SALT (מֶ֫לַח, H4875, ἅλας, ἅλς, a white, crystalline compound known chemically as sodium chloride).
Salt, found in great quantity in the Dead Sea area and purchased by the Jews from traders in the N, served many uses. It was used as a condiment to season food for man (Job 6:6) and beast (Isa 30:24) and to preserve it from putrefaction (Exod 30:35). It was the mandatory accompaniment of some of the sacrifices, notably the cereal (Lev 2:13) and burnt offerings (Ezek 43:24). Because of its medicinal values, newborn babies were bathed in it and rubbed with it (Ezek 16:4). That it was regarded as of great value is indicated by its inclusion with wine and oil as the basic staples of life. Antiochus, for instance, gave salt along with oil and wine as a reward to the Jews for the aid they had given him against Ptolemy Philopater. It apparently also served a destructive purpose. When Abimelech captured Shechem he sowed the ground with salt as punishment on them (Judg 9:45). (Cf. the Romans’ treatment of Carthage.) It is possible, however, that this simply indicated the placement of a ban upon them.
The fig. usage is also common. On the one hand, heaps and pits of salt conveyed the picture of barrenness and sterility (Deut 29:23; Zeph 2:9). On the other hand, salt symbolized the valuable and the virtuous. A pact of friendship was sealed with the gift of salt (still observed by Arabs today) and the agreement between God and His people was termed a “covenant of salt” (Num 18:19; 2 Chron 13:5), salt being emblematic of loyalty and perpetuity. In the Sermon on the Mount the Lord implies the wholesomeness and vitality of the Christian when He calls him “the salt of the earth” (Matt 5:13). The idea of purification is prominent in Mark 9:49 where the Lord says that in the final judgment “everyone will be salted with fire.” The Apostle Paul urges wisdom, prudence, and wholesomeness in the Christian’s conversation when he says, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer every one” (Col 4:6).
E. Hull, “Salt,” HDB (1909), 355; J. A. Patch, “Salt,” ISBE, IV (1955), 2664; M. F. Unger, “Salt,” UDB (1957), 955, 956; S. Barabas, “Salt,” ZPBD (1963), 742, 743; L. Hartman, “Salt,” EDB (1963), 2099, 3000.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
See Covenant of Salt.
The chief source of salt in Palestine is from the extensive deposits near the "sea of salt" (see Dead Sea), where there are literally mountains and valleys of salt (2Sa 8:13; 2Ki 14:7; 1Ch 18:12; 2Ch 25:11). On the seacoast the inhabitants frequently gather the sea salt. They fill the rock crevices with sea water and leave it for the hot summer sun to evaporate. After evaporation the salt crystals can be collected. As salt-gathering is a government monopoly in Turkey, the government sends men to pollute the salt which is being surreptitiously crystallized, so as to make it unfit for eating. Another extensive supply comes from the salt lakes in the Syrian desert East of Damascus and toward Palmyra. All native salt is more or less bitter, due to the presence of other salts such as magnesium sulphate.
Salt was used not only as a food, but as an antiseptic in medicine. Newborn babes were bathed and salted (Eze 16:4), a custom still prevailing. The Arabs of the desert consider it so necessary, that in the absence of salt they batheir infants in camels’ urine. Elisha is said to have healed the waters of Jericho by casting a cruse of salt into the spring (2Ki 2:20 f). Abimelech sowed the ruins of Shechem with salt to prevent a new city from arising in its place (Jud 9:45). Lot’s wife turned to a pillar of salt (Ge 19:26).
Salt is emblematic of loyalty and friendship (see above). A person who has once joined in a "salt covenant" with God and then breaks it is fit only to be cast out (compare Mt 5:13; Mr 9:50). Saltness typified barrenness (De 29:23; Jer 17:6). James compares the absurdity of the same mouth giving forth blessings and cursings to the impossibility of a fountain yielding both sweet and salt water (Jas 3:11 f).
James A. Patch