Matthew 5:13 (HCSB), “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt should lose its taste, how can it be made salty? It’s no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled on by men.”
What did Jesus mean that we were the ‘salt of the earth’? We use the phrase to describe a person of kindness, reliability and honesty. But is that all that Jesus meant, and why is it ‘salt of the earth’ that implies those qualities?
So what is salt? Chemically we know that it is Sodium Chloride (NaCl), but that is the pure form of its composition. In nature it is always in combination with other substances. It depends whether it is rock-salt, sea-salt or lake-salt. And even then there is a great variation within each category depending on the source. So when we speak of the ‘salt of the earth’ we cannot restrict our thinking to its pure form, but rather to the wider understanding of its various formats.
Physically we find many uses for salt, such as to improve the taste or flavour of our foods, to preserve goods from decay for longer periods, to cure meats to prevent putrefaction, it is an essential aspect of our health, and in areas prone to ice and snow it is used to help keep roads and paths clear. But ‘salt’ may be of a different composition, for the word is used to describe any resultant substance formed from the combination of an acid and a base. Our bodies are a combination of minerals and salts (with a lot of water added), and these ‘salts’ are found in the earth. As the scripture reminds us, “for dust you are, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). The one thing we can definitely say is that ‘salt’ is honest, it changes not, for NaCl is always NaCl and will never be BaCl (Barium Chloride). Though if we wash the salt from the earth then we can say that it has lost its saltiness and is no longer of any use except to pave the paths (Matthew 5:13).
There are many spiritual and moral interpretations regarding our ‘saltiness’, but what is this ‘covenant of salt’? In a trinity of verses (Numbers 18:19, Leviticus 2:13 and 2 Chronicles 13:5) we read of the importance of this covenant. The first two are in relation to a perpetual covenant between God and Israel regarding the sacrifices in the Tabernacle. But the reference from 2 Chronicles is about the covenant God made with David! So obviously God holds a ‘covenant of salt’ in high regard, but why?
In many cultures, especially in the Middle East, a stranger could be offered shelter, comfort and protection above and beyond the normal expectation of hospitality. By offering a meal with salt, such as bread and salt, or buttermilk, it became a pledge of loyalty and protection. Thus the three examples of the ‘covenant of salt’ enforced God’s loyalty and protection over Israel and later specifically David. It should be noted that part of the Passover meal includes the dipping of bread into salty water, so that when Jesus dipped the sop and handed it to Judas it became a ‘covenant of salt’ between them which Judas betrayed.
The practice of a ‘salt covenant’ was often part of a wedding ceremony, where the groom promised loyalty and protection towards his bride, and Jesus at the last supper, having shared the bread and salt, goes on to share the wedding words about going to the Father’s house and preparing a place. That would imply that another view of taking communion is to remember our ‘salt covenant’ slash ‘wedding covenant’ of our relationship with Jesus. It also means that though Jesus promises us his loyalty and protection, it is also incumbent on us to be loyal towards him as a pure and spotless bride so that we may continue to enjoy the benefits of the covenant. But Jesus never forsakes his role.