Israel Biblical Studies

In His famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says that the faithful are like the “salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13). Today this phrase is understood to mean an honest person with true character that can endure hardship like salt. But what did this really mean when it was spoken two thousand years ago in the original Hebrew?

A Natural Preservative

Jesus called his followers “the salt of the earth,” but the Gospels do not explain the meaning of this famous saying. As is the case today, in the days of the Bible salt was used to season and preserve food from rotting in the warm climate of Israel. Jesus was telling his followers to behave morally in order to improve the quality and preserve the goodness of the world around them.

A covenant of salt

Because of its protective powers, salt became a symbol of integrity. Salt was added to all sacrifices in the Temple (Lev. 2:13), and it was also a central part of a ceremonial meal eaten to seal a pact, as seen in the covenant God made with David (2 Chr. 13:5). The Bible refers to this type of unbreakable covenant as a “everlasting covenant of salt”brit melakh olam (בְּרִית מֶלַח עוֹלָם).

retrieve the Real Biblical Meaning

To be the “salt of the earth” is be resolutely upstanding, unbreakable, like a covenant of salt. When Jesus spoke the Sermon on the Mount twenty centuries ago, he said the words “salt of the earth” in Hebrew – melakh ha-aretz – and everyone understood him.