A Covenant of Salt

By Henry Mobley

Mark 9:50
Salt is good: but if the salt has lost his saltness, wherewith will ye season it? Have salt in yourselves and have peace ore with another,

Numbers 18:19
…it is a covenant of salt for ever before the LORD unto thee and to thy seed with thee.

I have given much thought to the Biblical concept of salt. In researching for this article, considered several pictures for the cover of this edition of the Standard. Pictures range from vast salt marshes and evaporating pits to salt hills being worked with large front-end loaders to the lowly salt shaker such as the one that I chose to represent this editorial.

Salt, that ubiquitous substance found in every home, on nearly every table in every restaurant in the world, and handed through every drive-through restaurant service-window in America, is a mineral without which life could not be sustained. Salt is abundant and cheap in the world today. This has not always been so; up until about one hundred years ago, salt was not so easily obtained and readily available as it is today. Throughout history, salt has been valued as low as a box of Morton salt, (“When it Rains, it Pours”), that in my lifetime sold for ten cents a box, to at one time, so it is believed by some, having been valued equally with gold. Roman soldiers were partially paid with salt. Hence we have the term, “worth his salt.” The word “salary” comes from the Latin root word “Sal” meaning salt.

All bodily fluids contain salt; tears, sweat, blood, saliva, urine, and mucus contain salt. We could not survive without salt. When the body gets low on salt it causes weakness, dizziness, nausea, trembling, and eventually, death. Since God created Adam and Eve, humans have had to have salt. As a young soldier in Vietnam in 1965-66, I had to take salt tablets daily. When we could not change clothes for a few days, which happened regularly, salt would turn shirts and trousers white. Salt would leach through leather boots and turn the outsides white. Yet, we could not survive the heat without the additional intake of salt.

Salt is a necessary component in the functioning of cells. Without water and salt, cells would dehydrate and die. Salt also aids the function of the body’s electrical system, so vitally necessary for proper nerve function. The modern salt industry claims that there are over 14,000 uses for salt. There is a variety of salts but the one we like the most is sodium-chloride. It is the “rock that we eat.”

While salt is so plenteous today, it was once one of the most sought after minerals in the world. Humans early on learned that salt is a preservative and has been used to preserve everything from fish, foul, and meat, to the mummified bodies of ancient Egyptians; salt was the main mineral used in the embalming and preserving of the human body. Amazingly, at no time does the body crave salt as it does sugar, (such as is experienced with an episode of low blood sugar). Even though salt is such a vital necessity in the preservation of life, it is a potent and sometimes dangerous substance. Prolonged exposure, as when one has been stranded at sea without fresh water, will cause the body to become toxic to the point that sea water will not taste salty.

The Bible cites two passages of scripture in which God refers to a “Covenant of Salt.” (Numbers 18:19 & II Chronicles 13:5) Salt has always been and continues to be to the Hebrews a symbol of the eternal nature of God. Bread is the symbol of food. Dipping bread into salt forms an unbreakable covenant.

The New Testament example of the Covenant of Salt is found in the thirteenth chapter of Saint John. Jesus told his disciples that one of them would betray him. I can only imagine the astonishment they must have felt as most of them questioned within themselves whether or not it was him who would betray the Master. Here we have the ingredients of the Covenant of Salt, bread and bitter herbs dipped into salt, (or brine).
John 13:26

Jesus answered, He it is, to whom I shall give a sop, when I have dipped it. And when he had dipped the sop, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon.

Judas had partaken of the Covenant of Salt with Jesus many times. Now he had broken the covenant and the penalty for breaking the covenant was DEATH!

Mark 14:20-21
And he answered and said unto them, it is one of the twelve that dippeth with me in the dish. 21 The Son of man indeed goeth, as it is written of him: but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! good were it for that man if he had never been born.

What an indictment!

“On Friday nights Jews dip the Sabbath bread in salt. In Judaism, bread is the symbol of food, which is a gift from God, and dipping the bread in salt preserves it, keeps the agreement between God and his people.

Loyalty and friendship are sealed with salt because its essence does not change. Even dissolved into liquid, salt can be evaporated back into square crystals…Salt seals a bargain because it is immutable…In Christianity, salt is associated not only with longevity and permanence but, by extension, with truth and wisdom.”*

Bread and salt represent both blessing and preservation. Its use began at birth. Ezekiel’s rebuke of Israel cited the curse of not having been salted with salt. There was no preservative.

Ezekiel 16:4
And as for thy nativity, in the day thou wast born thy navel was not cut, neither wast thou washed in water to supple thee; thou wast not salted at all, nor swaddled at all.

