In English we struggle to convey the meaning of the beautiful Hebrew word shalom used in Jeremiah Chapter 29:11. Various bibles have used ‘peace’, ‘good’ ‘prosperity’, or ‘welfare’.
Jeremiah’s writing his letter to the exiles in Babylon to give them God’s message of encouragement. ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare’ (Jeremiah 29:4-7).
Many of these exiles wouldn’t live to see the return to the land of Israel, but they needed to understand there was a promise from God which would be fulfilled in the generations to come. ‘For thus says the LORD: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfil to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile’ (Jeremiah 29:10-14).
God’s people were in exile because of turning their back on God, but they could still choose to repent and come back into close relationship with Him. His heart towards them had never stopped being full of compassion and love. He had compassion on all their frailties, wrongdoing and mistakes, and even on their rebellion against His authority. He longed to be a Father to them. His plans for them were for shalom not for evil.
Before His crucifixion, death and resurrection Jesus also spoke to His disciples of shalom, and said that it was possible for them to have it in the midst of trouble. This is shalom that comes from having a close personal relationship with Him as Lord and Saviour. ‘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). The Greek word eirene is used in the New Testament, but it follows the meaning of the Hebrew word ‘shalom’, and alternative English words such as ‘grace’, ‘righteousness’, ‘life’, or ‘blessing’ could have been chosen. I think of the phrase ‘fullness of life’, which Jesus said He came to bring to us (John 10:10). Jesus assures His disciples that they will be able to have ‘shalom’ even when they go through the worst times of suffering. ‘I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Prayer: Dear heavenly Father, we want to thank You for the promise to the exiles I Babylon so long ago. We know that Your heart towards them was full of love and compassion. You promised to bless them and give them Your shalom, right where they were, and that there was a hope for the future of things to come that would be far better. Thank You that, in Your Son Jesus, we too belong to You and can be certain that You have blessings in store for our future, and a shalom in the midst of any present trouble. Amen.
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