Official Student Journal
Covenant Theological Seminary
Salt — an item found in virtually every grocery store in America. It’s used by us as a condiment, as a curative, as a healer, and in winter weather as a de-icer, we think of it mainly in terms of its usage. But it hasn’t always been this way. For thousands of years man thought of salt mainly in terms of its qualities.
We find the Scriptures referring to salt in terms of its characteristics — that is to say, its destructive properties (Dent. 29:23, etc.), its purifying properties (Ez. 16:4, etc.), and its preserving properties. It’s the last one of these qualities – that of preservation — which I want you to notice.
In the Old Testament, God, being ever the personalizing Creator, uses salt as a sign of perpetuity in three places as an object lesson to His children. Because salt was always around the Old Testament saints (just as it is always around us today), it was a perfect medium to illustrate these three central promises from God to His children:
Just as permanent as is the Dead Sea will be God’s promise to His children that they will always have a communion meal with Him; just as permanent as is the Valley of Salt will be His promise to His children that they will be a priesthood; and just as permanent as are the salt fields in the Judean Wilderness will be His promise to His children that they will be His royal family. These are three things promised in the Old Testament in the form of a “covenant of salt” and they are fulfilled in the New Testament in the form of His Son, the Lord, Christ Jesus!
So then, as we look at the three references to the “covenant of salt” in the Old Testament, let us notice the establishment of our permanent communion with God, the establishment of our permanent intercession to God, and the establishment of our permanent reigning along-side-of God.
I. The Sinaiatic Covenant is a “covenant of salt.” (Lev. 2:13)
The first Old Testament reference to a “covenant of salt” is in Lev. 2:13, “Every grain offering of yours, moreover, you shall season with salt, so that the salt of the covenant of your God shall not be lacking from your grain offering; with all your offerings you shall offer salt.”
Here at the very institution of the sacrificial system God is telling Moses to offer salt with all the offerings the Israelites make. Now there is nothing special about salt, There is no intrinsic spiritual value to salt. In fact, salt is only mentioned once again in connection to the sacrificial system and that’s in Ezekiel, and that reference pertains to this reference. This being the case, what then is the significance of salt in the sacrificial system?
I’m convinced that the answer is given in the graphic phrase, “covenant of salt.” Now this “covenant” is not a substantive covenant, it is simply a descriptive idiom of the covenant under discussion — in this case the Sinaiatic covenant. So we can say that the Sinaiatic covenant is described as a “covenant of salt,” but more specifically, the grain (or meal) offering as a “covenant of salt.”
We are told in the Old Testament that the grain offering is not to be offered by itself, but alongside of one of the other offerings. In Lev. 23 we read the grain offering being offered as part of the peace-offering. And in Lev. 7 we are told that the peace-offering is to be eaten by the sacrificer after part of the total sacrifice is burned. The purpose for eating this particular offering is to allow the individual sacrificer to have a communion meal with God — a thanksgiving meal for the reconciliation which the sacrificer has just been granted, on one hand, and a consecration meal in which the sacrificer consecrates himself and his possessions to God, on the other hand. And this entire process is described as a “covenant of salt” by virtue of the integral coupling of the peace-offering and the grain offering. In other words, wherever the grain offering goes, so goes the designation “covenant of salt” (Lev. 2:13b, “With all your offerings you shall offer salt”).
Now that we’ve got before us the setting of the peace-offering and how it can be described as a “covenant of salt,” we need to understand what this term, “covenant of salt,” means. Well, we’re told what this phrase means in Lev. 6 when God refers to this accompanying grain offering as a “permanent ordinance.” The Hebrew word used for “permanent” here is the word that is used over and over again — in fact, every time — in connection with this descriptive phrase, “covenant of salt.” The Hebrew word used here means “for ever and ever,” “always,” “continually,” “everlasting,” “perpetual,” “without ceasing,” and here it means “permanent.” So while we don’t have the Bible saying here in Lev. that the “covenant of salt” is an everlasting covenant, we do see it saying the grain offering is both a “covenant of salt,” and a “permanent ordinance. (A)
But so what — the peace-offering complex is a relatively small part of the sacrificial system, which itself was given about 4,000 years ago. And after all, the book of Hebrews tells us Christ is our total sacrifice, once and for all. So, what is the value of looking at this one verse reference to salt in the Old Testament redemptive economy?
In John 6:51 we read Christ’s words, “I am the Living Bread that came down out of Heaven: if any one eats of this bread, he shall live forever: and the bread also which I shall give for the life of the world is My flesh.” On the basis of this verse, then, we don’t have to make little patties of “fine flour mixed with oil” and salt, and offer those cakes to God as our peace-offering because Christ is our peace-offering – He is our Bread. But the Lord is setting the stage for something even more, and we see this in the institution of the Lord’s Supper in Matt. 26:26, “And while they were eating, Jesus took bread, and having blessed, He broke it and gave to the disciples and said, ‘Take eat; this is My body’.” Grain and oil and salt equal bread, and bread equals Christ’s body. The communion meal of the peace-offering equals the communion meal of the Lord’s Supper. Now, of course, the Lord’s Supper is larger than just the peace-offering communion meal but it does include all that is involved in the peace-offering meal — including that descriptive phrase, “covenant of salt.”
