Shalom. We think it comes in the form of health, wealth, and good times—and it could. But, in taking a closer look, it’s much deeper than that.
By Josh Good
We’ve all been there… It arises differently in each person, but we’ve all experienced it. It’s the time you get a bill in the mail and just don’t have the finances for it. The medical report that shows up positive even though you were hoping it would not. An exam grade that drops your GPA and threatens your future plans. The fight you just got into with your spouse, again. The promotion that, try as you may, is just not coming through. “That feeling” rises up within you. It is fear, and it comes shrouded with all those other feelings that go with it: worry, anxiety, frustration, uncertainty, confusion, anger… we could go on. You know what it is like. You’re human! But deep down, what lies at the center of this human dilemma and what causes these feelings? How did Jesus show us a better way?
The coronavirus crisis that rocked the world brought so many different responses. I don’t know how exactly a believer ought to respond in this type of situation; only you can know that as you seek God in prayer and meditation. But, perhaps an insight on one 6-letter Hebrew word will help you gain clarity in the midst of a cloudy season.
Have you heard of the word shalom? It is a Hebrew word that occurs 236 times in the Old Testament. For those that have heard of it, perhaps the first meaning that enters your mind for shalom is “peace.” Correct—at least in most cases, the word “peace” is the English translation for shalom. However, the term “peace” is very limited. Shalom is a “big” word in Hebrew, much like the word “love” is in English. It is loaded with meaning and interpretations. You can love your mother—and you can love mashed potatoes. Your feelings toward those two things are not the same (I hope)! It is much the same with the concept shalom. Complex and intricate. Shalom is a greeting and farewell in Hebrew. It also describes an object without blemish. For example, a building stone without crack or imperfection could be called a “shalom stone.” Or, it could be mean “a complete repayment.” If you were to hit someone’s vehicle and pay in full for their medical and car bills, once completed, you are restoring shalom. When David visited his brothers on the battlefield, he asked, “How is your shalom?” When Solomon completed the temple, he established shalom. So, you get the picture: shalom is a very complex word with many interpretations. To simply translate the term as “peace” doesn’t quite convey its fullness. Perhaps a better way to describe shalom is “something complex that is in a state of wholeness.”
When we find the word shalom in the Bible, it sheds new revelation on God’s heart for His people. Here is one example. About a month ago, a song entitled The Blessing was released by Elevation Worship and Kari Jobe. If you haven’t heard it, stop reading this article, and go listen it to it now. Like, right now—it is really good! This song has become massively popular. As of today, it has over ten million views. There is something about this song that grips the heart and emotions, and I believe it is much deeper than a nice melody. The lyrics are a direct quotation of Numbers 6:24-26.
24 The Lord bless you and keep you;
25 the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
26 the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace (shalom).
This is quite powerful when we realize that God Himself wanted Aaron to pray this blessing over the people. God knew what the people needed most, and these are the words He chose to be a continued blessing over His people for the generations ahead. The word “peace” in verse 26 is directly translated from the word shalom. We can see that the Lord’s heart is to bless His people with shalom: completeness, wholeness, peace.
If you have time, and want to see how this word is used throughout Scripture, you can see a full listing by clicking here. The amount of times the term is used is astounding. “The Blessing” is just one small example of a word that is used countlessly throughout the Scriptures. Not to mention that eirene, which is the same word as shalom in Greek, is used 92 times in the New Testament—click here to check these verses out.
I don’t know a single person on the planet who doesn’t desire shalom—a state of wholeness in our very being. If you really dig deep, isn’t that what we are after? If this is a hunger we all carry, then why don’t we all experience shalom? The Bible says that it is because of the condition of our hearts. The prophet Jeremiah said, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Our hearts recognize a hunger within us for shalom, but our methods of trying to achieve it can be so backwards. We hold grudges because of what someone said. We may use a vice to numb out pain. We may overwork to achieve results that will validate our existence. And then there are wounds we carry from our parents: “My dad never…so I’m going to….” These are all man’s attempt to restore wholeness. But the heart deceives us. We long for shalom, but we don’t find it because we look in the wrong places.
