Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you…. Deuteronomy 5:16a NIV
This is the second of 20 memory verses that I will use as a guide/focal point to writing these articles. The “Table of Contents” is available here in the series introductory article.
Whilst this memory verse has a very simple message which I have well and truly memorised since my childhood days, if you asked me where exactly in Deuteronomy it is located I would struggle. I do know that the Ten Commandments are generally found in the early part of Deuteronomy!
The following list are the Ten Commandments, which sets the context of Deuteronomy chapter 5, paraphrased in my own words:
- You shall have no other Gods but me. Verse 7
- You shall not worship you other Gods but me. Verses 8-10
- You shall not use the name of God in vain. Verse 11
- Observe the Sabbath and keep it Holy. Verses 12-15
- Honor your father and mother. Verse 16
- You shall not commit murder. Verse 17
- You shall not commit adultery. Verse 18
- You shall not steal. Verse 19
- You shall not lie to your neighbors. Verse 20
- You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife or be jealous of others. Verse 21
Further, The Ten Commandments are also found in Exodus 20:2-17.
In this context, our memory verse is unique in structure given the majority of the commandments are worded in the style “You shall not…” The first three are focused on our relationship with God, the fourth referring to the Sabbath. These set of commandments are viewed today by the modern secular society as being the most religious and “biased” from the viewpoint that keeping those particular commandments requires a belief in God/Yahweh/Jehovah. Any non-believer of Judaism/Christianity automatically chooses to ignore these commandments as irrelevant.
The last half/five are also ingrained and codified into Western society as moral-based laws. The last five commandments are clear-cut and undisputed in terms that any modern-day person would agree with them; the moral driver behind them makes them quite uncontroversial. This, any non-believer would happily ignore the first four, and likely accept the last six as having universal appeal beyond a Judeo-Christian culture/society.
So, bringing the focus back to the main memory verse here: Honor your father and mother. The second half of the verse provides a reason and benefit from upholding this particular commandment, which also makes it quite unique. The first three/four commandments are justified by the intrinsic nature of God – because He is God. The argument made for worship God, and no other God, along with keeping the Sabbath Holy is simply because He says so. The second half of the commandments are also not worded to give a reason. However, since there is an intrinsic moral justification that these five commandments are all ‘bad’, the need for an explicit reason is more readily understood and undisputed. So, the reason given for honoring our parents is that our “days be long in this land”. A closer examination of verse 16b also allows a reading and interpretation of it whereby upholding the honor of our parents carries an out flowing promise and blessing.
In order to fully appreciate what God is saying through his commandments, we do need to understand that the theme driving the first four commandments is His loving nature. Whilst the Old Testaments root the commandments in the first: that God is sovereign, Holy, jealous and selfish, the New Testament brings greater revelation to his identity as the God of Love:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind and soul.
Therefore, the flow and sequence of all Ten Commandments is actually very intentional and crucial to fully understanding the nature of God. First, we are to love and obey Him. The remainder of the commandments are ultimately about loving one another, starting first with our parents. The logic here is that if we are to love our neighbour, we must be able to first love our parents. The blessing carried within verse 16b is therefore extrapolated out through to living a life of love, in harmony with the community.
In today’s modern society, this fifth commandment of honoring our parents has been diluted and distorted by the way our society has redefined the family unit. Divorce, abortion and the redefinition of marriage (between a man and a woman) have all undermined the core pillar of society that our families once represented. Further, the family unit is central not just to secular society but even more so to a community of believers, which becomes like an extended family of believers – sharing in all core lifestyle areas. In this context, honoring our parents is a natural foundation on which to build and extend our relationships beyond us individually with God.
Jesus further explained the same relational foundation that underpins a believer’s connection to the body of Christ; the church and community of believers – we must love one another as we love ourselves.
Loving and honoring our parents is just the beginning as well. With love comes forgiveness and thus, if we are to successfully honor our parents and love them, we have to be able to forgive them. In this way, the modern notion of younger generations rebelling against our parents is completely out-of-sync with the biblical values espoused by the Ten Commandments. Indeed the individualistic focus of today’s society is inherently at conflict with the aspirations of living and adhering to the bible.
Jam packed in verse 16 are other subtle clues to the family unit as God intended and designed. The father is listed first; he is the head of the household and is thus charged with the responsibility of the household before God. Whilst listed after, the role of the mother is by no means downplayed – she is the equal parent in a family unit, supporting the father in the life-long art of parenting. Together, father and mother love one another and lead the children through the real-life example of working at a committed and loving relationship.
One interesting development that has eventuated as part of our modern society was the psychological concept that was derived from no less than Sigmund Freud that in order for us to be liberated and free we must first kill our own father. This separation from our parents is fundamentally against the Fifth Commandment.
The concept of honor packages up a combination of love, respect, submission, deference, appreciation and affection. Honor, like love begins as an internal manifestation of the heart and also then bears fruit in the external action and words that outflow from it. Whilst the honor we give to our parents is commanded, there are other manifestations of honor within a family unit – between siblings and between married couples. Indeed, parents have a role to play in the instruction of honor and the best way parents pass that down to the next generation is by living it out daily to one another; in the way they relate to one another as well as the way they interact with their children, and indeed the grandparents!
When dishonor takes place, and it is all too common in today’s society, the sin of the parent infects the next generation unless a concerted effort of forgiveness is exercised to purge and restore the family honor.
The need to honor parents can sometimes be challenging. Mark Driscoll in his article on Why & How to Honor Father, Mother suggests the analogy of a position/uniform instead of the person holding the position/wearing the uniform – honor the concept of parenthood/fatherhood/motherhood if the person them-self is too difficult to honor. Mark also warns that the inter-generational consequences of not being able to honor one’s parents will likely lead to the next generation also having issues with honoring their parents.
Whilst some Christians have interpreted the need for honoring our parents is restricted and only relevant for honorable parents, no such provision is documented in the simple construct of Deuteronomy 5:16. Parents can help make the challenge easier also if they consider that the bible/God considers all children a blessing from Him. Consider the complexity of any pregnancy and all the things that could potentially go wrong – we are all alive and living breathing examples of a successful birth that ultimately began with a love shown between our parents, so why would we not honor them?