Salt was invaluable in Biblical times due to the hot, dry climate. It was used to preserve both human food as well as animal food. It was used in sacrifices. Salt symbolized hospitality, durability, and purity. Jesus told his believers that they were to be the salt of the earth (Matt. 5:13). [This however, is not what is being talked about in Genesis]. The Dead Sea or Salt Sea as it was called lies at the bottom of the Great Syrian African Rift Valley, about 400 meters (1280 ft.) below sea level. The Salt Sea valley or plain during Lot’s day was filled with natural tar pits. The Sea has an inlet—the Jordan River, but no outlet. Due to a very high rate of evaporation, the water of this lake has a salt content of over 30%, nearly ten times the salinity of normal sea water. Saline formations crop up from the water like coral or salt pillars providing a rocky landscape that is scorched by the sun. The water in the Dead Sea is deadly to most living things, hence its name. The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were possibly located on the southeast shore of the Salt Sea.
In Genesis 19, the city of Sodom was judged as very corrupt and was to be wiped out. Since Lot lived there, but did not partake of the sins of the town, two angels told Lot to get his wife, his two daughters and their fiances out of town and flee to the hills. Lot told the prospective sons-in-law, but they didn’t believe him and rejoined their countrymen. The angels urged Lot to take his wife and two daughters and flee. They were told not to look back.
The people of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were very corrupt. God decided to do away with them so the people would not be able to influence others. By telling Lot and his family not to look back (Gen. 19:17), the Lord was telling them they were not to desire the unrighteous things of this earth or feel sad about leaving them behind. Lot’s wife did not obey and did look back, not with a mere glance, but probably standing and looking for a while, sad to see that part of her life gone.
Jude (3-11) tells us that the destruction of Sodom was intended by the Lord to be an illustration of the fate of the wicked. When we decide to dedicate our lives to God, we are to leave the desires and things of this world behind. While we still live in this world, we are not to be “partakers” of this world (Eph. 5:7-13). We are to think and act on more wholesome and Godly things. Luke 17:32 (“remember Lot’s wife”), indicates the Lord’s people will be tested along the line of their separation from the spirit of the world.
Why did Lot’s wife become a pillar of salt? As described above, the Salt Sea lies in the Great Syrian African Rift Valley. As the name implies, it is a seismic area where there are earthquakes/volcanic activity. Many times, masses of asphalt and sulfuric rock have been thrown up in this area following an earthquake. Gen. 19:24 says that God rained sulfur and fire from heaven on Sodom and Gomorrah. It is thought that this came from an earthquake and covered Lot’s wife. Then, her body became encrusted in salt from the air and the evaporation of the very salty water of the Salt Sea.