Make Peace—Embody Shalom

Life_in_Tension_web“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matt. 5:9 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The seventh beatitude focuses on peacemaking. Here we move from tension with ourselves and tension with God to tension with others.  Peacemaking embodies them all.

What does it mean to be a peacemaker?

The absence of peace on earth begins with sin and its consequences. In response to Satan’s temptation of Adam and Eve, God curses him with these words:

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Gen 3:15 ESV)

The first example of peacemaking in scripture follows shortly thereafter and demonstrates God at work. We read:

“So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The LORD said to Cain, Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” (Gen 4:5-7 ESV)

God sees Cain angry at his brother, Abel, and intervenes to reconcile them. God cautions Cain to get a handle on his own desires. In other words, Abel is not the problem. Cain ignores God; projects his anger on his brother; and kills him. Cain becomes an object of pity because he can neither control his emotions nor his behavior. Jesus himself uses this illustration later in the Sermon on the Mount where he links anger and murder (Matt 5:21-26).

Through this example in Genesis, we see God himself modeling peacemaking through self-control, advising how to avoid sin, and being available to help others. Notice how God’s intervention deals with the three sources of tension here: within ourselves, with God, and with other people! Peacemaking is according seen as a divine attribute and messianic title (Isaiah 9:6-7) which utilizes each of the three dimensions of spirituality. Peacemaking clearly embodies the Hebrew concept of shalom which encompasses each of these dimensions [1].

Shalom (שָׁלוֹם) means “completeness, soundness, welfare, peace” (BDB 10002). The Greek word for shalom (εἰρήνη) has similar scope, but focuses more often on “concord, peace, harmony” (BDAG 2285). The English word, peace, is almost exclusively focused on the absence of war and needs to be modified to encompass shalom [2].

The Apostle Matthew understands the different aspects of shalom in Jesus’ teaching. Two are found in chapter 10 of his Gospel:

“And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.” (Matt. 10:13 ESV)

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matt. 10:34 ESV)

Verse 13 builds on the Hebrew custom of saying both hello and goodbye with the word, shalom—if your hello does not stick, then take it with you when you leave! Verse 34 clearly focuses on the more political interpretation of shalom—peace. Peacemaking can be a positive or a negative attribute depending on the object [3]. Both were important in the Roman-occupied Palestine of the first century. Still, it is the Apostle John that most clearly captures the tension in shalom when he writes:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27 ESV)

World peace in the first century meant Pax Romana which promised tranquility but delivered a brutal occupation.

Clearly, Jesus sees shalom and its embodiment, peacemaking, as transformative. In spite of the brutality of Roman occupation, Jesus commands them:

“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt. 5:44-48 ESV)

Here we see the parallel between enemy love and peacemaking through the link to the promise—”so that you may be sons [and daughters] of your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 5:45) which reads almost the same as: “sons [and daughters] of God” (Matt 5:9). The word, love (ἀγαπᾶτε), appears here in the imperative form. In order to treat an enemy as a brother, one needs to settle one’s heart, be faithful to God’s command, and practice shalom. Then and only then, will you be like your father in heaven and be able to transform your enemy into your friend.

Make peace—embody shalom.

 

[1] I am not the first to notice these three dimensions of peacemaking and relationship with shalom: “Peacemaking, therefore, is much more than a passive suffering to maintain peach or even ‘bridge-building’ or reconciling alienated parties. It is a demonstration of God’s love through Christ in all its profundity (John 3:16’ Rom 5:1 and 6-11). The peacemakers of 5:9 refers to those who, experiencing the shalom of God, become his agents establishing his peace in the world (Shcniewind, Matthaus 48).” Guelich (1982, 92).

[2] For example, we might talk about inner peace or peace and well-being, but peace itself is too narrow to compare with shalom.

[3] What is the object of the peace? Justice, wholeness, or maintenance of privilege? (Neyrey 1998, 184)

REFERENCES

BibleWorks. 2011. Norfolk, VA: BibleWorks, LLC. <BibleWorks v.9>.

Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius (BDB). 1905. Hebrew-English Lexicon, unabridged. (BibleWorks)

Guelich, Robert. 1982. The Sermon on the Mount: A Foundation for Understanding. Dallas: Word Publishing.

Neyrey, Jerome H. 1998. Honor and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

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