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In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for peace is shalom. The most basic meaning of shalom is complete or whole. The word can refer to a stone that has a perfect whole shape with no cracks. It can also refer to a completed stone wall that has no gaps and no missing bricks. Shalom refers to something that’s complex with lots of pieces that’s in a state of completeness, wholeness.
It’s like Job who says his tents are in a state of shalom because he counted his flock and no animals are missing (Job 5:24). It’s like when David visited his brothers on the battlefield, he was told to inquire about their shalom (1 Sam 17:18). The core idea is that life is complex, full of moving parts and relationships and situations, and when any of these is out of alignment or missing, your shalom breaks down. Life is no longer whole; it needs to be restored.
The basic meaning of shalom when you use it as a verb is to make complete or restore.
Look up the following verses and describe how shalom is being used in each context.
1 Kings 9:25 – (shalom is translated as “finished”)
Exodus 22:1-9 – (shalom is translated as “pay”, “repay” and “restitution”)
Proverbs 16:7 – (shalom is translated as “peace”)
With all this in mind, we can turn to the well-known passage in Isaiah that looks forward to the Messiah’s coming.
2 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,on them has light shone.
3 You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
4 For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.
5 For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire.
6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
8 The Lord has sent a word against Jacob, and it will fall on Israel;
9 and all the people will know, Ephraim and the inhabitants of Samaria, who say in pride and in arrogance of heart:
- Isaiah 9:2-9 -
How does Isaiah describe the peace that this royal son would bring?
It is this rich context and longing for shalom that provides the background for the coming of Jesus. The New Testament picks up these themes but uses the greek word eirene which is translated as “peace” in our English Bibles.
1 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.
2 This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria.
3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town.
4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David,
5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.
6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth.
7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.
10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
- Luke 2:1-14 -
What is the announcement that accompanies Christ’s birth?
Read the following passages. How does Jesus fulfill the OT longing for shalom? How do the NT authors describe the peace Jesus accomplished?
Romans 5:1, 6-11
During the season of Advent we look back to Christ’s first coming to give us confidence and hope as we await His second coming. When Jesus came, his life, death and resurrection accomplished peace for us now. In the Gospel of John, “peace” was his favorite greeting after the resurrection (see John 20:19, 21 and 26).
As we look for his second coming, what kind of “peace” are we still waiting for?
And as we wait, how might we experience his peace? (See John 14:27 and 16:33).
The world around us longs for peace. How does your reflection on Christ’s first and second coming help you talk about the peace we can experience and for which we hope? How can the two advents of Christ offer good news to your neighbors who long for peace?