I will behave myself wisely in a perfect way. O when wilt thou come unto me? I will walk within my house with a perfect heart.
Psalms 101: 2
Today: another installment from Bible nerd.
In a post last year, I mentioned the versatility of the Hebrew word “shalom.” As I study more, I continue to be fascinated at the richness and complexity of its meaning. It really has no English equivalent that does it justice.
The Hebrew root word slm has to do with “completeness.”
The noun “shalom” signifies a harmonious properly-functioning completeness. We might say that “shalom” means not peace, but “well being.” It means things as they ought to be. I could go on for several paragraphs and never capture it in English words, but hopefully y’all get the drift by now.
Thus, in Hebrew to pay a debt is to shillem it. When a debt is unpaid, something is incomplete, unharmonious, disorderly. Things are not as they should be. To shillem a debt is to settle it, to pacify it, to bring things into order. We might say in English, the debt is “satisfied.” When the debt is paid, completeness returns. Shalom occurs.
The Bible often uses the adjective “shalem” to describe a person’s heart. “Leb shalem” is often translated in English, “perfect heart.” To understand that, we must first understand what “heart” connotes in Hebrew. In English we identify the heart with the center of emotion and, for example, the source of compassion. But in Hebrew it is the liver that has those connotations (think “from the gut”). In Hebrew the “heart” is the center of a person’s complete being, not just their emotional state. Thus, while the Old Testament says (in Hebrew) to love God with all your “heart, soul and strength,” the Greek of the New Testament renders it “heart, soul, mind and strength,” to pick up that additional connotation.
So leb shalem, perfect heart, doesn’t relate to purely sentiment or feelings, nor does it relate to “perfection” in the sense we use that word in English. Rather it means something like, “the completeness of your total being.” Essentially, to have a “perfect heart” means having God and the ways of God first in our lives.
Then the people rejoiced, for that they offered willingly, because with perfect heart they offered willingly to the LORD.