There is something special and moving about being greeted by the word Shalom! It can warm the heart and comfort the spirit. But what is it about the word shalom that can evoke such a unique response?
My experience in understanding the word begins in Israel. One of the most moving travel experiences I have ever had was when my wife and I were able to spend time in Israel. It is truly a land unlike any other, where ancient and modern mesh seamlessly together in a unique tapestry of color and culture, sights and sounds. Yet more than that, it is a place where timeless faith fills the air, and the Bible seems to come alive.
We experienced many beautiful things, but perhaps the most beautiful thing we encountered was being greeted by the word ‘shalom.’ In a simple way, shalom means ‘peace.’ But in a deeper way, shalom is a beautiful word with powerful, complex, and ancient meanings, and it can be heard throughout the land of Israel.
It Means More Than Hello
In modern Israel, when someone greets you or says goodbye, they will typically say, Shalom. In saying this they are actually saying more than just hello or goodbye, and more than just a simple ‘peace be with you’. They are actually saying something more along the lines of, “may you be filled with a complete and perfect peace and be full of well-being” or, “may health, prosperity, and peace of mind and spirit be upon you.” Beyond being just a simple wish for peace and happiness, the word suggests a state of fullness and perfection; overflowing inner and outer joy and peaceful serenity.
The word Shalom is as ancient as the land itself. It is peppered throughout Scripture, embedded in the familiar names of cities and people such as Jerusalem (foundation of peace) and King Solomon (peaceful), and is a linguistic building block of Jewish language and history. Shalom is regularly used as a familiar greeting, but it holds a meaning that was used by Jesus to describe his kingdom, and speaks to the very hopes and longings of the human heart.
The Loss of Shalom
In the beginning, all creation was in a state of shalom, and this is the environment that Adam and Eve entered into. In this perfect shalom was a perfect peace, where the infinite creator of all things was in complete communion with his created beings Adam and Eve. Yet sin destroyed that shalom, and cast the world into a place of brokenness. The fallen world we live in, with its violence, heartache, pain, and death are very visible results of the shalom that was lost so very long ago. Yet, there is good news in the gospel. For through Christ, that shalom has been restored as God is again making all things new to his glory.
A Hope for Future Shalom
In the Old Testament, prophecies point towards a future restoration of shalom. There are reminders that the peace of this world is not the shalom peace that God offers. The peace that God gives is referenced in Numbers 6:23-26, “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 (shalom)’”.
In Jeremiah 6:14, the prophet Jeremiah speaks out against those who would falsely claim shalom: “they dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace”. They say there is shalom when there is no shalom. They act as if all is okay when, really, all is not okay.
Yet, in the midst of this broken lack of shalom, a wonderful promise is given, and prophetic words of hope emerge through this messianic prophecy that we generally remember at Christmastime, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Shalom. Of the increase of his government and shalom there will be no end.” (Isaiah 9:6-7).
Isaiah’s prophecy of a future messiah continues in chapter 53, verses 4-5, “he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us shalom was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed”.
In these words, humanity is given a hope of a messiah. Those living in a tumultuous, hopeless time were given hope that there will someday be one who will re-establish our perfect shalom with God.
The Restoration of Shalom
In John 14:27, Jesus was nearing the end of his earthly ministry and prepared the disciples for what lay ahead, knowing that it would not be easy or comfortable. As he comforted and prepared them, he said this, “Shalom I leave with you; my shalom I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid”. Shalom, true shalom, will be a restoration of the peace that existed in the beginning and will be the peace that we experience in the New Jerusalem, the New City of Peace.
After the crucifixion, the disciples of Jesus were experiencing anything but shalom. They were not at peace, but were in fear, confusion, and were lacking in purpose of what they were to do next. It is in the midst of this that Jesus appears to them, and once again, speaks shalom over them and their fears in John 20:19: “On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace (shalom) be with you!”. What an encouragement that the first thing Jesus speaks over his bewildered disciples is a proclamation of peace, a reassurance of his promised shalom.
A Reminder of Shalom
Paul reminds us in Romans 5:1-2 that Christ has covered our sins and restored us to a place of shalom with God: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace (shalom) with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God”.
Again, in Philippians 4:4-7 he writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace (shalom) of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Through the work of Christ, the shalom that was lost in the garden has been restored and is again available to us today. Simply hearing the greeting shalom is a reminder of the deep human longing for peace, for a true peace that is greater than all understanding. For those who are in Christ, it is a reassurance that his peace, his shalom, is real, present, and greater than anything the world has to offer.
Jason Soroski is a homeschool dad and author of A Journey to Bethlehem: Inspiring Thoughts for Christmas and Hope for the New Year. He serves as worship pastor at Calvary Longmont in Colorado and spends his weekends exploring the Rocky Mountains with his family. Connect on Twitter, Instagram, or at JasonSoroski.net.