What is the covenant of salt?

Question
What is the meaning of the "covenant of salt" mentioned in the Old Testament, for example Leviticus 2:13?
Answer
All covenants (Heb. beriyth) speak of both blessing and cursing (please see "Covenants in General" below), but the covenant of salt is particularly interesting.

Some scholars note that salt in the Middle East had an enduring quality and therefore was used in ceremonies to seal an agreement. God’s covenant(s) are eternal in nature, even those in the Old Testament (Gen. 9:12,16; 17:7, 19; Exod. 31:16; 1 Chron. 16:15-17; Psa.105:8, 10; 115:5, 9; Isa. 55:3; 61:8; Jer. 32:40; 50:5; Ezek. 16:60; 37:26; Hos. 2:19, etc.; cf. Heb. 13:20, etc.). Salt also has a cleansing and purifying effect. This is one reason why we speak of the renewed or new covenant. (Please see "The Re-Newed or New Covenant?" below.)

Salt was a sign of the eternal and irrevocable nature of the covenant (cf. Lev. 2:13) which was at times called a covenant of salt (Num. 18:19; 2 Chron. 13:5). The context of Leviticus 2:13 is the grain offering which was to have salt added to it: "With all your offerings you shall offer salt." However, the Holy Spirit didn’t stop with just the grain offerings. All offerings made by the Israelites to the `Lord were to have salt added to them. This speaks of their perpetual eternal nature and value; by the Spirit their worship of God would be perpetual in nature. In the New Testament we’re reminded "God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth" (John 4:24). Also, the book of Revelation affirms the eternal worship of God.

The covenant of salt in Numbers 18:19 speaks of the sons of Aaron and their relationship to God. As priests the sons of Aaron were not going to receive any inheritance in the land because God was their eternal inheritance (cf. Heb. 11:16). So here the covenant of salt signified the perpetual nature of their relationship with the Lord. God would provide for them. In the New Testament believers are also priests (1 Pet. 2:19) and God is our provision. He holds us eternally secure in his pure, cleansing covenant (cf. Rom. 8:35-29; Phil. 2:13).

The covenant of salt in 2 Chronicles 13:5 speaks of the eternal, perpetual nature of the Davidic kingdom. However, it is also more than just eternal. Salt also signifies purity and cleansing. Jesus, who was of the house of David (Matt. 1:6; Luke 3:31), is the eternal, pure, cleansing and redeeming agent of his church. He inaugurated the kingdom of God by his birth, death and resurrection. We now continue in his kingdom, and it will be consummated on the last day. (Please see "Is the kingdom of God a major theme within Scripture?" and "Kingdom of God: Already, not Yet?" below.)

We should also note that believers are designated as having the properties of salt through Christ because of incorruptibleness and the preserving (perpetual) effects they have on the world (cf. Matt. 5:13). In these ways the covenant of salt is seen as a blessing.

However, salt can also indicate irrevocability in punishment. Recall how Abimelech sowed the city of the Shechemites with salt that it might be eternally worthless (Judg. 9:45). Also, righteous Lot (2 Pet. 2:7-8) was delivered from Sodom together with his family, but when Lot's wife looked back coveting the ungodly world in unbelief (cf. 1 John 2:16), she shared in Sodom’s eternal destruction. She became a pillar of salt (Gen. 19:26). Because of her unbelief the covenant blessings became for her a curse and a visible testimony to the eternal and inviolable nature of the covenant. Additionally, Lot's daughters were covenant members through their association with their father, yet they perverted that relationship and by gross immorality (Gen. 19:31-36) became the source of two nations (Moabites and Ammonites, Gen. 19:37-38) opposed to God and his people.

This should be a warning to those who are only professors and not possessors of faith who can then despise the faith and trample on the blood of the covenant. Its blessings will become for them an eternal and unchangeable curse (cf. Heb. 10:28-29). Hell is forever, and by its covenant nature it cannot cease. Please see "An Eternal Hell is for Real - The Heresy of Annihilationism? below."

Related Topics

Covenants in General
The Re-Newed or New Covenant?
Is the kingdom of God a major theme within Scripture?
Kingdom of God: Already, not Yet?
An Eternal Hell is for Real - The Heresy of Annihilationism?

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).