“Fear not for you will not be put to shame; neither feel humiliated, for you will not be disgraced; but you will forget the shame of your youth, . .” Isaiah 54:4 NASB
Neither feel humiliated – The translation of ve-al-tikalmi as “neither feel humiliated” shifts the paradigm from a Hebrew point of view to our Greek understanding of emotions. The Hebrew root word, kalam, is not about how I feel. It is about actions that cause humiliation. True to Hebrew form, the emphasis of the word is about the outward, social, communal results, not about my inner feelings. Our Greek-based psychology places the emphasis on inner self-esteem and inner emotional experiences, but Hebrew looks at the world through the eyes of the community. To be humiliated is to lose respect with others, to be known as a failure, to be seen as undesirable. You might have nothing to do with bringing about this calamity, but it doesn’t matter. If your friends and acquaintances think you are guilty, then you experience kalam.
When we realize that our cultural view is psychological, not social, then the impact of God’s promise is magnified. We can go to the therapist in order to feel better about ourselves, but we can’t undo the damage of public opinion even if we are exonerated. As everyone knows, today you are guilty simply by being in the headlines. A rabbinic story of the defamation of character applies.
One day a man in the village claimed that the local rabbi was guilty of a moral infraction. He spread the rumor to his neighbors. After some time, he discovered that he was wrong. The rabbi was entirely innocent. He went to the rabbi to ask forgiveness and make amends. The rabbi told him to come back the next day with a feather pillow. When the man returned, the rabbi told him to cut open the pillow and pour its contents out the window. The feathers flew in the wind in every direction. Then the rabbi said, “You will restore my reputation when you have gathered all the feathers and put them back in the pillow.”
Humiliation is public. It is far more difficult to restore reputation than it is to lose it. That’s why this promise is so powerful and that’s why it does not begin with the unconditional prohibition for “not” (lo). This phrase begins with ve-al (“and not”) but the Hebrew word for “not” here is al. In Hebrew poetry, al is used to describe strong sentiment. It is used to express purpose, and in this case, that’s exactly what God intends. God purposes to restore us. God will gather all the feathers. When He is done with His work, you will be able to put your head on the pillow and forget all those wisps in the wind.
Topical Index: kalam, humiliation, al, not, Isaiah 54:4