Finally, we read in Rev. 19 of that consummate communion meal with God — that one in Heaven as we sit down with all the saints of all the ages at the marriage supper of the Lamb with the Lamb Himself. And we will sing then, as we should sing now: “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns!”
So what we have then is this: When we take communion with our brothers and sisters we not only participate in the benefits of Christ’s death and resurrection, but due to God’s redemptive economy across all the ages, we participate in that sacrificial meal which has united God’s children since Sinai, 4,000 years ago. But, in addition to this, we have the promise from God – an everlasting “covenant of salt” — that He will never take His communion away from us. He will never take away from us the outward expression of our reconciliation to Him. Is it any wonder that Paul can shout, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice!”
II. The Levitical Covenant is a “covenant of salt” (Num. 18:19)
The next reference to a “covenant of salt” is in Numbers 18:19, “All the offerings of the holy gifts, which the sons of Israel offer to the Lord, I have given to you and your sons and daughters with you, as a perpetual allotment. It is an everlasting covenant of salt before the Lord to you and your descendants with you.”
This is God speaking to Aaron about the priesthood, and in this reference we see the words, “everlasting,” and “perpetual.” Furthermore, the “covenant of salt” is directly defined as an “everlasting” covenant. (B)
Having this “permanent nature” of the priesthood before us, it will be instructive to notice the general godly injunctions to, and for, the Aaronic priesthood. The first is given in Num. 25, which refers to this Levitical covenant and it states that the priesthood is to intercede for their nation before God. They are to reconcile their nation to the Creator.
A second function of the priesthood is told to us in Malachi 2:7, “For the lips of a priest should preserve knowledge, and men should seek the law (or instruction] from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the Lord of Hosts.” Clearly, then, a function of the priesthood is to teach their nation the Word of God so that the nation might not go into sin. And if the nation does fall from God’s law, then the same Malachi passage tells us the priesthood is to call their nation back to God.
A third function of the priesthood is given in Deuteronomy 33:9, where we are told that the priesthood is to set an example in ethical living, “For they observed your word and kept your commandment.” And, in Leviticus 21 we are given the high ethical standard for the priesthood.
It is interesting that the Old Testament prophesies the opening up of the Aaronic and Levitical priesthood to all nations. We read of this in Isaiah 66 where God says He will appoint priests and Levites from “all nations and tongues.”
Now it goes without saying that Christ is both our high priest and our sacrifice — the book of Hebrews clearly teaches that. But there is still that “everlasting” covenant to Aaron for a priesthood to perform the priestly duties. And we see this priesthood mentioned in connection with Christians in I Peter 2:5, “You also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” In verse 9 we read, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession. . .” Furthermore, the book of Revelation contains several references to New Testament believers being a priesthood (1:6; 5:10; 20:6 – Millennium priesthood). (Note, Hebrews 13:15)
So how does this Old Testament priesthood – which started with Aaron and is continued into the New Testament age in the form of the Christian church — how does this priesthood which is described as an “everlasting” priesthood by the use of the phrase “covenant of salt” relate to us now?
Well, I’m convinced that with the major exception’ of the truly redemptive function of the priesthood in the Old Testament, what is said of them in the Old Testament is meant to be applied to us today as well. That is to say, firstly, we are to plead and intercede for our nation before God. We read in I Timothy 2:1-2 that we are to pray for kings and all who are in authority in order that the national civil situation might allow a quiet and tranquil life for God’s children. In fact, Paul says these prayers are the “primary,” the “first” duty of a group of worshipping believers. (See Matt. 5:13-14; Luke 14:34 for “salt” reference.)
Secondly, we as Christians are commanded to teach and preach God’s word to our nation so that it might believe. Throughout the book of Acts (19:8; 13:43; 18:4; 28:23; also, 2 Cor. 5:11; Gal. 1:10) we read of the saints going forth into the world teaching and preaching the law and grace of God and urging and persuading men to return to their Creator. In 2 Tim. 2:2 we are told to teach men the truth so that they might, in turn, teach God’s truth to others. In I Peter 3:15 we are told to train ourselves in order that we might be able to make a defense of our faith to the world. Ironically, the editors of the NASV have cross-referenced I Peter 3:15 with Colossians 4:6.
