Was procured by the Jews from the Dead Sea, wither from the immense hill or ridge of pure rock salt at its southwest extremity, or from that deposited on the shore by the natural evaporation. The Arabs obtain it in large cakes, two or three inches thick, and sell it in considerable quantities throughout Syria. It well-known preservative qualities, and its importance as a seasoning for food, Job 6:6, are implied in most of the passages where it is mentioned in Scripture: as in the miraculous healing of a fountain, 2Ki 2:21; in the sprinkling of salt over the sacrifices consumed on God's altar, Le 2:13; Eze 43:24; Mr 9:49; and its use in the sacred incense, Ex 30:35. So also good men are "the salt of the earth," Mt 5:13; and grace, or true wisdom, is the salt of language, Mr 9:50; Col 4:6. See also Eze 16:4. To sow a land with salt, signifies its utter barrenness and desolation; a condition often illustrated in the Bible by allusions to the region of Sodom and Gomorrah, with its soil impregnated with salt, or covered with acrid and slimy pools, De 29.33; Job 39.9; Eze 47.11; Zep 2.9.
Salt is also the symbol of perpetuity and incorruption. Thus they said of a covenant, "It is a covenant of salt for ever before the Lord," Nu 18:19; 2Ch 13:5. It is also the symbol of hospitality; and of the fidelity due from servants, friends, guests, and officers, to those who maintain them or who receive them at their tables. The governors of the provinces beyond the Euphrates, writing to the king Artaxerxes, tell him, "Because we have maintenance from the king's palace," Ezr 4:14.
VALLEY OF SALT. This place is memorable for the victories of David, 2Sa 8:13; 1Ch 18:12; Ps 60, and of Amaziah, 2Ki 14:7, over the Edomites. There can be little doubt that the name designates the broad deep valley El-Ghor, prolonged some eight miles south of the Dead Sea to the chalky cliffs called Akrabbim. Like all this region, it bears the marks of volcanic action, and has an air of extreme desolation. It is occasionally overflowed by the bitter waters of that sea, which rise to the height of fifteen feet. The driftwood on the margin of the valley, which indicates this rise of the water, is so impregnated with salt that it will not burn; and on the northwest side of the valley lies a mountain of salt. Parts of this plain are white with salt; others are swampy, or marked by sluggish streams or standing pools of brackish water. The southern part is covered in part with tamarisks and coarse shrubbery. Some travellers have found here quicksand pits in which camels and horses have been swallowed up and lost, Ge 14:10; Zep 2:9. See JORDAN and SEA 3.
used to season food (Job 6:6), and mixed with the fodder of cattle (Isa 30:24, "clean;" in marg. of R.V. "salted"). All meat-offerings were seasoned with salt (Le 2:13). To eat salt with one is to partake of his hospitality, to derive subsistence from him; and hence he who did so was bound to look after his host's interests (Ezr 4:14, "We have maintenance from the king's palace;" A.V. marg., "We are salted with the salt of the palace;" R.V., "We eat the salt of the palace").
A "covenant of salt" (Nu 18:19; 2Ch 13:5) was a covenant of perpetual obligation. New-born children were rubbed with salt (Eze 16:4). Disciples are likened unto salt, with reference to its cleansing and preserving uses (Mt 5:13). When Abimelech took the city of Shechem, he sowed the place with salt, that it might always remain a barren soil (Jg 9:45). Sir Lyon Playfair argues, on scientific grounds, that under the generic name of "salt," in certain passages, we are to understand petroleum or its residue asphalt. Thus in Ge 19:26 he would read "pillar of asphalt;" and in Mt 5:13, instead of "salt," "petroleum," which loses its essence by exposure, as salt does not, and becomes asphalt, with which pavements were made.
The Jebel Usdum, to the south of the Dead Sea, is a mountain of rock salt about 7 miles long and from 2 to 3 miles wide and some hundreds of feet high.
An appetizing seasoning of food to man and beast. In the East the vegetable food especially needs salt (Job 6:6; Isa 30:24, margin). An antidote to the effects of heat on animal food. A necessary accompaniment of the various altar offerings, bloody and unbloody (Le 2:13, "the salt of the covenant of thy God"; Eze 43:24; Mr 9:49-50). It signifies the imperishableness of Jehovah's love for His people; as an antiseptic salt implies durability, fidelity, purity. The opposite of leaven, the symbol of corruption. Covenants were cemented by feasts and hospitality, the viands of which were seasoned, as all foods, with salt. Hence, "a covenant of salt for ever before the Lord" is an indissoluble covenant (Nu 18:19; 2Ch 13:5; Ezr 4:14, margin). An Arab who just before would have robbed and murdered you, once you taste his salt, would die to save you; "faithless to salt" is the Persian term for a traitor.
