Salt and Light: Matthew 5:13-16
Once more, take a moment to consider that there were two primary points of focus in the Sermon on the Mount: the Covenant and the Messiah. Jesus is teaching how to restore the Covenant and prepare for the Messiah’s reign, the Kingdom of Heaven.
Jesus makes a reference to the salt normally available around the Sea of Galilee. The primary source was any number of local salt marshes. This was “salt of the earth” as opposed to the much better evaporated sea salt, which was also more expensive. Marsh salt was loaded with impurities. It was gathered with some care to ensure it was not toxic to humans. Still, the remaining impurities made the salt easily degrade. Just a little moisture and it was tasteless because the actual salt leeched away and left only the impurities. Exposure to heat did similar damage. But if you tossed it outside, it would render the soil rather infertile, so it’s best to dump it where things weren’t expected to grow — where feet, hooves and wheels kept the ground barren.
But what was the primary use of this common marsh salt? It was seasoning and preservative for food. The saltiness made some foods more palatable, and kept stored food from spoiling. People who cling to the Covenant have a potent effect on the world, keeping it palatable to God. Without at least some minimal presence of people living by His revelation, there’s no point in letting things go any longer. If people reject the mercies of His covenants, then the world becomes so remote from divine truth that Creation itself would refuse to go on any longer. Our presence as people of His truth preserves this world from destruction.
In the same vein, He says that we are the light of the world. Whatever it is the sun does physically, we who walk by revelation do for the world morally. How can anyone hope to see what’s real without us to shine the light? This is a rather obvious symbolism that goes back to the most ancient times. But He turns it just a little by pointing out that cities built on hilltops or mounds aren’t seeking to hide. Rather, the whole point is to be noticeable, to draw the weary travelers and traders to a dense market protected from threats. It’s a pretty bad city when you can’t safely sleep in the open square inside the walls.
The original purpose for raising up the nation of Israel was inherent in the meaning of the name: “God strives.” It was the name God gave Jacob after the wrestling match with the Angel of God (Genesis 32). Yes, there is a play on words here, with the idea that Jacob wrestled with God, as it were, but it’s only possible if God wrestles back. This was an experience that prepared Jacob for the testing to come, and to make him strong in the personal covenant he had with God. So the name Israel was given to the nation, but only after it first came to signify a mission to live by revelation. To walk by revelation is to participate in revelation. The whole identity of Israel the nation was bound up in Israel the mission.
So what would be the point of a nation that rejects the Covenant? It’s like an oil lamp hidden under a basket. You should proudly display your covenant obedience like a lamp mounted on the lampstand in a dark house. How else will the world have a clue how things are supposed to work? We who walk by His Covenant are His mercy shining in the darkness.
The Messiah will come looking for people whose lives shine the light of truth. These are the people who make Him look glorious. It will be like the difference between night and day.