also means to polish. Is Jesus showing us how to polish our lives? Is He showing us how to bring our lives into order, into divine order?
The word blessed is from the Hebrew root barak (ברך), and it means to kneel down, to bend the knees, to invoke God, to ask for blessings and to bless. This idea of blessing can be clearly illustrated by picturing a camel being forced to kneel by his master. The camel is made to kneel for rest, and then to have his back loaded with goods. Once the goods have been placed upon the camel’s back, he can be led out so that distribution can take place at the point of need. Christians are like the camel. Sometimes, we need rest; at other times we are prospered and have our backs loaded with goods. We are not to hoard these goods but rather to distribute them at the point of need.
To be blessed of God also means to be the recipient of divine favor. In other words, the blessing of God is to receive His favor and affirmations. The by-product of this divine affirmation is peace, joy, and goodness demonstrated or worked out in the life of the believer. Oral tradition says that shalom (שלום) is one of the names of God, blessed be He. According to Matityahu Glazerson, “this name is connected with the holy quality of yesod (foundation). Another characteristic connected with yesod is goodness (tov טוב) and this, too is one of the names of the Holy One, blessed be He. Through marriage, a man can achieve these two blessings: peace and goodness.”
PEACE AND GOODNESS IN MARRIAGE
The idea of peace and goodness in marriage is implied in and pertinent to the Sermon on the Mount. It is such an integral part, that the principles can never by worked out in community until they are first worked out in the family. In fact, to the Hebraic mind, the five great blessings are peace, goodness, Torah, marriage, and life. It was a commonly held opinion that until a man married and was inspired by his wife that he would never really understand the deeper teachings of Torah. According to tradition, there are six benefits that belong to those who are married. These six benefits are:
Joy (simcha, שמחה)
Blessing (berachah, ברכה)
Goodness (tovah, טובה)
Torah (torah, תורה)
Wall (chomah, חומה)
Peace (shalom, שלום)
Let’s take a closer look at these benefits of the marriage relationship.
1. Joy (simcha, שמחה) is from the root שמח. Marriage should be filled with gladness. A joyful and cheerful countenance should be evidenced. This root also means to have a merry voice and describes those who have become merry with wine.
2. Blessings (berachah, ברכה) from the root ברך means to prosper and to receive affirmation.
3. Goodness (tovah, טובה) from the root טוב means to be pleasant and agreeable. It means to be beautiful.
4. Torah (torah תורה) from the root ׳רה means divine instruction, to lay foundations, and to cast a foundation.
5. Wall (chomah, חומה) from the root חמה means to surround, to protect, and to guard.
6. Peace (shalom, שלום) from the root שלם means to be whole, complete, entire, secure, and tranquil. It also means to abide in safety. It also has the idea of being completed or finished.
All of these benefits unite to form quality of life. Therefore, marriage and family should provide for all of its members joy, the receiving of affirmation, pleasant and agreeable attitudes, and character, as well as providing the opportunity for instruction and protection. The husband and wife, as well as all family members, should be working together to achieve wholeness and completeness as a family unit. It is not the purpose here to tell every adult person that they should be married and if they are not to go out and get married. We are all products of family. Can you imagine what our lives and the lives of our children would be like if we were consistently living in this type of atmosphere and environment? To the Hebraic mind, peace among the family was not just a private matter, but rather had the potential to affect the community as a whole. Those who were at peace with one another and secure in their home environment could affect community in a more positive way than those who were not. Before the Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount can be worked out in community, they must first be worked out in the marriage relationship and in the family.
YOU ARE THE SALT OF THE EARTH
Jesus made a vital statement in the Sermon on the Mount that requires careful examination in respect to the community in general and the family in particular. In Matthew 5:13 we read, “Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under the foot of men.”
What was Jesus saying? Is He only talking about purity? Does this message of “salt” have relevance in the family as well as in community? Was He simply speaking of our effectiveness as Christians in the world? Was He saying something about salt that we either missed or do not understand? If we could understand the concept of salt as outlined in the entire Bible, and if we could evaluate that concept from a Hebraic mindset, we would see that Jesus was making a statement that had the potential to completely change our lives. Consider not only the conceptual idea of salt as it is developed throughout the Bible, but a few Jewish traditions concerning salt.
