If any place in the world needs peace—cessation of strife, murder, and hatred—it is the Middle East.
It is strange that it is here, both in the Arab world and in Israel, where the meaning of the word “peace,” shalom in Hebrew or salaam in Arabic, finds its fullest meaning. It offers the recipient much more than the casual greeting of “hello/goodbye” or “peace.” Rather, it encompasses the spheres of welfare, prosperity, harmony, and justice and means wholeness (shilem), safety, soundness, health, and rest. In fact, shalav (to rest or be secure) also means “to prosper.” Overall, shalom is probably best encapsulated in the word “well-being.”
Shalom aleichem is another way of saying shalom: “may you be well” or “upon you be well-being” or “peace be upon you.” It is not just a greeting; it is a blessing. Yeshua (Jesus) used this phrase at least three times in two appearances after His resurrection (John 20:19, 21, 26). Paul, Peter, Jude, and John all used it in their letters to the churches. When the Angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, and he thought he would die because he’d seen God face to face, the Lord said, “Peace be with you [shalom aleichem]; do not fear, you shall not die” (Judges 6:23). Gideon then named the place “The Lord is my peace.”
Today, in Jewish homes on Friday nights, a Shabbat (Sabbath) song, “Shalom Aleichem,” is sung around the family table. According to the Talmud (collection of Jewish traditions and commentaries), two angels accompany everyone on their way back home from the Friday night synagogue service. The song welcomes them into the home. Oseh shalom is part of a longer line repeated in much Jewish liturgy, a blessing that says, “He who makes peace in His heights, may He make peace upon us and upon all Israel.” Many Jewish people are named Shalom, and it is one of the 72 names of God (Isa. 9:6). As Prince of Peace, He is “completely perfect” in all things.
In the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament), shalom is often translated “salvation” (soteria), but the Greek word for peace is eirene. Both are used in Luke 7:50, the story of the woman who washes Yeshua’s feet with her tears. Yeshua says to her, “Your faith has saved [soteria, brought peace to] you. Go in peace [eirene].” When we are given salvation, we have shalom with God.
When Yeshua was confronted by a man with an unclean spirit who cried out, He said, “Be quiet [peace, shalom in Hebrew, eirene in Greek], and come out of him!” (Mark 1:24–25). This, perhaps, demonstrates the greatest measure of the meaning of shalom: when discord within us––whether physical, mental, or spiritual––is brought to a state of rest. In connection with shalom as salvation, there are two other closely related words: shelem (to pay for) and shulam (to be fully paid).
Possibly the most beautiful use of shalom in the Bible is in the Priestly Blessing found in the book of Numbers. God said, “So they [priests] shall put My name on the children of Israel, and I will bless them” (Num. 6:27). Today, it is still invoked over the Jewish people by the cohenim (priests) in synagogues and at the Western Wall. Luke records that Yeshua “lifted up His hands and blessed them” (24:50) just before He ascended into heaven. Many believe it was the Priestly Blessing that He recited, and that He lifted His hands over them in the same manner as the priests, separating their fingers to form the Hebrew letter shin, which stands for El Shaddai, one of the names of God. Now that we know what the biblical word shalom entails, we can appreciate just how much God desires to bless us.
“The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace [shalom]” (Num. 6:24–26).
By Charleeda Sprinkle
Photo Credit: www.israelimages.com/Hanan Isachar