I do love a fun fact. Did you know that when hippos are upset their sweat turns red? Apparently, most toilets flush in the key of E-flat. The longest word in the English Bible is Maher-shalal-hash-baz (it’s what God tells Isaiah to call his second son, Isa 8:1-3). Here’s another good one: God’s covenant with his chosen people is referred to as a covenant of salt only three times: Leviticus 2:13, Numbers 18:19, and 2 Chronicles 13:5. Why is that interesting? First, it starts to crack open an often-avoided book of the Bible, and second, it sheds light on something that Jesus tells us in the Gospel of Matthew, which in turn informs how we should approach life in 2018.
Leviticus 2 is all about the grain offering the Israelites should offer to God. Its purpose is for the Israelites to renew their dedication to God as their King. Part of the offering was to be burned as a memorial, asking God to remember his covenant with his people. Then Lev 2:13 says:
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’ is repeated three times, and so is clearly important. One thing that helps us understand lies outside the Bible. There is an ancient Arabic expression: “There is salt between us”. It comes from the fact that covenants were confirmed over table fellowship, and salt was always present at these meals. In addition there is the symbolic component that salt represents the preservation of the covenant. A wonderful Egyptian lady in my Bible study group tells me that “There is salt between us” is still in common usage.
So, in re-dedicating themselves to God with the grain offering, the Israelites are confirming his covenant with them with salt.
Let’s skip forward to Matthew 5:13. Jesus says during the Sermon on the Mount:
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.
Here, salt could be a preservative, a flavour, a good and reliable person, or a simple and straightforward person (like a fisherman perhaps). It can be any and all of these things combined. However, salt as the confirmation of a covenant could give us extra knowledge.
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
The ‘light’ part of the passage clearly relates to living lives of obedience to God that reflect his glory outwards for others to see and be impacted by, so they too can respond to God rightly.
So how does salt connect to light? If the salt relates to the Levitical understanding of the word then they are referring to the same thing. If salt is symbolic of our covenant with God, we are being told that we are the sign of the covenant on earth. We are the salt. In addition, what good is salt if it loses its saltiness by corruption or dilution? It is useless. It doesn’t do what it was designed to do. In the same way, our Christian lives lose their potency if we become corrupted or diluted. We become, effectively, useless. We are not doing what we are designed to do.
In summary, verses 13-16 essentially say, “You are the sign of God’s covenant on earth. But if you cease to be a living symbol of God’s glory and promise, you are not doing what you are designed to do. In the same way, you are the light of the world. You need to show your obedience so everyone else can see God’s glory and promise.”
What are we to do with this? There is a clear directive here. A salted life is a pure life, the life that is a sign of God’s covenant in your corner of the world. This is the life that reflects God’s glory back to him. This is the life that other people look at and see God for themselves.
But we know that our lives can become corrupted or adulterated with other materials. This is stuff that looks like salt but is actually flour or chalk dust or sugar. These are the things we include in our lives that may not be bad in and of themselves, but which—individually or aggregated—make our salt a lot less salty.
Our pure Christian life can also be made less salty by damp that seeps in and drains salt of its taste and purity. This might occur via things in our lives that we don’t even notice—the effect of TV, social media, friends and acquaintances, our work environment—subtle environmental elements that slowly drip, drip, drip into our lives. Before you know it your thinking has changed, your decisions less focused, your choices less discerning. You put up with more of what you used to distance yourself from: poor language; extra drinks at the pub; gossip or malicious slander; music, TV and film with unhealthy values. That’s what becoming less salty looks like. You start to become less distinguishable from the world.
In Leviticus 11:44 God tells his people to be holy because he is holy. They are to be set apart, different, distinguishable from the rest of the world so people can see God as God. Jesus is telling us the same in Matthew 5:13-16.
It’s still early in 2018; it’s a good time for a stocktake. Are there things in your life that you need to discard? Things that look like salt but that are well-disguised dust? Are there things dripping water into your Christian life that will leach the saltiness out of it? Ask God to show you, and ask God to help you.
We are the sign of God’s covenant, right here and now. We don’t want to lose our saltiness. We don’t want to be useless. We want to do what we are designed to do. We want to glorify God so others can see him when they see us.