The primary meaning of the word is "prosperity," "health" (Jer. xxix. 7; Job xv. 21 [A. V. "prosperity"]; Isa. xlviii. 18; Ps. cxxii. 6; Abot iii. 2). It is used in salutations, as when Jacob asked the shepherds concerning Laban (Gen. xxix. 6), or when Joseph inquired of his brethren regarding his father (Gen. xliii. 27, Hebr.; comp. II Kings iv. 26). Later, in Hebrew, as in Aramaic and Arabic, "Peace unto you" became a regular form of salutation.
The term is used also to denote friendship: "Even good friends, in whom I have trusted [lit. "men of my peace"], who have eaten my bread, lift up the heel against me" (Ps. xli. 9; comp. Isa. liv. 10; Jer. xvi. 5, xx. 10).
The second distinct meaning of the term is "peace" as opposed to "war" (Eccl. iii. 8; et al.). It signifies also peace of mind and heart as opposed to the unrest and dissatisfaction caused by evil (Isa. xxxii. 17, xlviii. 22). The love of peace is inculcated as a virtue. The covenant of peace is, therefore, most highly esteemed. "Love the truth and peace" (Zech. viii. 19; comp. ib. 16; Ps. cxxxiii. 1; Abot i. 12). Peace is one of those blessings which God bestows upon man, for He is the creator of peace: "I make peace, and create evil" (Isa. xlv.7; comp. ib. lvii. 19; Gen. xv. 15; Ps. xxix. 11, cxlvii. 14).In Messianic Conception.
Among the blessings that Israel looks forward to in Messianic times the blessing of peace stands forth most prominently. Israel has so often felt the strong arm of the conqueror that peace and security seemed most desirable. The Prophets went still further; they longed for universal peace, for that peace which should unite all men and pervade the whole universe. Thus Isaiah pictures the Messianic time as a period in which all men will walk in the path of God; when He will judge between the nations and peoples, and war will be no longer known (ii. 2-4). Micah goes still further; every one shall enjoy peace and prosperity without any interference whatever (iv. 4). In Isaiah (xi. 6-9) the universal peace is to include also all beasts of the field. "Prince of Peace" is a designation for the anointed (Isa. ix. 6, comp. lx. 17, lxvi. 12; Zech. ix. 10). In the Apocrypha the blessing of peace finds repeated expression, especially in Ecclesiasticus (see xxviii. 13, l. 23). In Ecclus. (Sirach) xxv., among the things that are beautiful are enumerated the unity of brethren, and the "woman and her husband that walk together in agreement."—In Rabbinical Literature:
Peace is glorified as one of the greatest boons and blessings that man may possess. "For the sake of peace" becomes the guiding principle in the relation between Jew and Gentile. The claim of the non-Jew upon the charity of the Jew is as imperative as is that of the latter's coreligionist (comp. Giṭ. 59b, 61a). "For the sake of peace, truth may be sacrificed" (Yeb. 65b). "No vessel but peace can hold blessing" ('Uḳ. 83b). It is even said, "The whole Torah exists only for the sake of peace" (Giṭ. 59b). "By three things is the world preserved: by truth, judgment, and peace" (Abot i. 18). Hillel said, "Love peace and pursue peace" (Abot i. 12).
Among other sayings relating to peace may be cited the following: "Peacemaking, like charity, profits in both worlds" (Peah i. 1). "The name of God is 'Peace'" ("Pereḳ ha-Shalom"; Shab. 10b). "Great is peace, for the priestly benediction closeth with peace" (Sifre, Num. vi. 26). "Be beforehand in the salutation of peace to all men" (Ber. 17a). "Who makes peace in his own house to him is as much merit as if he had made peace in Israel" (Ab. R. N. xxviii. 43a). "If the Israelites were to practise idolatry, and peace prevailed among them at the same time, God would say, 'I can not exercise authority against them in anger, because peace is among them'" (Gen. R. xxxviii. 6).
- Delitzsch, New Commentary on Genesis, ii. 319;
- Lazarus, Die Ethik des Judenthums;
- Ehrentheil, Der Geist des Talmud, pp. 151 et seq.;
- Taylor, Sayings of the Jewish Fathers, p. 26.