Blessed Are The Peacemakers

In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5–7), Yeshua challenges his disciples in many areas of life. In his longest recorded sermon, he reveals the will of the Father in relationship to how the principles of Torah should be lived out.  This lengthy teaching begins with what has been labeled as the Beatitudes.  These are short, pithy sayings in which the Master praises a particular character trait or behavior and associates it with a reward or gives the result of such action.  Within these beatitudes, we hear the following expression,

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. 1

This oft-repeated maxim is used in various capacities with interpretations which run the gamut in regard to application.  Most frequently, however, we tend to think of “peacemakers” in terms of pacifism.  Therefore, a peace-maker is one who walks away from a quarrel or fight, or who closes his mouth rather than opening it.  But is this the most accurate definition of a peace-maker?  How are we to properly understand Yeshua’s expectation of his disciples being peace-makers?  What did he have in mind when he spoke these words?

The first thing we can do to better understand his original intent is to attempt to put his words back into their original Hebrew.  If we were to do so, this term in the words of our Master — “peacemakers” — would be rendered as עֹשֵי שָׁלוֹם (osei shalom), literally “makers/doers of peace.”  We find an almost identical expression used within the Siddur, the Jewish prayer book.  It’s most familiar context is within the Sh’monei Esrei (the “Eighteen”), otherwise known as the Amidah (the “Standing” prayer), the central prayer of all Jewish prayer services.  At the conclusion of this prayer, we say, “He Who makes peace in His heights, may He make peace for us and for all Israel. Now say, Amen.”  This concluding prayer begins with the phrase ,עֹשֶה שָׁלוֹם “He who makes peace,” which is only slightly different than the words of the Master.  It is a not only a request for the Holy One to grant peace to all the children of Israel, but a gesture of protocol which acts as a reminder that the LORD is the Sovereign Who rules over the entire world and Who alone has power to grant peace.

There is another connection, however, which is more significant to our understanding of the responsibility Yeshua places upon us by way of being peacemakers.  In order to make this connection, however, we must look beyond a rigid, literal translation of the Master’s words.  In his Hebrew translation of the New Testament, Franz Delitzsch translates Matthew 5:9 as follows:

אַשְׁרֵי רֹדְפֵי שָׁלוֹם כִּי־בְניֵ אֱלֹהִים יקִָּרֵא לָהֶם

In his translation, Delitzsch chose the phrase רֹדְפֵי שָׁלוֹם (rodfei shalom) to render the concept of “peace makers.”  It literally translates as “pursuers of peace” or those who “chase after peace.” Delitzsch could have chosen the more literal rendering which we previously examined, but chose to use the phrase rodfei shalom — “pursuers of peace” — instead.  Why did he do this?  His choice of words — in this case and numerous others — was intentional, as it is supposed to connect the informed reader with parallel or similar passages in Jewish literature. In this instance, the particular word choice would connect the reader to both the Psalms and a popular teaching in the Mishnah.

Psalm 34:11–14 says:

Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. What man is there who desires life and loves many days, that he may see good? Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit. Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.

In this passage we see a connection with a pursuing of peace.  The expression in Hebrew is בַּקֵּשׁ שָׁלוֹם ורְָדְפֵהוּ (baqeish shalom v’radfeihu).  In both the Hebrew and English of this expression we hear the connection to the root “pursue” (רדף) and the word “peace” (שלום).  From this passage, we learn practical ways in which we can “seek peace and pursue it.”  This is demonstrated through guarding the tongue, rejecting temptation and doing what is right in the eyes of the Holy One.  This, however, is still a little ambiguous.  Therefore, let us now turn our attention to the Mishnah.

