Seasoned with salt

Introduction

In Matthew 5:13 Jesus said to his disciples: “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavour, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.

Salt prevents corruption and decay and it is a natural preservative. Many commentaries agree that Jesus meant that being the salt of the earth means that we have to resist decay and corruption, to stop the rot, to prevent things getting worse!

Scientifically speaking

Salt is essential for our bodies to function, but only in small, regular quantities. Large quantities will make us ill and too much could kill us.  It has a unique taste that has its category in the four categories of taste: sweet, sour, umami (meaty) and salt.

Salt does not truly enter the substance that it affects; it brings out the natural flavour of the food. When you eat a properly salted food, you do not taste food with salt; you taste a food whose own flavour has been brought out by salt.

God’s judgment over Sodom and Gomorra

The first time we encounter salt in the Bible is in the story of Lot and his wife. In Genesis 19:26 Lots wife looked back, at the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and got turned into a pillar of salt. It seems like a very harsh punishment for a very small mistake. The Hebrew verb used here –  nabat[1], means to look at and show regard to, pay attention to and consider. Lots wife didn’t just look, she took time to think about and consider Gods judgement over the cities.

In Genesis 15:5 The Lord used the same verb when He told Abraham to consider His promises,  to draw conclusions and act accordingly.[2]

The angel forbade Lot and his family to look back and concern themselves with Gods judgement over Sodom and Gomorra and the other cities – it was none of their business.

There are judgements, that God has reserved for Himself and for those He has chosen to share them with.  We are easily tempted to concern ourselves with Gods judgement over other people’s sin. We even have an opinion about Gods judgement over the sins of whole cities and nations. Unless God Himself invites us to be involved, it is none of our business. When disaster strikes someone else Christians are often first  to pronounce it a judgment from God. Even though we have not spoken to God about it and have never interceded for those affected. We do it without love and without mercy.

God rescued Lot but He did not discuss His plans with Lot. Lot was very aware of God’s grace and mercy. On the basis of that mercy, Lot asked God to allow him to take shelter in a small town called Zoar. Lot believed that God was generous and merciful.  He was not concerned with God’s judgment over his former home. His faith was in the goodness of God and not in his own merit or the pros and cons of the situation.

We say we believe that God is good, but do we really? Are we concerned with issues we have never discussed with Him, and even more importantly issues He has never discussed with us? Sometimes it is enough just to be grateful that God has protected us. We don’t always need to have an opinion about everything and there are times when it is none of our business

However sometimes God does involve us.

A friend of God

When God, heard of the sinfulness of Sodom and Gomorra, He shared His plans with Abraham. Abraham, reacted exactly the way God wanted him to.  Instead of saying : “Amen Lord, it’s really terrible what’s been going on there, it’s about time You wiped them out,” Abraham came near to God, and started to negotiate with Him to spare Sodom and Gomorrah! The basis of Abrahams negotiations were not whether or not Sodom and Gomorra deserved to be destroyed. Abraham’s first concern was Gods own Name and reputation.

Real intercession always begins with what God thinks of the situation and not what we think God thinks. We need to be filled with the Holy Spirit to find out Gods opinion. The Spirit of greatest intercessor ever, the Spirit of Christ, longs to teach us the mind of the Father and share with us what Gods will is.[3] The basis of powerful intercession is a deep conviction of Who God is – His grace and mercy and love and righteousness and the honour of His Name.

The view from above

When Lots wife, not only looked back, but concerned herself with and began forming her own conclusions about Gods business, she became a pillar of salt (Genesis 19:26).

In Genesis 19: 28 Abraham did exactly the same and nothing happened to him at all. When Abraham looked at Gods destruction of the cities, a completely different Hebrew verb is used for ‘to look’, which means to look down on, or upon[4] – as if from a position of elevation, from higher ground. Abraham went back to the place that God spoke to him, (see verse 27). His starting point was not the place where he personally was at, it was the place he last met with God.  When we take the time to go back to the place where we met the Lord and then look at things happening around us, from Gods perspective, then somehow He lifts us above what is going on. We look in a different way and we are comforted. Because in the very next verse we are told that, with Abraham in mind, God had already rescued Lot.

A Pillar – appointed to take a stand

Lots poor wife was not as wise. The word pillar (in Hebrew netseeb) literally means an officer or someone appointed or placed in charge of something. It comes from a verb that means to take a particular stand or position. It is often translated with the words garrison (or military presence), officer, official or even governor.

