Salt of the covenant

Season all your grain offerings with salt. Do not leave the salt of the covenant of your God out of your grain offerings; add salt to all your offerings.
Leviticus 2:13 (See also Ezekiel 43:24)

Sometimes we find the strangest things in the Bible. This particular one caught my attention, it reads “do not leave the sale of the covenant of your God out of your grain offerings; add salt to all your offerings.” Why would God want the Israelites to add salt to their offerings? It was to be burnt on the alter into ashes anyway. Is there some deeper symbolic or spiritual significance?

The salt to be added here is called the “salt of the covenant”. Better known as normal salt. There is nothing special about the salt, but there is something special about the covenant. There are three things about salt that tell us something of the covenant.

  • Salt is a eternal compound. It symbolises the nature of everlasting nature of salt. Salt is salt because of its chemical compounds and this can never change.  The only way that salt can change is to dilute it or mix it with other compounds/elements/things such that the whole can no longer be identified as salt. The covenant between God and Israel is to be an eternal, ever-abiding and never changing covenant. Matthew 5:13 says that we as the “salt of the earth” need to remain salty – not be diluted.
  • Salt is a preservative. This is perhaps the most primary form of food preservation. In the days before refridgeration, salt is invaluable for preventing decay and corruption. In this way, the covenant is to remain stable and steadfast through time, not decaying or corrupting. 2 Chronicles 13:5 identifies God’s covenant with David as a covenant that doesn’t change with generations.
  • Salt as a flavour. It is one of the primary tastes. It doesn’t just enhance flavour, it is a flavour on it’s own.  The covenant is certainly not distasteful. It is to be pleasing to both God and Israel. Colossians 4:6 calls our conversations to be “gracious” and tasteful.

Day Four

God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them be signs to indicate seasons and days and years, and let them serve as lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth.” It was so. God made two great lights – the greater light to rule over the day and the lesser light to rule over the night. He made the stars also. God placed the lights in the expanse of the sky to shine on the earth, to preside over the day and the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. God saw that it was good. There was evening, and there was morning, a fourth day.
Genesis 1:14-19

In Day One, light itself was created and it was separate(d) from darkness visit their website. Now in day four, lights were placed in different positions/times and given a role of separating day and night. Light for the night and light for the day to indicate (not create) seasons, days and years. The lights were to “rule over” (the word here means to have dominion/jurisdiction) the day and night respectively. Here He also made the stars.

Here, I have a few strange observations:

  • The lights were positioned IN the sky – not outside, so they were underneath the “waters above” (Genesis 1:6-8). The stars were also in the “waters above”. This is a prehistoric (pre-scientific) view of the world.
  • The lights weren’t named! Naming happeneed in the first three days – day, night, sky, land and sea, but on the fourth day, no naming was done. Scholars suggest that this is to de-personify and de-deitify the sun and moon since other pagan civilisations were deeply involved in sun/moon worship and these elements were personified as deities (such as the Egyptian deities). There is also a long exposition about the creation of these lights, ensuring that the reader gets the point that these were created things and God (Elohim) is the creator.
  • For the second time, light is separated from darkness (Genesis 1:4). It appears that God really wants light to be apart from darkness.

I’ve found a pretty good picture of what creation looks like on day four according to the account in Genesis (taken from http://www.scienceblogs.com):

The Cosmos according to Genesis

Talk about unscientific. But that really isn’t the point here. Genesis isn’t as much a book about accurate scientific descriptions as it is about representing the beginning of earth and mankind. It has mild themes of science, but the message that Genesis is really getting at here is that God is the sovereign creator… not the scientific creator. That is not to say that He isn’t scientific but that really isn’t the point of Genesis. 

Now we get the feeling that the world is ready for some living and breathing animals. Thats up next.