So Jesus, "have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another" (Mr 9:50); as no sacrifice to God, and no food to man, is acceptable without salt, so prayers offered without "peace" of heart toward fellow men are savourless; a warning to the disciples who had just been disputing with one another, and judging, fellow men who used Jesus' name though not following the disciples (Mr 9:33-50). Being "salted with the salt of the (heavenly King's) palace," and bound to fidelity to Him, and brought into a covenant of salt with Him, they are called on to have a loving, imperishable savour toward one another and to all men. Col 4:6, "let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt," i.e. the savour of fresh spiritual wisdom excluding all "corrupt communication," and tasteless unprofitableness or insipidity (Mt 5:13; Eph 4:29).
Near Colosse was a salt lake, hence the image. The idea in Mr 9:49, "for every one shall be salted with fire, ,is: the reason why it is better for us to cut off offending members is that the work of every one, believer and unbeliever, shall be tried with fire; to believers "the Refiner's fire" (Mal 3:3; Mt 3:11), symbolizing God's searching purity; a consuming fire (Heb 12:29) to His foes, who nevertheless shall be imperishable in their doom (salt symbolizing preservation from decay), but purging out only the dross from His people (1Co 3:13; 1Pe 1:7; 4:12). The righteous can withstand the fire, for it is part of their present salting as "a living sacrifice" (Isa 33:14-15; Ro 12:1). Every offending member and offense must be removed, to enable us to withstand that testing fire and be found without dross unto glory and honour.
The southern shore of the Salt Sea supplied, salt abundantly; compare "the valley of salt" (2Sa 8:13) near the mountain of fossil salt, five miles long, the chief source of the salt in the sea. The salt pits (a source of revenue; Josephus Ant. 13:4, section 9) were at the S. of the Dead Sea; the marshes here are coated with salt deposited periodically by the spring rising of the waters which in summer evaporate; and here were the pillars of salt traditionally represented as Lot's wife (Josephus Ant. 1:11, section 4; Apocr. Wis 10:7). Inferior salt was used for manure (Mt 5:13; Lu 14:35). Too much salt produced barrenness (De 29:23; Zep 2:9). "Sowing with salt" doomed symbolically to barrenness a destroyed city and depopulated region (Jg 9:45; Ps 107:34 margin). Salt as expressing purity was the outward sign Elisha used in healing the waters (2Ki 2:20-21). The Israelites used to rub infants with salt to make the skin dense and firm, and for purification and dedication of them to God (Eze 16:4).
This well known and valuable condiment is found in abundance near the Dead Sea. In scripture salt is used as symbolical of moral savour and thus of a preservative. Every oblation of the meat offering was to be seasoned with salt. Le 2:13. The heave offerings given to the priest are called 'a covenant of salt.' Nu 18:19.
Christians are the salt of the earth, but if the salt have lost its savour it is of no use whatever.* Mt 5:13; Mr 9:50; Lu 14:34-35. It is typical of freshness and savour in a Christian, his heart being maintained in the sense of grace, the loss of which nothing else can supply.
* Salt in the East is not pure chloride of sodium, but mostly mixed with vegetable and earthy substances, and has been found at times, after being exposed to the sun and rain, to be quite tasteless, and perfectly useless.
The Christian's speech should be with grace, seasoned with salt (Col 4:6), not characterised by asperity, nor lacking unction, and yet morally wholesome in its character. "Every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt." Mr 9:49. God puts all to the proof , but with the saint it is the dross that is consumed. Every sacrifice being salted with salt refers to the preservation of that which is set apart for God from corruption and impurity.
To 'eat the salt' of their masters, is used by the Persians and Hindus to imply that they are fed by their employers. This idea is found in Ezr 4:14, where the opposers of the Jews say, "We eat the salt of the palace," as the passage is more literally translated: see margin. With reference to an infant being 'salted,' Eze 16:4, Galen records that this was done to render the skin tighter and firmer.
Indispensable as salt is to ourselves, it was even more so to the Hebrews, being to them not only an appetizing condiment in the food both of man,
see margin, and a valuable antidote to the effects of the heat of the climate on animal food, but also entering largely into the religious services of the Jews as an accompaniment to the various offerings presented on the altar.
