Abarim Publications' online Biblical Hebrew Dictionary
The general meaning of the graceful verb שלם (shalem) is that of wholeness, completeness or "unbrokenness" (and see for the opposite the verb רעע, ra'a). Our verb is used to characterize the uncut stones of the altar (Deuteronomy 27:6) and the temple (1 Kings 6:7). It tells of a "full" or perhaps "righteous" wage (Ruth 2:12), and the entirety of a population (Amos 1:6). It also tells of "full" and just weights, which are God's delight (Deuteronomy 25:15 and Proverbs 11:1), and of "whole" hearts devoted to the Lord (1 Kings 8:61). This verb may even denote the completeness of sin (Genesis 15:16), and in some rare cases it may denote friendship (Jeremiah 20:10, Psalm 41:10).
In the Hebrew language it's quite simple to indicate not only a condition (like shalem), but also the means to get there (to "shalemize"). The usage of this shalemize form in Scriptures is quite revealing. Wholeness is achieved or restored most often by some kind of restitutory payment or covenant: God pays a man according to his work (Job 34:11), but the wicked borrows and does not pay back (Psalm 37:21). The owner of an accidentally killed ox is paid restitution (Exodus 21:36); oil is sold to pay off a debt (2 Kings 4:7); and the Gibeonites swindle Joshua into making a covenant with them (Joshua 10:1). Likewise, shalem is used when vows are to be paid to the Most High, or when days of mourning are to be completed (Isaiah 60:20), and ties in directly to the Messiah and his salvific work (Joel 2:25).
The derivatives of this verb are:
- The famous masculine noun שלום (shalom), meaning peace (Isaiah 32:17). Peace in the Bible doesn't just indicate a warless state, but rather a state of completeness and harmony or rather un-dividedness. It also covers completeness (Jeremiah 13:19), prosperity (Genesis 43:27), health and safety (Psalm 38:4).
- The masculine noun שלם (shelem) peace offering or a sacrifice for alliance or friendship (Amos 5:22, Exodus 24:5).
- The denominative verb שלם (shalam), meaning to be in a covenant of peace (Job 22:21, Isaiah 42:19).
- The adjective שלם (shalem), meaning perfect, whole, complete, safe (Genesis 15:16, 33:18, 34:21).
- The masculine noun שלם (shillem), meaning recompense (occurs only in Deuteronomy 32:35).
- The masculine noun שלמן (shalmon), meaning bribe or reward. This noun only occurs in plural and only in Isaiah 1:23.
- The masculine noun שלום (shillum) also spelled שלם (shillum), meaning recompense or reward (Isaiah 34:8, Micah 7:3).
- The feminine noun שלמה (shilluma), meaning reward (Psalm 91:8 only).
Peace and how to make it
Some of the nouns derived from this verb may be construed to literally mean "peace-maker," but that requires some additional considerations. Peace — defined as the absence of conflict or discord — may be achieved in several ways:
- By suppressing certain elements of society, particularly those elements that cause trouble to the ruling elite. That's not what this root means.
- By suppressing certain elements in people's personal mentality, convictions or behavior. That's also not what this root means.
- By achieving such a level of understanding of irreconcilable elements that these can be understood and joined in, as well as given the opportunity to derive their identity from, a unified theory or system of definition. This process requires no censoring and demonstrates all elements to be most intimately related to the identity of the whole. The key-word of this process is relationship. That's what this root means.
In Hebrew, peace-making means whole-making, and not warm-fuzzy-deny-your-concerns-and-stop-being-difficult-making. Hebrew peace-making requires the effortful acquisition of intimate knowledge of one's opponent, and since in Hebrew love-making is pretty much the same as knowing someone (the verb ידע, yada', means both to know and to have sex; it's this verb that's used in Genesis 4:1 to explain how Adam and Eve came up with Cain), the command to "love your enemy" (Matthew 5:44) has not a lick to do with placidly suffering abuse and trying to conjure up lofty feelings for the brute who's mistreating you, and everything with studying your enemy until you know enough about him to either appreciate his motives (and behave in such a compatible way that he stops assaulting you) or else blow him out of the water by being superior.
When Jesus says, "blessed are the peace-makers" (Matthew 5:9), he does not refer to those people who insist we should all assume a state of blissful indifference, but rather those people who grab the bull by the horns and stare deep into his eyes and pick his brain with an axe. Making peace starts with making a relationship with your enemy, and it results in getting to know your enemy (which in turn makes the chance excellent that at some point your enemy will stop being your enemy).
Mugs and donuts
Biblical peace-making is very rare in our world — critics have noted with some dismay that hallowed tools like social media make the rampant polarization of humanity only worse, and most modern religions, well, are so obsessed with their own image that they suck eggs at making peace — but in the ever-helpful field of mathematics exists a discipline called topology, which studies the kinship of spatial forms. It appears that you can make a donut into a coffee mug by just stretching and twisting it a bit, but without doing any ripping or gluing (because both the donut and the mug have only one hole: the center hole of the donut becomes the hole of the ear of the mug).
And that means that if you want to know if two forms are related and might, by some process, be turned into each other without essentially changing, all you have to do is count the holes (or in nerd-speak: to determine the geometric genus). Biblical peace-making does exactly that: it counts the holes (it determines the theometric genus) and shows if and how one theory or modus operandi can be turned into another, previously held incompatible version (like say, the mug of Islam into the donut of Christianity).
Evolutionists utilize a similar kinship-finding technique and call it homology — the disciple that demonstrates the structural correlation between body parts, such as a human hand (mug) and a whale's flipper (donut).
More is less and less is more
Physicists too are insatiable shalemists. Electricity and magnetism were once held to be two completely unrelated forces, until Maxwell came along and showed that they are just two sides of the same coin: since Maxwell, electricity (mug) and magnetism (donut) live happily ever after in a theory that describes the unified force of Electromagnetism. A while later, people figured out another elementary force by which the universe works, and which became known as the Weak Nuclear Force. Some intricate peace-making ensued, and the Weak Nuclear Force was shown to be one side of a coin of which Electromagnetism was the other side, namely the unified Electroweak Force.
The Electroweak Force was examined in relation to a third fundamental force, named the Strong Nuclear Force, and sure enough, they could be combined into the Strong-Electroweak Force. The fourth fundamental force of the universe is Gravity, and although many of science's best and brightest have tried to marry Gravity and the Strong-Electroweak Force into the Grand Unified Theory (properly abbreviated as Guth, which is really science's monotheistic deity, see our peace-making article on Islam that duly peeves all the right people). For a fun-filled introduction to the four forces of nature, read our article on the Standard Model of Elementary Particles.
But all these complications aside, a sure sign that a wisdom seeker is on the right track is that his theory is getting smaller and smaller whilst describing more and more. And adversely, if one's total library of theory gets bigger and bigger whilst covering less and less (due to doubt-casting commentaries on previous theories), one has surely missed an essential point and might as well take up roulette. Knowledge describes the notes; wisdom describes the symphony.
The verb שלם (shalem) denotes a unification that preserves the identity and qualities of the unified elements.