More than thirty years ago, at a site just south of Jerusalem, archaeologists unearthed two rolled-up pieces of pliable silver, about the size of a credit card. Delicately etched on each plaque were words drawn from the priestly blessing enshrined in Numbers 6:
The Lord bless and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and give you peace.
Dating to the late seventh century BC, these small silver plaques contain the earliest written citations of Scripture ever found. Perhaps they also bear witness to what must surely have been a primordial longing of our species — the desire for peace.
But what exactly is peace? When most of us think of peace, we think of an absence of conflict or the sense of tranquility we sometimes feel after a walk in the park or a day at the beach. But the Hebrew word shalom is far brawnier than the English word peace, encompassing these ideas and more. Shalom contains the idea of completeness. It is the sum of all the blessings God can bestow — healing, prosperity, soundness, well-being, good relationships, perfection. It is what happens when God shines his face on you, when he turns toward you in all his greatness and brings you good.
After the daily sacrifice, the Israelite priests would extend their hands to pray this blessing over the people. As the priests prayed, it became customary for them to leave an opening in their fingers and for the people to cover their heads with their prayer shawls. They did this to express their reverence, believing the shekinah (the cloud of God’s presence) was hovering over their heads and its light was streaming through the open fingers of the priests.
What a beautiful image of the kind of peace God has promised to those who love him. As you seek God for a greater measure of peace this year, ask him for his shalom. Today as you pray, bow down before the Lord in reverence, asking him to shine his face upon you and give you peace.