Honored are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called sons of God.
By Stephen W. Hiemstra
The Garden of Eden begins as a picture of God’s shalom whose harmony was shattered when Satan tempted Adam and Eve to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. When Adam and Eve responded by eating from the tree, they displayed more trust in Satan than in God. This broken trust shattered their intimate relationship with God and God cursed Satan saying:
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)
God then expelled Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden (Gen 3:24). Adam and Eve’s sin in Eden thus originated our tension with God—“enmity” sounds like a 50-cent word for tension.
The need for peacemaking followed in the first post-Eden generation, when 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)
God saw Cain angry at his brother, Abel, and counseled Cain to avoid sin by controlling his anger (Gen 4:6–7). Unable to control his anger, Cain ignored God’s counsel and murdered Abel, displaying tension within himself, with God and with his brother. Jesus recounts this story in the Sermon on the Mount where he links anger with murder (Matt 5:21–26).
In the story of Cain and Abel, God models peacemaking, a divine attribute and messianic title (Isa 9:6–7) by advising self-control, avoiding sin, and helping others. In doing so, God embodies shalom (Guelich 1982, 92). The Hebrew word, shalom, means “completeness, soundness, welfare, peace” (BDB 10002). The Greek word for shalom has a similar scope, but more often it focuses on “concord, peace, harmony” (BDAG 2285). The English word, “peace”, is almost exclusively focused on the absence of war and requires extension to encompass shalom, which mitigates all three dimensions of tension. For example, we might talk about inner peace or peace and well-being, but peace itself is too narrow to compare with shalom.
Peacemaking is a major motif in the Sermon on the Mount. Peacemaking anticipates the next two Beatitudes and provides a context for later teaching on love, where Jesus commands:
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)
Note the parallel here between loving your enemy and peacemaking and that God models both activities. Other applications of shalom appear in Jesus’ teaching, as found in Matthew 10:
1. 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)
2. 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)
In Hebrew, “shalom” is used to say both hello and goodbye, but the idea of taking it with you suggests something more like hospitality. Divine hospitality, the idea of peace on earth, suggests a more political interpretation—peace as a the absence of conflict among nations—where peacemaking can be positive or negative depending on its object. In first century Israel, for example, Pax Romana (translated as Roman peace) promised tranquility but delivered via a brutal occupation, not what we normally associate with peace. The key is to ask what is the object of the peace: justice, wholeness, or maintenance of privilege? (Neyrey 1998, 184)
The context of peacemaking is important in understanding the transformational potential of tension. Listen for the tension in Jesus’ words to the disciples:
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)
Jesus comforted to his disciples following his crucifixion in the midst of fear and uncertainty by offering them shalom. But, he went even further. In Christ’s atoning death on the cross, he defeated sin and offered us peace with God.
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.
Other ways to engage online:
Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net
Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com