Saturday, February 26, 2022

Outdoor Object Lesson 114 - Salty Salt

Hear this episode on my new podcast Gleams of the Morning. 

Key Text

“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 ESV


“Salt of the earth” is a popular complement most people in our culture are familiar with. It is one of the most well known sayings of Jesus. However, most people are unaware that Jesus was not the first to use salt for spiritual symbolism. 

Most all sacrifices in the Levitical law required salt to be added. (See Leviticus 2:13). In ancient times salt was used as a preservative and to add savoriness to food. According to Ellicott’s Bible Commentary, adding salt to a sacrifice symbolized the perpetuity of the Covenant God had with his people. Serving guests the best and most savory food you could offer was a sign of hospitality, friendliness and fidelity in the ancient Middle East. The saying, “To eat bread and salt together” is still a common expression in the Middle East used to mean an alliance or covenant between people. Salt was a popular metaphor for wisdom in Rabbinic literature of Jesus’ time also. Salt held great symbolism in that culture. 

But salt cannot lose its saltiness can it? What did Jesus mean by this odd phrase? Sodium chloride, the most common mineral used for table salt, is very stable. Left in a dry place it can remained unchanged for thousands of years and will still taste salty. Jesus’ message was intended as metaphor and not as a chemistry lesson, so factual accuracy was not his goal. 

The most common explanation given for Jesus’ metaphor is that the Dead Sea salt commonly used in the Levant, was not pure sodium chloride but a white powdery mix of several minerals. It was not unlike common salty seasoning mixtures of today, like all purpose seasoning. In the Dead Sea salt mix, the sodium chloride was the most soluble mineral. If left exposed to moisture, the sodium chloride could leach out of the seasoning powder leaving it bland. Thus Jesus’ question, “how can it be made salty again?” 

This metaphor comes just after the beatitudes and seems out of place at first blush. In the beatitudes, Jesus spends 12 verses up-ending his listeners world-view with statements like “blessed are the meek” and “blessed are those who are persecuted”. In verse 12 Jesus lays out his point, “Be glad…your reward is in heaven.”

In verse 13 he then uses the salt metaphor. “You are the salt of the earth.” He is telling his hearers, You are here to bring savoriness to the world, you are here to preserve people’s life by sharing the gospel. This is your purpose as a believer. But, if you lose your saltiness, your purpose, what are you here for? Jesus wanted to remind his followers we are not here to live for ourselves. We have a reason to live for and a job to do. Don’t let the world dilute your purpose. Remember, it only takes a little salt to season a whole recipe. 

Here is a question to ponder.

What are two ways you can be the salt of the earth in someone life this week?

Written by David F. Garner