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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.

Expectations of the Seed of the woman are not disappointed: what a kingdom of shalom!

God’s pronouncements at the sudden shattering of shalom portend a slow, costly restoration—but nothing will overturn His irenic purposes. Fallen humanity undermines creation’s harmony, but God intervenes (against all reasonable expectation), and His judgments carry forward His program of peace. The flood cleanses a world ailing under a decaying moral order (Gen. 6–9), and the scattering from the Tower of Babel reignites the creation mandate (Gen. 11:1–9). In an aimless world, God plucks up a displaced wanderer, Abraham—bereft of family and home—and gifts him with wholeness: divine fellowship and a son to his barren wife. This restoration of shalom in Abraham is not an end in itself, but an illustration and a means by which God will restore shalom to all the nations through his offspring—the Seed of the woman who will descend from the great nation of Abraham’s descendants (see Gen. 12:1–3; Gal. 3:15–18).

This great nation, Israel, emerges only after a long travail in virtual death in Egypt, for like father Abraham, they will serve as an example and means toward shalom. Their slavery results from the unwholesome curse, their deliverance from God’s power: through Israel all nations will know this. On eagles’ wings He brings them to Mount Sinai, formalizing with them a covenantal relationship of and unto peace, expressed by an invitation for the representatives of Israel to “see” Him and feast with Him without fear (Ex. 24:9–11). He sets a blessed precedent rehearsed regularly in Israel through the peace offering—a sacrifice and feast of covenantal solidarity (Lev. 3:1–17)—as well as through the Aaronic congregational benediction of shalom (Num. 6:24–26).

On the whole, God’s covenantal people fail to live under and testify to His program of shalom. He instructs them with His peacemaking characteristics through the Mosaic law, and the sacrificial system illuminates His plan to overcome death, but the Old Testament church time and again shatters shalom by preferring fellowship with false gods and peace with the enemies of God (see Num. 25:1–2). Even David, inheritor of God’s covenantal promises, flees from God into the arms of sin (2 Sam. 11), and his son Solomon—whose name means “peace”—leads all Israel in apostasy and establishes a pattern of sin that ultimately provokes God’s judgment against His people. As the crescendo of sin rises to mute God’s warnings against this Edenesque cycle of destruction, the false prophets preach “ ‘peace,’ when there is no peace” (Ezek. 13:10), and God again sends His people—first Israel, then Judah—into exilic judgment.

By this point, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that even at the exilic breaking of shalom, God speaks words of comfort. Israel has broken shalom and misled the nations, raising the question, When will the Messiah, the Seed of the woman, come and finally establish true shalom? When will the Prince of shalom usher in a new covenant era (Isa. 9), instituting a permanent realm of peace (Isa. 11)? When will God’s people “seek peace and pursue it” (Ps. 34:14) and all the nations come together in this glorious place of rest (Isa. 11:10)?

All spheres of creation give answer to this question at the birth of the incarnated Son of God, Jesus. Zechariah declares that He will “guide our feet into the way of peace”; the angels extol His arrival as “peace among those with whom [God] is pleased!” (Luke 1:79; 2:14). Expectations of the Seed of the woman are not disappointed: what a kingdom of shalom! Jesus addresses physical and spiritual malady alike, proclaiming “liberty to the captives . . . blind . . . [and] oppressed” (Isa. 61:1; Luke 4:18). Perhaps nothing identifies Jesus as Prince of Peace more than when He establishes His new covenant of peace with representatives of the New Testament church—the Apostles. He offers food and drink in everlasting fellowship, the bread and wine representing His very body and blood, the means by which His words will take effect: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you” (John 14:27). At the crucifixion, God speaks shalom in its final utterance, for Jesus “was pierced for our transgressions; . . . upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (Isa. 53:5). This pouring out of God’s wrath against sin becomes another flood of cleansing: a river of shalom pouring out from Jesus’ side, the atoning blood of the cross reconciling those for whom He died to their Father in heaven, restoring to them wholeness, completeness, and blessing (see Isa. 66:12; Col. 1:20).

How meaningful and moving is the resurrected Christ’s appearance to His disciples. Like Adam, the disciples cower in hiding, but the Lord of peace neither inquires nor condemns but declares, “Shalom to you!” He enjoys a meal of fellowship with them, dismissing any thought of hostility at their abandonment (Luke 24:36–43). Finally, He breathes the Holy Spirit on them. A new creation has begun; the curse has turned to blessing—shalom has been restored.

This restoration reaches into the far corners of heaven and earth, ever pressing onward—“of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end” (Isa. 9:7)—unto its consummation. What blessedness comes to those who “have been justified by faith and have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). What wholeness is wrought by “the God of peace who . . . , by the blood of the eternal covenant, [equips them] with everything good that [they] may do his will” (Heb. 13:20–21). What harmony is there for those whose hearts and minds are guarded in Christ Jesus by the peace of God (Phil. 4:7), who carry on His mission in His power. Equipped with the shoes of the gospel of peace, they bear witness that for believers Jesus is their peace, having broken down the wall of hostility between them and God and between one another (Eph. 2:14). Representatives from “every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (Rev. 7:9), will open the door so that Jesus might come in to them and eat with them, and they with Him (Rev. 3:20), anticipating that final meal of covenantal peace at the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:6–8), when Jesus will usher in the new heavens and the new earth, void of brokenness, curse, and want, full of shalom, forevermore.

As you rejoice, say “shalom” to yourself: draw out the vowels, give the word weight, because we have peace, and that’s no small thing.

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From the January 2023 Issue
Jan 2023 Issue