Holy WaterThe Problem: Many Christians see the use of holy water as a superstition.
The Truth: Holy water, that is, water mixed with salt and blessed by a priest, washes away venial sin by the renewal of our baptismal vows.
Num 5:17 and the priest shall take holy water in an earthen vessel, and take some of the dust that is on the floor of the tabernacle and put it into the water.
Num 8:7 And thus you shall do to them, to cleanse them: sprinkle the water of expiation upon them, and let them go with a razor over all their body, and wash their clothes and cleanse themselves.
Num 19:17 For the unclean they shall take some ashes of the burnt sin offering, and running water shall be added in a vessel...
Psalm 51:2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!
So, why is holy water important? Because it foreshadows the Passion of Jesus Christ, containing within it references to the themes of suffering, covenant and sacrifice which repeat constantly throughout Scripture.
Salt, a component of holy water, is first mentioned in connection with two important events - the rescue of Lot from captivity by Abram, and the gifts of bread and wine offered by Melchizedek.
Gen 14:3,8-18 And all these joined forces in the Valley of Siddim (that is, the Salt Sea)... Then the king of Sodom, the king of Gomorrah, the king of Admah, the king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar) went out, and they joined battle in the Valley of Siddim 9 with Ched-or-laomer king of Elam, Tidal king of Goiim, Amraphel king of Shinar, and Arioch king of Ellasar, four kings against five. 10 Now the Valley of Siddim was full of bitumen pits; and as the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, some fell into them, and the rest fled to the mountain. 11 So the enemy took all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their provisions, and went their way; 12 they also took Lot, the son of Abram's brother, who dwelt in Sodom, and his goods, and departed.
13 Then one who had escaped came, and told Abram the Hebrew, who was living by the oaks of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol and of Aner; these were allies of Abram. 14 When Abram heard that his kinsman had been taken captive, he led forth his trained men, born in his house, three hundred and eighteen of them, and went in pursuit as far as Dan. 15 And he divided his forces against them by night, he and his servants, and routed them and pursued them to Hobah, north of Damascus. 16 Then he brought back all the goods, and also brought back his kinsman Lot with his goods, and the women and the people.
17 After his return from the defeat of Ched-or-laomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King's Valley). 18 And Mel-chizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was priest of God Most High.
The kings of this world, of Sodom and Gomorrah, could not prevail in the valley of salt. Lot was captured by the victors. Abram rescued Lot from their grasp, releasing his cousin from captivity and conquering the kings of this world. Melchizedek offers up bread and wine on Abram's behalf in thanksgiving for the victory and the rescue.
Gen 19:26 But Lot's wife behind him looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.
When Lot's wife turns away from God and back towards the sins of this world, she is turned into a pillar of salt. The next occurrence of the word adds liturgical themes to the foreshadowing of the Eucharist.
Ex 30:35 and make an incense blended as by the perfumer, seasoned with salt, pure and holy;
Tobit exorcised a demon (Tob 6:17-18, 8:2-3) using a fish, the ancient Christ symbol, strewn with salt (Tob 6:6). Sacrifice required salt:
Ezra 6:9 And whatever is neededyoung bulls, rams, or sheep for burnt offerings to the God of heaven, wheat, salt, wine, or oil, as the priests at Jerusalem requirelet that be given to them day by day without fail...
Ezra 7:21-22 21 I, Artaxerxes the king, issue this decree to all the treasurers of West-of-Euphrates: Whatever Ezra the priest, scribe of the law of the God of heaven, requests of you, dispense to him accurately, 22 within these limits: silver, one hundred talents; wheat, one hundred kors; wine, one hundred baths; oil, one hundred baths; salt, without limit.
Being added to the holocaust offering AFTER purification:
Ezek 43:23-24 "And I, Ar-ta-xerxes the king, make a decree to all the treasurers in the province Beyond the River: Whatever Ezra the priest, the scribe of the law of the God of heaven, requires of you, be it done with all diligence, 22 up to a hundred talents of silver, a hundred cors of wheat, a hundred baths of wine, a hundred baths of oil, and salt without prescribing how much.
Salt is an image of wasteland, desolation. It is hard to bear:
Sir 22:15 Sand, salt, and a piece of iron are easier to bear than a stupid man.
An image of God's wrath:
Sir 39:23 The nations will incur his wrath, just as he turns fresh water into salt.
