What is the true meaning of Shalom?
Many are familiar with the Hebrew word shalom. Shalom means “peace” in English. But beyond that simple definition, what does “shalom” truly mean? The common western definition of peace is — the absence of conflict or war — but in Hebrew it means so much more.
Definition of Shalom in Hebrew
“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.
Is “Shalom” Arabic?
In Arabic the word for peace, “Salam” sounds very similar yet refers to a hope of world peace and the end of war. However, like many original Hebrew definitions, Shalom goes straight the heart.
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.
How do you use the word ‘Shalom’?
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.”
In a way, it is blessing for coming and going, in any time frame, in any situation. This was exactly how the Apostle Paul, a Jewish Rabbi, ended his 2 Letter to the Thessalonians: “Now may the Lord of peace Himself give you peace at all times and in every way.” (2 Thessalonians 3:16).
As he was wrapping up his letter, he was teaching the Hebrew understanding of peace. And he was introducing it to a culture that was just getting to know the Lord.
This is why at the end every week Jewish communities around the world greet each other with “Shabbat Shalom”. Despite all the craziness throughout the week, Shabbat Shalom is saying: “may you end the week with a rest that brings that inner peace that recenters us on the One who gives it.” And also: “May your next week begin with that sense of inner rest and completeness, where nothing is lacking.”
At its very core, that is what Shabbat is about! While the modern understanding of peace is looking for a break from life’s turmoil, a biblical peace addresses our hearts. If this is the way we understand biblical peace, then suddenly many verses take on a whole new meaning.
Shalom meaning in the Bible
With this Hebrew thought of shalom in mind, let’s look at a few common Scriptures about peace:
Shalom in ancient Israel
“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.
And so it should be for us as well. We are able to be at full peace in our hearts, even while dealing with the seemingly messy chaos of life events surrounding us.
Shalom in Jerusalem
“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.
As prophesied in Isaiah 9:6, this Child born to us could be referred to as the “Prince of inner fulness [Peace]” and is the only One who can give this type of internal peace and rest. The city of peace will be wholly (or “holy”) complete, when the Prince of Peace establishes His Kingdom.
From this perspective, when we are praying Psalm 122 for the peace of Jerusalem, we are praying for more than an outward establishment of safety and security. We are praying the return of Israel’s Messiah, the Prince of Peace, to establish His throne in Jerusalem.
Peace on Earth
Angels appeared to shepherds in Bethlehem, bringing good news of great joy which shall be to all people (Luke 2:10). After instructions on how to find the baby, many more angels appeared proclaiming the following statement:
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men! (Luke 2:14)
Angels are messengers of God. They know His presence and what His Character is like. They continually dwell in the presence of the fullness of His Shalom. Yet, the event of Jesus being born on earth simply blew them away!
With their understanding of who God is, and of His love and peace that are His character, they could have said it like this: “Glory to God in the most high place! No one is more loving and generous than the One who personified pure Peace among sinful men! What an earth-shaking plan! The fulness of Peace is now physically on earth as a loving gift to all men whom He favors!”
The angels were not saying “Ok, Jesus has come, so you can stop fighting”. That wasn’t the peace they mentioned. It was their sheer amazement that the One whom they praised, placed Himself in the embodiment of perfect Peace on earth. He did it as a gift. Glory to God in the highest place!
What did Jesus say about peace?
“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.
People of Shalom
How do we get this inner rest, completeness and wholeness? There are many throughout the world who are seeking an inner peace in multiple ways.
While there is a perfect peace that comes from trusting God (Isaiah 26:3), Jesus takes it a step further. As a gift from Himself to His disciples, He makes a clear distinction: “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. (John 14:27).
According to Jesus, what the Lord is freely giving His followers is different than what you can find on our own in the world. This is a true peace that empowers us to be all that we were designed to be – fully and completely. It is a gift from the Creator Himself to those who follow Him.
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 the true meaning of Shalom 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)
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This article comes from a chapter titled “Shalom” in Doug’s book: “The Christian’s Biblical Guide to Understanding Israel”. To learn more, visit EzraAdventures.com/store.