Numbers 18:19 (ESV)
All the holy contributions that the people of Israel present to the Lord I give to you, and to your sons and daughters with you, as a perpetual due. It is a covenant of salt forever before the Lord for you and for your offspring with you.
2 Chronicles 13:5 (ESV)
Ought you not to know that the Lord God of Israel gave the kingship over Israel forever to David and his sons by a covenant of salt?
According to “The Naked Bible” podcast, episode #65, ancient Near East, covenant treaties often contained a stipulation which said that the land of the party who had violated the covenant made with another party would have their land plowed under with salt (in order to make sure that nothing could ever grow again), leaving that nation unable to sustain itself because the contract was broken by them. In other words, the reference to salt in the treaty document pointed to the curse which would befall the violator of the treaty. It basically meant that something bad would happen to the one who failed to keep the covenant. It encouraged the covenant members involved in the agreement to remain faithful to the nature of the relationship which they had committed to keep with one another. It’s the same concept described here in Jeremiah…
Jeremiah 34:18 (ESV)
…the men who transgressed my covenant and did not keep the terms of the covenant that they made before me, I will make them like the calf that they cut in two and passed between its parts…
Another way of inaugurating a covenant agreement in the ancient Near East world was to have the parties of the covenant treaty walk through the pieces of split animals. It symbolized the fate of the covenant breaker. They would become “like the calf that they cut in two and passed between its parts,” if they violated the agreement.
Back to the Salt
The reference to salt in a covenant treaty was also a reminder of the agreement’s permanence. Like the two references above from Numbers 18:19 and 2 Chronicles 13:5, it was meant to trigger the “forever” nature or the “perpetual due” regarding the parties involved. In other words, the salt pointed to the quality of the covenant. It was extremely important to always keep in view the everlasting character of the commitment made, because it gave an assurance that the promises given were not temporary.
Jesus had a similar idea when He said the following to describe what His disciples were to be like as they lived their lives…
Matthew 5:13 (ESV)
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.
In other words, if a disciple’s life did not have a certain, ongoing, “salt” like quality, then maybe they weren’t a disciple after all? The same could be said of a covenant breaker. Maybe, they were never truly serious about the covenant… You get the point.
Now, in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus offers something different in referencing salt; an encouragement…
Mark 9:50b (ESV)
“…Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”
This statement brings another whole dimension to the discussion. It connects “peace with one another” to being salty ourselves. This makes sense in light of what is commanded by God in Leviticus regarding offerings…
Leviticus 2:13 (ESV)
You shall season all your grain offerings with salt. You shall not let the salt of the covenant with your God be missing from your grain offering; with all your offerings you shall offer salt.
Salt was to be added “with all your offerings.”
Because, “the salt of the covenant with your God,” was not to be missing. In other words, the offerings were supposed to have a quality about them which represented the covenant that the Old Covenant members had with Yahweh. This quality was to always be a part of the sacrifice, thus, salt was to never be missing from it.
Romans 12:1 (ESV)
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul likened the Christian to a “living sacrifice.” They were to exhibit a character and a quality which was “holy and acceptable to God.” In doing so, their entire life would then be their “spiritual worship.”
Back to the Salt
While the Old Covenant was still in place (as we saw earlier), Jesus encouraged its members to “be at peace with one another,” by having “salt” in themselves. But now, in the New Covenant, its members are encouraged to expand that peace beyond the covenant membership. In his letter to the church in Colossae, Paul would connect how the Christian ought to deal with those who are not followers of Christ (how such dealings were to be done would be part of the living sacrifice they themselves now were, demonstrating their spiritual worship) and salt…
Colossians 4:5-6 (ESV)
Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.
In the Name of the Lord Jesus
We (Christians) are now as Jesus labeled us, “the salt of the earth.” Therefore, we must always season everything we do in light of Him, which is consistent with the nature of the “covenant of salt” concept as given in the OT…
Colossians 3:12-17 (ESV)
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Godspeed, to the brethren!