SALT AS A STAPLE ON THE JEWISH TABLE
Salt, along with bread and wine, was and is one of the staples on a Jewish table. It is a reminder of the sin of Adam. In Genesis 3:17-19 we read, “And unto Adam he said, because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life: thorns also and thistles shalt it bring forth to thee: and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; in the seat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” Sweat is salty and a reminder of not only the sin of Adam but also the consequences of all rebellion toward God.
SALT AS REPRESENTATIVE OF COVENANT
We also see salt as representative of covenant. When the land was to be divided among the twelve tribes of Israel, the tribe of Levi was given no land. It was God’s plan to take care of the priests by the tithes and offerings of the children of Israel. In Numbers 18:1-6 we read, “And the LORD said unto Aaron, Thou and thy sons and thy father’s house with thee shall bear the iniquity of the sanctuary: and thou and thy sons with thee shall bear the iniquity of your priesthood. And thy brethren also of the tribe of Levi, the tribe of thy father, bring thou with thee, that they may be joined unto thee, and minister unto thee: but thou and thy sons with thee shall minister before the tabernacle of witness. And they shall keep thy charge, and the charge of all the tabernacle: only they shall not come nigh the vessels of the sanctuary and the altar, that neither they, nor ye also, die. And they shall be joined unto thee, and keep the charge of the tabernacle of the congregation, for all the service of the tabernacle: and a stranger shall not come nigh unto you. And ye shall keep the charge of the sanctuary, and the charge of the altar: that there be no wrath any more upon the children of Israel. And I, behold, I have taken your brethren the Levites from among the children of Israel: to you they are given as a gift for the LORD, to do the service of the tabernacle of the congregation.” It is important to remember that the Levites were given as a gift to do the work of service.
In this passage we can also see how God took care of the financial needs of the Levites. Remember that they were given no land. This is outlined in verse 20-21 of the same chapter. “And the LORD spake unto Aaron, Thou shalt have no inheritance in their land, neither shalt thou have any part among them: I am thy part and thine inheritance among the children of Israel. And, behold, I have given the children of Levi all the tenth in Israel for an inheritance, for their service which they serve, even the service of the tabernacle of the congregation.” In verse 19, we read, “All the heave offerings of the holy things, which the children of Israel offer unto the LORD, have I given thee, and thy sons and thy daughters with thee, by a statute for ever: it is a covenant of salt for ever before the LORD unto thee and to thy seed with thee.” The priests received no land but their part and their inheritance was the Lord.
Salt is a preservative. Salt is a symbol of the everlasting nature of the covenant that God made with the Levites. A covenant of salt between God and man can never be broken. It endures forever. This covenant is still in force. Kings and priests He has made us to be. We are joint heirs with Christ. Truly, the Lord is our part and our inheritance. God is still taking care of His priests.
SALT MIXED WITH THE SACRIFICES
There is a Jewish tradition today of beginning a meal by sprinkling salt on a piece of bread and eating it. This custom is believed to be derived from God’s command to mix salt with the meat (meal) offering. Remember that it is the role of the Levites to minister to the Lord before the tabernacle and the Temple. In Leviticus 2:13 we read, “And every oblation of thy meat offering shalt thou season with salt; neither shalt thou suffer the salt of the covenant of thy God to be lacking from thy meat offering: with all thine offerings thou shalt offer salt.”
By the time of the second temple period, salt was added to all sacrifices that were brought to the sacrificial altar. Salt is a reminder of covenant. The term covenant can be defined here as, “I will be to you a God, and you shall be to Me a people.” Without salt, the sacrifice was not complete. Salt was the reminder that Israel had a God and they were His people. It took both the offering and the salt to make the sacrifice complete. The salt was added to demonstrate the eternal nature of the covenant. It was symbolic that God would never break the pledge or bond of the covenant.
