What do you think of when you look at salt?
For most of us, salt is accepted as a routine commodity. Perhaps we picture the shaker on the dining room table. Or perhaps we think of the Morton salt girl pouring salt all over the side walk in a blinding thunderstorm.
Maybe we think of the coarser variety of salt used when the family gets together to make homemade ice cream.
But did you know that of all the salt in the world, only three percent is used in the home? There are over 14,000 catalogued uses of salt. No basic commodity is put to as many uses as salt. Meat packers, chemical companies, food processors and soap manufacturers use salt. It is also used in the production of glass, as a water softener by commercial laundries, and in the smelting and refining of metals.
Farmers use it to preserve hay that has been harvested wet, and ranchers provide salt ”licks” for their cattle. Salt is even used for the construction of secondary roads, as a binder to hold other roadbed materials together. And after the roads are built, salt is used to de-ice them. Salt is also used extensively in the production of sodium, chlorine, washing soda, caustic soda and hydrochloric acid.
Sources of Salt
Until recently, useable salt has been very rare. A great deal of time and effort has been spent searching for salt sources. Today we obtain salt from three main sources:
2) wells and
3) salt water in the oceans and certain lakes.
Sixty percent of the world’s total salt production comes from mines. There salt is often found in “veins” - much like silver, gold and other metals. In some areas of the world, domes of salt have been squeezed upward toward the earth’s surface from a mother bed lying buried several thousand feet below.
Since salt is not as dense as the surrounding earth, great underground pressures under the salt bed cause it to “flow” upward along fault lines or cracks in the earth. Salt that occurs in this manner is mined much like metal ore and coal. Then it is either crushed and sold as is or processed further. Processing of salt from mines is usually accomplished by making a brine (water and salt) solution out of the rock salt and then evaporating the water by any of several methods.
Another 25 percent of the world‘s salt resources comes from wells. A large drill is used to reach the salt deposit. Water is then piped down the drill hole and forced up another small shaft parallel to the first. The resulting brine produces granular salt. The other 15 percent of the world’s salt production comes from the oceans and salt lakes. Extracting salt from salt water is the most ancient method for producing useable salt.
Ironically, it is the most time-consuming and least efficient. However, the Oceans alone hold enough salt to build a wall around the equator 180 miles high and one mile thick! The same amount of salt could form a layer one and one-half miles deep over the continental United States!
But despite the seeming abundance of salt today, it still remains very precious in many parts of the world. Some natives in Central Africa eat their meat raw to keep from losing the precious salt in the juices of the meat. And there are natives in the Amazon region of South America who take plants with a high salt content, crush them and boil the juices for small quantities of this precious commodity.
Salt in History
Salt is mentioned many times in the Bible. It was an important part of the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament - so important that God commanded the priests to season all meat offerings with salt (Leviticus 2:13). Even in pagan worship, salt was considered a necessary ingredient in sacrifices. Wars have been fought over salt. Roman historians recorded Germanic tribes fighting over possession of “sacred salt springs.”
Salt played a major role in the defeat of the armies of Napoleon during their retreat from Moscow. The soldiers’ wounds wouldn’t heal, because their bodies lacked salt, and thousands of them died.
While Alexander the Great was conquering the world, huge salt mines were discovered and worked in northern India. And later during the days of the Roman Empire, Roman soldiers built the Via Salaria - the Salt Road. This was one of the greatest military roads of history and stretched from the salt works at Ostia to the capital city of Rome. (Ostia was located on the Mediterranean coast southwest of Rome.)
Salt was once so valuable that the Caesars partially paid their soldiers with bags of salt. The payment was called salariurn argenturn - “silver salt” - because it took the place of money. Our English word “salary” comes from the Latin word salariurn, which simply means “salt.”
Salt has had an effect on language in other ways. In Iran the saying, “untrue to salt,” described disloyalty. And even in the United States we use the saying, “not worth his salt.” The statement originated in ancient Greece where slaves were bought with salt.
Throughout history, this precious mineral has been in the limelight. It has been a symbol of wealth, used as money, fought over and considered a very important part of the sacrificial ceremonies of many religions.
Salt was especially important in Christ’s time. The people were more aware of its value. Salt was not as readily available as it is now. There were times when many had to do without it. We can begin to see that Christ’s statement in Matthew 5:13 regarding salt was much more meaningful to the disciples then than for us today. But let’s take a closer look at some of the specific aspects of salt. We will find even greater meaning. Christ did not use salt as some idle analogy. He chose it because of its unique properties.
Salt Is Enduring
Have you ever known of pure salt going “BAD”? A good example of “old” salt is in a salt mine. These salt deposits are thousands of years old and yet they are the source of most of the salt we use. Even refined salt can be stored for long periods of time and still maintain its saltiness. It may have become lumpy and hard, but it is still salt and it remains “salty,”
Salt is an enduring mineral that can’t spoil. This is one of the reasons it was used in the burnt offerings of Israel - it was a symbol of God’s lasting covenant with His people. Salt is the opposite of LEAVEN - the type of sin.
Did you know it is impossible to destroy the savor - the “saltiness” - of salt unless it reacts chemically with another compound? Natural salt can be subjected to severe tests and still remain enduring. Dissolve it in water - it disappears. No longer is it in its solid state. But does it endure? Taste the water and see.
