THE SALT OF THE EARTH (1)

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THE INDIVIDUAL CHRISTIAN, as well as, the church (collectively) must justify God’s transferring the promises and blessings of the literal Israel to the church by being the salt of the earth: Jesus in Matt. 5:13 said to His disciples (which today include the individual Christian and the church by extension by all implications):

 

“Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt hath lost its savour, where with shall it be salted?” (And prophetically he declared) “It is henceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.”

 

(also see Mark 9:50, Luke 14:34, 35). Salt (Heb. “Melah”) is the common substance – sodium chloride – familiar in various applications in the Bible as with men. And to appreciate the application of the word ‘salt’ in the Scriptures, some examination of the background of its literal and figurative uses become necessary or important.

Beds of salt rock occur at many points around the Dead Sea called the “salt Sea” — Hebrew “yam hemmelah”  referred to in Gen. 14:3; Num. 34:12; Deut. 34:17; Josh. 3:16; 12:3; 15:2,5 (the Mediterranean being the “great sea” Josh. 15:12 or (“the sea”). The flats at the southern end of the Dead Sea are coated with salt in the dry season; these and other similar spots are alluded to in Deut. 29:23; Zeph. 2:9 and Jer. 17:6. Some 1ocate it as figurative “parched places in the wilderness” in Jer. 17:6 and the “valley’ of salt” referred to in II Sam. 8:13; I Kings 14:7.

 

The waters of the Dead Sea are intensely salty and bitter from the large amount of magnesium salts that it contains, having the composition of “a half- exhausted mother liquor” (Le Conte) from which most of the sodium have been deposited, as well as, the lime salt resulting from a long extreme concentration of mineral chemicals, since the lake extended over the greater part of the Jordan valley.

The preserving properties of salt were well known: its use in preserving fish by the Phoenicians is implied in Neh. 13:16. The Hebrews are known to make general use of salt in food for man (Job 6:6) and beast (Isa. 30:24). They used it in their religious services as an important accompaniment to the various offerings presented on the altar (Lev. 2:13 — “every oblation of thy meat offering shalt thou season with salt”. The salt of the sacrifice is called the “salt of the covenant of thy God” because in common life, salt is the symbol of covenant. The meaning which salt — with its power to strengthen food and preserve it from putrefaction and corruption — imparted to the sacrifice was the unbending and unwavering truthfulness of the self – surrender of the Lord embodied in the sacrifice at Calvary by which all impurity and hypocrisy were repelled.

In addition to the foregoing. The inferior quality salt (ammonia sulphate), were applied as manure to the soil or to hasten the decomposition of dung (Luke 14:35). Too large and admixture, however, was held to produce sterility; and hence, arose the custom of “sowing with salt, the foundation of a destroyed city” (see Judges 9:45) as a token of its irretrievable ruin. This reference is to the Oriental custom of strewing salt over the ruins of a captured town, thus figuratively denoting it a desolation. The opposite effect of this use of salt, is the contrast of II Kings 2:20, 21 where Elisha applied salt as directed by God, to heal the spring and “… There shall not be from thence any more death or barren land.” These two symbolic acts illustrate two contrasted associations connected with salt in the mind of the Hebrews and other Orientals.

As one of the most essential articles of food, salt symbolized hospitality. It was a symbol of sincerity and fair deal hence it is applied as “the covenant of salt” (Heb. “berith melah”) in which covenanting parties partake of salt (Num. l8:19; II Chro. 13:5) making the covenant inviolably sure. Of the ministry of good men, salt symbolizes: opposition to spiritual corruption of sinners (Matt. 5:13); grace in the heart of man (Mark 9:50) of wisdom or good sense in speech (Col. 4:6). Salt without savour symbolizes graceless professions (Matt. 5:13; Mark 9:50). It is believed that salt would by exposure to air lose its virtue (Matt.5: 13; Luke 14:34, 35). “Pits of salt” was a figure of desolation (Zeph. 2:9); “salt with fire” (Mark 9:49) refers to purification of the good and punishment of sinners.

Before going into the exegesis of Matt. 5:13, It is also necessary to consider who is the “ye” in Matt 5: 13. Jesus was speaking to His disciples and as stated in the first or opening paragraph of this discourse the “ye” by implication and extension, refers to the individual Christian, and then a direct reference to the Church – the body of Christ. This raises the question of who is a “Christian” in today’s context? An attempt will be made here at a definition that will leave nobody in any shade of doubt or confusion.

