If you’ve ever tried to learn another language then you know, and maybe dread, the tall stack of vocabulary cards. Even if you only know one language, there were times you learned new words and their meanings: how to spell them, how to pronounce them, how to define them, how to use them in a sentence. Take for instance, the word shalom. This word may be new to you, or you may be very familiar with it. You may even think I’ve mistaken this word for slalom! And now you may be wondering if the two words are related since their spelling is so similar! What begins as a fairly simple process with one-word definitions, can become convoluted very fast.
That’s where a resource like the Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament comes in handy. This resource provides you with everything you ever wanted to know about key words in the Old Testament, and much more! The scale of this reference work is unmatched in language studies. It is a sixteen-volume dictionary (the seventeenth is releasing soon) produced over forty years and containing nearly 10,000 pages in the print edition. Let’s use the word shalom to show you what this resource has to offer.
Shalom is a Hebrew word and is often translated in English with the word peace. We know there is some overlap in meaning between the English word peace and the Hebrew word shalom. Those involved in translating the original languages into another language want to convey the same meaning of the original so they use words that achieve that goal. But, for those who want to dig deeper and understand the range of meanings of the words in the original languages or the particular nuances of the original words, resources like the Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament are invaluable. Here’s how the beginning of the article for shalom looks in the Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament.
There are several ways to navigate to this article in the Olive Tree Bible app. Since the Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament is keyed to the Hebrew or Aramaic words of the Old Testament, it is best if you have a Strong’s tagged Bible, interlinear, or one of the original language texts. You can navigate to the particular word you want to look up from the table of contents but there’s a few more steps involved and you’ll have to know the Hebrew or Aramaic word. For our purposes, I’ll be using the ESV Strong’s.
Tap the word you want to look up. In the popup window, tap Lookup shalom and then tap the corresponding article from the Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament. That will bring you to the start of the article as shown above.
Once you’ve reached the article all you have to do is read. The initial paragraph shows you an outline of the article and you can tap any of those topics to jump to that specific section. If you want to read all the way through the article, then scroll all the way through. To you give you an idea of the amount of content you can expect from the Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, this article is a little over 5000 words. To contrast, the article in the new Baker Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words on shalom is almost 600 words and about the same in Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. So, we’re talking about ten times the amount of content than your average expository dictionary. Let’s take a look at some of this content.
Shalom – Etymology
Etymology is the study of where words come from, the form they take, and how they’re related to words in similar languages. We can see from the first sentence that shalom is found 237 times in the Old Testament. The basic form of the word, the root, is found in similar languages to biblical Hebrew. The article goes on to show these similar words in Ugaritic, Akkadian, Phoenician, Aramaic, Syriac, Arabic, etc.
The beauty of this type of information is that the work has already been done and it broadens the possible meanings of the word. The scholars that survey this information can come up with a generalized definition, the so-called semantic range of the word. This is the what the word could possibly mean depending on its form and context. The survey of the etymology of shalom tells us that it “is a comprehensive expression denoting all that the people of ancient Near East wish for as the substance of blessing,” a concept that “cannot be conveyed adequately by any single English word.”
The other two topics in this section of the article will show you how the translators of the LXX translated shalom into Greek and other related words in biblical Hebrew.
Shalom – Ancient Near East
The Ancient Near East section dives a little deeper into the cultures and languages surrounding and influencing biblical Hebrew. In what contexts does shalom appear?
Interestingly, there are three primary contexts in which these words appear: the so-called mythological accounts of pre-history, texts related to kingship, and texts describing ritualistic worship. In some of the texts describing the enthronement of the king, these “hymns praising the king speak repeatedly of the enthronement as ‘the dawn of an age of peace and well-being encompassing everything, both heaven and earth.’” Quite clearly, these texts would parallel what we find described as the messianic king and kingdom in the Hebrew Bible. This is where we’ll turn next.
