Shalom (in Isaiah)

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In the OT, the Hebrew noun šalom means more than simply the absence of war, and its meaning is variegated rather than uniform (cf. P. B. Yoder; see esp. chap. 2, pp. 10–16). The most frequent use of šalom is as an indicator of well-being or success, as in Genesis 29:6, where Jacob asks the shepherds of Haran about the well-being of Laban; or in the blessing of Aaron in Numbers 6:26, where “the Lord . . . give you peace” indicates a hope that the Israelites will be successful in what they do.

Another use of šalom is in the arena of social relations, where it comes closest to the English word “peace.” In social relations šalom is often closely associated with justice and righteousness (cf. Isa 9:7; 32:15–20; 59:4–8). Šalom portrays the presence of good relationships characterized by justice between persons or nations. In covenant relations it indicates the kind of community to which God’s people are called.

A third use of šalom is in the domain of ethics and morality. Here the emphasis is on integrity or innocence, or honesty in contrast to deceit (cf. Ps 35:20).

The noun šalom in Hebrew derives from the root šlm, which conveys the sense of being complete or sound (BDB: 1022). This noun occurs some twenty-nine times in the book of Isaiah, referring at times to soundness of body (38:17, “welfare”), at times to peace or contentment (32:17–18), at times to wholesome relationships (59:8), and at times to the absence of war (39:8).

The common translation of šalom as “peace” takes the notion of completeness or soundness and gives to it the sense of harmony in human relationships and, alternatively, of yieldedness in the human encounter with God. To be at peace with God in this sense means to give precedence to God or to acknowledge God’s superiority. The pleasant vineyard (God’s people) in Isaiah 27:5, for example, is invited to “make peace” with the Lord. The prosperity (peace) of God’s people, if they had yielded to the Lord’s commandments, is compared to “a river”—not a river in destructive flooding, but a river providing nourishment for land and crops—in Isaiah 48:18.

Bibliography

  • Brown, Francis, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs. A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the O T. Oxford, 1906, 1952.
  • Yoder, Perry B. Shalom: The Bible’s Word for Salvation, Justice, and Peace. Newton, KS: Faith & Life, 1987.

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Ivan D. Friesen