The meaning of Shame in the Bible
(From International Standard Bible Encyclopedia)
sham (bosh, "to be ashamed," bosheth, "shame," qalon; aischune, "ignominy," atimia, "dishonor," and other words): An oft-recurring word in Scripture almost uniformly bound up with a sense of sin and guilt. It is figuratively set forth as a wild beast (Jeremiah 3:24), a Nessus-garment (Jeremiah 3:25), a blight (Jeremiah 20:18), a sin against one's own soul (Habakkuk 2:10), and twice as the condensed symbol of Hebrew abomination—Baal (Jeremiah 11:13 margin; Hosea 9:10 margin; see ISH-BOSHETH). It is bracketed with defeat (Isaiah 30:3), reproach (Psalms 69:7; Isaiah 54:4; Micah 2:6), confusion (Isaiah 6:7), nakedness (Isaiah 47:3; Micah 1:11), everlasting contempt (Daniel 12:2), folly (Proverbs 18:13), cruelty (Isaiah 50:6; Hebrews 12:2), poverty (Proverbs 13:18), nothingness (Proverbs 9:7 the King James Version), unseemliness (I Corinthians 11:6; I Corinthians 14:35 the King James Version; Ephesians 5:12), and "them that go down to the pit" (Ezekiel 32:25). In the first Biblical reference to this emotion, "shame" appears as "the correlative of sin and guilt" (Delitzsch, New Commentary on Genesis and Biblical Psychology). Shamelessness is characteristic of abandoned wickedness (Philippians 3:19; Judges 1:13, margin "Greek: 'shames'"). Manifestly, then, shame is a concomitant of the divine judgment upon sin; the very worst that a Hebrew could wish for an enemy was that he might be clothed with shame (Psalms 109:29), that the judgment of God might rest upon him visibly.
Naturally, to the Hebrew, shame was the portion of those who were idolaters, who were faithless to Yahweh or who were unfriendly to themselves—the elect people of Yahweh. Shame is to come upon Moab because Moab held Israel in derision (Jeremiah 48:39, Jeremiah 48:27), and upon Edom "for violence against his brother Jacob" (Obadiah 1:10). But also, and impartially, shame is the portion of faithless Israelites who deny Yahweh and follow after strange gods (Ezekiel 7:18; Micah 7:10; Hosea 10:6, and often). But shame, too, comes upon those who exalt themselves against God, who trust in earthly power and the show of material strength (II Chronicles 32:21; Isaiah 30:3); and upon those who make a mock of righteousness (Job 8:22; Psalms 35:26; Psalms 132:18). With a fine sense of ethical distinctions the Biblical writers recognize that in confessing to a sense of shame there is hope for better things. Only in the most desperate cases is there no sense of shame (Hosea 4:18; Zephaniah 3:5; Philippians 3:19; Judges 1:13); in pardon God is said to remove shame (Isaiah 54:4 twice; Isaiah 61:7).
On conditions beyond the grave the Biblical revelation is exceedingly reticent, but here and there are hints that shame waits upon the wicked here and hereafter. Such an expression as that in Daniel (Daniel 12:2) cannot be ignored, and though the writing itself may belong to a late period and a somewhat sophisticated theological development, the idea is but a reflection of the earlier and more elementary period, when the voice of crime and cruelty went up from earth to be heard in the audience chamber of God (Genesis 4:11; Genesis 6:13). In the New Testament there is similar reticence but also similar implications. It cannot be much amiss to say that in the mind of the Biblical writers sin was a shameful thing; that part of the punishment for sin was a consciousness of guilt in the sense of shame; and that from this consciousness of guilt there was no deliverance while the sin was unconfessed and unforgiven. "Many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life and some to shame and everlasting contempt." From one's own past there is no deliverance, save through contrition of spirit and the grace and forgiveness of God. While the sense of shame persists, or, in other words, while the moral constitution of man's nature remains as it is, there will never be wanting an avenger of sin.
Charles M. Stuart
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