Day Three

God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: plants yielding seeds according to their kinds,and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds.” It was so. The land produced vegetation – plants yielding seeds according to their kinds, and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. God saw that it was good. There was evening, and there was morning, a third day.
Genesis 1:11-13

Continuing on from His work in creating land, God now creates vegetation for the land. There are a few things to note here:

  • Vegetation was produced in abundance. There is a Hebrew word play here that gives us this idea, Genesis 1:11 reads “Let the earth sprout vegetation” (ESV). The word “sprout” (dasha – דשא) is the verb form of the word “vegetation” (deshe’ – דשא) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognate_object).
  • Vegetation didn’t evolve from one kind to have different species and kinds. Vegetation was created in abundance of variety. The emphesis on “according to their kinds” tells us that there were multiple kinds. Perhaps evolution could have happened from this point, who knows?
  • There was order, not chaos. God created a system of reproduction – plants yielding seeds that become plants. He also distinguished and defined different “kinds” of plants. We clearly see a defined variety of forms and beings of plants, each kind distinguishable from another and a system of reproduction.
  • Vegetation came out all over the earth. Although the text seems to read land as if it were only dry land (as opposed to the seabed), the word “land” here refers to the whole earth. It is the same word used in Genesis 1:1. That pretty much explains all the seaweeds and water plants as well.
  • Creation happened exactly as God desired and spoke. God spoke plants, plants came out. He spoke that they yielded seeds, and they did. He spoke that it was according to their kinds and it was so. Creation exists exactly according to God’s desires. Once again, stressing on God’s sovereignty.

In day three, we see something interesting about God (again). His creative powers are not limited to one a day, nor are they limited to one thing at a time. Our God is a limitless God. And at the end of the day, God again pronounced that creation was good. This is the second time in the day that He has pronounced His creation good. Good is the is an indication of the positive quality of what God created. Plants weren’t just plants, they were beneficial and fertile plants (Genesis 2:9).

Day Two

God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters and let it separate water from water. So God made the expanse and separated the water under the expense from the water above it. It was so. God called the expanse “sky”. There was evening, and there was morning, a second day.

God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place and let dry ground appear.” It was so. God called the dry ground “land” and the gathered waters he called “seas”. God saw that it was good.
Genesis 1:6-10

On day zero, God created the God created the universe. And on the second day, He made light and time. He also defined light and darkness, distinguishing between them. We must remember that these things didn’t exist before God came along and light and darkness wasn’t defined. Everything was pretty much an undefined mess of stuff before day one.

Now on day two, God created again with just His speech. This time, God created the sky. This he created as a separation between the waters above and below. And on day three, God gathered the waters below into seas so that dry ground appeared. At the end of the third day, the planet is ready to support life. It seemed that this has been the plan all this while. God considered again and concluded that His creation was good.

Pause for awhile and think:

  • God separated the water. God gathered the water. In that way He created sky and land. His creative work isn’t restricted to creating something out of nothing. Here he manipulates a single substance, creating two different things. In three days, He has displayed three different ways of creating.
  • First God considered the light good. Now, He considered the sky, land and sea good. This was God’s reflection of His own work. It was good simply because it was His own work. Creation didn’t need to be complete (we know now that he wasn’t done creating at this point) for it to be good. It simply needed to be His handiwork.

We start seeing the trend here: he creates out of nothing (before this, there was no expanse), he then defines and names. All the while showing God is the central character in creation. It all begins with Him and He is sovereign over all of creation.

Day One

Now the earth was without shape and empty, and the darkness was over the surface of the watery deep, but the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the water. God said, “Let there be light.” And there was light! God saw that the light was good, so God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day” and the darkness “night”. There was evening, and there was morning, marking the first day.
Genesis 1:2-5

Where Genesis 1:1 is the title of the chapter, Genesis 1:2 sets the scene for the coming narrative. This verse can be seen as a prologue for God to take center stage in his act of creating.

The earth here is described as “without shape and empty, and darkness was over the surface of the watery deep”. This is the state of the earth in it’s primitive stage after being created (Genesis 1:1); not that it had no shape or is empty (matter less), but it was without structure and formless. It was no more than a ball of mass covered in deep abyss like water without any light. The picture it paints is a dark, depressing and meaningless place – nothing happening, not going anywhere.

That is precisely the state of our lives before God comes along. The scene of our lives before God is primitive, meaningless and dark. But God isn’t absent, He is there even in this meaningless state. God isn’t observing in the distance, He is right there on the surface of the water – moving. In that word carries the sense of God preparing and incubating for His work of creation.