*Salt, A World History, Mark Kkurlansky, Penguin Books,New York, New York, 2002, (P.7). (This passage and other items of information were extrapolated from this work.)

Lura Maiman, of the Congregation Yeruel, Israel, gives an insight to the story of Jael and Sisera in Judges 4:17-22

“Judges 4:17-22 tells the story of Sisera (enemy of Israel) fleeing from a battle to Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite. (Sisera’s king had a peace treaty with the Kenites) Jael invites Sisera into the protection of her clan.

1. She covers him with a mantle showing the protection of her people over him. He asks for water.

2. She gives him buttermilk (salted milk) making him the offer of a salt covenant. Then he asks her to stand in the door of the tent and lie to anyone passing by who asks if he is there.

3. She agrees to do that. Once someone is under the protection of the household, it is assumed that the host will lie to protect the guest, if necessary.

Then Jael killed him while he slept! Why?

Later, when Barak (General of Israel) pursued Sisera, Jael came out to meet him and showed him Sisera lying in “her tent”. The tents are partitioned into the men’s (hospitality) area and the women’s section. It is forbidden for any man, except the husband, to go into the woman’s tent section. Indeed, if a man even walks near the southern end of the tent where the women are, he can be killed for it.

The problem was, Sisera did not trust Jael, even though she offered him the protection of the tribe (by way of the mantle) and she offered the salt covenant of protection, and she agreed to lie for him. He apparently crawled under the curtain dividing the hospitality section of the tent into HER TENT. He knew that no man would search the women’s tent. So she put a tent peg right through his temple -He was guilty of wrong thinking and put her in a compromising situation, & she killed him for it. If she had not killed him, and her husband or other relative had discovered that Sisera was in HER tent, she would have been killed by her husband for unfaithfulness. Quite possibly, the Kenites would have gone to war over the incident. Jael prevented all that by killing Sisera.

Sisera was a recipient of the salt covenant, but he did not take it seriously; he violated the covenant and he paid with his life.”

Again, bread is a blessing and salt is a preservative. Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the house of bread. He was laid in a manger, a place to eat.

Leviticus 2:13 required all grain (meat) offerings to be seasoned with salt. An offering would not be accepted if the salt were lacking. This could have been a proving of man’s consecration and commitment to being obedient to the divine command. Salt is a symbol of God’s working in a person’s life. Salt penetrates. It preserves. It aids in the healing process.

Ezekiel 43:24 teaches that animal sacrifices were to be offered with salt. Salt draws the moisture out of bacteria so that the bacteria dies. It draws the blood out of meat. Anyone who cooks wild game knows that soaking the meat in salt water will draw out the blood and “wild” taste. Salt purifies. It cleanses. It protects.


Three times in the New Testament Jesus refers to his disciples as being the “salt of the earth.”

Matthew 5:13
Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.

Mark 9:49-50
49 For every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt. 50 Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his saltness, wherewith will ye season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another.

Luke 14:34
Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be seasoned?

The problem that we have in this modern era is that we cannot see “salt” from a Biblical perspective. As I have already said, salt is ubiquitous; it is cheap; it is common. If we can see it from God’s point of view, and this is surely how the disciples would have understood it, contrasting the followers of Jesus Christ as salt would have automatically signaled to them (hence to us), the “covenant of salt.” A covenant that could not be broken without the penalty of death. Ezekiel 18:20, the soul that sinneth, it shall die.

It is interesting to note that in each of these verses Jesus gives both the positive and the negative sides of salt. The disciples would have understood the cleansing, preserving, purifying, healing power of salt. This is what the Christian must be to the world around him. God sent the disciples forth with knowledge, wisdom, and doctrine to change the world in which they lived.
It was a sick, dying, sin filled world.

It is important to note that salt must maintain its original quality. It must maintain its saltiness. If it looses its savour, or saltiness, it is good for nothing but to be cast out and to be trodden under the foot of men.

This saltiness of which the Master speaks, that is carrying the gospel to a lost and dying world, knowledge, wisdom, and healing, must be done with grace or all that we can do will have no effect on the world. Notice what Paul told the Colossian church:

Col. 4:1-6
1 Masters, give unto your servants that which is just and equal; knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven. 2 Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving; 3 Withal praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds: 4 That I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak. 5 Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time. 6 Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.

This is the salt of an unbroken and an unbreakable covenant. We ought to be offering to the world a covenant like that between God and David; a Covenant of Salt. James 2:8-13 shows us the propensity that we have to use our voices inappropriately and do more harm than good.

James 3:8
But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. In verse 12 James asks the question; -Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.” To affect the world with the salt of Christianity follow the admonition of Romans 12:14; Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not.

From, “Apostolic Standard”/May 2009, by Henry Mobley

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