An insipid thing cannot be eaten without it:
Job 6:6 Can that which is tasteless be eaten without salt,
It signifies a burned out waste, a desert:
Wis 10:7 Evidence of their wickedness still remains: a continually smoking wasteland, plants bearing fruit that does not ripen, and a pillar of salt standing as a monument to an unbelieving soul.
Deut 29:22-23 when they see the afflictions of that land and the sicknesses with which the Lord has made it sick 23 the whole land brimstone and salt, and a burnt-out waste, unsown, and growing nothing, where no grass can sprout, an overthrow like that of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboiim, which the Lord overthrew in his anger and wrath
Zeph 2:9 Therefore, as I live," says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel,
"Moab shall become like Sodom,
and the Ammonites like Gomorrah,
a land possessed by nettles and salt pits,
and a waste for ever.
A sign of one who trusts in himself, not God:
Jer 17:5-6 Thus says the Lord: "Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his arm, whose heart turns away from the Lord. 6 He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land.
Being under a salt tax signified dominion, being freed of the salt tax showed relative freedom:
1 Mac 10:29 "And now I free you and exempt all the Jews from payment of tribute and salt tax and crown levies,"
1 Mac 11:35 And the other payments henceforth due to us of the tithes, and the taxes due to us, and the salt pits and the crown taxes due to us from all these we shall grant them release.
In the exercise of their free will, the people become like a wild ass, living in salt flats:
Job 39:5-8 "Who has let the wild ass go free? Who has loosed the bonds of the swift ass, 6 to whom I have given the steppe for his home, and the salt land for his dwelling place? 7 He scorns the tumult of the city; he hears not the shouts of the driver. 8 He ranges the mountains as his pasture, and he searches after every green thing.
The only people ever recorded as being slain in the Salt Valley were the descendants of Esau, a wild ass of a man (cf. Ishmael, Gen 16:11), who sold his inheritance for a mess of pottage (Gen 25:30-34) - the satisfaction of the sensual delights of this world. His descendants were called the Edomites and they inhabited the land of Seir. They were slain in the Salt Valley by David, King of Israel, and his generals. Psalm 60, which begins with a scene of desolation, was written after David's battle in the Valley of Salt.
2 Sam 8:13 And David won a name for himself. When he returned, he slew eighteen thousand Edomites in the Valley of Salt
2 Kings 14:7 He killed ten thousand Edomites in the Valley of Salt and took Sela by storm, and called it Jokthe-el, which is its name to this day.
1 Chron 18:12 And Abishai, the son of Zeruiah, slew eighteen thousand Edomites in the Valley of Salt.
2 Chron 25:11 But Amaziah took courage, and led out his people, and went to the Valley of Salt and smote ten thousand men of Seir.
Judg 9:45 And Abimelech fought against the city all that day; he took the city, and killed the people that were in it; and he razed the city and sowed it with salt.
But salt is necessary for our existence...
Sir 39:26-27 Basic to all the needs of man's life are water and fire and iron and salt and wheat flour and milk and honey, the blood of the grape, and oil and clothing. 27 All these are for good to the godly, just as they turn into evils for sinners.
The only time salt definitely purified, instead of being added after purification was complete, was here:
2 Kings 2:20-22 He said, "Bring me a new bowl, and put salt in it." So they brought it to him. 21 Then he went to the spring of water and threw salt in it, and said, "Thus says the Lord, I have made this water wholesome; henceforth neither death nor miscarriage shall come from it." 22 So the water has been wholesome to this day, according to the word which Elisha spoke.
It purifies Living Water, a clear Christological reference. Just as the seraph lifted in the desert healed the people of the poison (Num 21:9), and prefigured the crucified Christ, so the salt strewn in the poisonous waters healed the waters of their poison and prefigured the suffering Christ.
Ezek 16:4 And as for your birth, on the day you were born your navel string was not cut, nor were you washed with water to cleanse you, nor rubbed with salt, nor swathed with bands.
Holy water is inextricably linked to the Living Waters of baptism (baptismal water is NEVER salted) in part because baptismal water washes away the salt of suffering which covers the newborn. Christ, the Living Water, takes on our salt, our suffering..
Ezek 47:8-11 And he said to me, "This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah; and when it enters the stagnant waters of the sea, the water will become fresh. 9 And wherever the river goes every living creature which swarms will live, and there will be very many fish; for this water goes there, that the waters of the sea may become fresh; so everything will live where the river goes. 10 Fishermen will stand beside the sea; from En-gedi to En-eglaim it will be a place for the spreading of nets; its fish will be of very many kinds, like the fish of the Great Sea. 11 But its swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they are to be left for salt.