Finally, we too must be examples in righteous, holy living. In I Peter 2 we are told to keep our behavior excellent among non-believers so that they might believe in the Lord. And in Eph. 4 we are instructed to live holy lives with fellow believers in order that we all might be built up in the faith. Note, in this regard as well, the “salt” references in Matt. 5:13-14 and Luke 14:34, for further application of the Levitical injunction.
And, what is the historical mandate that ties us to these stringent demands of the Old Testament priesthood? It is the Levitical Covenant, defined as a “covenant of salt” which makes Christians 20th century Levites!
III. The Davidic Covenant is a “covenant of salt” (2 Chron. 13:5)
The last mention of a “covenant of salt” came about 1,000 years after the first two references and it is in conjunction with the Davidic Covenant. We read of this in 2 Chron. 13:5, “Do you not know that the Lord God of Israel gave the rule over Israel forever to David and his covenant of salt.” Again, “forever” is the same Hebrew word. Psalm 89 gives “the descendants of David” ‘a throne “forever.” And in 2 Sam. 7, we read of David’s throne being “forever.”
This reference to the “sons of David” is the only theological reference to that term in the Bible. It’s used elsewhere in a genealogical or contemporary sense, but never in an eschatological context, except here. What does it mean in light of a promise from God that the “sons of David” will have dominion or sovereignty or rule over Israel forever? Jeremiah helps us understand it by writing in chapter 33, “As the hosts of Heaven cannot be counted, and the sands of the sea cannot be measured, so I will multiply the descendants of David my servant and the Levites who minister to me.” An interesting tie-in here between the Levites and the sons of descendants of David. In addition to this, Jeremiah tells us the sons of David will be without number.
But I’m persuaded that for the full answer we must turn to the books of Revelation and Daniel to understand this Chronicles verse. In Revelation 5:10 we read, “And you have made them (that is, God’s children) a kingdom and priests to our God: and they will reign upon the earth.” A future reigning. In Revelation 20 in the description of the Millennium, the saints are mentioned as being priests of God, and as “reigning with Christ for 1,000 years.” And finally, in Rev. 22:5 (a description of New Jerusalem), we read the following: “And there shall be no longer night, and they shall not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God shall illumine them; and they shall reign forever and ever.” In Daniel 7 we read of the saints receiving dominion and sovereignty over all the kingdoms once Satan has been done away with for good.
There is no mention in the Bible of the “sons of David” reigning now, in this age. Quite the contrary, God’s children are portrayed by Christ as the serving, suffering sons of David. In John 18:36 we read, “Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not derived from this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting, that I might not be delivered up to the Jews: but as it is, My kingdom is not from here.” When Jesus sent out the twelve and the seventy, to preach and teach and heal, He told them not to retaliate if people rejected their message of truth, but just to condemn them, shake the dust off their feet and leave town. God would take care of meting out judgment to those who refused to listen to His truth. Finally, Paul tells us that our weapons of warfare are not those weapons that are used by the world in its warfare. What then do we do with this 2 Chronicles passage speaking of our “everlasting” reign?
I believe the answer is the following: Just as Christ is interceding on our behalf as our high priest, He is, as well, representing us as King in this age. The theme of representation is not infrequent in the Scriptures and it would fit admirably in this instance as well. He is at work preparing our reigning places for us — John 14:2-3 reads, “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places: if it were not so, I would have told you: for I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am you may be also.” Rev. 3:21 states, “He who overcomes, I will grant Him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.” In other words, Christ is at work preparing our thrones so that when the time comes everything will be set for us to reign with Him.
Right now, though, we are priests, preparing to become kings as is promised us in 2 Chron. 13. We read of this preparation in the parable of the talents where the Master says, “Well done, good and faithful slave: you were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things, enter into the joy of your master” (Matt. 25:21). The same thing is taught in the parable of the unrighteous steward (Luke 16:1-3) and the parable of the money (Luke 19:11-27). And in the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24:44-45), after the coming of the Son of Man is told, Jesus tells of the master who returned to find a faithful and sensible slave who the master then put “in charge of all the master’s possessions” (vs. 47). Finally, in Matt. 20 we read of the mother of James and John asking Jesus to put the boys on each side of Him as He rules. He answers the three of them thusly: “My cup you shall drink, but to sit on my right and on my left, this is not mine to give, but for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father” (vs. 23).
It seems quite clear that what the New Testament is saying to us is that we are now priests, in fulfillment of the Levitical Covenant, and as such we have an enormous task to do — namely to help God reconcile those whom He chooses, and to teach each other, those whom He has chosen. The New Testament teaches that we have enough to do, without always seeking to try on our regal robes. We are not the ruling church now, but we can joyfully accept that fact because 3,000 years ago God promised that we would reign for ever and ever. I believe Paul was mindful of this Davidic Covenant promise when he admonishingly wrote to the Corinthian Christians in I Cor. 4:7-8: I wish you Corinthian Christians were kings as you seem to think of yourselves, because if you were kings then we’d all be kings. But you’re mistaken, for our kingship is not to be in this age.