In tractate Avot, we find a saying by the great Rabbi Hillel which will give us great insights into this passage. Hillel is recorded to have taught,

Be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving your fellow creatures and bringing them close to the Torah. (m.Avot 1:12)

In this text we find the directive to follow in the footsteps of Aaron and be peacemakers.  But we are told nothing of how he did this.  Does this bring us any closer to understanding our text?  We are still left asking the question of how Aaron loved and pursued peace.  We don’t really find any examples of this in the Torah, outside of his role as Kohen Gadol (High Priest), making peace between God and man through his service in the sanctuary.  Although we have found a connection, we are none the better for its discovery.  We still need to determine why Aaron was known as a peacemaker, and how we may imitate him.

Fortunately, we have recorded for us in Jewish literature a tradition which tells us exactly how Aaron was able to make peace between one of his brothers and another.  We find this in a work called, Avot de Rebbe Natan, an alternate (and earlier) and expanded version of tractate Avot, which includes commentary on many of the mishnayot (sayings) within this tractate.  In this we learn the way Aaron was said to have made peace between a man and his fellow. It states:

So, too, when two men had quarreled with each other, Aaron would go and sit down with one of them and say to him: “My son, mark what thy fellow is saying! He beats his breast and tears his clothing, saying, ‘Woe unto me! how shall I lift my eyes and look upon my fellow!  I am ashamed before him, for I it is who treated him foully.’ “ He would sit with him until he had removed all rancor from his heart, and then Aaron would go and sit with the other one and say to him: “My son, mark what thy fellow is saying!  He beats his breast and tears his clothing, saying, ‘Woe unto me! how shall I lift my eyes and look upon my fellow!  I am ashamed before him, for I it is who treated him foully.’ “ He would sit with him until he had removed all rancor from his heart.  And when the two men met each other, they would embrace and kiss each other.  That is why (of Aaron’s death) it is said, They wept for Aaron thirty days, even all the house of Israel (Num. 20:29) 2

From this we gain a better understanding of what it means to be “disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving your fellow creatures and bringing them close to the Torah.”  According to this text, Aaron both knew how to make peace between one man and another.  But is this practical or even realistic for us today?  Everyone wants peace, but few are willing to pay the purchase price.  We live in an age of consumerism.  Mass production, tantalizing marketing and effortless credit have created a generation who is a slave to our impulses, aiding our impetuousness and undermining self-restraint and longterm security.  We are perfectly content with accumulating many years of painful debt for a moment of credit bliss.  When something breaks, it is easier to just purchase a new one on credit, than to scrape up the cash in order to fix the one we already own.

This mentality has directly affected our relationships with others.  When we are offended by another person, it is easier to discard them and acquire a new relationship than to fix the “old, outdated” one into which we have already invested.  Unfortunately, repairing the “old” relationship appears to be too costly and outweighs the payoff in the eyes of the consumer.  Thus we leave a trail of broken relationships and broken people in our wake.

This was not an option for Aaron.  He couldn’t even stand for two of his fellow Israelites to be at odds with one another.  Although this is not a complicated concept to grasp, it is a difficult one to implement.  It took Aaron getting involved, rather than merely praying for them.  It required him to be vulnerable to being the brunt of his brother’s anger.

Being a peacemaker should be inherent for disciples of the Sar Shalom (Prince of Peace).  We should be the first to bring peace to others, rather than sitting by idly while strife manifests between brothers.  The Apostolic Writings are full of such instruction. In his epistles, the Apostle Paul speaks of making peace at length.  He encourages us to “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace,” (Ephesians 4:3).  In Romans 8:6 he also reminds us that “The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.”  He also tells us “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone,” (Romans 12:18).  He says we should “make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification,” (Rom 14:19).

James, the brother of the Master, sums things up by telling us, “Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness,” (James 3:18).  The seed we sow determines the harvest we reap.  Are we sowing a crop of peace, or watching the ground and expecting a harvest of righteousness to sprout forth from the unsown dust?  When harvest time approaches, what crop will we reap?  It’s not too late to begin planting a fresh crop of seed for the harvest… 

  • 1. Matthew 5:9
  • 2. Judah Goldin, The Fathers According to Rabbi Nathan, trans. Judah Goldin, Yale Judaica Series (Yale University Press, 1990-09-10), 64.