“Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother”

Introducing the Fifth Commandment

4 min

“Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee” (Exodus 20:12). In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul highlights the blessing that accompanies this commandment, calling it “the first commandment with promise” (Ephesians 6:2).

In recent days when parental respect and devotion are often completely disregarded, this truth of honoring father and mother must be considered by all of us. This commandment is not only given for children. As in the other nine commandments, this fifth one applies to us all. Even in our adult years and after our parents have passed away, we can benefit from heeding the blessings of honoring our parents or their memory.

Over the course of this month, we are going to look carefully at the fifth commandment in the Scripture and the blessings that come when we honor our parents. Then, in the light of the New Testament, we will look at possible applications of this commandment to our daily lives.

I am to honor my parents, recognizing that my attitude toward them is as important as my conduct.

Our attitude toward our parents is closely linked with our attitude toward God. According to Leviticus 19:32, a connection is suggested between honoring elders and fearing God. The verse states: “Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of the old man, and fear thy God: I am the LORD.” Whether our parents are old or young, they are one of the unchangeable features of our lives, things that we cannot alter and for which we should learn to give thanks (I Thessalonians 5:18). We did not choose our parents—God did. (See Psalm 22:10 and 127:3.) This special relationship between parent and child is one that God has ordained. For this reason, our attitude toward our parents, whether or not they would be considered aged, is closely related to our attitude toward God Who gave our parents to us.

We inherit physical life from our parents. Adam named his wife, Eve, “the mother of all living” (Genesis 3:20). But sadly, we also inherit the curse of death from our parents. The Apostle Paul wrote that “by one man [Adam] sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Romans 5:12). The only thing that could break the cycle of disobedience and death was the perfect obedience of the Son of God to His Heavenly Father. “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous” (Romans 5:19).

The Requirement: Honor thy father and thy mother.

The verb used in the fifth commandment, honour, is the Hebrew word כָּבַד kawvad. The root of the word means “to esteem heavy.” Kawvad is related to the Hebrew word for glory. To honor our parents is to esteem them as valuable and their words as weighty and significant.

The Mosaic Law imposed severe civil penalties for rebellious and violent disregard for parents. For an Israelite to strike his father or his mother was a capital crime. “And he that smiteth his father, or his mother, shall be surely put to death” (Exodus 21:15). Two verses later, the same penalty is imposed upon the man who gives a verbal curse to his parents: “And he that curseth his father, or his mother, shall surely be put to death” (Exodus 21:17).

The Book of Proverbs, even apart from Israel’s civil law, warns us of the deadly consequences of rebellion against parental instruction. “The eye that mocketh at his father, and despiseth to obey his mother, the ravens of the valley shall pick it out, and the young eagles shall eat it” (Proverbs 30:17). The tragic results of rebellion are evident in the society in which we live today. Wise men, knowing that rebellion leads to severe consequences, including death, grieve when they see a young person who despises his parents’ authority. On the other hand, however, a great blessing of life attends those who esteem their parents with honor and respect. Let us look at that next.

The Blessing: That thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God given thee.

It is very fitting that the reward of honoring our parents is long life. Our parents are the human instruments that God chose to bring us into this world. When we honor their words, our days are prolonged in a natural and immediate sense. The child that learns to obey the command “Stop!” will naturally live longer than the child that runs into the busy street, not heeding the warning call of his mother.

God gives a special spiritual blessing to those who honor their parents. In the Book of Proverbs, this blessing is expanded: “My son, forget not my law; but let thine heart keep my commandments: For length of days, and long life, and peace, shall they add to thee” (Proverbs 3:1–2). A son that treasures the wise counsel of his father and mother is blessed with a long, productive, and peaceful life. 

The record of Scripture and of history demonstrates this truth over and over. Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phinehas, dishonored their father (see I Samuel 2:22–25) and were later slain in battle (I Samuel 4:11). Another example: King David’s son Absalom dishonored him by trying to steal the kingdom from him. (See II Samuel 15:5–6.) The life of the embittered, rebellious son was cut short when he was caught in a tree limb while fleeing on his mule (II Samuel 18:9-15). 

A positive example is also found in Scripture. Joseph honored his father Jacob. In spite of his many trials, the life of Joseph was filled with God’s abundant blessings. He had the joy of caring for his elderly father and seeing the patriarchal blessing pass to his children’s children (Genesis 50:22–23). Joseph died at the age of 110 after a life of fruitfulness and faithfulness.

Notice that there is not a time set upon this promise or a number of years that we are guaranteed. The span of life is different for every man according to God’s providence and plan. But we can be assured that if we honor our parents and regard their instruction with gratitude, we will live longer than if we had disregarded their counsel and despised their instruction.

Over the course of this month, we will look at the lives of several people in Scripture and in history who were particularly blessed by God because they honored father and mother. Not all of the individuals that we will examine had ideal family situations. But each of them learned to thank God for their parents and to give honor to them as unto the Lord.

This article is from our Matters of Life & Death teaching series.

This article is from our Matters of Life & Death teaching series.

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