by Lois Tverberg
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful. (John 14:27)
Like many Hebrew words, the word we commonly translate as peace, shalom, has a wider latitude of meaning than the English word. We tend to understand it as the absence of war or as calmness of spirit. But along with these ideas, the Hebrew word shalom also carries a greater connotation of well-being, health, safety, prosperity, wholeness, and completeness.
In modern Hebrew, the common greeting is, “Mah shalomkah?” Meaning, how is your shalom? How is your well-being? In the Aaronic benediction, when it is said “May the Lord look upon you with favor and give you his peace,” it is a much broader, wider blessing that we may think, talking about God supplying our physical and material needs as well as our emotional needs.
Knowing these broader meanings helps in our Bible study. For instance, God says to Abraham, “As for you, you shall go to your fathers in shalom; you will be buried at a good old age” (Genesis. 15:15). It doesn’t just mean that Abraham will not be at war, or even that he will have a calm spirit, but also that his life would end in well-being and completeness.
One important concept that has to do with shalom, peace, is that it also speaks about having a covenantal relationship with God. When the covenant was first enacted between God and Israel, some of the sacrifices were peace, shelem, offerings, to celebrate the relationship between the people and God. This is the Hebraic understanding of salvation, not just that we will go to heaven when we die, but that we have an unbroken, loving relationship with God here on earth.
Most sacrificial offerings were given entirely to God, but the peace (or fellowship) offering was different. Part of it is eaten by the worshipper, as if he is sharing a meal with God, the ultimate picture of friendship. The Passover meal was a type of peace offering, because it was a sacrifice that the people ate from. When Jesus held up the bread and wine as a new covenant, he was using this as a peace offering to show their new relationship with God. Through atonement by his blood, God offers all of us shalom, in all the many senses of that word.
See Listening to the Language of the Bible, by Lois Tverberg and Bruce Okkema, En-Gedi Resource Center, 2004. This is a collection of devotional essays that mediate on the meaning of biblical words and phrases in their original setting.
For a friendly, bite-sized Bible study of five flavorful Hebrew words, see 5 Hebrew Words that Every Christian Should Know, by Lois Tverberg, OurRabbiJesus.com, 2014 (ebook).