Home » Hebrew Word Study: SHALOM (peace)

Hebrew Word Study: SHALOM (peace)

by Dr. Eitan Bar
4 minutes read

Shalom! If there is one Hebrew word that has gained global recognition, it is “SHALOM.” Often translated as “peace,” SHALOM represents an array of nuances that are far more profound and multifaceted. However, translating SHALOM merely as peace does not fully encapsulate its depth. The concept of SHALOM brings us to realize the perfection in our holy God, reinforcing the profound significance of this word in understanding the character of our Creator.

In the Hebrew language, SHALOM signifies “wholeness,” “completeness,” “perfection,” “payment,” and more. All these meanings share a common root, the foundation of their linguistic connection. The word SHALOM, a noun, also encompasses completeness, soundness, welfare, harmony, prosperity, and tranquility. While English lacks a single term that encapsulates all these concepts, examining the various biblical occurrences of SHALOM offers insights into its more profound significance.

In Judges 6:24, for example, SHALOM is part of one of the names for God – “Jehovah Shalom” or “The Lord is peace.” Having encountered God personally and witnessed His supernatural power, Gideon erected an altar and named it “Jehovah Shalom.” Through this act, he proclaimed to everyone that our God embodies SHALOM – He is peace, wholeness, completeness, perfection, harmony, and prosperity in their most profound sense.

In the embodiment of Jesus, we find our SHALOM. He makes us whole. Our spiritual debt is paid in full. But this concept of SHALOM, as understood by those well-versed in Hebrew, is not just about the cessation of conflict or the existence of a formal peace treaty. Instead, it encapsulates a state of unity, cooperation, brotherly love, goodness, and completeness, permeating every aspect of life.

The peace we yearn for must spring from our very souls, for without peace with God, we are bereft of true peace. Jesus came to reconcile this discord between humanity and God, highlighting that the absence of peace is not merely an external issue. The expectation that a warrior Messiah, as anticipated in some interpretations of rabbinic Judaism, would eradicate Israel’s enemies and consequently ensure peace fails to address the heart of the matter.

One might misconstrue that peace would naturally ensue if all weaponry and means of physical violence were eliminated. However, this presumption is flawed. Animosity can manifest itself in various forms, from harsh words to systemic harassment, all of which can inflict deep emotional and psychological damage, potentially more devastating than physical harm. Removing all weapons would not prevent individuals from resorting to other means, such as stones, sticks, or even words, to inflict harm on others.

The concept of a warrior Messiah killing all the adversaries to bring about harmony is an oversimplified solution to a complex problem. Tragically, certain fundamentalist circles have appropriated this notion, prophesying Jesus’s return as an army general, poised to renounce the Sermon on the Mount and vanquish billions, thus forgetting his teachings, including “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Matthew 5:9).

The belief that eliminating those who oppose your convictions will engender a utopian world is logically and theologically unsound. Christian history provides evidence of this, where millions perished in religious wars, even though they shared a common faith. The present-day treatment of Christians by their fellow believers further underscores this point. A Christian friend who leads an international ministry once told me, “We, Christians, are the only army in the world that shoots its own wounded soldiers.”

I firmly believe that global peace cannot be achieved through mass extermination. Instead, it is through adherence to the principles of love, humility, and sacrificial giving, as exemplified by Jesus, that true peace can be realized. His teachings encourage us to love even our enemies (Matthew 5:44), an action far removed from the call to eliminate them.

I am not advocating pacifism, and I fully acknowledge that there are circumstances where conflict may be unavoidable. Indeed, the roles of soldiers, police officers, the legal system, and prisons remain critical. However, I strongly contest the idea that the Messiah will bring SHALOM by annihilating billions. Such a notion seems inherently contradictory.

The pathway to peace that Jesus advocates commences with reconciling the rift between humanity and God. Through his sacrifice, Jesus restored this relationship, allowing us to draw nearer to God and hence find inner peace. However, Christ’s death was not a means to appease an angry God but to redefine our understanding of God’s nature. Unlike the wrathful gods of the pagans surrounding Israel, Jesus revealed a loving Father, ready to sacrifice all for his beloved creation. This transformation in perception can bring peace to the most embittered hearts. Once freed from hate and resentment, this internal serenity can radiate outwards, fostering peace with others, even those perceived as enemies.

In this way, the role of the Messiah in ushering SHALOM is not about eliminating opponents or enforcing a shallow peace through fear. It involves cultivating a profound peace by first bridging the gap between humanity and God. This divine reconciliation, which Jesus achieved during his earthly ministry, opens the pathway for us to reconnect with God. By following Jesus’ teachings, we are also given the opportunity to contribute to the establishment of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, a realm defined not by material riches but by righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17).

So, when we speak of SHALOM, we are referring not just to a state of tranquility but a state of flourishing in every dimension of existence. SHALOM involves harmonious relationships with God, fellow humans, and even the natural world (Isaiah 11:6–10; Revelation 21:1–7). This broad understanding of SHALOM offers us a vision of life as it was meant to be, as ordained by God before the fall. This concept allows us to see how the peace and reconciliation brought about by Jesus are not only the end goal but are integral to every step of the journey.

In conclusion, the Hebrew concept of SHALOM, as exemplified in the teachings and life of Jesus, prompts us to think of peace not just as an absence of conflict or a state to be achieved but as a way of life that affects all aspects of our existence. In this way, peace – SHALOM – is not just something we hope for in the future but something we strive to live out in our daily lives. Therefore, let us aim to live lives characterized by SHALOM, experiencing the completeness, soundness, and tranquility that it offers.

To truly know SHALOM is to know God, for He is the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6) and the source of all peace. As we strive to cultivate this peace in our lives and in the world around us, let us always remember that God is SHALOM – He is our peace, our wholeness, our completeness, and our perfection. By this understanding, we can start to comprehend the depth of God’s love for us, His willingness to sacrifice for our well-being, and His eternal desire for us to live in SHALOM with Him and each other. This comprehension of peace, as deeply intertwined with our understanding of God, is a key to unlocking a life of profound fulfillment and divine purpose.

This article was an extract from my new small book,
Lost in Translation: 15 Hebrew Words to Transform Your Christian Faith.

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Dr. Eitan Bar
Author, Theologian, Activist