In Genesis 12, God calls Abram to leave everything and travel to a new land. Werner Mischke points out that this call is not only a departure from one land to another “it is also a departure from one way of thinking to another: From caution to risk … from past to future … from family-based honor to God-given honor. Knowing that the ancient Near East was thoroughly rooted in the culture of honor and shame, it is helpful to understand these verses from that perspective: … (1) God called Abraham to leave his family in the land of Ur and all of the familiar, traditional, family-based honor that went with that—to a life of honor that is of a much greater magnitude: honor bestowed by God himself. (2) While God’s call constituted the risks of a radical departure in geography, faith and worldview, it nevertheless retained as a central motivation for both God and Abraham— the pursuit of honor and glory.” (Mischke: p26.)
Abram is called to leave behind all that he knew, all that mattered, particularly his identity honour and manhood (because these consisted in his place in society, his land and his family). This would have been seen by the early listeners to his story as the most foolhardy and unthinkable risk, not for the dangers of the road ahead, but for the loss of honour and status. Despite taking this “tremendous risk [which] constituted a huge counter-cultural act of boldness because it violated the traditional way that men accrued and preserved their honor. Despite this great risk, [the story of Abram talks of] seven honor-laden rewards that Abram would receive by believing God’s promise and acting in obedience.” (Mischke: p27.)
Abram would gain great honour in that God would: (1) give him a new land (Gen. 15:18-21; 17:8); make him a great nation (Gen. 15:5; 17:6) to replace his family; (3) bless him (Gen. 17:1) – “in the economy of honor and shame, to be blessed by God … constituted an enormous accrual of ascribed honor;” (Mischke: p27.) (4) make his name great (Gen. 17.1) – a public reputation of great honour; (5) make him a blessing to others – another promise of honour, for in Abram’s world one could only be a blessing if one had the honour and status to bless others; (6) “bless those who bless [Abram] and him who dishonours [Abram, God] will curse” (Gen. 12:3); (7) bless all the families of the earth through him – “this is God’s way of explaining the extent of the honor which is to accrue to Abram … not limited to his own family, local community, or region – a global significance, a global renown.” (Mischke: p28.) A great honour indeed!
The telling of this part of Abram’s (Abraham’s) story illustrates just how significant the dynamics of honour and shame were to the people who would hear the story. Their understanding of the risks taken by Abram would have carried this overarching sense of risk to his honour. Abram would have been deeply shamed had his faith not proven valid. Abram’s story is laden throughout with God’s commitment to his honour.
Werner Mischke; “Honor and Shame in Cross-Cultural Relationships;” Mission ONE, May 2010; Web, available through http://beautyofpartnership.org/about/free at http://cdn.assets.sites.launchrocketship.com/a6347111-876c-4337-9f3f-9f712c3494ed/files/34d84729-e146-4502-aa4e-34f0abce8a51/honor-and-shame-in-relationships-3sm.pdf; 21st November 2103.