If ever you go to Israel, this ancient word will definitely be the most useful by far to know. It’s an all-purpose greeting, used for ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’—even though it doesn’t mean either of those. It’s also useful as a response. Someone says, ‘Shalom’ to you and the correct reply is ‘Shalom,’ or if you want to be particularly emphatic, ‘Shalom, shalom.’
Usually we translate as peace but that’s underselling it a lot. Yes, ‘shalom’ does mean peace—and as a greeting, it is about blessing the other person with well-being and safety. It can also mean, ‘Let there be peace between us.’
However, doesn’t just mean peace as we might usually think about it—in terms of absence of warfare. It means all the things that go towards making up peace in our lives. It means welfare and health, prosperity and favour, wholeness and soundness, completeness, security, safety, friendship, just recompense, fair and honest reward.
It describes a world in which all people are treated with honour and respect, dignity and equity. It’s one of the most beautiful words in any language.
Every time you say ‘shalom’, you bless someone with the name of God
And it’s one of the names of God. Here’s the story of how this name was revealed:
‘Then the angel of the Lord came and sat beneath the great tree at Ophrah… Gideon son of Joash was threshing wheat at the bottom of a winepress to hide the grain from the Midianites. The angel of the Lord appeared to him and said, “Mighty hero, the Lord is with you!”
“Sir,” Gideon replied, “if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? And where are all the miracles our ancestors told us about? Didn’t they say, ‘The Lord brought us up out of Egypt’? But now the Lord has abandoned us and handed us over to the Midianites.”
Then the Lord turned to him and said, “Go with the strength you have, and rescue Israel from the Midianites. I am sending you!”
“But Lord,” Gideon replied, “how can I rescue Israel? My clan is the weakest… and I am the least in my entire family!”
The Lord said to him, “I will be with you…”
… And the angel of the Lord disappeared.
When Gideon realized that it was the angel of the Lord, he cried out, “Oh, Sovereign Lord, I’m doomed! I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face!”
“It is all right,” the Lord replied. “Do not be afraid. You will not die.” And Gideon built an altar to the Lord there and named it Yahweh-Shalom (which means “the Lord is peace”).
Judges 6:11–24 NLT
Yahweh-Shalom is one of the names of God. It’s also a name—no surprise here—of Jesus. ‘Now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace.’
Ephesians 2:13–14 NIV
Kinda cool when you think about it. Every time you say ‘shalom’, you bless someone with the name of God. Actually we do that in English too whenever we say ‘goodbye’—which, back a few centuries ago, was short for ‘God be wi’ ye’. And today, that’s more like: ‘God be with you!’
So, try out ‘shalom’ on your friends and let us know how it goes!