It was a blustery English day, and—a little late, a lot wet—I hurried into my professor’s office for my Hebrew tutorial. Embarrassed, I offered a cordial but rushed Hebrew greeting, “Shalom.” He watched quietly as I took out materials for our lesson, and then responded: “Justin, shalom is more than a simple hello; it declares the health of our relationship. Draw out the vowels, give the word weight, because we have peace, and that’s no small thing.” It was a kind method of restoration and instruction: we could proceed in peace—he even offered tea and biscuits.
In a world racked with strife, it may seem obvious to declare peace “no small thing”; but the biblical understanding of peace—the word shalom in Hebrew, translated into Greek as eirn—involves much more than the absence of conflict. Shalom expresses wholeness, blessing, and completeness, exemplified by the perfection of God’s creation and the unimpaired, harmonious relationships of God with His creatures and His creatures among themselves. God speaks shalom into existence (Isa. 45:7), and the entirety of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, chronicles His intention to restore it to fallen humanity, that the word issued from His mouth—shalom—might not return to Him empty but accomplish His purpose of peace, blessing, and wholeness.
In the beginning, the God of shalom, perfect in wholeness, blessing, and completeness among His three persons, creates all things in six days, all very good. Creation resembles its Creator, and He invites it to share in His peace—particularly man, whom He makes in His image. He gives Adam a helpmate to complete him, a garden with every good thing to eat, and a purpose to multiply and take dominion of creation so that he might be whole. It is a state of shalom, and you can almost hear the jubilant greetings of “peace be with you” as the Lord descends from His cosmic throne to walk in peace with Adam and Eve through the garden.
Unexpectedly, a frightening scene transpires one day: God’s arrival in the garden for fellowship goes ungreeted. Shalom has been broken through man’s transgression. Adam now fears nakedness as incompleteness; he accuses his wife of harming him rather than making him whole; and he finds the fruit a curse rather than a blessing. Adam and Eve flee and hide, trembling at the expectation of judgment rather than peace (Gen. 3:8–11).
In the face of this misery, God speaks remarkable words of shalom to them. Little wonder that Paul describes the peace of God as passing all understanding (Phil. 4:7); in the midst of judgment against rebellion, God comforts His children with the promise of peace through One who would crush the head of the lying, murderous serpent (Gen. 3:14–15). Man’s sin has turned them away, their fallen condition corrupting harmony into hostility—vividly represented in the exile—but God is determined to bless them through this Seed of the woman and to restore to Himself a remnant—vividly represented by the sacrifice that produces garments to cover nakedness.