Living water (i.e. flowing water, such as a river), is not made desolate by meeting the salt water, rather the salt water is made fresh. The marshes and swamps, which are neither water or land, but stand between, are like the people who are neither hot nor cold (Rev 3:15-16) - they will be left for salt. The boundaries of Israel began and ended in the Salt Sea:
Num 34:3,12 your south side shall be from the wilderness of Zin along the side of Edom, and your southern boundary shall be from the end of the Salt Sea on the east;. and the boundary shall go down to the Jordan, and its end shall be at the Salt Sea. This shall be your land with its boundaries all round."
Deut 3:15-17 To Machir I gave Gilead, 16 and to the Reubenites and the Gadites I gave the territory from Gilead as far as the valley of the Arnon, with the middle of the valley as a boundary, as far over as the river Jabbok, the boundary of the Ammonites 17 the Arabah also, with the Jordan as the boundary, from Chinnereth as far as the sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, under the slopes of Pisgah on the east.
The borders of the tribe of Judah and Benjamin, the only two tribes who stayed even partially true to God, were partially defined by the Salt Sea:
Josh 15:1-5 The lot for the tribe of the people of Judah according to their families reached southward to the boundary of Edom, to the wilderness of Zin at the farthest south. 2 And their south boundary ran from the end of the Salt Sea, from the bay that faces southward; 3 it goes out southward of the ascent of Akrabbim, passes along to Zin, and goes up south of Kadesh-barnea, along by Hezron, up to Addar, turns about to Karka, 4 passes along to Azmon, goes out by the Brook of Egypt, and comes to its end at the sea. This shall be your south boundary. 5 And the east boundary is the Salt Sea, to the mouth of the Jordan.
Josh 18:11,19 he lot of the tribe of Benjamin according to its families came up, and the territory allotted to it fell between the tribe of Judah and the tribe of Joseph..... then the boundary passes on to the north of the shoulder of Beth-hoglah; and the boundary ends at the northern bay of the Salt Sea, at the south end of the Jordan: this is the southern border.
When Israel entered into the land flowing with milk and honey, the Jordan waters flowing to the Salt Sea disappeared entirely, allowing them to cross.
Josh 3:16-17 the waters coming down from above stood and rose up in a heap far off, at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, and those flowing down toward the sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were wholly cut off; and the people passed over opposite Jericho. 17 And while all Israel were passing over on dry ground, the priests who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan, until all the nation finished passing over the Jordan.
Salt therefore becomes a sign of covenant:
2 Chron 13:4-5 Then Abijah stood up on Mount Zemaraim which is in the hill country of Ephraim, and said, "Hear me, O Jeroboam and all Israel! 5 Ought you not to know that the Lord God of Israel gave the kingship over Israel for ever to David and his sons by a covenant of salt?
Ezra 4:14 Now because we eat the salt of the palace and it is not fitting for us to witness the king's dishonor, therefore we send and inform the king...
It is in the cereal offering that the full typology is revealed:
Lev 2:11-13 No cereal offering which you bring to the Lord shall be made with leaven; for you shall burn no leaven nor any honey as an offering by fire to the Lord. 12 As an offering of first fruits you may bring them to the Lord, but they shall not be offered on the altar for a pleasing odor. 13 You shall season all your cereal offerings with salt; you shall not let the salt of the covenant with your God be lacking from your cereal offering; with all your offerings you shall offer salt.
The Leviticus passage is interesting because it is the only sacrifice with a three-fold command to be salted. This cereal offering foreshadows the Eucharist, just as Melchizedek's offering had, and the Levitical cereal offering was itself referenced by Christ.
Mt 5:13 "You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trodden under foot by men.
Mk 9:50 Salt is good; but if the salt has lost its saltness, how will you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another."
Lk 14:34-35 "Salt is good; but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltness be restored? 35 It is fit neither for the land nor for the dunghill; men throw it away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear."
Col 4:6 Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer every one.
James 3:12 Can a fig tree, my brethren, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.
We who are in the Body of Christ must season ourselves with suffering, and direct that suffering in offering towards God. Replace the word "salt" in the passages above with "suffering," and the passages are transformed. Water mixed with salt and blessed, i.e., holy water, is a type for the Living Water and His Passion, and a constant reminder of our baptism.