Shalom is a Hebrew word that means, in the simplest form, peace. But the meaning runs a lot deeper than that. I don’t speak Hebrew, but from my understanding, “shalom” carries the connotation of wholeness, completeness, rest, harmony.
Here were the Israelites, right in the middle of the wilderness, with hundreds of thousands of people. This wasn’t like, your neighborhood, this was like, a whole city getting up tomorrow and going to the Sahara desert and taking a hike.
These were people with opinions and ideas. While the majority had been slaves, some had been the underlings, and some had worked their way up in the slave-ranks, probably by mistreating their own people. And we can’t forget the Egyptians who left with them. We have no idea how many or what status they carried, but we can bet that suddenly being “one of the Israelites” out in the middle of nowhere was a pretty drastic change.
Regardless of your opinions about government, it’s pretty obvious that with a group that size, you need a leader (enter Moses, whom God is going to use to revamp their understanding of leadership) and you need… rules.
Yes. Those “books of the law” that everyone dreads when they start reading the Bible? Those, sometimes dreary and difficult to understand, passages are actually God’s gracious gift to the Israelite people. In the law that was given by God to Moses, the Israelites have the foundation of community.
And we have to remember something here. God had no desire for the Israelites to become just another nation. There were plenty of nations out there. He wasn’t just building another gated community (if so, they could have just integrated into Jericho!) What God desired was Shalom Community. Peace and wholeness and completeness.
I think it’s probably fair to say that all of us struggle with rules. Even though I’m a people-pleaser, I still get frustrated when I feel that I’m being pressured into things. It’s a natural fleshly reaction to authority. And I’ll be the first to admit that there was a time when I looked at the “God-of-the-Old-Covenant” and didn’t like him very much. He seemed a bit… well, mean. All those laws, many of which were punishable by death!
But let us not forget something vital here: the law was part of God’s shalom plan. His peace-plan. His wholeness-plan. His completeness-plan. There isn’t actually a “God-of- the-Old-Covenant” versus the “God-of-the-New-Covenant,” there is only the God-who-IS.
And what the law did is pretty obvious: It taught a broken society how live at peace with one another. It established rules for the physical, the relational, and for the spiritual.
This was completely different for the Hebrew people; for these hundreds of thousands of men and women who had lived under a tyrant’s rule for all their lives. They had never been at peace. But God, in His loving-kindness, chose to teach them.
So in the midst of their wilderness wanderings, He gave them the law. But He wove grace into the fabric of it. The Ten Commandments that we quote so often? They are actually part of eleven statements. We often forget the first one, the one that starts everything off with grace.
He said, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (Deuteronomy 5:6)
The law God gave would not be kept, and their failure would highlight the fact that while the Israelites had been freed from slavery in Egypt, they were still enslaved to their sinful natures.
But this God who miraculously freed them from slavery in Egypt? He would also miraculously free them from slavery to sin.
God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
Once Jesus came and set us free from this yoke of slavery, He would condense the law into two simple statements. Two earth-shaking commandments for shalom-community.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31)
Shalom-Community begins with loving God, which is acted out by loving others.
And the best place to learn shalom-community is in the wilderness where there is nothing and no one to tempt you away.
During the journey through my wilderness, God led my husband and me to Haiti where we worked at a mission. While we were there God sent me back to read the law. I opened my Bible and poured through Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy… all these books that I used to flip through hastily, looking for the good stories, I now read with rapt attention.
And it was there, in the midst of those books, that I found the peace, the shalom, that my heart was desperate for. Because it was through reading the law, with the understanding the New Covenant had given me, that I saw God’s heart. It bled right off the pages and into my life.
His peace-plan. His wholeness-plan. His completeness-plan. His shalom-plan.
God created us to live in shalom-community. Community with Him and community with others.
And the only way to learn shalom-community is to learn to love God well.
All of Him. His grace, most definitely, but also His justice, His mercy, His compassion, His wrath.
And the best way to learn to love God? The same way we learn to love anyone… by spending time with Him. Communicating. Sharing. Discussing.
He is the Lord that brought you up out of your sinful nature, who freed you from the house of slavery. And you shall have no other gods before Him.
I fail at it, you know. I forget to invite Him in, even now. Just like the Israelites, who walked away from the peace and wholeness that God offered them, and chose instead to mimic the world around them and destroy their nation, I often start mimicking the world around me and effectively destroy the shalom that God has implanted in my heart.
But while God allows us to make our own choices and therefore create our own consequences, He also “restores the years the locusts have eaten” in our lives. But repentance always comes before restoration.
And this isn’t an old lesson that I’ve learned, it’s a present lesson that I am learning.
In fact, I wrote this post last week, then lost it, and since that time my family has learned that everything we have been working toward for the past umpteen years is in jeopardy because of… well, as far as we can tell, because of some very bitter and self-righteous people. And the leverage they have against us? The fact that we loved the unlovable.
I’ll be honest, y’all. I was mad. Furious. I was ready to go start knocking on doors and giving a few people the rough edge of my tongue. In fact, at one point I was in my vehicle driving to the grocery store and had an entire imaginary conversation with a person, in which I swore about fifteen times… at the top of my lungs. And I hate swearing. I usually think it’s stupid and immature. But, well, I guess I have a few stupid and immature parts of my sinful nature still hanging around.
But when I arrived back home, with tears and snot running all over the place, and told my husband that I had vented, he looked at me in his Jesus-way (what else do you call complete compassion?) and said, “And when you finished, did you repent? Did you say, ‘God, take all this crap and give me love?’ Did you have a new imaginary conversation where you offered love and forgiveness to those who are persecuting you?”
Oh, oh, oh. This is what God asks, isn’t it? This is what He says. We must love the unlovable. Which includes those who misuse power, those who lie, those who claim to know Him but serve the enemy, those who have slandered your name, those who refuse to stand up for what is right, those who carry personal vendettas against you and your family, those who try to feed you to the lions.
I had a lot of repenting to do. A lot of tearing apart of my sinful nature that was trying to enslave me again. Oh, God, forgive me.
We have to do war, we have to fight… there are armies of people coming against my family and there is no choice in that matter, but we don’t have to do it their way. We know a better way. We know shalom-community. We know peace and wholeness and completeness. We serve the God who authored it.
And it begins with inviting Him in. Turning from the sin-that-enslaves and grabbing on, with both hands, to the God-who-redeems. Our innocence in this situation is not a license to pour blood-thirsty anger onto those who are raising their weapons against us, but rather, this is our chance to put the Bible we believe on display.
I’ve spent a lot of time in prayer over the past few days, and I will continue over the weeks and months to come. And I’m not talking the, “Hey, God, I was thinking…” kind of prayer. I’m talking the screaming, crying, moaning, prophecying, claiming, denouncing-the-enemy, interceding, tongues-speaking kind. Because this is the kind of war that God calls us to. This is the battle-cry that precedes the lion’s mouths being shut tight, the fourth man in the fire, the chains falling off, the God-of-Angel-Armies destroying the enemy while the men and women of God hold up the arms of Moses. It’s where the power to love God and love our neighbor (even the bitter, self-righteous, out-to-destroy you one) comes from.
And this type of prayer? It always includes repentance. As painful and difficult as it is, repentance precedes restoration.
And repentance? It is the act of pushing out sin and inviting God in. The God who fights for His people. The God who delivers His people. The God-who-IS.
Let’s invite Him in, shall we?
Lessons From The Wilderness part one: HOW TO LEARN TO TRUST GOD part two: HOW TO LEARN SERVANT LEADERSHIP part three: HOW TO LEARN WORSHIP