Forerunner, November 2002

Years ago, in another lifetime it seems, I loved to play softball on the church team. We lived outside Dallas, Texas, at the time, an area known for its summertime heat. Many a spring and summer weekend would find us traveling to yet another double-elimination softball tournament. These would be held in one day, on a Sunday, starting early and ending late. Each team was guaranteed at least two games and could play as many as six or eight. Little shade was available, and the heat was often over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

One summer, I repeatedly experienced severe leg cramps at each of these tournaments. The pain would have me rolling on the ground. My wife figured out that I was losing too much salt through sweating, hence the cramps. Once I began taking a salt tablet at each tournament, the cramps stopped. Years later, when I began to work outdoors in landscaping, I made sure to take salty snacks in my lunch each day.

Salt is a compound of sodium (Na), an unstable metal that can suddenly burst into flame, and chloride (Cl), a lethal gas. Combined, however, they form a substance that is essential for human life. It is not too extreme to state that, without it, we would soon die.

For instance, salt regulates the exchange of water between cells and their environment, aiding the absorption of nutrients and the disposal of waste into the bloodstream. Sodium, which the body cannot manufacture, is necessary for muscle contraction, as well as the transmission of nervous impulses. Chloride is essential for digestion and respiration.

An adult body contains about 250 grams of salt—enough to fill 3 or 4 saltshakers—but we are constantly losing it through bodily functions. It is imperative that we replace this lost salt, as I found out the hard way.

The History of Salt

In antiquity, Homer called salt a divine substance. Plato described it as being especially dear to the gods. Today, we take salt for granted; we think of it as a common, inexpensive substance that seasons food and clears ice from roads.

However, salt has many more amazing properties and uses. It seasons, cures, and preserves. It also seals, cleans, and acts as an antiseptic. In a booklet put out by a salt company in the 1920s, the list of uses include keeping the colors bright on boiled vegetables; making ice cream freeze; whipping cream rapidly; getting more heat out of boiled water; removing rust; sealing cracks; removing spots on clothes; putting out grease fires; killing poison ivy; and treating sprains, sore throats, and earaches. The salt industry goes still further, claiming 14,000 different uses for this under-appreciated substance!

Until about a hundred years ago, when modern chemistry and geology revealed its prevalence, salt was one of the most sought after commodities. In times past, it has served as currency, been responsible for trade routes and the establishment of great cities, provoked and financed wars, and played a strategic part in others. Taxes on salt have secured empires and inspired revolution.

The Romans appear to have esteemed salt highly. Its army, for a time, was even paid in salt. This is the origin of the word "salary" and the expressions "worth his salt" and "earning his salt." In fact, the Latin word sal became the French word solde, meaning "pay," and has come down to us in the word "soldier." The first of the great Roman roads was the Via Salaria, the Salt Road. The Romans used to salt their greens, which is the origin of the word "salad," salted.

The movie Gandhi, portraying the life of Mohandas Gandhi, shows him choosing, as his means of rebellion against British colonialism, to contravene Britain's salt policy. Many of these and other historical tidbits can be found by reading Salt, A World History by Mark Kurlansky: a fascinating study of the only rock humans eat.

During the times in which the Bible was written, salt was much more precious, and people better understood its value. One use that is probably not on the salt industry's list is that salt was to accompany every offering. "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" (Leviticus 2:13).

The altar symbolizes God's table. Since salt is always on our tables, God would have it always used at His, not to preserve the sacrifice but because it was the food of God's table and should be salted, especially the meat. It was so important that it was provided by the Temple (Ezra 7:20-22) and stored in a room, the Chamber of Salt, in the court of the Temple.

Notice the phrase "salt of the covenant" in Leviticus 2:13. It has been common throughout history for people to confirm their agreements with each other by eating and drinking together, at which times salt is used. As salt was added to foods, not only for spice but also to preserve them from decay, it became a symbol of incorruptibility and permanence. A "covenant of salt" signified an everlasting covenant, as we will see. In the Bible, salt also came to symbolize purity, perfection, wisdom, hospitality, durability, and fidelity.

The need for various animal sacrifices passed with the death of Jesus Christ. However, the apostle Paul urges us to "present [our] bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is [our] reasonable service" (Romans 12:1). The first eleven chapters of Romans are doctrinal in nature, and with Romans 12:1, Paul begins explaining the practical application of God's teaching. The first thing he mentions is that we are to be living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God. For a sacrifice to be acceptable to God, it must be salted. So, in a symbolic manner, we must be salted as well.

What does this mean? Let's examine just three of salt's main traits and apply them spiritually to our lives.

Salt Preserves

Prior to 1800, the only way to keep food for any length of time was to salt it. This method of food preservation declined when people discovered that they could seal food in jars and heat it, what is called "canning" today. Then, in 1809 in London, Peter Durand received a patent for preserving food in tin cans. Unfortunately, he failed to invent the can opener—that would not come for several more years.