A Christian is a believer in, and, a follower of Jesus Christ, the Messiah. it is a name used in the widest context to denote all who believe in: Christ’s immaculate conception as human instrument of spiritual incarnation; His vicarious death on the dross at Calvary for the redemption of the fallen man in accomplishment of God’s salvation plan; His resurrection from the dead and ascension into heaven where He now sits at the right hand of God the Father, having established His kingdom of grace in the hearts and minds of men during His first advent, but will come again to gather His own into His Kingdom of glory.

The mystery of salvation reveals that no less than thirty-three simultaneous and instantaneous divine undertakings and transformations — which collectively constitute the salvation of a soul — take place in a new convert, the moment he accepts Christ as his Lord and personal Saviour in the exercise of faith in Jesus Christ, and is saved.

Secondly, the new believer at this point is taken out of Adam – the sphere of condemnation — and placed in Christ, the sphere of righteousness and justification. Thirdly, he is given a new standing by virtue of his being placed in Christ by the Holy Spirit baptizing work (1 Cor. 12:13; Rom. 6:3, 4) “… and made acceptable in the beloved”. (Eph. 1:6,).

Thus, it must be clearly noted that a Christian is not one who does certain things for God, but one for whom God has done certain things; he is not so much of one who conforms to a certain manner of life by his own power or wisdom, as he is one who has received the gift of eternal life through Christ’s vicarious death on the cross. He is not one who depends on a hopelessly imperfect state of carnal existence, but rather one who has reached a perfect standing before God through the merit of the blood shed at Calvary. (See Systematic Theology VII.. Page 75 — Lewis Sperry Chafer).

The foregoing, defines who a Christian is, but has made no effort and cannot, within this context, without the risk of creating confusion, attempt to say what a Christian is or what he should be, than to refer to what the Lord Himself says in Matt. 15:13; Luke 14.34, 35

 

“Ye are the salt of the earth ….”

The Christian is not someone who lives in isolation. He is in the world, though he is not of it and he bears a relationship to the world in which he lives. The whole error of monasticism is its teaching that living a Christian life means, of necessity, separating oneself from the society and living a life of contemplation. This is denied everywhere in the Scriptures and in the statement: “ye are the salt of the earth” the Lord draws out the implications of His sermon on the Mount. And Apostle Peter in I Peter 2:9, sheds more light implicitly on it: “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people: that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light”

This passage sums up all that the Christian should know, all that he is and all that is expected of Him, to justify the blessings and spiritual privileges conferred on the church in which he is a member, such having been taken from literal Israel and bestowed on the church – the spiritual Israel or the Israel of God.

Here the apostle designates the church, a chosen generation. The Greek “genos ekleton” used to denote this means “elect kind”. The Jewish nation was once chosen to represent God on earth, but because of unbelief and hardness of heart they lost their favoured position. The apostle now declares in this passage that God has now assigned the responsibilities and privileges (once) of the Jewish nation to the Christian community, not as national group, but as people called out of every nation to make up one spiritual entity, one great family throughout the world (see Gal. 3:28): the former special status of literal Israel having been revoked.

Peter goes on to emphasize this status with a quotation from the Greek Septuagint (LXX) of Exodus 19:5 where the Greek expression “basileion hierateuma” meaning “a royal priesthood” is used to further describe the Christian. As priests, Christians are to offer to God the “Spiritual Sacrifice” mentioned in – I Peter 2:5, as well as, offer themselves as living sacrifice (Rom. 12:1), a body of believers completely dedicated to God. They need no human priest to serve as mediator between them and God, for there is but one mediator – Jesus Christ – between God and man (see Heb. 7:17, 24 & 25). As a “Holy Nation” the church is to bear witness to the world of the principles for God’s Kingdom, being His representative on earth.

The Greek “peripoisesis” rendered “peculia” in 1Peter 2:9 means “possession” and connotes in the passage such extended meanings as “one’s own property” the related verb “peripoieo” denotes “to acquired for oneself”. And the English word “peculia” which properly means “belonging exclusiveIy to an individual”. “Privately owned” “one’s own” is derived from Latin “peculiaris, meaning “belonging particularly to oneself”  “special”. The use of “peculiar” to mean queer or “eccentric” is colloquial, and is a meaning that cannot, and does not apply to the idea, Peter characterizes God’s people in this passage, neither is such a meaning justified by the Greek “peripoesis” The expression translated “peculiar people” reads literally “a people God has acquired for Himself”, “a people that belong to God.” Christ acquired the church with His own blood and holds it in a special sense, His own purchased possession.