They possessed an inexhaustible and ready supply of it on the southern shores of the Dead Sea. [SEA, THE SALT] There is one mountain here called Jebel Usdum, seven miles long and several hundred feet high, which is composed almost entirely of salt. The Jews appear to have distinguished between rock-salt and that which was gained by evaporation as the Talmudists particularize one species (probably the latter) as the "salt of Sodom." The salt-pits formed an important source of revenue to the rulers of the country, and Antiochus conferred a valuable boon on Jerusalem by presenting the city with 375 bushels of salt for the temple service. As one of the most essential articles of diet, salt symbolized hospitality; as an antiseptic, durability, fidelity and purity. Hence the expression "covenant of salt,"
See Sea, The Salt
as betokening an indissoluble alliance between friends; and again the expression "salted with the salt of the palace."
not necessarily meaning that they had "maintenance from the palace," as Authorized Version has it, but that they were bound by sacred obligations fidelity to the king. So in the present day, "to eat bread and salt together" is an expression for a league of mutual amity. It was probably with a view to keep this idea prominently before the minds of the Jews that the use of salt was enjoined on the Israelites in their offerings to God.
SALT. God appointed that salt should be used in all the sacrifices that were offered to him, Le 2:13. Salt is esteemed the symbol of wisdom and grace, Col 4:6; Mr 9:50: also of perpetuity and incorruption, Nu 18:19; 2Ch 13:5. The orientals were accustomed also to ratify their federal engagements by salt. This substance was, among the ancients, the emblem of friendship and fidelity, and therefore used in all their sacrifices and covenants. It was a sacred pledge of hospitality which they never ventured to violate. Numerous instances occur of travellers in Arabia, after being plundered and stripped by the wandering tribes of the desert, claiming the protection of some civilized Arab, who, after receiving them into his tent, and giving them salt, instantly relieves their distress, and never forsakes them till he has placed them in safety. An agreement, thus ratified, is called, in Scripture, "a covenant of salt." The obligation which this symbol imposes on the mind of an oriental, is well illustrated by the Baron du Tott in the following anecdote: One who was desirous of his acquaintance promised in a short time to return. The baron had already attended him half way down the stair case, when stopping, and turning briskly to one of his domestics, "Bring me directly," said he, "some bread and salt." What he requested was brought; when, taking a little salt between his fingers, and putting it with a mysterious air on a bit of breast, he ate it with a devout gravity, assuring du Tott he might now rely on him.
Although salt, in small quantities, may contribute to the communicating, and fertilizing of some kinds of stubborn soil, yet, according to the observations of Pliny, "all places in which salt is found are barren and produce nothing." The effect of salt, where it abounds, on vegetation, is described by burning, in De 29:23, "The whole land thereof is brimstone, and salt of burning." Thus Volney, speaking of the borders of the Asphaltic lake, or Dead Sea, says, "The true cause of the absence of vegetables and animals is the acrid saltness of its waters, which is infinitely greater than that of the sea. The land surrounding the lake, being equally impregnated with that saltness, refuses to produce plants; the air itself, which is by evaporation loaded with it, and which moreover receives vapours of sulphur and bitumen, cannot suit vegetation; whence that dead appearance which reigns around the lake." So a salt land, Jer 17:6, is the same as the "parched places of the wilderness," and is descriptive of barrenness, as saltness also is, Job 39:6; Ps 107:34; Eze 47:11; Zec 2:9. Hence the ancient custom of sowing an enemy's city, when taken, with salt, in token of perpetual desolation, Jg 4:24; and thus in after times the city of Milan was burned, razed, sown with salt, and ploughed by the exasperated emperor, Frederic Barbarossa. The salt used by the ancients was what we call rock or fossil salt; and also that left by the evaporation of salt lakes. Both these kinds were impure, being mixed with earth, sand, &c, and lost their strength by deliquescence. Maundrell, describing the valley of salt, says, "On the side toward Gibul there is a small precipice, occasioned by the continual taking away of the salt; and in this you may see how the veins of it lie. I broke a piece of it, of which that part that was exposed to the sun, rain, and air, though it had the sparks and particles of salt, yet it had perfectly lost its savour; the inner part, which was connected with the rock, retained its savour, as I found by proof." Christ reminds his disciples, Mt 5:13, "Ye are the salt of the earth; but if the salt have lost its 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." This is spoken of the mineral salt as mentioned by Maundrell, a great deal of which was made use of in offerings at the temple; such of it as had become insipid was thrown out to repair the road. The existence of such a salt, and its application to such a use, Schoetgenius has largely proved in his "Horae Hebraicae." The salt unfit for the land, Lu 16:31, Le Clerc conjectures to be that made of wood ashes, which easily loses its savour, and becomes no longer serviceable.
Effoetos cinerem immundum jactare per agros. VIRGIL. Georg. 1:81.
But blush not fattening dung to cast around, Or sordid ashes o'er th' exhausted ground. WARTON.