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The Broken Vav

Apr 04, 2011

The common Hebrew greeting is shalom, which literally means "peace." Jesus greeted His disciples in this manner in Luke 24:36, "peace be unto you." The root word is shalam, which means "a covenant of peace, to be at peace."

This root word, shalam, is used a number of times in Exodus 22, where we see the laws of restitution.

Ex. 22:3, "he shall surely make restitution" (shalam)
Ex. 22:5, "he shall make restitution" (shalam)
Ex. 22:6, "he shall surely make restitution" (shalam)
Ex. 22:12, "he shall make restitution to its owner" (shalam)

The idea being conveyed is that restitution restored the peace between neighbors. Theft damages that relationship and causes conflict between the two parties. Restitution restores peace, because the victim receives satisfactory compensation for his losses. Then when they greet each other, they can truly say, "shalom."

When Jesus died on the cross, He paid the full penalty for the sin of the world (John 3:16; 1 John 2:2). Paul wrote in Col. 1:20, "and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross." Restitution payment for sin has restored the covenant of peace between God and the world.

Shalam is spelled with three Hebrew letters:

shin, "teeth" (to consume or devour)
lamed, "ox goad" (authority)
mem, "water" (chaos)

It literally means "to consume the authority of chaos." That is how peace is made. Sin creates chaos, and then chaos rules until restitution restores peace. Carnal man is pictured in Isaiah 57:20-21,

(20) But the wicked are like the tossing sea, for it cannot be quiet; and its waters toss up refuse and mud. (21) "There is no peace [shalom]," says my God, "for the wicked."

In Revelation 17:15, we read,

"The waters which you saw where the harlot sits, are peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues."

The Hebrew letter mem literally means "water," but it signifies people and nations who are yet in a state of chaos, not having made peace with God. When the authority of such chaos is consumed, peace reigns, for that is the meaning of shalom and shalam.

In Mark 4:39 Jesus calmed the stormy sea by saying to it, "Peace, be still." The chaos of the water was overcome by the Prince of Peace. This miracle was more than a demonstration of His power over nature. It symbolically represented His power to bring peace to the nations, those who have been in a state of unrest, enmity, and chaos as the result of sin.

In Numbers 25:12-13 God promised Phinehas,

(12) Therefore say, "Behold, I give him My covenant of peace [shalom]; (13) and it shall be for him and his descendants after him, a covenant of a perpetual [olam, "indefinite period of time"] priesthood, because he was jealous for his God, and made atonement for the sons of Israel."

The word shalom in verse 12 above is unusual, because in the original Hebrew text the vav is broken. You can see it if you have an interlinear Hebrew text. Shalom is spelled the same as shalam, except that there is a vav in it:


The vav literally means "nail or peg." It is also used as a conjunction and when it is used as a word, it is often translated "and." It is a connector, like a nail or peg that joins two objects together.

It is in the middle of shalom to add emphasis to the fact that when restitution is made, two enemies, who were formerly at war are now joined in a covenant. In this case, the vav represents a covenant, or the bond of peace. Because Phinehas restored the lawful order in his day, God made a covenant of peace with him indefinitely. But because the vav is actually written as a broken letter in the Hebrew text, we ought to take special notice of its prophetic meaning.

The broken vav indicates a broken covenant of peace. It prophesied of a situation that would occur three centuries later with his descendants. Eli was directly descended from Phinehas, and because his sons violated the covenant, the "covenant of peace" was broken. 1 Sam. 2 says,

(27) Then a man of God came to Eli and said to him, "Thus says the Lord, Did I not indeed reveal Myself to the house of your father when they were in Egypt in bondage to Pharaoh's house? (28) And did I not choose them from all the tribes of Israel to be My priests? . . . (29) Why do you kick at My sacrifice and at My offering which I have commanded in My dwelling, and honor your sons above Me? . . . (30) Therefore, the Lord God of Israel declares, I did indeed say that your house and the house of your father should walk before Me forever[olam] ; but now the Lord declares, Far be it from Me--for those who honor Me I will honor, and those who despise Me will be lightly esteemed."

God then told Eli that He would raise up "a faithful priest who will do according to what is in My heart and in My soul" (1 Sam. 2:35). In the short-term fulfillment, a new dynasty of priests replaced that of Phinehas in the days of Solomon (1 Kings 2:27). It was the line of Zadok (1 Kings 2:35).

In a broader perspective, Jesus Christ was the faithful high priest. He was of the order of Melchizedek, and His priesthood replaced that of Aaron itself.

Both were replaced because of a broken covenant of peace, first Eli and later Aaron. Aaron's line was replaced for rejecting Christ Himself in the story of the New Testament.

It is strange that such a tiny detail of a broken vav in Num. 25:12 could carry such great prophetic significance. The replacement of Phinehas' dynasty transferred the priesthood to Zadok, "righteousness," and this in turn prophesied of the Melchi-ZADOK order that was to replace the entire Old Testament priesthood. It was prophesied in Ezekiel 44 as well, where we find the idolatrous priests being judged and replaced by "the sons of Zadok" (44:15).

This speaks prophetically of the Melchizedek Order, which would have direct access to the temple in heaven to minister to God Himself. The "idolatrous priests" were said to be limited to the outer court (flesh realm) and restricted from ministering to God Himself in the temple.

In other words, the promise given to Phinehas in Num. 25:12-13 was not unconditional, nor was it "forever," as men usually translate the word olam. The word means "indefinitely," not "infinite time." This is the only way that God could depose the line of Phinehas without breaking His word.

The same word is used of the Old Covenant, the sacrifices, the inheritance in the land of Canaan, and many other things. None of these things were truly "forever," but only an indefinite amount of time. Breaking the covenant of peace was grounds to end that Old Covenant and to replace it with the New Covenant.

For further information about this, see the book of Hebrews, or read my commentary on Hebrews, posted online.

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Category: Teachings

Dr. Stephen Jones

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