Honour and Shame ii – Eden and Exodus

22 09 2010

In this second of four posts I intend to briefly explore two passages of Scripture that address the particular notions of honour and shame, showing how the Gospel could be communicated from each example. It’s a fairly arbitrary selection and there are, of course, many more I could add…

The Fall

‘The man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed […] Then the eyes of both were opened and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths […] And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.’ (Genesis 2:25, 3:7, 21)

In God’s original creation, shame was non-existent; or at the very least, the things of which we are now ashamed bore no stigma. Right at the beginning of history we see a story that shows a number of key elements of the gospel, namely:

  • We were created to be without shame, in perfect relationship with one another and with the Lord (2:25)
  • Sin leads to shame (3:7)
  • Man tries to cover his shame through his own efforts (3:7)
  • Shame leads to fear, not only of what others think, but what God thinks (3:10)
  • The result of man’s actions is a curse of enmity (3:15, 16), pain in childbirth (3:16), a curse on the earth (3:18), painful work (3:19), physical death (3:19), loss of eternal life (3:22) and, crucially, banishment from God’s presence (3:24)
  • God took an active role in covering our shamefulness and restoring dignity to us (3:21) probably through an act of sacrifice.

Thus in the story of the fall we have a basic structure for explaining how sin affects relationships, creating a sense of shame that results in banishment, and how God Himself offers a way of covering our shame and restoring our dignity.

The Exodus

‘The Egyptians set taskmasters over [The Israelites] to afflict them with heavy burdens […] they ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves and made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick, and in all kinds of work in the field. In all their work they ruthlessly made them work as slaves.’ (Exodus 1:11, 13-14)

The Exodus story depicts a people who are removed from their homeland and reduced to the shameful position of waiting on their ruthless Egyptian captors. Slavery is a shameful thing, and being oppressed and unable to do anything about it would be looked down on in honour/shame cultures (as it would in most cultures, I imagine.) Yet the Exodus story paints a picture of a God who:

  • Cares about His people, and doesn’t abandon them because He is ashamed of their degraded state
  • Acts to bring an end to shame, when the Israelites could do nothing by their own strength to free themselves
  • When God brings Israel out of exile, he doesn’t merely bring them to a neutral position, but promises to bless them with an honourable status in a fertile land flowing with milk and honey

So although it takes a step of humility for someone in an honour/shame culture to recognise that they are unable to do anything to remedy their shameful state, and that they are indeed in need of rescue, the Exodus narrative gives a good structure for showing how God is not ashamed of His people enough to give them up, but instead gets involved to rescue and restore them.


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