I will give you your rains in their season, and the land shall yield its produce, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. Your threshing shall overtake the vintage, and the vintage shall overtake the sowing; you shall eat your bread to the full, and live securely in your land. And I will grant peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and no one shall make you afraid; I will remove dangerous animals from the land, and no sword shall go through your land. (Leviticus 26:4-6)
For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. (Ephesians 2:14)
The central vision of world history in the Bible is that all of creation is one, every creature in community with every other, living in harmony and security toward the joy and well-being of every other creature. In the community of faith in Israel, this vision is expressed in the affirmation that Abraham is father of all Israel and every person is his child. (See Genesis 15:5; Isaiah 41:8; 51:2.) Israel has a vision of all people drawn into community around the will of its God. (Isaiah 2:2-4) In the New Testament, the church has a parallel vision of all persons being drawn under the lordship and fellowship of Jesus, (Matthew 28:16-20); John 12:32), and therefore into a single community, (Acts 2:1-11). As if those visions were not sweeping enough, the most staggering expression of the vision is that all persons are children of a single family, members of a single tribe, heirs of a single hope, and bearers of a single destiny, namely, the care and management of all God’s creation.
That persistent vision of joy, well-being, harmony, and prosperity is not captured in any single word or idea in the Bible; a cluster of words is required to express its many dimensions and subtle nuances: love, loyalty, truth, grace, salvation, justice, blessing, righteousness. But the term that in recent discussions has been used to summarize that controlling vision is shalom. Both in such discussion and in the Bible itself, it bears tremendous freight – the freight of a dream of God that resists all our tendencies to division, hostility, fear, drivenness, and misery.
Shalom is the substance of the biblical vision of one community embracing all creation. It refers to all those resources and factors that make communal harmony joyous and effective. Ezekiel in a visionary passage expresses its meaning:
I will make with them a covenant of shalom and banish wild beasts from the land, so that they may dwell securely in the wilderness and sleep in the woods. And I will make them and the places round about my hill a blessing; and I will send down the showers in their season; they shall be showers of blessing. And the trees of the field shall yield their fruit, and the earth shall yield its increase, and they shall be secure in their land. They shall no more be a prey to the nations, nor shall the beasts of the land devour them; they shall dwell securely, and none shall make them afraid. And I will provide for them plantations of shalom. (Ezekiel 34:25-29a, author’s translation)
The origin and the destiny of God’s people are to be on the road of shalom, which is to live out of joyous memories and toward greater anticipations.
This passage from Ezekiel and the one from Leviticus quoted at the beginning of the chapter show shalom in all its power. It is well-being that exists in the very midst of threats – from sword and drought and wild animals. It is well-being of a material, physical, historical kind, not idyllic “pie in the sky,” but “salvation” in the midst of trees and crops and enemies – in the very places where people always have to cope with anxiety, to struggle for survival, and to deal with temptation. It is well-being of a very personal kind – the address in Leviticus 26 is to a single person, but it is also deliberately corporate. If there is to be well-being, it will not be just for isolated, insulated individuals; it is, rather, security and prosperity granted to a whole community – young and old, rich and poor, powerful and dependent. Always we are all in it together. Together we stand before God’s blessings and together we receive the gift of life, if we receive it at all. Shalom comes only to the inclusive, embracing community that excludes none.
The vision of wholeness, which is the supreme will of the biblical God, is the outgrowth of a covenant of shalom, (see Ezekiel 34:25), in which persons are bound not only to God but to one another in a caring, sharing, rejoicing community with none to make them afraid.