My husband and I have never built a house. We have several friends who have done it and the process seems incredibly overwhelming to me. I can’t even fathom making all of those decisions. It’s the details. I’m a detail-oriented person (and I tend to be rather indecisive) and the thought of tending to each, individual, minute element makes my head spin. All. The. Details.
Since we’re not interested in new, you probably guessed we love old homes with character. Currently, we live in a 60-year-old house in an even older neighborhood so there’s definitely not much new construction here. But every once in a while a property owner will decide, instead of renovating or gutting a house, to just tear it down and start over. There’s one such lot a few blocks from us and every time we drive past it our kids will say, “Look, the house is almost done!” I smile and nod and think – NOT EVEN CLOSE! I can’t help it. I think about all the finishing touches: the carpet, tile, baseboards, fixtures, ceiling fans, paint, and on, and on, and on. Almost done? Not by a long shot. The details. All the details.
Well, back in the day, God’s people had a house to build too. Before the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, the Temple in Jerusalem had been torn down and they were called on to rebuild it. Talk about details! God gave very specific instructions for how the Temple was to be built and what would be kept inside. It took years as you can imagine and the construction wasn’t without hiccups and opposition. But when they finally finished they threw a celebration!
Everyone was so excited! Even the king in the region showed his congratulations with some very generous housewarming gifts. Because you know a house can either be finished or it can be magazine finished - bowls of fruit on the counter, throw pillows on the furniture, and flowers in vases on display. King Artaxerxes wanted to honor the people of Israel and their hard work so he decided he was going to provide the lavish details himself – you know, the ones that make a house feel like a home.
The Babylonian king gave Ezra gold and silver vessels for worship in the Temple as well as wheat, wine, oil, and “salt without limit” (Ezra 7 NIV)! Never-ending salt may not seem like that great of a housewarming present, until you realize how much salt was used in Temple worship. It was prescribed for every grain offering, but also for making the incense. “And make an incense blended as by the perfumer, seasoned with salt, pure and holy … and put part of it before the testimony in the tent of meeting where I shall meet with you.” (Exodus 30:35-36 ESV emphasis added).
The Temple was still in service when Jesus walked the earth and He told His followers about salt too. When they listened to His teaching, they definitely had a context for how important salt was to their everyday lives, but also to their worship. Jesus told a mass of people looking to model their lives after God that they were to be the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13). But without much of a framework, sometimes I struggle to understand what He meant? I use salt to cook and bake and my husband always puts extra salt on his fries, but I’m sure there’s more to His teaching than being aware of the sodium in my diet.
The last thing I want to do is put words in the Messiah’s mouth, but I wonder if He was pointing us in the direction of the details of the Temple with His talk of salt. There was an unending salt supply for the Temple and the incense (with the salt) had to be lit every morning and every evening by the priest. The incense mixture was positioned every day in the very place where God said He would meet with His people (Exodus 30). Morning and evening. Every single day.
Maybe when Jesus instructed us to be the salt of the earth, He was giving us an invitation to be an additive used to help the people of the earth meet with Himself. Maybe our job as the salt is to pray for the people of the earth (Revelation 5:8). Maybe our job as the salt is to go and tell people the good news of salvation so they can meet with God at the place He has prepared for each of them. “But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?” (Romans 10:4 NLT). Maybe this never-ending salt supply reserved for Temple worship is us. We can pray, go, tell, be kindled for worship morning and evening, found in the very place where God wants to meet with us, but not alone. The salt of the earth is sprinkled around and then gathered back up bringing friends and family along to participate.
Because it’s not just the fruit bowls or the throw pillows or the flowers or the other details that makes a house into a home, it’s the people you invite inside to share in everything you’ve worked so hard to build. I’m convinced Jesus had no interest in a pretty building for the sake of the architecture alone. And no interest in salt only for seasoning, but for meeting, for communing. He built and made His home beautiful, so He could share it with any of us who would want to enter in and make it our home as well.