The word shalom is pretty much mainstream in modern society. We use it as a greeting and as a benediction in Christian gatherings. But shalom is not just another pretty word like “hello” or “howdy.” It carries a deeper spiritual significance.
What Shalom Means in the Bible
The word shalom is used as a greeting in Israel (e.g. shalom lehkhem, ma shlom’kha, shabbat shalom, etc). It is a way of pronouncing a blessing on the person you are greeting. It may also denote rest especially when it is used as a greeting at the end of the week.
Shalom As a Greeting
Shalom is commonly used as a greeting that is relevant in any time frame and in any circumstance. A good example of this is when Paul signs off the book of Thessalonians by declaring that the Lord of peace will be with them and give them peace at all times and in every way (2 Thess. 3:16). Even Jesus often used the word Shalom as a salutation to decree blessing on those he was greeting. For instance, when he appeared to his disciples after his resurrection, he greeted them by saying, “Peace be unto you.” (Shalom lehkhem) (Luke 24:36).
Shalom is however more than just a greeting. It is a way of declaring a blessing on the people you are greeting. A more commonly used greeting today is “ma shlom‘kha” which loosely translates to “How are you?” However, the presence of the word shalom in the greeting changes the meaning of the greeting from “How are you?” to “What is your completeness” or more accurately, “How is your peace?” This greeting is still common in modern Israel.
One of the commonest declarations of Shalom is found in the book of numbers in what we now refer to as the Aaronic blessing. It reads:
the Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace. (Numbers 6:24-26)
The context of the greeting was rather ironic because Israel was getting ready to go to war with the communities that lived in and around Canaan. We can therefore infer that peace didn’t refer to the absence of war – at least not in this context. However, it meant that even in the presence of war and conflict, the children of Israel would still enjoy peace.
Shabbat Shalom is a greeting that is said at the end of the week. The Hebrew word shabbat is derived from the root word lishbot which literally means “to stop.” Shabbat is also related to the word Lashevet which means “to sit” Shabbat therefore means that one should stop or sit. It is directly related to the fourth commandment which commands us to “honor the sabbath and keep it holy” It is very relevant in the current fast-paced world that we live in today where rest is almost a foreign concept.
God instituted the law of the sabbath not for his but for our benefit. He knew that man needed to rest and rejuvenate after working hard for six days. When the Jews use the phrase Shabbat Shalom at the end of the week, it is a reminder of the need to honor the Lord by observing the Sabbath.
The concept of peace and rest is not easy for most people today since we are accustomed to “getting things done.” The idea of getting one day to rest is a statement of faith. It is a way of demonstrating that you trust God will meet your needs for the 7 days even if you rest on one of the days. We would be all healthier and happier if we took the consent of peace and rest more seriously. Shabbat Shalom is a clarion call for us to rejuvenate and focus on our spiritual, physical, and mental well-being.
When your inner peace is brimming and overflowing, you can place your trust in the process of restoration, even for what might have been lost in the past week. This will breathe confidence in the future because you will be rejuvenated and ready to take on the challenges of the new week.
Entering God’s Rest
Shalom can also be translated to mean God’s rest. In the Old Testament, God’s rest was symbolized by Canaan. After Israel had been in captivity for 430 years, God delivered them from their slavery and started them on a journey towards a land that was flowing with milk and honey. Even though the journey was long and treacherous, Israel eventually reached the land of promise, or more precisely, they entered God’s reset.
However, a closer look at the 40-year journey reveals some noteworthy intrigues that affected the journey. Even though God had demonstrated his love and care for his people, they often rebelled against him. At one time, they even made a golden calf which they started praising as the god that had delivered them from Egypt. Even though they had clearly seen the demonstration of God’s power, the Israelites continued doubting God and his power, and eventually, God made the following statement;
So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’” Psalms 95:10
And just like that, the entire generation that left Egypt didn’t make it into the promised land except for Caleb and Joshua. The rest died in the wilderness and only their children who were born in the wilderness made it into Canaan. The promised land was referred to as God’s rest because it was a land flowing with milk and honey. This meant that God had already made provision for the Israelites in the promised land. It was an opportunity for them to rest after being slaves for over 4 centuries.
Canaan was a foreshadow of things to come. The New Testament believer can also look forward to “entering God’s rest” because as Jesus promised, he went to prepare a place for us in heaven. John talks about a new Jerusalem and the writer of Hebrews talks of how the fathers of faith looked forward to a city whose architect and builder is God (Hebrews 11:10). In the book of Hebrews, we are reminded not to walk in unbelief as the Israelites did in the wilderness because if we do, we may not enter his rest just like the Israelites in the wilderness (Hebrews 4:3)
To sum it up, the word shalom is used in different contexts to mean a variety of things. However, its most common usage is in the form of a greeting which is a way of conferring a blessing on another person. Shalom may also refer to entering the rest in relation to the law of the Sabbath.