I think that when we hear Jesus talked about as “Prince of Peace” or “Our Peace,” we usually think of Him making strife cease. We picture Him setting up a world without war and fixing the strife between human beings and God. Those are definitely part of what’s going on, but there’s also a whole lot more. We can dive deeper into what “peace” means — and gain a deeper understanding of who Jesus is and what He is doing — by studying into the Hebrew word shalom.
Shalom is a key Biblical concept. It occurs over 250 timed in the Old Testament, and that’s not counting related words like shalem. It’s most often translated “peace,” though the King James Version uses about 30 different English words. Those include prosperity (Ps. 35:27), rest (Ps. 38:3), safety (Is. 41:3), using shalom as a salutation or greeting (Judg. 18:15; 1 Sam. 25:5), and in reference to someone’s welfare (Gen. 29:6; Ex. 18:7).
The Hebrew word shalom comes from the root verb shalem, which means “completeness, wholeness, harmony, fulfillment.” That’s all included in shalom as well, along with the English meaning of “peace” as an absence of strife. Also wrapped up in this concept is the implicit “idea of unimpaired relationships with others and fulfillment of one’s undertakings (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, by Harris, Archer, and Waltke, entry 2401a). It’s a much more nuanced word than we give it credit for in English translations.
Restitution and Healing
Shalom is wholeness — nothing missing, nothing broken. It is a state that humans don’t end up in naturally. God created us perfect, but we’re now fallen people living in a fallen world. Peace is an elusive thing.
There is no soundness in my flesh because of your indignation, neither is there any shalom in my bones because of my sin. (Ps. 38:3, Hebrew word added, all quotes from WEB translation)
Sin is something we’re all guilty of, and it’s something that causes brokenness. We’re not whole or complete, and the covenants that people of the past made with God are broken by humanity’s sin. If you want to fix something that’s broken, missing, or stolen, God requires restitution (shalem in Hebrew) in order to satisfy the requirements of law (Ex. 22:3, 5-6, 12, 14). In order to fix what is wrong with us, the process of restitution required something on a greater level than animal sacrifice or paying some money.