Salting the Earth

“And it came to pass on the morrow that the people went out to the fields and it was reported to Abimelek. And he took the people and divided them up under three heads and he laid in wait in the field and he beheld the people coming out of the city. And he rose up over them and slew them. Abimelek and the head that was with him charged and stood at the entrance gate of the city. Two companies charged upon all who were in the field and struck them down. Abimelek fought in the city all that day and he overthrew the city and he slew the people who were in it. Then he razed the city and sowed it with salt.”

(Judges 9:42-45)

And so, the siege of Shekem goes into the second day and there is a group of people that seek to enter the fields. Some suggest that this is the leaders of Shekem trying to break through Abimelek’s lines. Others might suggest that these are people who think that, since they have given Ga’al the boot and evicted him from the city, life can go back to normal. The best answer, though, given the context, is that these people were likely trying to flee the city now that it is clear that the city is under the judgment of Abimelek. Yet, at this point, they have made their bed with Shekem, it is time for them to sleep in it. Thus Abimelek counters by dividing his forces again and attacking them in the fields while also rushing the gate of the city and holding it (standing in the gate is a figure of speech referring to holding it and keeping it open for the rest of Abimelek’s army to flood in. After the people in the fields are slaughtered, the soldiers rush into the city and lay waste to it, burning it to the ground and executing the people..

Having torn down the city, he now takes salt and scatters the earth with it. The tradition in the middle-east was that salting the earth was a sign of curse on the land. While one has to bring in a lot of salt to do any long-term damage to the ground, the principle of the matter is that it was meant as a reminder to those who would pass by that the city had been judged.

This passage makes me think of Jesus’ statement that Christians are salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13). Typically we speak about salt as a preservative for meat (which it is) and as a seasoning for food (which it again is). But perhaps we also ought to think of salt in the context of being a judgment on the earth, that the presence of believers is to be a reminder to the world that they are under the curse of God unless they repent and believe. Indeed, this even helps to shine light on Jesus’ statement that if salt loses its saltiness that it is not good for anything (and the saltiness cannot be restored — Matthew 5:13, plus Mark 9:50 and Luke 14:34). In other words, if we become so worldly that we are no longer a reminder to the world of God’s wrath upon them, what good have we done? And oh, in refusing to preach on the need for repentance, but only on grace, how many churches have ceased to be salty?

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