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The Bible: A Salty Read

State of Grace's Renee Jehl dancing on a salt platform beside Israel's Dead Sea

The Bible is a 'salty' book.

The word 'salt' {melach (מֶ֫לַח) in Hebrew and halas and hala (ἅλας, ατος, τό) in Greek) is found over 30 times in the Old Testament and 10 times in the New Testament. This is not surprising because salt was a valuable commodity in the Middle East and ancient world. Salt served multiple purposes; it was (and remains) an essential nutrient, preservative, disinfectant, and seasoning. Roman soldiers were sometimes paid in salt (hence the word salary).

Mark Kurlansky, author of the book Salt: A World History makes the claim that salt has "shaped civilization." The Amazon blurb for his book describes salt as "a substance so valuable it served as currency, salt has influenced the establishment of trade routes and cities, provoked and financed wars, secured empires, and inspired revolutions". It is also described as "the only rock we eat".

No wonder the Bible mentions salt a lot!

In addition to its everyday role in nutrition, preservation, and sanitation; salt also served as a cultural symbol and metaphor for attributes like purity, perfection, wisdom, hospitality, durability, fidelity, incorruptibility and permanence (to name a few).

Take, for example, the renown Biblical passage in which Jesus made this 'salty' statement to his followers:

"You are the salt of the earth;

but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again?

It is no longer good for anything,

except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men."

~ Matthew 5:13 ~

Now insert all the attributes that 'salt' symbolized into that scripture and you likely have a better idea of what Jesus was really saying there!

Speaking of salt, were you aware that there such a thing as a

"Covenant of Salt' ?

Featured in the Old Testament, this 'salt covenant' is mentioned in conjunction with three things: (1.) the grain offerings of Israel (2.) the Aaronic priesthood of Israel and (3.) the Davidic Kings of Israel.




Read a little further and see how this may apply to you.

(1.) 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.

~ Leviticus 2:13

(2.) All the offerings of the holy gifts, which the sons of Israel offer to the LORD, I have given to you and your sons and your daughters with you, as a perpetual allotment. It is an everlasting covenant of salt before the LORD to you and your descendants with you.

~ Numbers 18:20

(3.) Do you not know that the LORD God of Israel gave the rule over Israel forever to David and his sons by a covenant of salt ?

~ 2 Chronicles 13:5

Now you may be thinking, "Okay, but what has all that ancient sodium chloride symbolism got to do with me? It's just a bunch of old customs that don't really translate into my modern day beliefs." But you probably wouldn't see it that way if you were from the Middle East. You see, there they understand the significance of a 'covenant of salt' and you might be surprised to find that 'salt' still serves as a potent symbol in many countries.

'There is salt between us' (بينناملح) is an Arabic expression that basically means 'we have eaten together and we are friends'. This likely comes from the ancient tradition of confirming covenants at sacrificial meals (which always included salt).

To elaborate on the significance of this a little further, here is an excerpt from an article on "Manners in the Middle East" written in 1965 by Leila Shaheen for the magazine, AramcoWorld.

In the desert, hospitality has been commonly understood to extend for three full days. Being under a man's roof also means, to the Badu (Bedouins), being in their protection . . .

The law of protection works both ways. Should a man stop by a certain tribe as its guest, a bond of "bread and salt" is created between them and he becomes honor-bound to offer protection to his host at a later date. Similarly, if a man returns your greeting assalamu 'alaykum ("peace be upon you") with the reply wa 'alaykum as-salam ("and on you be peace"), it is equivalent to sealing a peace-pact with him; it is as if he had eaten bread and salt or drunk coffee with you: you can count on his protection, and he on yours.

Remember that the next time you find yourself being hosted by a family in (or from) the Middle East. What may seem like only a meal to you may signify something much greater to your hosts.

And clearly the Lord was saying something very layered and specific when he made "salt covenants" with His people. They were everlasting covenants that held all the attributes that salt symbolized:

Purity, Perfection, Wisdom, Hospitality, Durability, Fidelity,

Incorruptibility, Permanence and Protection

(to name a few).

So go forth with your new understanding of "salt" and always remember . . .

Let your speech always be

with Grace,

as though seasoned with Salt,

so that you will know how you should respond to each person.

~ Colossians 4:6 ~

For all you researchers out there, the photo above is of a page from the free e-book:

A Hebrew and English Lexicon Without Points: In which the Hebrew and Chaldee Words of the Old Testament Are Explained In Their Leading and Derived Senses

by John Parkhurst, M.A.

Click the image to see the e-book page.

Please share your thoughts  &  Grace-Full comments below!

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