Twice in Psalm 25 David asks God, “do not let me be put to shame”. I think, for most of us we would consider this a pretty reasonable request. For David though, this was especially relevant, who, similar to many people from Asian and Middle Eastern cultures today, lived in, what is called, an “honour and shame culture”.
One definition of shame is “a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness [or due to an accusation, whether true or false] of wrong or foolish behaviour.” (Wikipedia) Another word often used is “loss of face”.
“Honor is a public claim to worth or value and a public acknowledgment of that claim. Positive shame is a concern for maintaining and protecting one’s worth, value, reputation. Negative shame is the loss of one’s honor. Refusing to be concerned about one’s honor is to be shameless.” (http://www.oxfordbibliographies.com)
So, David in Psalm 25 said:
1 In you, Lord my God, I put my trust.
2 I trust in you; do not let me be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me. 3 No one who hopes in you will ever be put to shame, but shame will come on those who are treacherous without cause…
20 Guard my life and rescue me; do not let me be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.
For someone like me, not being from a so-called “honour and shame culture”, it has sometimes been difficult to relate to the concept, even though I lived in Pakistan for 11 years, a typical “honour and shame culture”. I recall one day in Pakistan when I failed to be sensitive to this cultural norm.
It was a typical day in the clinic I worked in with about ten patients sitting around while I examined them, heard their histories and suggested a treatment. All were poor, illiterate farmers from the surrounding villages. Then, a 4-wheel drive vehicle pulled up in front of the clinic, which indicated a wealthy “landlord”, i.e. one of the people who owned the land that the farmers lived and worked on and from whom they received an income.
When he entered the clinic he asked me to go with him to see his daughter who he said was unwell. Having asked some questions concerning her “illness”, I determined that this was far from an emergency and so promised to come after I had closed the clinic in a couple of hours. Not used to being disobeyed, the landlord began to insist that I come right then. I was very conscious of the 10 patients who had travelled far (and definitely not by a 4 wheel drive!) and would have to leave not having been seen by me, and so again I said I would come after I had seen these waiting patients. The landlord, obviously not happy, abruptly left!
I was immediately informed by the waiting patients (whom I was concerned about) what a big mistake I had made! They told me that I should have gone with him and they would not have been worried about it, but rather, just left and returned the next day. Basically, I had dishonoured the man publicly (i.e. he had “lost face”) in front of those who were basically his “servants”. I never saw him again (or his daughter)!
Concerning this subject Longman, commenting on Psalm 25, gives further insight as follows:
“Biblical Israel was as an honour and shame society, in which ‘honor refers to the experience of being esteemed by one’s group or other social entities on the basis of embodying that which is deemed desirable, virtuous and socially productive. Shame refers, generally, to the opposite experience of being devalued and belittled on the basis of failing to measure up to or transgressing the same’ (deSilva 2008:287). To be shamed publicly has negative connotations. According to Pemberton, ‘to be “put to shame” means the loss of social position which negatively affects every familial relationship and business interaction. For an enemy to take honor (status) at the psalmist’s expense is no small matter in a society with foundations built on the bedrock of honor and shame (Pemberton 2012:81).”
So, in this psalm David desires that his enemy (by triumphing over him) would not get his way by causing David to “lose face” as the King in front of all those who were his “subjects”. He desired to keep his honour, his reputation as a godly man. He had given a definition of such a person in previous psalms:
“The one whose walk is blameless, who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from his heart; whose tongue utters no slander, who does no wrong to his neighbour, and casts no slur on others; who despises a vile person but honours those who fear the Lord; and keeps an oath even when it hurts, and does not change their mind; who lends money to the poor without interest; who does not accept a bribe against the innocent.” (Psalm 15:2-5)
Or the shorthand version:
“…one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not trust in an idol or swear by a false god.” (Psalm 24:4)
Longman concludes: “Such an attitude and behaviour would win the praise of the community of the faithful. The psalmist’s present situation is problematic, however, because his enemies, who are treacherous (verse 3), are trying to shame him, although he is one who hopes in God. He calls on God to assert proper order by having shame come on those who are trying to shame him (verse 3).” (see references # 30)
Maybe that is your situation and if it is, then follow David’s lead and cry out to the Lord, do not let me be put to shame.
Father, thank you that “No one who hopes in you will ever be put to shame”. Teach us to live lives that bring honour and praise to you and lives that cause us never to be ashamed. May we be those who have clean hands and a pure heart. In Jesus Name. Amen.