This month I want to deal with a subject that has been weighing on my heart as of late. That subject being honor and shame. In my upbringing, I was blessed to have a father who taught me that a man’s value was in him keeping his word. I saw my father whether rain sleet or snow do whatever necessary in order to keep his word. I would like to honor my father for teaching me this quality. He taught me by example and not just words alone. Thanks Dad for living what you said.
How does this work in the Kingdom. Well not only was my father being honorable in keeping his word but he was honoring the Almighty by his testimony (action) of keeping his word. This month I am not focusing on keeping our word. Yes we should keep our word. The Torah is very clear about vows and if we say something, then we need to fulfill it. I just started with that as an example. the concept of honor and shame must be understood from an Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) perspective. In our western culture, we don’t have an honor/shame society. We have a guilty/innocent culture.
For example, in times past if a family member did something dishonorable, this was looked upon as a shameful act that not only brought dishonor and disgrace to the person but to the family name also. Today in our western society if someone is ‘guilty’ of an act or does something dishonorable it is easy to ‘fix’. We just throw some dollars at it and it all goes away and back to business as usual. Well this wasn’t the culture in which the Scriptures were written. It would behoove us to understand this because it will cause your Bible to come to life and fill you with a better understanding. It will also aid you in not interpreting verses out of their historical cultural context.
A study of the concept of honor and shame takes us all the way back to the beginning with Adam and Eve.
Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. Genesis 3:7
I’m sure many of you have read this verse and wondered, like myself, why did they not realize they were naked before the fall? Why make clothes for themselves? This is a fair and logical question. I always missed the answer because I didn’t understand a simple cultural concept. Actually this story is not necessarily teaching us about being naked but teaching us about something deeper in the realm of honor and shame.
One can spend countless hours digging through ANE literature and laws of different kingdoms dealing with garments and their significance. For example, in the ANE folks didn’t walk around with wallets in their back pockets. They had a pocket sown on the inside of their garment and this is where people in the ANE would keep important documents such as contracts or land deeds just to name a few. Women would take their dowry and sow it into this pocket also in case they were wrongfully divorced or their husband died. The dowry would help support them in difficult times. This pocket was referred to as the hem of the garment. Starting to ring a bell yet? In other words, this garment IDENTIFIED who you were, your social status, and what type of inheritance you had in the family (see story of Joseph). Side note here but if you remember in the story of Joseph the brothers stripped Joseph of his coat. Why? Well they were surely jealous but his coat meant more to them because it was longer (the Hebrew says longer not many colors). They were stripping him of his inheritance and identity and place in the family, if you will.
This is where the picture of what took place in the garden becomes clear. In the ANE when someone was stripped of their garment it was a dishonorable or shameful act.
In the ANE if a woman was caught in adultery, the husband would take her in front of the town. He would then publicly remove/strip her garments from her displaying her nakedness i.e. shame and thus taking the dowry for himself.
As Ryan White points out in his Hem and the Garment teaching, “The king of Ugarit divorced his wife and noticed that the son was favoring the wife. The king tells his son that if he goes with the divorced mother, he will forfeit his entire estate, and if that is the case, then “let him place his garment on the stool and depart.” The point I am getting to is about the removal of a garment displaying the nakedness of a person and what that implies. It signifies dishonor, disinheritance, shame, and forfeiture.
Now lets go back to Adam and Even. We now have a better historical and cultural understanding of the times. Adam and Eve partake of the fruit that was commanded by YHVH not to eat. Side note here. I find it interesting that right from the beginning YHVH tells man what FOOD IS and
ISN’T but man says he can eat whatever he wants to eat and sin enters mankind. Even to this day this rebellion is continued, man continues defining what he feels food is, instead of using YHVH’s definition of food. Anyway just ‘FOOD’ for thought as you’re reading this.
After eating the fruit, Adam and Eve realize they were naked. They try to cover their nakedness with fig leaves. Now with what I explained earlier in my piece you can see that this part of the story isn’t so much about them being naked as nude but about YHVH stripping them of their garments. In other words, YHVH strips them of their identity and inheritance which brings shame and dishonor upon them because of their disobedience and forfeiture of what YHVH had given them freely. Hopefully now the nakedness part of Adam and Eve’s story makes better sense? The issue doesn’t stop there because it wasn’t just their honor that was stained but the honor of the ONE who created them. In other words, the serpent used deception and lies to try to shame YHVH and his creation. In an honor and shame society, when someone is shamed it means they have lost honor. If someone causes that person to lose his/her honor then the person causing this loss gains honor. You see this when the Pharisees were testing Y’shua and were trying to shame him by answering their questions wrong. He always reversed it back on them and shamed them when they couldn’t answer him thus raising his honor greater than theirs. Now can you see why this added to them wanting to kill him? He shamed them by taking honor from them.
The story of Adam and Eve doesn’t end there nor does it end with YHVH having less honor than the serpent. The story goes on to tell us what YHVH does to restore the situation.
YHVH Elohim made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them. Gen. 3:21
Adam and Eve disinherit themselves because their garments are removed (nakedness). YHVH tells them what they will suffer for their actions. He then adopts them back into his family by placing garments upon them. THE GOSPEL, right from the beginning!!! Remember the prodigal son? He squanders his inheritance and leaves his father’s house. What did his father do when he returned? He ran, a dishonorable act in the ANE, and kissed him and told the servants to bring the best robe to be put on him. There is nothing ‘new’ in the New Test. folks. Is your life bringing honor or shame to the Creator? Shalom.