So now, as we panoramically look at these three references to the “covenant of salt,” we see that the phrase points to believers today.
First, the Sinaiatic Covenant is an everlasting promise that God will not take His communion meal away from us. He has promised us that He will always provide an outward sign of His reconciling us to Himself. Because of this perpetual promise, every worship service, every chapel service should include praise and thanksgiving in the order of worship.
Secondly, the Levitical Covenant is an everlasting promise that God will not leave the world without intercessors and that He will not leave His children without any function or reason for existence. Let us then perform our priestly duties by preaching the truth, teaching the truth, and walking in the truth of God’s Word.
Thirdly, the Davidic Covenant is an everlasting promise that God will provide each of us with a royal realm of our own if we are faithful as priests now. It is instructive for us to notice that we are only priests until the Parousia (Rev. 5:10), after which for 1,000 years we will be both priests and rulers (Rev. 20:4-6) and finally in the new Heavens and new earth we will only be rulers (Rev. 22:5). It’s almost as if we are now apprentice rulers, then during the Millennium we will be journeyman rulers, and finally in New Jerusalem we will be master rulers, fully prepared to assume that role.
And what is the tie that binds all three of these “covenants of salt” together, and then binds them all to us today? It is Christ our Lord, our peace-offering, our high priest, and our king.
A. John Reid, writing in Hastings, holds that “salt” here means either a “preservative” or “a fitting emblem of incorruption.” Rudolf Zehnfund, writing in Schaff-Herzog, believes it means something “worthy to be dedicated to a deity. . .” Keil and Delitzsch state the salt that is added to the sacrifice is “designated as salt of the covenant of God, because of its imparting strength and purity to the sacrifice, by which Israel was strengthened and fortified in covenant fellowship with Jehovah.” Bonar agrees with this designation of salt. Patrick Fairbairn has written that salt here means “a symbol of that moral and religious purity which is essential to the true worship of God. . .” He concludes his discussion by quoting J.H. Kurtz thusly: “So that the good works of the faithful are represented by . . . salt, as incorruptible, perpetually abiding signs and fruits of God’s covenant of grace.” In Smith’s Dictionary we read that salt in this instance means “betokening an indissoluble alliance between friends.”
Turning to more fanciful and creative meanings we read that Henry Trumbull takes “salt” to mean “life” in this instance since “not death, but life, was an acceptable offering to God. . .” He cites 2 Corinthians 12:14 and Romans 12:1 (“I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies [yourself] a living and holy sacrifice acceptable to God, which is your spiritual or reasonable service of worship”) in defense of this position, and then he concludes: “Without salt, without the symbol of life, no sacrifice was to be counted a fitting or acceptable offering at God’s altar” (Cf. 2 Kings 2:19-22). Wellhausen holds that perhaps the old Arabian custom of the priests throwing salt on the sacrificial fire causing the flames to leap up, thus startling the worshipper might not be far removed from the Ezekiel 43:24 sacrificial injunction: “And you shall present them before the Lord, and the priests shall throw salt on them, and they shall offer them up as a burnt offering to the Lord.”
B. Kittel has a note that Rabbinic Judaism interpreted this verse thusly: “‘This is an eternal contract which the Lord concluded with salt.’ Scripture thus concludes a contract with Aaron by means of something which is powerful, and which even more can make other things (e.g., the contract) powerful.” Gustav Oehler states that “covenant of salt” in this context means “a covenant regulation of God, which is forever valid. . .” He claims the same thing for the 2 Chron. 13:5 reference to the “covenant of salt.” Keil and Delitzsch in referring to Num. 18:19 and the 2 Chron. passage has the following to say: “treaties being concluded and rendered firm and inviolable, according to a well-know custom. . . by the parties to an alliance eating bread and salt together, as a sign of the treaty which they have made. As a covenant of this kind was called a ‘covenant of salt’ [which was] equivalent to an indissoluble covenant.” R. Zehnpfund, reacting as well to Leviticus 2:13, states: “Salt was accordingly used in making a treaty, possibly as a symbol of purity combined with the inviolable relation established by eating the salt of a host. The covenant of salt could not be broken.” Smith’s Dictionary, commenting on the “covenant of salt” in Numbers 18:19 and 2 Chron. 13:5, has the following: “The associations connected with salt in eastern countries are important. As one of the most essential articles of diet, it symbolized hospitality; as an antiseptic, durability, fidelity, and purity. Hence the expression, ‘covenant of salt,’ betokening an indissoluble alliance between friends.” And John Reid states simply: “The preservative qualities of salt probably led to its being regarded as an essential element in the making of any enduring covenant.” Obviously, the parties of hospitality in Num. 18:19 are God and the Aaronic priests, and in II Chron. 13:5, God and the family of David.
(Footnotes available upon request)