Jan Paron, PhD | July 26, 2021
Though Scripture cites the word salt 31 times in the Old Testament, it mentions salt covenant three (Lv 2:13; Nm 18:19; 2 Chr 13:5). The Ancients considered salt a precious commodity because of its scarcity. (1) In terms of an agreement initiated by God, salt symbolized preservation of covenant with Him against corruption. The Bible links salt with the making of agreements or contracts. This essay exegetes the textual meaning of the salt covenant under the microscope of person, event, symbols, places, and prophecy looking at three occurrences in the Old Testament. It seeks to uncover its meaning and application
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The notion of a salt covenant appears in Nm 18:19-32 as one of the three covenant methods for confirmation (cf. blood covenant, Gn 15:7-17; shoe covenant, Ru 4:7-9). This instance of the salt covenant contextually relates to the Aaronic call to the priesthood of the tabernacle (Nm 17). Aaron’s rod had budded, blossomed, and brought forth almonds signaling the Lord’s approval for him and his descendants’ rights to the tabernacle priesthood. In chapter 18, the Lord recounts to Aaron alone, the priesthood service rewards providing him and his descendant Aaronides a continual allotment from the Israelite offerings and sealing the provisions with “an everlasting covenant of salt”(18:19a KJV). Ancient Israelites always added salt to sacrificial offerings to the Lord as a preserving agent.
“You shall season every grain offering with salt so that the salt (preservation) of the covenant of your God will not be missing from your grain offering. You shall offer salt with all your offerings (Lv 2:13 AMP). Salt in in Lv 2:13, stands for that which preserves against corruption, an essential ingredient in offerings made to God. It conveys the image of permanence and God’s eternal covenant with Israel. On the other hand, leaven symbolized the spread of sin and honey likewise fermentation of it. The mineral’s ability not only to ward off decay but also to preserve made it an excellent symbol to represent the perpetual agreement between God and his people.
In 2 Chr 13:5, Scripture shows a second instance of the salt covenant: “Ought ye not to know that the Lord God of Israel gave the kingdom over Israel to David for ever, even to him and to his sons by a covenant of salt?” Similar to Lv 2:13, a covenant of salt conveys a descriptive image of a permanency because salt preserves. Since the Bible links salt to the making of agreements or contracts, it showed itself an ancient symbol of unbreakable friendships and enduring alliances.
In like manner, the salt covenant in Nm 18:19 has characteristics of indissolubility indicating permanency and irreversibility. The allotment consisted of the holy gifts to the Lord, which He in turn gave to Aaron and His descendants as a God-commanded portion—His gift to them. Since the Aaronides had no property, they depended on God alone for their portion through His provisions.
“Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his 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” (Mt 5:13). Refrigeration as a means of preserving large quantities of food did not begin to grow until the latter part of the 19th century. One of the most common ways of preserving food before this time (including the period of the Old Testament) was to use salt. This property of physical preservation led to this mineral being used in terms to symbolically represent preservation in general.
Taken together, a ‘covenant of salt’ means an agreement or contract between parties that endures regardless of the circumstances. Such agreements form a solid, unbreakable and everlasting bond.
(1) Bullinger, 1999, p 207.