PRIESTS ADD SALT
It was the responsibility of the priests to add the salt to the offerings. The people did not actually witness the act of adding the salt. Over the course of many years, the priests themselves became the representation of the salt that was added to the offerings. In other words, the people did not see the priests add the salt, but they knew that they had because God commanded it. The priests became the symbol of the salt. Every time they saw the priests, the people knew that the covenant with God was still in force. The priests were the living testimony that God was mindful of the covenant that He established with them. The priests actually became a source of security for the people.
JESUS IS THE SACRIFICE, WE ARE THE SALT
Is this then not part of what Jesus meant when He called us the salt of the earth? Jesus is the sacrifice, and we are the salt. We become the living representations that the covenant God established through the shed blood of Jesus is still in force. We are the symbols of the New Covenant. It is a covenant of salt that will endure forever. This is what the writer of Hebrews meant when he wrote in chapter 9:11-15. “But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by His own blood He entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? And for this cause He is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.”
If you are born again, then you become part of the sacrifice of Jesus. You not only accept it; you become a representative of it. You are a priest in the kingdom of priests. You become a symbol that the covenant that God established with us through the person of Jesus Christ is still in force.
THE THREE WORDS
Consider this idea from a different angle. Three words in Hebrew have the same letters in their root. The order of the letters is different, but they contain the same three letters. These words are:
Salt – מלח - to be soft, smooth. To soothe and comfort.
Pardon – מחל - to pardon, to renounce.
Bread - לחם - Jesus is the bread of life.
We could add a fourth letter to this list. Even though it has one letter in the root that is different, its pronunciation is almost identical to that of salt. The word is:
King – מלך
SALT IS HEALING, SOOTHING
The Hebrew word “salt” not only means to be soft, smooth and soothing; it was believed to possess healing properties. Salt was rubbed over newborn babies as a sign of cleansing and healing. Salt was also worn in the pockets and sprinkled in the corner of rooms to ward off evil spirits and protect the people in the home from evil and danger. Is it not the role of believers to be used of God to bring healing to a lost and dying world by proclaiming the sacrifice of Jesus? Are we not called by Jesus to be peacemakers? Salt is a symbol of peace. We are not only called to bring peace but to bring soothing and comfort to those who are in pain. Many scientists believe that salt cannot really lose its saltiness but that it can be diluted. It can indeed lose its effectiveness. Salt that was collected from the area around the Dead Sea was taken to Jerusalem and stored in the Temple. Salt that was not pure enough to be mixed with the offerings was stored separately and used to coat the marble courtyards when it rained in order to reduce the slipperiness of the pavement. It was trodden under the foot of men. Jesus is the sacrifice, and we are the salt added to that sacrifice. Before we can be salt to the world and to the community, we must first be salt to our own families. Before we can be priests to the world, we must first be effective priests in our own homes.
WHAT KIND OF SALT ARE YOU?
How do you measure up as salt? Evaluate it from a place of family before you evaluate it from community. The answer is not difficult to determine. Ask yourself a few simple questions.
Is your marriage and family life filled with gladness and joy?
Are you giving and receiving affirmation to the members of your family? Are you a blessing to them?
Are you pleasant and agreeable to be around?
Do you provide instruction in spiritual things in your home?
Is the Lord using you to bring wholeness and emotional wellness to your family?
Do you make your family feel safe and secure in God’s love and in your love?
If not, maybe the salt has become somewhat diluted. How do we line up? How effective are we as salt? Consider again the word for salt (מלח). In Hebrew not only does each word have a picture meaning, but also each letter in the word has a picture meaning.
מ - symbolizes perfection and completeness.
ל - symbolizes learning and study.
ח - symbolizes life. Divine essence and presence in our physical reality.
How can you be pure salt? Let Jesus bring you to completeness and perfection. God, through Jesus, has revealed the sefirot. He is our crown, our head, and our Lord. We must walk in His wisdom, understanding, and mercy. That is what the Sermon on the Mount was all about. Our lives need to be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. We need to stand in awe of His majesty, eternity, and beauty. He is our foundation. He is the One who teaches us to live the kingdom life. We should study and learn the Word of God, the ways of the Lord; then we should not only walk in them, but we should also teach and minister them to our families. We must continually experience the presence of Jesus in our physical reality. If you will do these things, you will never lose your savour. שלום