The Idolatry of Seasons
Besides our attempts to find wholeness from our own efforts, we unfortunately idolize certain seasons of life (especially in the United States). It seems so simple to drift through life never being satisfied by our current season. How many times have we said, “I can’t wait until…” What is that “until” we are striving for? Until I am among the starting line-up on the football team? Until I gain first chair in the orchestra? Until I graduate high school… until I graduate college… until I can buy a house… until I have kids… until I get a promotion… until I can afford that new car…? We could go on and on. We idolize seasons and look to them for shalom. But they never give it to us, and they never will.
The Israelites also struggled with this. They looked at their season instead of looking to God. From slavery, to the exodus, to the wilderness, they continually forgot God’s presence was with them in the midst of their circumstances. Read their words, three days after witnessing the Red Sea open before their eyes by God’s hand.
“And the people of Israel said to them, ‘Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger’” (Exodus 16:3).
The Israelite people revealed that they didn’t trust God. The adversity they faced was meant to produce trust, but instead all they did was complain and wish to return to slavery. And thus, they wandered for forty years in the wilderness. Even when the Israelites were finally victorious and entered God’s promised land, within one generation they forgot God. Look at what the Bible says about the generation after Joshua.
“And there arose another generation after them who did not know God or the work he had done. And the people did what was evil in God’s sight and served false gods” (Judges 2:10).
It’s not a season of life that will bring us shalom. It is God’s presence.
A Better Way
The challenge of life is not to reach the season of victory, but to trust God in the midst of your current season. The only way to ever loose yourself from slavery to sin is to trust God in midst of slavery. The only way to navigate the wilderness is to trust God in midst of it. The only way to arrive into a victorious season is to trust God before you get there. But shalom isn’t even found in the victory. It is found in the fact that God is with us! If we look for the place of victory more than we look for God, then we are idolizing that victory. In that case, we will quickly forget God’s faithfulness once we arrive, and shalom will remain elusive.
The prophet Isaiah foretold Christ’s coming with these words, “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” (Isaiah 9:6). This verse, typically printed on Christmas cards, takes on a whole new meaning when we look at it through this lens. The Prince of Shalom is Jesus. It gets even better when you take a look at the next verse, “Of the increase of His government and shalom there will be no end.” The implications of these verses are profound for believers. Shalom doesn’t come from good times; it comes from a person. Shalom doesn’t come from a circumstance; it comes from a person. Shalom won’t come from your breakthrough; it comes through a person. Shalom isn’t going to come to you through a promotion; it is coming through a person. No matter how hard we strive in our own strength, we won’t find shalom. Because what we all are really hungering after is the presence of God Himself. Only He can give the shalom we so long for.
The only answer to the deceitful heart (Jeremiah 17:9) is the new heart God gives us through Jesus (John 3:3). God gave His Son Jesus that we would know shalom in every season, every circumstance, and every trial. Jesus modeled shalom perfectly. In the middle of a storm, when Jesus and the disciples were on a boat that was filling with water, Jesus was asleep. How could He sleep in a wet boat? The boat was filling with water. The disciples were filling with fear and worry. Jesus was filled with shalom.
Shalom in God alone
Why do you think Jesus exposed His disciples to so many trials? It is because the trials produced trust. The disciples’ utter fear becomes absolute trust as they witness Jesus calm the storm. They went through a process. We must each take a hard look at where we are placing our trust in this season. We can’t place our trust in the government, we can’t place our trust in the stock market, and we definitely can’t place our trust in ourselves; we must place our trust in the Lord Jesus Christ—the Prince of Shalom.
Shalom is ours forever in Jesus Christ. This is God’s word, not mine. The only way we forsake that truth is if we allow the challenges to be greater than God himself. Let us not be like the Israelites, whose trials produced complaining and fear. Instead, may every trial produce trust in us as we live in the perfect shalom of our Father God.
About Josh Good
Josh and his wife, Alissa, lead DOVE USA Youth. Josh and Alissa are passionate about authentic community, heart to heart conversations, and living adventurously! They desire to see the next generation grasp the fullness of what it means to be a son or daughter of a good Father. Josh and Alissa also serve as the youth leaders at DOVE Westgate Church in Ephrata, PA. Prior to his current role, Josh worked at Messiah College discipling students through sports ministry in Harrisburg, PA, and internationally.