In God’s time, at His own pace, He then does the act of creating through his spoken word. When the Creator calls creation into existence, the calling is fulfilled immediately and completely in the creation’s existance. There is no gap between his Words and the existance of what is created. And the first thing that the Creator corrects with His creative power is the darkness. He created light where there was none.

When He saw the light that He had created, He considered it good. The words here means that God reflected on and concluded that the light he had created is good. What we have is a record of God’s personal opinion that light is good, and not darkness. And so God made a distinction between them. In the act of creating, He didn’t remove the darkness that was there (Genesis 1:2), instead it was separated from the light. This separation is important and is a theme that runs through Genesis and the rest of Scriptures.

God then named light and darkness. This is a sovereign act of defining and showing himself sovereign over light and darkness. Stop and think about the fact that God is sovereign over darkness and that he defined darkness. That is where our comfort lies in times of dispair and darkness. We rest in the fact even then, God is sovereign.

Day Zero

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
Genesis 1:1

The beginning was no simple matter. Genesis wasn’t the beginning of the world, the universe or time. It was simply the beginning; the absolute state of beginning. And right at the beginning was God.

This says so much about God. This isn’t about the beginning of God, He doesn’t have a beginning. It simply states that at the absolute beginning, God was. God exist without having any cause and apart from the idea of a cause. Elohim, the plural form of God is used here, expressing his triune nature and ultimate sovereignty as the “God of gods”.

Creation is God’s first piece of work. Here creation is the act of making something entirely new and perfect, not necessarily creating out of nothing, but certainly making anew or reforming into something new. This new thing is “the heavens and the earth”, representing the earth or land and all that is above it – the universe. This is the beginning of the visible and invisible – matter and meta-matter.

This is an amazing truth. That God, the uncaused cause, created everything. And thats where it all starts and revolves around – God. He is central to the whole universe.

Thats where a whole bunch of man’s problems lie. We imagine ourselves to be the center of our own universe. We imagine ourselves to be the creator of our own destiny. We lift mankind (and ourselves) up to be like gods and refuse to acknowledge our Creator. Thats whats wrong, we’re not acknowledging the Creator.

The conclusion

I have seen something else under the sun:
The race is not to the swift
or the battle to the strong,
nor does food come to the wise
or wealth to the brilliant
or favor to the learned;
but time and chance happen to them all.

Moreover, no one knows when their hour will come:
As fish are caught in a cruel net,
or birds are taken in a snare,
so people are trapped by evil times
that fall unexpectedly upon them.

Ecclesiastes 9:11-12

So this is how life was explained to me when I was young: study hard, get good grades, find a good job and you will prosper and live a good life. Unfortunately, thats not how life works. Solomon’s observation about life (without a view of God and eternity, thus the constant use of “under the sun”) has led him to conclude that “time and chance happen to them all”. He was absolutely right. Some people study the hardest but never get the grades they deserve while others drop out of college and end up as CEOs and directors of multinational companies. And some never make it beyond their first few years on earth. Life is unpredictable because things don’t always add up.

But for one person, everything adds up just perfectly. For Him, everything makes perfect sense and everything functions just as it is supposed to cymbalta for pain. Nothing surprises Him, nothing is unpredictable because “works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will” (Ephesians 1:11). He controls every detail of what happens on earth, from small seemingly inconsequential events (Proverbs 16:33) to calamities that claim lives (Isaiah 45:7; Amos 3:6).

So why do we harp on having success, health and wealth as the formula to a good life? God’s will always prevails over man’s best efforts. He can raise up and bring down at any time He wishes. This is not to say that we are supposed to be fatalistic and be bums (scriptures speak specifically against that – Ecclesiastes 10:18; Colossians 3:23; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12) but I think we need to redefine what we constitutes a good and successful life. Life is much more than evading suffering, having good health and great wealth. I think we need to have an eternal perspective to life.

Even as I write this, I am reminded of Matthew 6:33 again and again.

