With Christmas so recently behind us, the phrase “Prince of Peace” may still echo in your mind. Its best-known occurrence is in the Old Testament book of Isaiah, the prophet. The full verse is: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” (KJV). We hear it often at Christmastime. Although it was written at least 700 years before Christ, Christians generally take it as a prophesy of Jesus’ birth. In fact, the phrase “Prince of Peace” is so closely identified with Christ that there are several Christian churches named Prince of Peace.
Yet most of us have little idea of the full meaning of the word “peace” as used by Isaiah. Isaiah wrote in Hebrew, and the word he chose is shalom, translated into English as “peace.” We typically think of peace in a very simplistic sense: the opposite of war. But in the Hebrew, it’s a much fuller word with several more meanings than the mere absence of conflict. “Shalom” implies a wholeness, a kind of attainment of natural perfection.
In contemporary political terms, we often recall Ronald Reagan’s description of his foreign policy as “peace through strength.” That idea – that peace is an active rather than a passive concept – goes all the way back to George Washington. Here’s what Washington said in his 1793 State of the Union address: “If we desire to secure peace … it must be known that we are at all times ready for war.” As a former General, Washington knew that being ready for war requires both ready warriors and ready weapons of war.
Is the shalom of Isaiah the active “peace through strength” of Ronald Reagan, or is it the more passive “Give peace a chance” of the flower children and the advocates of unilateral disarmament? Many Christian worship services conclude with some variation of what is known as the Aaronic Blessing as found in the book of Numbers: “The LORD bless you and keep you. The Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you. The LORD lift up His face upon you and give you SHALOM. In the name of Yeshua … the Prince of Peace.”
Did you know the original context of the Aaronic Blessing is ironic? The scholar and theologian Brenda Fawkes of Vancouver reminds us that “God told Aaron to bless Israel with peace while they were getting ready to go conquer the Promised Land. If peace means “the absence of war,” then this doesn’t make sense, Soon they would be destroying cities. The Aaronic Blessing is referring to an inner peace and completeness brought on by sharing in His countenance and His protection. That was the blessing that Israel needed! … So it should be for us as well.”
As we bid goodbye to the year 2021 and hope that the year 2022 is one of restoration of normalcy and the end of the COVID pandemic, let us pray a prayer of peace for our nation and the world – but let it be the peace of Isaiah, Aaron, Jesus and Ronald Reagan, a strong, powerful, muscular peace, and a return to wholeness.