A group of B4T workers are sending out bi-weekly prayer requests for their Middle Eastern country. They are currently centering their prayers around the names of God. This week’s requests center around the word Shalom (שׁלום ) and God is our Peace. Nowadays, I am using my seminary Hebrew more and discovering how translators often choose words that reflect their culture or personal experiences and biases. So, I decided to do a study on this well-known Hebrew word and learned that at least my understanding of shalom is incomplete.
In English, the word peace usually conjures up a passive picture, reflecting a lack of action or rest, as in “there’s no strife or hostility.” However, in studying the Hebrew meaning of שׁלום (shalom), it is clear that the intent of shalom is much broader than that. The Hebrew root slm, means “to be complete” or “to be sound.” The verb expresses both a progressive and a passive connotation meaning, to live well or to be whole or complete. Old Testament scholars teach that שׁלום, (shalom) the noun, expresses four similar but distinct meanings.
שׁלום Shalom or Peace:
- shalom as wholeness and fullness of life or body, as in good health
- shalom as right relationship or harmony between people or groups of people, usually in the form of a covenant
- shalom as prosperity, success, or accomplishment
- shalom as victory as in war, the peace that follows the end of a war
Shalom was and still is used today in both greetings and farewells. It is meant to act as a blessing on the one to whom it was spoken: “May your life be filled with health, prosperity, and victory.” Nonetheless, biblical shalom refers to an inward sense of completeness or wholeness. A majority of biblical references refer to shalom as an inner completeness and tranquility.
In our normal work day, frustration, anger, a lack of “peace” is common. Yet, if we understand biblical peace from this wider perspective, then suddenly, many verses take on a whole new meaning. Here are three examples:
22 The Lord said to Moses,
23 “Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them:
24 The Lord bless you and keep you;
25 the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you;
26 the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”
God tells Aaron to bless the people with peace in the middle of preparing to go to war. Clearly, this shalom does not refer to an absence of war because you don’t send off the troops with a blessing of non-conflict. God’s blessing of peace is an inner fullness and completeness, within the soul, which is the result of living at rest in His presence; amid whatever our circumstances may be, including conflict. This shalom is what is meant by experiencing God. Like Israel, in our jobs, in the grind of our daily battles, we are to have an inward rest brought on by the presence of the Lord, regardless of our circumstances.
In the same vein, when the Psalmist charges us to Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May those who love you be secure. May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels.”
We are not being exhorted to petition for the peace of Jerusalem due to the threats from Israel’s enemies. Rather, this is an exhortation to pray so that Jerusalem may fulfill, complete, its destiny as “The city of the great King.” This is not an exhortation for the absence of war, but rather for Israel’s spiritual revival. Life, wholeness, fulfillment in Jesus: that is where true biblical peace is found, and that comes from within.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.
Jesus is not referring to mediators or negotiators, but to those who carry an inward sense of the fullness and a right relationship with Jesus. For Hebrews, the biblical meaning of shalom reflects that we have so much shalom (inner peace, inner wellness, inner fullness) that it spills out from us, and is poured on or imparted to those around us. The result is that others have a sense of peacefulness when in our presence – this is what makes us a peacemaker. By living, working, and sharing God’s uncontainable peace with others, we become just like Jesus. Because our co-workers and friends see this peace, they are drawn to Him, and we are called ‘children of God’.
As you head off to work today… שׁלום Shalom or Peace be upon you.