Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!
There's a lot of talk this time of the year about peace. We sing songs about peace, hear Scripture passages about peace, see signs and Christmas decorations with the word "peace" in them...it seems like peace is being referenced everywhere!
But what's the deal with peace? What did the angel refer to when he said, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests" to the shepherds Luke 2:14? When you begin to look into the meaning, and implications, of biblical peace, namby-pamby Christmas decorations and greeting cards do very little in capturing the true essence of peace.
The Old Testament word for peace is shalom - שָׁלֹום (in Hebrew) and εἰρήνη (in Greek). Shalom is much more than a simple greeting, kind audible jester or even the opposite of conflict; it’s an all-encompassing biblical concept. Shalom refers to harmony, syncretism, wholeness, and every kind of good. It refers to an experience of well-being, wholeness, harmony, reconciliation, and security through a proper relationship with God and each other. So the basic meaning of shalom is not absence from war or trouble, but one of well-being and every kind of good.
For the Hebrew people, Shalom, was/is one of the underlying principle of the Torah - "Her ways are pleasant ways and all her paths are shalom (peace)” (Proverbs 3:17. The Talmud explains, "The whole of the law (i.e.,Torah) is to promote shalom” (Talmud, Gittin 59b). The biblical concept of shalom takes us to the heart of the Gospel and unfolds the mysteries of God's redemptive plan for the entire cosmos expressed in passages such as Isaiah 9:6-7; 11:1-9; 65:17-19; Amos 9:11-15; and Acts 3:18-21. In fact, one of God’s covenant names is Jehovah-shalom, “The Lord is peace” or “The Lord is our peace” (Judges 6:24). The Apostle Paul links this Old Testament reference of God to the cosmic redemptive agenda of utterly crushing evil in Romans 16:20 – The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.
Many authors and scholars have commented on how we should understand shalom; but I have found none better than Cornelius Plantinga in his book, Not the Way It's Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin.
Here's a great quote taken from his book:
"[The prophets] dreamed of a new age in which human crookedness would be straightened out, rough places made plain. The foolish would be made wise and the wise, humble. They dreamed of a time when the deserts would flower, the mountains would run with wine, weeping would cease and people could go to sleep without weapons on their laps. People would work in peace and work to fruitful effect. Lambs could lie down with lions. All nature would be fruitful, benign, and filled with wonder upon wonder; all humans would be knit together in brotherhood and sisterhood; and all nature and all humans would look to God, walk with God, lean toward God and delight in God. Shouts of joy and recognition would well up from valleys and seas, from women in streets and from men on ships."
"The webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight is what the Hebrew prophets call shalom. We call it peace but it means far more than mere peace of mind or a cease-fire between enemies. In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness and delight – a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes the creatures in whom he delights. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be."
May peace of God be within you, upon you, and flow through you this Christmas season. Shalom.