Peace, Peace, Peace Shalom, Shalom, Shalom

One of my favorite words is shalom, the meaning of which is very different than the word peace. Even if shalom is substituted for peace in The Testimony of St. John, the surrounding text very much changes the depth and the beauty of a number of Christ’s teachings by narrowing the meaning to a more modern context. Is this okay?

Let’s back up. First, we need to challenge our own understanding of the word peace as used by Christ. For example, does this Christmas hymn entirely miss the point?

Peace, heavenly peace
Rests on Judah this night
Peace foretold through the ages
Promised peace from on high
A hush falls o’er the hills
Silent and still are Bethlehem’s streets
For Christ is born, blessed Savior
Bringing peace, peace, peace

Peace, heavenly peace
Rests this night on the world
Peace descends as the shepherds
Keep their watch in the field
A song, fervent as prayer, is borne on the air
as Bethlehem sleeps
For angels bright with God’s glory
Sing of peace, peace, peace

Peace, heavenly peace
Rests on men at His birth
Peace beyond understanding
Gift of God to the earth
Peace shines in our hearts
Bright as the star that shines in the east
To guide us all as we seek
the Prince of Peace, peace, peace

The answer to the above question as to whether this hymn misses the point depends primarily upon your definition and interpretation of the word peace.

Oh that this were written more directly of the Prince of Peace [Sar Shalom] and His atonement:

…blessed Savior
Sar Shalom, Shalom, Shalom

…Shalom, heavenly shalom
Shalom, the infinite sacrifice
Shalom beyond understanding
Gift of God to mankind….

It’s about Shalom….

It would be a stretch to think that the Christ actually used the English word “peace” with its twenty-first century meaning. Our best inference is that He spoke in Hebrew. Now, you might think that shalom means peace, and to a degree it does, but it is so much more and this is a distinction with a magnificent difference.

Let’s look at the Hebrew.

שָׁלוֹם

Shalom: taken directly from the BLB Lexicon (highlights mine):

  1. completeness, soundness, welfare, peace
    1. completeness (in number)
    2. safety, soundness (in body)
    3. welfare, health, prosperity
    4. peace, quiet, tranquillity, contentment
    5. peace, friendship
      1. of human relationships
      2. with God especially in covenant relationship
    6. peace (from war)
    7. peace (as adjective)

 שָׁלַם

Shalam: taking the 2nd definition from the root (same resource, highlighting mine):

2. to be complete, be sound

  1. (Qal)
    1. to be complete, be finished, be ended
    2. to be sound, be uninjured
  2. (Piel)
    1. to complete, finish
    2. to make safe
    3. to make whole or good, restore, make compensation
    4. to make good, pay
    5. to requite, recompense, reward
  3. (Pual)
    1. to be performed
    2. to be repaid, be requited
  4. (Hiphil)
    1. to complete, perform
    2. to make an end of

Now, if we look at Strong’s concordance, and this time focus on some key words (highlights mine):

shâlam, shaw-lam’; a primitive root; to be safe…; figuratively, to be (causatively, make) completed; …by extension, to reciprocate (in various applications):—make amends [for], (make an) end, finish, full [fulfill?], give again, make good, (re-) pay (again), (make) (to) (be at) peace(-able), that is perfect, perform, (make) prosper(-ous), recompense, render, requite, make restitution, restore.

Did you get that? If that doesn’t sound like the mission and character of the Son, I don’t know what does. Now, if we remember that the Savior’s references to being “perfect” should in most cases been more accurately translated “complete,” the above association with the life and atonement of Christ becomes even more sublime.

With all that in mind, what do you now think the following mean?

Sar Shalom (prince of peace)

Shalom I leave with you, my shalom I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. (John 14:27)

These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)

Please don’t take this too far. There are many times where the English word peace appears from context to be the ideal translation, even when spoken by the Savior. Still, there are certain places where you have to wonder if the meaning has more import than the word “peace” can convey (again, highlights mine).

And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied, saying, Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for He hath visited and redeemed his people [well, not yet, but soon!], And hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David; As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began: That we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us; To perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant; The oath which He sware to our father Abraham, That He would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve Him without fear, In holiness and righteousness before Him, all the days of our life.
And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways; To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins, Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the Dayspring from on high hath visited us, To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. (Luke 1:67–79)

In case you missed it, let’s restructure this:

  • (A) He hath visited and redeemed his people, And hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David;
    • (B) As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began: That we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us;
      • (C) To perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant; The oath which He sware to our father Abraham,
    • (B) That He would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve Him without fear, In holiness and righteousness before Him, all the days of our life.
  • (A) And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways; To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins, Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the Dayspring from on high hath visited us, To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of shalom.
Relationship to the Testimony of St. John

In this regard, it is with some chagrin that I read this part of the translation,

I leave you in peace. The peace only my teachings can provide for you and not as the world claims to find peace.

Shalom that comes from His teaching. This is consistent with the prophecy listed above, “to guide our feet into the way of shalom.” Guiding = teaching. Sure. Nevertheless, that “just doesn’t do it for me.” Sorry. Yes, His teachings do bring peace. He brings shalom (His life, mission, knowledge, wisdom, light, example, faithfulness, righteousness, teachings, love, mercy, grace, atonement,…).

Now, it is possible to integrate these ideas into a coherent whole, but that requires some mental gymnastics of the reach usually exercised by those making justifications, excuses, rationalizations, and chicanery.

So, is my interpretation of all of the above in error and worthy to be rejected and left behind? I admit to substantial spiritual/emotional/intellectual inertia here; there are many times that I have raised my hands (literally) in praise for gaining this understanding of Shalom. Even now I enjoy a confirmation that I have this right. Am I deceived?

Is this a case where human limitations (or more specifically limitations imposed by a temporal existence) impact the process of revelation/interpretation/communication and we should read the text with the broader implications? Would doing so be taking liberty and adjusting meaning to vindicate biases and untruths?

Or, perhaps, this should be filed under the concept of “a prophet’s prerogative.” Whereas the Book of John is not removed, focusing on a subset for a specific group of people while not rejecting/removing/replacing the original is in fact no conflict at all. The idea of a microscope comes to mind. When zooming in to see detail, there is a natural consequence of reducing the field of view. The Testimony of John is clearly amplifying the idea of path. But, can we really understand the path if we don’t grasp the concept that Christ is the giver of Shalom? The chiasm, above, inexorably links the redemption to the guidance. This makes sense. How can Christ’s atonement return us to the path if we are without knowledge (and vice-versa)? Finally, if we are to truly follow the path, must we not also become Princes of Shalom?

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.