You Are The Salt Of The Earth
Ye are the salt of the land, but if the salt may lose savour, in what shall it be salted? for nothing is it good henceforth, except to be cast without, and to be trodden down by men.
Ye are the salt of the earth.–The words are spoken to the disciples in their ideal character, as the germ of a new Israel, called to a prophetic work, preserving the earth from moral putrescence and decay. The general reference to this antiseptic action of salt is (as in Colossians 4:6, and possibly in the symbolic act of Elisha, 2Kings 2:21) enough to give an adequate meaning to the words, but the special reference to the sacrificial use of salt in Mark 9:49 (see Note there) makes it probable enough that there was some allusion to that thought also here.
If the salt have lost his savour.–The salt commonly used by the Jews of old, as now, came from Jebel-Usdum, on the shores of the Dead Sea, and was known as the Salt of Sodom. Maundrell, the Eastern traveller (circ. A.D. 1690), reports that he found lumps of rock-salt there which had become partially flavourless, but I am not aware that this has been confirmed by recent travellers. Common salt, as is well known, will melt if exposed to moisture, but does not lose its saltness. The question is more curious than important, and does not affect the ideal case represented in our Lord’s words.
Wherewith shall it be salted?–The words imply a relative if not an absolute impossibility. If gifts, graces, blessings, a high calling, and a high work fail, what remains? The parable finds its interpretation in Hebrews 6:1-6.
To be trodden under foot of men.–The Talmud shows (Schottgen in loc.) that the salt which had become unfit for sacrificial use in the store-house was sprinkled in wet weather upon the slopes and steps of the temple to prevent the feet of the priests from slipping, and we may accordingly see in our Lord’s words a possible reference to this practice.
Verse 13. – Ye are the salt, etc. (cf. a similar saying in Mark 9:50; Luke 14:34, 35). Weiss thinks that St. Luke gives it in its original context; that St. Matthew is right in interpreting it as of special reference to the disciples; and that St. Mark applies it the most freely. It may, indeed, be that its position here is only the result of the inspired guidance of the evangelist; but, on the whole, it seems more probable that so natural a figure was used more than once by our Lord, and that he really spoke these words in his sermon on the mount, as well as on the later occasion indicated by St. Luke. Ye; i.e. the μαθηταί of ver. 1. Are, in fact (ἐστέ); therefore recognize the responsibility. The salt of the earth. It has been disputed whether allusion is here made to the preservative properties of salt or to the flavour it imparts; i.e. whether Christ is thinking of his disciples as preserving the world from decay, or as giving it a good flavour to the Divine taste. Surely a useless question; forgetful of the fact that spiritual realities are being dealt with, and that it is therefore impossible for the one effect to be really separated from the other. Our Lord is thinking of the moral tone which his disciples are to give to humanity. The connexion with vers. 11, 12 is – Persecution must be borne unless you are to lose your moral tone, which is to be to the earth what salt is to its surroundings, preserving from corruption and fitting for (in your case Divine) appreciation. What χάρις is to be to the Christian λόγος (Colossians 4:6), that the Christian himself is to be to the world. If… have lost its savour (μωρανθῇ); so elsewhere in Luke 14:34 only. Salt that has lost its distinctive qualities is here said to lack its proper mind or sense. Salt without sharpness is like an ἄνθρωπος ἄλογος; for man is a ζῶον λογικόν. On the fact of salt losing its virtue, cf. Thomson (‘Land and the Book,’ p. 382: 1887), “It is a well-known fact that the salt of this country [i.e. Palestine] when in contact with the ground, or exposed to rain and sun, does become insipid and useless. From the manner in which it is gathered [vide infra], much earth and other impurities are necessarily collected with it. Not a little of it is so impure that it cannot be used at all; and such salt soon effloresces and turns to dust – not to fruitful soil, however. It is not only good for nothing itself, but it actually destroys all fertility wherever it is thrown…. No man will allow it to be thrown on to his field, and the only place for it is the street; and there it is cast, to be trodden under foot of men.” It should be observed that the salt used in Palestine is not manufactured by boiling clean salt water, nor quarried from mines, but is obtained from marshes along the seashore, as in Cyprus, or from salt lakes in the interior, which dry up in summer, as the one in the desert north of Palmyra, and the great Lake of Jebbul, south-east of Aleppo.
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