Bread

After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.
John 6:14-15

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”
John 6:26-27

If Christ came to earth to be the Messiah and King, why did he withdraw when they wanted to make Him king? Simple: they wanted food that spoils. They sought a king that could meet their here and now needs. They were looking for a king with a kingdom that wasn’t eternal. They had their eyes of the fading and temporary.

 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spiritand life.
John 6:61

If this life (and all its health, wealth and earthly happiness) were of such importance, why then does Jesus discount the flesh entirely? He examplified this by discounting His own flesh on the cross and urging all of us to do the same (Matthew 16:24-26). That is simply the nature of this life – spoiling and counting for nothing.

This is not to say that we don’t need life or anything of this life. Christ promises that He cares for our needs and will provide for us (Matthew 6:25-34). This life is important, but only for one goal – glorifying Christ. If we glorify anything other than what is eternal, we seek for the bread that spoils.

For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
Matthew 6:32-33

Abundant life

Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
John 10:7-10

The preferred way of understanding John 10:10 is that Christ has come to obtain for us life abundant which begins now. It entails a full and long life here on earth filled with great health and wealth. It promises that eternal life begins here and now, and the wonderful promises that the Old Testament is talking about is available immediately to the believer. If we would claim what He has attained for us and put our faith to it, we can have it all!

But we know that life doesn’t quite work that way. The reality is that some of us suffer from cancer and others will remain poor. Health and wealth doesn’t hold up to what reality presents us with. The truth is that God’s kingdom is not measured by health or wealth . In fact, Paul calls this life “our light and momentary troubles” or affliction in the ESV (2 Corinthians 4:16). Not quite the picture of health and wealth that we’re being presented with these days.

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”
John 14:6-7

Jesus isn’t just the gate that leads us to abundant life, He IS the abundant life. His version of abundant life doesn’t look like great health and wealth. If that were true, Peter, Paul, Timothy and all the other New Testament saints would have to be classed as sinners! Jesus’ abundant life looks like life in Him. Abundant life looks like life in Christ, with and without health and wealth. It looks like everything else fading in importance compared to glorifying Christ (Matthew 13:45-46). Wealth and health is of no value when we compare it to Christ! Yet, everything in Christ seems to have more meaning and value because we see it’s role in glorifying Him (Colossians 1:15-17).

“All who have come before me” is also be translated as “all who have come instead of me”. Anything that replaces Christ is a thief and robber. Anything including the abundance or lack of health and wealth, false prophets, false messiahs and false teachings. Anything that has come to replace Christ as the prime goal, the pinnacle of life is a thief and robber. Don’t be fooled, the devil is not after our health and wealth, he is after your soul. He might inflict us with abundance of health and wealth or deprive us of health and wealth, but his aim is to remove Christ as the pinnacle in our lives.

Abundant life is not to have a good life, it is to have life in Christ and that is all.

Because of joy 5

Let us take stock of the parables so far and their focus.

Parables told by the lake to a large crowd (Matthew 13:1-2)

  • Parable of the sower 
    The gospel is accepted in many different ways by the receiver, notice that this is the only parable that doesn’t begin with “the kingdom of heaven is like”
  • Parable of the weeds 
    The righteous and the wicked grow together and God’s intention is that separation (and judgement) only occurs when the harvest is ready
  • Parable of the mustard seed 
    The kingdom of heaven starts small but grows to world dominion and the nations will find rest in it
  • Parable of the yeast 
    The kingdom of heaven starts small but works from the inside and permeates the whole world

Parables told to the disciples in the house (Matthew 13:36)

  • Parable of the hidden pearl 
    Dual meaning: The kingdom of heaven is precious and worth losing everything to have; Christ is redeeming his treasured people, Israel
  • Parable of the treasure 
    Christ is redeeming all the peoples of the world
  • Parable of the net 
    The righteous and wicked will be judged in the end and there will be a separation that determines their final destiny

Matthew 13:11 makes it clear that Jesus was intentional in his teaching through parables so that the disciples would understand while others would not. He then points to Isaiah and claims the fulfilment of his prophesy (Matthew 13:13-15; Isaiah 6:9-10). Isaiah’s prophesy highlights that while the people see and hear, it does not lead to perceiving or understanding. The reason for this is that “this people’s heart has become calloused”. If they would connect their seeing and hearing to their hearts to perceive and understand, they would “turn, and I would heal them.”