Salt can also be subjected to extreme temperature. In fact, it will melt at the red-hot temperature of 800’ C. and still maintain its unique chemical composition. Because of these “enduring” qualities, Christ drew the comparison of salt to Christians: If the salt lost its savor or enduring qualities (which it never does), it would be good for NOTHING.
In the same way if we ever lose our salt like qualities, then we are also good for nothing - not even a dunghill! (Matthew 5:13; Luke 14:34-35.) Many times salt Occurs in nature mixed with materials such as dirt, rocks and other minerals. If it is subjected to a force of water, the salt will go into solution and be leached out. The salt does not lose its savor - it is just transported elsewhere and is no longer part of the original aggregate material.
Christ was explaining in Matthew 5:13 that we are to be like salt. And when He refers to losing the savor, He is explaining to His disciples not to lose the qualities of salt - not to let some outside force cause the “aggregate material” to lose the salt that is part of it.
In comparing His followers to salt, Christ was admonishing them to remain steadfast and true - to endure – in the way of life He had given them. He promises a wonderful reward for those who do endure (Revelation 2 :26).
Christ also realized His followers would have to live in a world of sin - a world that did not acknowledge the true God. Sin - disobedience to the laws of God (I John 3:4) - is a spoiling influence on people. But Christ’s disciples have been taught the truth and have been given instruction in God’s way. They are to be like salt – not subject to the spoiling influence of the world around them.
Just as salt can be subjected to many “tests” without changing its chemical composition, so should we as Christians be able to undergo the trials and tests that are a necessary part of our spiritual lives (James 1 : 2 ) .
Salt is a Symbol of Purity
Another reason Christ likened His disciples to salt is because of its physical quality of purity. Because of its purity, salt is used as a disinfectant - germs can’t live in it. You may remember your grandmother brushing her teeth with salt as a substitute for toothpaste. The practice may have seemed strange to you. Actually, the mild abrasive action of salt helps clean the teeth, and its disinfectant qualities make it an effective mouthwash.
Christ used the analogy to explain to His disciples that they were really the only PURE people in the world – pure because at that time they alone were obeying His Law and following His way of life.
Christ wanted His disciples to realize the need to be a spiritual disinfectant for this world. Sin, in a sense, is like a culture of spiritual germs and bacteria. Christ’s followers today are to fight against sin just as a disinfectant fights germs and prevents’ them from multiplying. Christ was explaining to His disciples the need to clearly understand the pure quality of salt they were to inculcate in their lives.
Salt Is Precious
Even with the greater accessibility of salt today, it is still a precious commodity. We take it for granted and treat it as commonplace. However, just think where we would be without it! Industry would be hurt. And just imagine how bland food would be without it.
Have you ever gone to a restaurant and ordered a big, juicy steak? The waitress served it to you, still sizzling on the platter. You took one bite – but something was wrong. It just didn’t have much flavor. So you picked up the small salt shaker on the table and sprinkled a tiny amount of salt on the steak. What a difference it made! We can all agree that salt is precious for this reason alone. It was even more precious in Christ’s time because people did not always have it available for use on their food.
So Christ was explaining to His disciples just how precious God’s “called out ones” really were (Psalm 11 6: 15). God‘s people are just as precious to Him today. They are sprinkled over the earth just like that salt you sprinkled on your steak. It didn’t take too much, and you couldn’t even see it after it dissolved into the juices of the meat. But the difference in flavor was certainly pronounced. By the same token there is a small, precious group called to do God’s Work - to fulfill the commission given by His Son in Matthew 24:14.
Salt as a Preservative
Throughout history salt has played an important role as a preservative. During the 1500’s and 1600’s, when men were exploring and sailing on the high seas, ships were not able to put into port every few days to replenish their supplies. Because of this, sailing vessels were stocked with barrels of beef soaked in brine. This saltwater solution kept the meat from spoiling. Salt was also used in tanning hides, and in brine solutions in pickling as it is today. Salt’s preservative nature makes it a useful and necessary product even in our modern society.
Salt is a preservative of life, too. Wild animals will travel long distances and risk danger to lick salt from natural deposits. And salt is necessary for the health and well-being of every person on earth. If it weren’t for the percentage of salt in our blood and body cells, human beings would die, just as Napoleon’s wounded men died during their retreat, when their bodies lacked salt.
Salt Preserves Life
And Christ‘s true servants are the means by which God will preserve this entire earth!
Christ commissioned His followers to preach the Gospel to the entire world as a witness, to go to all nations carrying, the truth of His way of life. It is this way of life that will bring real freedom to the entire world (John 17:17; 8:32).
Also read Malachi 4:5-6. Look it up in your own Bible. Read it right now - for yourself. “I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.” This is what God‘s Work is all about. This is the commission that we as the followers of Jesus Christ are being called to do.
Elijah is a type of this Work – a Work of which you are a part. We are being called to “turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse” [the word “curse” is more properly rendered UTTER DESTRUCTION, and the same Hebrew word is so translated in Zechariah 14:11 and I Kings 20:42).
Each of us has been called to a very important job. We are being called to help preserve the entire world – saving it from UTTER DESTRUCTION. It is a profound opportunity. And an awesome responsibility. Will we accept the challenge? Only if we are willing to sacrifice, to change, to repent of our old ways. Only if we are willing to truly become “the salt of the earth.
By John Robinson and Alan Heath
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