Around this same time, people began to pack fish in ice. Packing other foods in ice was not practical, however, because, once the ice melted, the resulting water created an environment in which bacteria could flourish. An American inventor named Clarence Birdseye took care of this. During his life, he patented 250 inventions, but we remember him mostly for his method of freezing food.

Now, when we want something for dinner, we reach into our freezers for vegetables, meats, desserts, and the like. In earlier times, we would have gone to the storehouse and sliced off some salted meat, or to the cellar for pickled vegetables. Salt, therefore, has come to stand for durability, permanence, perpetuity, incorruptibility, and purity. This is why salt was used to ratify a covenant; it preserved and stood for permanence. In Numbers 18:19, God says to 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.

Adam Clarke comments that "salt was the opposite of leaven, for it preserved from putrefaction and corruption, and signified the purity and persevering fidelity that were necessary in the worship of God."

The symbolism should be obvious to us as living sacrifices. We are to be without spot or blemish—pure, in other words. God does not change (Hebrews 13:8), and He does not lie (Numbers 23:19). He has made certain covenants with His people that cannot be broken. We have only to live a life of obedience, which God helps us to do. Our sacrifice, then, is not a one-time deal but is ongoing and perpetual. Salt preserves.

Salt Seasons

The New King James' heading above Mark 9:49 reads, "Tasteless Salt Is Worthless," which is certainly true. Most of us have probably never tasted salt that had lost its flavor, but we can easily understand the concept. Christ tells His disciples, "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).

This characteristic is somewhat the opposite of the first one. Obviously, sacrifices in the Old Testament were not salted to preserve them since the meat was consumed immediately. They were salted because it was the food of God's table, and no flesh is eaten without salt. Jesus says, "Every sacrifice will be seasoned with salt." Man is flesh, and his nature, corrupt (Genesis 6:3); therefore, his sacrifice must be seasoned and made more palatable.

Notice that Christ says, "Have salt in yourselves, and have peace with one another." How do we do this? The apostle Paul writes in Colossians 4:6, "Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one." He is speaking specifically of answering those in the world, but should we not be even more gracious to those in our family?

The Greek word Paul uses, translated "grace," is charis, which means "graciousness, of manner or act, especially the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life." Matthew Henry's commentary says, "Grace is the salt which seasons our discourse, makes it savory and keeps it from corrupting."

The words that come from our mouths reflect upon us more than any other facet of our lives. When we gossip, are those words seasoned? Are they "savory" to the ears of others? When we speak in a hurtful manner to our family, both physical and spiritual, are those words seasoned?

Think of it this way: If we are living sacrifices, and if the altar is God's table, what kind of dinner-table conversation would be appropriate while sharing a meal with God? Revelation 3:20 tells us that we will have the chance to dine with Christ. If we live our lives as living sacrifices, then we are always before the altar of God. Our actions, especially our speech, should always be done as if we are carrying on conversations at the table with Christ. Salt seasons.

A Little Goes a Long Way

Every Sabbath, for as long as I can remember, I have made brunch for the family. Along with the eggs, fruit, bread, and meat, I usually prepare some grits. Sometimes, I forget to add the salt to the grits. As many know, grits without salt are horrible.

Most times, I do not even measure the salt because I am a lazy cook; I just pour and measure by eye. It does not take much salt to season them. If I put too much in though, it detracts from the food. All one tastes is the salt, and it is just as bad as no salt at all.

Jesus says in Matthew 5:13, "You [believers] 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." We must, as Matthew Henry comments, retain the relish and savor of the salt. For "if this salt lose its saltiness, if a Christian revolt from his Christianity, if he loses the savor of it, and be no longer under the power and influence of it, what can recover him, or wherewith will you season him?"

God used a small number of people to support Herbert W. Armstrong in the preaching of the gospel to the world. We are now even fewer in number, yet we have influence far out of relation to our size. What is more, only a remnant of us will support the work of the Two Witnesses. God has always worked with the few. However, if we ease up, if we lose our flavor, we will "be thrown out and trampled underfoot"—a scary thought indeed!

At one time, salt was thought to be very rare. As drilling techniques improved, it was discovered that the earth possessed huge underground salt deposits. Near the town of Cardona, Spain, there is literally a mountain of salt. Covered by a few feet of soil, most of the mountain—around 70 percent—is pure rock salt. Just as God's people are rare now, we represent multitudes to be "discovered" in the future. A little salt goes a long way.

These three points barely scratch the surface of this subject. As with salt itself, there is more to it than what first appears. Pointing out the depth of what, on the surface, looks to be simple statements about a common substance could expand into volumes of insights and instruction. Like so much of what we read in the Bible, God has built in many layers of meaning.

What "simple" principle can we take away from this study? God has called us to be living sacrifices. The Christian life is an ongoing process of striving for purity, in which we must ensure that our lives are properly seasoned so that we might not lose our "flavor" and succeed in being among God's firstfruits.