To judge requires a position of authority derived from somewhere. When Lots wife presumed to judge, she appointed herself to a position of authority that God had not given her. God’s judgements are fair and righteous and His goal is always to bring us back to Him and to give life. Our judgements, when they are made without God do the opposite. They bring guilt and accusation and death. Being turned into a pillar simply confirmed the position that Lots wife had appropriated for herself.

The Bible doesn’t tell us what Lots wife’s opinions or conclusions were. We need to avoid making the same mistake in judging or having an opinion about her and about what happened to her, that she made over Sodom and Gomorrah.

Salt in the Bible a symbol of judgement.

When enough salt is scattered over a piece of land, it becomes completely infertile. This was Gods judgment over Sodom and Gomorrah and the other cities around them. They went from being incredibly productive and fertile to being a desert. The land was so salt nothing could grow there anymore. It was the custom in Biblical times, when you captured the land of an enemy, to scatter salt on their fields as a punishment, so that they could no longer grow food or crops.[5]

Salt as seasoning

The Hebrew word for salt is melach. It comes from a verb meaning to season or to make something tasty. Hebrew words often have more than one meaning. It also means to disperse, tear away or to be dispersed and dissipated – in other words scattered and used up.

For salt to fulfill its role as seasoning it has to bring out the individual taste of the food and make it stronger. To do that effectively, the salt needs to be evenly mixed and dispersed through the whole dish and not concentrated in one place.

That is why God sometimes puts us in places where we would rather not be. It is saddening that so many well-meaning believers retreat from the world and try to build communities for themselves to feel safe and to live their faith, cut off from everything. We were meant to go and mix with the world. We are not of the world, but we are definitely intended to be in the world.

An offering seasoned with salt

The other place we encounter salt in the Bible, is in the instructions for the sacrifices in Leviticus.  Aaron and the priests were instructed to season every sacrifice with salt.[6] It couldn’t have been as a preservative because the offers were either immediately completely burnt, or cooked and eaten by the priests and Levites and those who brought them. In fact, the first offers mentioned that needed to be seasoned with salt were grain offerings. The grain offerings had to be either completely consumed or burnt on the same day they were offered. They were not allowed to be kept till the following day. The role of salt was therefore not as a preservative.

God wanted the offers to taste good. The Hebrew word for offering is the word korban, which means literally, ‘to draw close to someone.’ The sacrifices in the Bible were not to placate God, but to bring us closer to Him. The Lord wanted to spend time with His people, share a tasty meal with them. It’s all about relationship.

In the New Testament we read in the book of Revelation that the bread of life, Jesus Himself, longs for exactly the same thing when He says to the Laodicean church:  “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. (Revelation 3;20).

A covenant of salt

In Numbers 18:19  and in 2 Chronicles 13:5 we read about a covenant of salt[7] made  with Aaron and his descendants and with David and his descendants.  The covenant of salt was for two groups of people:  Those called to be priests and those called to be kings.

We as believers are called both as priests and as kings in the Kingdom of God.

Salt is about relationship and about judgement

To have a relationship means sacrificing a piece of yourself. Most of the time it’s our natural selfishness.  When we choose for self-centeredness, our impatience and our pride then our relationships always suffer, both with God and with our fellow man. We have to look at ourselves and judge ourselves and add salt – to ourselves.

Too much salt however makes it impossible for anything to live or for anything to grow. Constantly criticising yourself, guilt and shame, only increase the distance in a relationship. It becomes all about you, instead of all about the other.

The salt of the earth 

Jesus said: “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. (Matthew 5:13)

Jesus always took things a level further. It is not our job to add salt – it is our job to be the salt!

Jesus was talking about people who are extraordinarily blessed, and full of indescribable joy. They are poor in spirit, in mourning, meek, hungry and thirsty for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, persecuted for doing the right thing, and reviled and lied about because of Jesus.

If you are poor in spirit, it is because you have been broken; if you mourn it is because you have lost something of value to you. You are hungry and thirsty for righteousness when you are surrounded by injustice. You can only be merciful if you have been hurt and offended. A heart that has been purified must once have been filthy. Peacemakers only exist where there is conflict. If you love Jesus, you will be persecuted and lied about.

A taste of the Kingdom

In the middle of all of this you will be blessed and full of indescribable joy.  This is what it means to be salt. You will bring out the true flavour of everything God is doing amongst us. The Kingdom of Heaven is yours, you will be comforted, you will inherit the earth, you will be filled with righteousness, you will obtain mercy and will see God. You will be called sons of God and you will have a great reward in heaven. These are the flavours that you will enhance.

