Monday, April 30, 2012

Salt of the Earth

Matthew 5 (NIV)
13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness (KJV: savor), how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

I have heard many sermons preached and many bible studies explaining verses 14 and 15 in ever detail possible.

The most I have ever heard about verse 13 and christians being the “salt of the earth” is that our presence in the world acts as a perservative and makes the world more savorable. There seems to be general agreement on that thought. Our experience and history bears out that christians and true Christianity mitigates much of the evil in the world and has made the world a more pleasant place to be.

However, I believe that there is more to verse 13 than that idea, especially the part about the lost of savor. To fully evaluate the statement of Jesus about salt we need to learn more about salt and especially salt in the year 30 AD.

Things Learned From a Study of Salt Production

Salt (sodium chloride, NaCl) production was a major industry in the Roman Empire. Salt was so valuable that the Roman soldiers were often paid with salt. (Thus, the old adage about a person being “worth his salt”). In that day, most salt production was from salt flats along the shores of seas and lakes.

All salt contains impurities in the form of insolubles and other minerals. The insolubles are silt (very fine grains of various soil and and organic matter washed down stream into the lakes or oceans) which ranges from 1% to 10% of the total volume of salt. Unwanted minerals, along with the salt, are also leached out of the ground by the water as it flows across the land. These range from 1% to 3% . Modern analyses of unrefined salts shows that the major unwanted minerals are calcium sulfate, magnesium sulfate, and magnesium chloride. Some salts also include traces of calcium chloride, sodium sulfate, potassium chloride, and sodium bromide.

In Jesus’s time, the purer salts were reserved for government officials and the rich. As you moved down the economic ladder, the salt you could afford was more and more contaminated. The salt in use by the common man of Jesus’s day was probably in the 13% contaminated range. In the salt flats, the purist salt was on top and became more contaminated the deeper the shovel went. Unscrupulous salt gathers might dig deeper than they should so that the poorest of the poor might have been using salt 25% or more contaminated.

The more the salt was contaminated, the more the flavor of the other dissolved minerals would be present and the more mud and grit you would find in the bottom of your cooking pot. To get rid of the mud and grit, the salt would be placed in a cloth bag and some water would be poured through it and the resulting brine used in cooking. Eventually, all salt and disolved minerals would be leached out and only the mud and grit would be left in the bag.

The impurities in salt (the fine particles of soil, organic matter, and unwanted minerals) are contained in 3 distinct ways:

1 - Mixed in among but not attached to the grains of salt.

2 - Attached to the surface and stuck in cracks in the salt grains.

3 - Encapsulated within the grains of salt.

Down thru the years, the efficiency of salt processing has changed along with other industrial advances but the basic techniques used 2000 years ago are, with many refinements, still in use today.

Freshly mined salt, from underground deposits or from salt flats, is placed for a time in low humidity storage. There, the water content drops by sublimation from around 3% to less than 1%. As the water leaves the salt, it carries with it some of the unwanted minerals described in items 1 and 2 above. During this process, some of the soil and organic impurities trapped in the cracks of salt grains is loosened.

Salt with high levels of encapsulated contaminates must be crushed to release the entrapped materials. Years of experience have shown that for the best results this crushing must be performed with just enough pressure to crack the grains but not enough to pulverize the grains. Pulverized salt is less desirability on the market.

The next step is to wash the salt to remove the remaining minerals and debris mixed in with the salt grains. This is accomplished with saturated brine (water so saturated with salt that it will dissolve very little of the salt being washed). The brine is forced up thru the vats of salt and carries the unwanted minerals and debris with it out the overflow vents. Like the crushing process, this step is critical. Both the temperature and pressure of the brine must be carefully controlled.

Even with the best modern processes our best salts for both table and industrial uses still contain some traces of contaminates. Table Salt is better than 99 % pure NaCl Some industrial and scientific applications must have salt purer than 99.99 %.

Applications and comments:

-The condition of Judaism at that time.
-The use of water to extract the salt from the bag.
Note: Unwanted minerals would also be leached out along with the salt(sodium chloride, NaCl).
-The current condition of the institutional church.
-The use of drying (waiting), crushing, and brine (salt and water) to take contaminates out of the salt.
-The careful applications of crushing force, temperature, and brine pressure.

SALT - Christians, The Church.
SILT - Unsaved.
MINERALS - Pretenders.
WATER - (poured thru the bag) The Spirit-separating church
from the world.
WAITING - Giving God a chance to do some weeding, prayer.
CRUSHING - God controlled circumstances breaking up relationships
and attitudes that hold us back.
WATER - (with controlled temperature and pressure) The Spirit
continueing to purify the church.

Copyright 2012© Willie E. Weaver 

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