The True Meaning of Shalom
Many are familiar with the Hebrew word shalom or “peace.” The common western definition of peace is — the absence of conflict or war — but in Hebrew it means so much more.
“Shalom” is taken from the root word shalam, which means, “to be safe in mind, body, or estate.” It speaks of completeness, fullness, or a type of wholeness that encourages you to give back — to generously re-pay something in some way.
True biblical shalom refers to an inward sense of completeness or wholeness. Although it can describe the absence of war, a majority of biblical references refer to an inner completeness and tranquility. In Israel today, when you greet someone or say goodbye, you say, Shalom. You are literally saying, “may you be full of well-being” or, “may health and prosperity be upon you.”
If this is the way we understand biblical peace, then suddenly many verses take on a whole new meaning. With this Hebrew thought of shalom in mind, let’s look at a few common Scriptures about peace:
“Speak to Aaron and to his sons, saying, ‘Thus you shall bless the sons of Israel. You shall say to them: The LORD bless you, and keep you; The LORD make His face shine on you, And be gracious to you; The LORD lift up His countenance on you, And give you peace.’” – Numbers 6:23-26
The context of the Aaronic Blessing is ironic (pun intended). God told Aaron to bless Israel with peace while they were getting ready to go conquer the Promised Land. If peace means “the absence of war,” then this doesn’t make sense, since they would soon be destroying cities. God was referring to an inner peace and completeness brought on by sharing in His countenance and His protection. That was the blessing that Israel needed! Israel was to rarely experience times of outward peace, but even in the midst of battle, they were to have an inward rest brought on by the presence of the Lord, regardless of the outward circumstances — so it should be for us as well.
“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: May they prosper who love you. May peace be within your walls, and prosperity within your palaces.” – Psalm 122:6-7
Today many are praying for the peace of Jerusalem due to the rising threat from Israel’s enemies. However, this exhortation to pray is not so Israel can live without conflict. It is so that Jerusalem can fulfill its destiny as set by the only One who can bring complete restoration to the city, which Jesus referred to as “The city of the great King.”
Psalm 122:6-7 should serve as a prayer for Israel’s spiritual revival. Verse 7 says that we are praying for peace within Jerusalem’s walls and palaces. That is where true biblical peace is found — within. Pray for the fullness and completeness of Jerusalem. Pray that there may be such wholeness and safety found in her palaces that it overflows to others. From this perspective, it almost sounds like we are praying for the return of Israel’s Messiah, the Prince of Peace, to establish His throne in Jerusalem.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” – Matthew 5:9
In this verse, Jesus is not referring to mediators or political negotiators, but to those who carry an inward sense of the fullness and safety that is only available through son-ship with God. In the biblical Hebrew understanding of shalom, there is a point at which you have so much shalom that it spills out from you, and is repaid or rendered to others. And so, as you make others peaceful and inwardly complete, that makes you a peacemaker. Jesus said these peacemakers will be called sons of God. Jesus was called the Son of God. By sharing God’s uncontainable peace with others, we become just like Jesus.
There are many other examples worthy of study regarding shalom. Peace is so much more than the world’s one-sided definition. We must find our understanding of it through the Bible, from the God of Israel. We will need it in the days ahead.
“The LORD bless you from Zion, And may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life. Indeed, may you see your children’s children. Peace be upon Israel.” – Psalm 128:5-6