Shalom – Old Testament
THE LAW & EARLY PROPHETS
There are six subtopics including in this section of the article on shalom. This is probably where most of our users will find the most value. Since we are studying Scripture, we want to know how the words of the Bible are used in the Bible. The subtopics follow the canonical development of the Bible, basically following the structure of the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings, followed by any Aramaic occurrences and proper names. A clear example of the latter is the association of shalom with shalem (cf. Gen. 14:18; Ps. 76:2), perhaps “an alias for Jerusalem.”
A rather interesting passage speaks of peace in the midst of an ongoing battle. In the account of David and Bathsheba, after Bathsheba conceived David orders Uriah back from the frontlines to Jerusalem. When Uriah arrived, David inquired about the troops and the ongoing battle. “When Uriah came to him, David asked how Joab was doing and how the people were doing and how the war was going” (2 Sam. 11:7). While the ESV doesn’t reflect this, David is asking about the “peace” of Joab, the people, and the battle. He’s asking, “How is the peace of war?” This is obviously an odd way of talking if we think peace is only the absence of war or conflict. How can a war be peaceful? So, the author of the TDOT article says this proves “how little shalom inherently means ‘peace’ (rather than ‘well-being’).”
THE LATTER PROPHETS
The Latter Prophets point to a future time of peace. This peace is “good news” (Isa. 52:7) and should be understood as a return from exile, the establishment of God’s kingdom in the Messiah, and consists of reconciliation with the Lord. The reign of the Davidic Son will be established (Isa. 9:6–7; cf. 2 Sam. 7:4–17).
One of the most surprising elements of peace in the Prophets is in Isaiah’s description of the suffering servant. Shalom is achieved through the vicarious and substitutionary suffering of the Servant of Yahweh. His suffering results in peace, the establishment of our salvation. The author states, “Here for the first time we encounter explicit reference to the vicarious suffering of the righteous. On the basis of v. 5a, the shalom accomplished by this suffering must include the forgiveness of sins and the annulment of their consequences.”
Micah speaks of the peace that will be brought about by the Davidic King. This King is the great Shepherd of the Sheep, that brings safety and security to the people of God; so much so that he is declared to be “their peace.” While we can’t discount the shalom that will be brought about by the King, Micah is saying more than that. The King himself is their peace. Considering how Paul adopts this language in Ephesians 2:11–22 to describe what Christ proclaimed, what Christ accomplished, and who Christ is, we have to see how peace, in its fullness, is an accurate description of the person and work of Jesus.
Shalom – Deutercanonical Literature
The Deutercanonical literature was mostly written in Greek so shalom is translated with the Greek word eirene. There is a lot of overlap in these occurrences with what we saw in the OT. The word means “well-being, health, good fortune, contentment, happiness, salvation, social harmony.” We find a surprising usage in the Wisdom of Solomon in reference to the righteous dead. They are spoken of as being “in peace,” a reference to their “happy existence after death.”
Shalom – Dead Sea Scrolls and Rabbinic Judaism
The broad range of meaning of shalom helps us see the need to broaden our understanding of peace. While the consistent use of peace in translating shalom helps us identify the use of shalom, there are other words that get at the heart of shalom in its various contexts. For example, in the Aaronic blessing, the blessing is for “Yahweh [to] lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace” (Num. 6:26). What does peace mean in this context? Is it the absence of conflict? Or a feeling of inner tranquility? Or a sense of well-being?
The peace spoken of in this priestly blessing to the entire community is comprehensive. The “substance and result of Yahweh’s favor.” The priest blesses the people so that they would know Yahweh’s favor, the favor of Yahweh looking down upon them as his people. This is an extensive and exhaustive peace, one that we would deem ultimately to be messianic and eschatological.
“And he shall be their peace.” -Micah 5:5
Learn More Today!
We need resources like this in order to understand the meaning of the inspired words of our Lord. While obviously not for everyone, this is a one-stop shop for teachers, preachers, students, and researchers of the Bible.
Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament (16 Vols
Leave a Reply