The parables told have two themes – the all-encompassing nature of the kingdom (from a seemingly small start to it’s global dominion) and the future destiny of the people of God’s kingdom and the people outside His kingdom. What happens in between the start of His kingdom and the end is what is in focus in this passage – with the first parable, the last question and conclusion.

This last passage is perhaps the most perplexing part of these parables, but we see in this little section the idea that ties all this together.

“Have you understood all these things?” Jesus asked. “Yes,” they replied.
He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”
Matthew 13:51-52

What has all the parables and explanations got to do with Jesus’ question to the disciples? Everything.

The revelation of who the sowers are
This question is what links this concluding passage to the first parable, stringing through all the other parables. The disciples would be the ones to sow the seed from its small start to world dominion and all the way till the world is judged (or with a view that the world will be judged). It was crucial that the disciples (of all people) connected what they were seeing and hearing to their hearts because only then would they be able to produce “a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” (Matthew 13:23) They needed to understand the message of the gospel because they are to be the sowers.

That is why the “kingdom of heaven” bit was left out from the first parable, it was different from the rest of the parables. In this parable, Christ wasn’t the sower, He is the seed. All the following parables after the Parable of the Sower is about himself:

  1. It is Christ who sows good seed with the prospect of a good harvest and does the harvesting in the end like the sower – “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field.” (Matthew 13:24)
  2. It is Christ who starts small like the mustard seed – “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed” (Matthew 13:31)
  3. It is Christ who works effectively in the world like the yeast – “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast ” (Matthew 13:33)
  4. It is Christ who is more precious than life itself like the treasure – “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure” (Matthew 13:44)
  5. It is Christ who purchases the world with himself like the merchant – “the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant” (Matthew 13:25)
  6. It is Christ who gathers everyone to himself for the final judgement like the net – “the kingdom of heaven is like a net” (Matthew 13:47)

When Christ leaves the message of the kingdom of heaven to his disciples and instructs them to make disciples, he intends that the kingdom grows – like the good crop, like the mustard seed, like the yeast, because in the end, there will be a harvest and a judgement. The means of this growth is through the evangelism and apostolic ministry of the disciples. This is the balance between God’s right to predestine and man’s responsibility to evangelise.

New and old treasures

With this understanding, the conclusion of the message (note the use of “therefore”) is much less puzzling. The teacher of the law (also in Matthew 2:4) who becomes a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is a pretty impressive description. Teachers of the law were known to be leaders of the Jewish community with a deep understanding of the Old Testament scriptures. Such a teacher of the law who becomes “a disciple in the kingdom of heaven” comes to the saving knowledge of Christ Jesus as the Messiah. Such a person understands the gravity of growing the kingdom and brings the message of Christ to both the Jews (the hidden treasure) and the Gentiles (the pearl), saving them in his/her shelter and bringing them out in the day of Christ, ready for the final judgement.

Lets have a different view of the parables (again) with this in mind:

  1. Christ sows the good seed (gospel) with the intention that the righteous and wicked live together till the harvest is ready (the end time)
  2. This small seed planted in an individual is capable of multiplying it’s saving effect on the nations
  3. The small seed starts working within a person (or in the nations) changing the composition of the person (nations), causing the kingdom to grow from within
  4. The salvation of Israel (Romans 1:16, “first for the Jew, then for the
    Gentile”)
  5. The salvation of all of the world (Romans 11:25-26) 
  6. The gathering unto the Christ and the final judgement

The teacher of the law plays an important role in this picture of the kingdom. He is another sower (from the first parable), bringing the seed of the gospel to both Jews and Gentiles. Some theologians believe that Matthew was referring to himself in his role of conveying Christ to his audience. Others say this was written to encourage the Jewish readers (the intended audience for the Book of Matthew) to evangalise. No one knows for sure, but what we do know is our responsibility to sow the gospel to the nations.

So bring on the seed, its time to sow.