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Missions 101

Honor and Shame in Judgment

Jul. 24, 2015By: Jackson WuAuthor Bio

If you emphasize honor and shame, does this mean that you need to minimize the theme of “judgment” in the Bible? Absolutely not.

Unfortunately, some people have that impression. They seem to think that judgment is a legal idea and so unrelated to honor and shame. In this post, I will show you a number of passages that show how the Bible describes judgment in terms of honor-shame.


The Shame of Judgment 

Everything a person can say about judgment from a traditional perspective can be communicated by using honor-shame.

Daniel 12:2 is quite direct:

And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.

Likewise, Daniel 9:8 adds,

To us, O Lord, belongs open shame, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against you.

The psalmist pleads for God to judge his enemies. It is especially interesting to observe the purpose for God’s judgment. Psalm 83:16–18 says,

Fill their faces with shame, that they may seek your name, O LORD. Let them be put to shame and dismayed forever; let them perish in disgrace, that they may know that you alone, whose name is the LORD, are the Most High over all the earth.

God gets glory when he puts his enemies to shame (cf. Exod 7:4–5; Eze 32:9–15)

Biblically speaking, “judgment” referred to more than the punishment of bad people. It routinely speaks about how God sets a situation right and rescues His people. We see this two-fold emphasis in Psalm 75:7, which says: is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another.

Through judgment, God honors one side and shames another.

Saved from what?

Consider how the Scripture describes salvation. Biblical writers announce that God’s people will be saved from shame. In Zeph 3:11, we read

On that day you shall not be put to shame because of the deeds by which you have rebelled against me; for then I will remove from your midst your proudly exultant ones, and you shall no longer be haughty in my holy mountain.

In Romans 10:11 (and in Rom 9:33), Paul draws from Isa 28:16 saying, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame” (cf. Rom 5:5).

The Shame of Death

What about passages like Rom 6:23, which say that the “wages of sin is death”?

     Death is the ultimate shame.

Death exposes our vulnerabilities, our weakness and limitation. We are not sovereign over ourselves. None but Jesus are able to resurrect ourselves.

Consider Jeremiah 51:47–51. Notice how death and destruction are described in terms of shame.

Therefore, behold, the days are coming when I will punish the images of Babylon; her whole land shall be put to shame, and all her slain shall fall in the midst of her. Then the heavens and the earth, and all that is in them, shall sing for joy over Babylon, for the destroyers shall come against them out of the north, declares the Lord. Babylon must fall for the slain of Israel, just as for Babylon have fallen the slain of all the earth. “You who have escaped from the sword, go, do not stand still! Remember the Lord from far away, and let Jerusalem come into your mind: “We are put to shame, for we have heard reproach; dishonor has covered our face, for foreigners have come into the holy places of the Lord’s house.” 

No one wants to “lose face.” The fear of shame drives people’s behavior as does the desire for honor. Both in the Bible and in world cultures, people use honor and shame to discuss the most significant issues in life and theology, including judgment and reward.

Jackson Wu (PhD, SEBTS) teaches theology and missiology in a seminary for Chinese church leaders. Previously, he also worked as a church planter. He has just released his second book One Gospel for All Nations: A Practical Approach to Biblical Contextualization. In addition to his blog,, follow him on Twitter @jacksonwu4china.

Tags:  honor, shame, theology
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