The question of how to define honor (or glory) and shame is difficult. They can mean many different things in different contexts. We can speak of the glory or honor of men (Psalm 4:2) or the glory of God (Psalm 24:10). Glory or honor is something that can be ascribed (Psalm 29:2) or something given (Psalm 84).
The main Hebrew word translated as glory or honor has at its root the meaning of “heavy”. This idea of something being heavy carries with it a sense of weightiness and thus worthiness. Most clearly this is seen in the depictions of God and his glory. For example, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1). When we see the heavens we see the masterful work of a great Creator and therefore we see that this Creator is worthy of glory and honor.
When we read of the glory of man we see that this glory is not something that resides in him as it does in God. Rather it is given and it is a blessing. Psalm 8 is a good example of this, “You have made [man] a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor” (Psalm 8:5). The glory and honor of man is something that God gave when he created mankind.
Another very important aspect of honor is relationship within a community. David McIlroy says, “Honour is a relational concept. It is a way of maintaining a group’s reputation and identity.” There must be a recognition of honor by others for someone to truly be honored, meaning; someone cannot honor himself if no one joins him.
Shame, on the other hand, is more than just an absence of honor. It is both a feeling and a state of being. To be shamed is to be abased and dishonored, to be rejected from the community. To feel ashamed is to feel the pain and embarrassment of this disapproval and rejection. We feel the power of shame in Psalm 44. “You [God] have rejected us and disgraced us and have not gone out with our armies . . . You have made us a byword among the nations. . . All day long my disgrace is before me, and shame has covered my face at the sound of the taunter and reviler. . .” (Psalm 44:9, 14, 15-16).
In order to fully understand honor and shame, we must see that they are both experienced in relationship with others. This will be flushed out more in other posts, but we can already see it in the verses quoted. In Psalm 44 the psalmist feels the shame of being rejected by God, that is, he has been pushed away from God’s presence so that God is no longer going out with their armies (he is no longer acting for them). The king in Psalm 21 is given great honor in God’s presence, “[The king’s] glory is great through your salvation; splendor and majesty you bestow on him. For you make him most blessed forever; you make him glad with the joy of your presence” (Ps 21:5-6).
Being put to shame, whether by the community or by God, is being rejected and pushed away. Being honored is being received and welcomed; it is being lifted up into relationship.
David McIlroy, “Honour and Shame,” Cambridge Papers: Towards a Biblical Mind
14/2 (2005), 2.
Read the other posts in this series:
Part 1, “Introduction”
Part 2, “What Are Honor and Shame?”
Part 3, “The Honor of Man”
Part 4, “The Shame of Sin”
Part 5, “The Honor of the King (God’s Anointed One)”
Part 6, “Honor Comes through the Shaming of Your Enemies”
Part 7, “Honor, Shame and Salvation”
Part 8, “Honor through the Shame of the Messiah”
Part 9, “We Need More than a Messiah”
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