by Wayne S. Walker
"In Salem also is His tabernacle, and His dwelling place in Zion" (Psalm 76:2). In 2008, my family moved to Salem, IL. In doing some research into the background of the community, I found that it was named for Salem, IN (the seat of Washington County, a city where we have visited a few times before), from which its founders came. Being a native of Ohio, I am familiar with the city of Salem in that state, having visited it on occasion. The capital city of Oregon is Salem. In fact, most states have a Salem somewhere within their boundaries. Of course, the best known "Salem" in our nation’s history is in Massachusetts, where the famous "witch trials" were held. Settled by the Puritans who came to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, its name undoubtedly was taken from the Bible.
In the Biblical Hebrew language, "Salem" comes from a term that means "peace" and is related to the modern Hebrew greeting "shalom." Salem was the name of the city where Melchizedek was king and priest (Genesis 14:18). It is generally believed that this same city was later occupied by the Canaanite tribe known as the Jebusites and was called Jebus (Joshua 15:16). Somehow, Jebus and Salem were connected and came out "Jerusalem" (1 Chronicles 11:4). David captured it and made it the capital of Israel. Josephus says that Jewish writers generally regarded Salem as a synonym of Jerusalem, and the Pictorial Bible Dictionary says that it is apparently so regarded in Psalm 76:2.
Another synonym of Jerusalem is "Zion," originally the name of one of the four hills upon which the city was built. The terms "Salem" and "Zion" were often used figuratively in the Old Testament to signify the nation of Israel generally as God’s chosen people among whom He dwelt spiritually. While the name "Salem" itself is not found in the New Testament, the fact is that Christians "…have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem…" (Hebrews 12:22). This refers to the Lord’s church, in which God dwells spiritually today. And we look forward to "the holy city, New Jerusalem" (Revelation 21:2). This refers to our eternal home in heaven, where God will dwell with His people forever.