Jesus didn’t tell us to impose our own taste or our own flavour on everyone and everything else. If you have added the right amount of salt then all the lovely flavours of a dish are much stronger, but you should not be able to taste the salt.

Being salt means bringing out the best in others.

In Matthew 5, Jesus made being good even harder than it was before. If you are angry with your brother and call him a fool, it is as bad as murder. When someone has something against you, you are the one who has to make the first step to reconcile with them. It even takes priority over approaching Gods altar. Jesus said, leave your sacrifice at the altar and go and make peace first and then come back. When we draw close to God, He will often, first, send us off to mend relationships before He takes us further.  Jesus taught us about reacting to our enemies in a most astonishing way – bless them, do good to them and pray for them.

This means that we are a people who react to things completely differently to the way the rest of the world does. We are in the world, but we are not of the world.  If we react in a completely natural and understandable way to the difficult circumstances in our lives we will lose that unique taste. Jesus warned that we will then be rejected and trampled on– by the world!

What was important to Jesus was not to preserve something or to try and stop the rot. He spoke about seasoning, about making things delicious. He came to give us life and life in abundance.

Seasoned with fire

“For everyone will be seasoned with fire, and every sacrifice will be seasoned with salt. “Salt is good, but if the salt loses its flavor, how will you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace with one another.” Mark 9:49-50

In Marks gospel Jesus talked about how we need to be prepared to destroy things in our own lives if need be. That if our foot or our eye causes us to sin we would be better off entering the Kingdom of heaven lame and with only one eye than not at all. He called this being seasoned with fire and with salt. Again it’s all about relationship – having peace with one another.

So often, we as believers, think that being salt means pointing out what is wrong and judging others.

The gospels talk about judging ourselves, and never about judging other people.

In all three gospels Jesus emphasizes the fact that salt is there to make things taste good. It’s not about stopping the rot or preserving things. It’s about bringing out and enhancing the true flavour of everything and everyone God made.

In each case Jesus talks about salt that has lost its taste being rejected, not by Him, but by other people. That salt that had lost its saltiness, that no longer enhanced the flavours of the Kingdom of God, could not be mended but would be thrown out by men.

We taste a lot better when we take ourselves with a pinch of salt.

Speech seasoned with salt

Colossians 4:6 Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.

Speech seasoned with salt does not mean you can say everything you think. It’s not about what we need to say, it’s about what the other person needs, or doesn’t need to hear.  We are sometimes so determined to give other person the benefit of our opinion we do enormous damage. We are inconsiderate of their needs and sensitivities because our focus is own need to get something off our own chest.

So what is speech seasoned with grace? Well the word grace (in Greek – charis) means joy, pleasure and delight, goodwill, lovingkindness and favour, thankfulness. That’s what speech made delicious by being salted with grace must contain, mixed evenly throughout and tasty.

As salt, our role is to bring out the best in other people. The salt in our own lives, the things we have judged and wrestled with, enable us to humbly be of service. We taste a lot better when we take ourselves with a pinch of salt.

 

[1] Hebrew: nabat – Strong number 05027, in the Hiphil form.

[2] Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”

[3] 1 Corinthians 2: 12 – 14  Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.  These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

Romans12:2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.[/3]

[4] In Genesis 14:28, when Abraham looked at Sodom and Gomorrah, ‘looked’ in Hebrew is shaqaf see Strong number 08259.

[5] Deuteronomy 29:23 ‘The whole land is brimstone, salt, and burning; it is not sown, nor does it bear, nor does any grass grow there, like the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboim, which the LORD overthrew in His anger and His wrath.’

Judges 9:45  So Abimelech fought against the city all that day; he took the city and killed the people who were in it; and he demolished the city and sowed it with salt. Ezekiel 47:11 “But its swamps and marshes will not be healed; they will be given over to salt.

Zephaniah 2:9 Therefore, as I live,” Says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, “Surely Moab shall be like Sodom, And the people of Ammon like Gomorrah—Overrun with weeds and saltpits, And a perpetual desolation….”[/5]

[6] Leviticus 2:13  ‘And every offering of your grain offering you shall season with salt; you shall not allow the salt of the covenant of your God to be lacking from your grain offering. With all your offerings you shall offer salt.

[7] Numbers 18:19  The Lord instructed Aaron:  “All the heave offerings of the holy things, which the children of Israel offer to the LORD, I have given to you and your sons and daughters with you as an ordinance forever; it is a covenant of salt forever before the LORD with you and your descendants with you.” 2 Chronicles 13:5  “Should you not know that the LORD God of Israel gave the dominion over Israel to David forever, to him and his sons, by a covenant of salt?