RembrandtThe fifth commandment brings with it an incredible promise, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you.” (Exodus 20:12)

This commandment is heavy, literally. The Hebrew word translated “honor” means “weighty” or “heavy”. The same word is used to describe God’s majesty elsewhere in the book of Exodus, (33:18).

To honor one’s parents is to give due weight to their position, and to understand it is by God’s design that parents are to train, nurture, protect, and provide for their children.

Additionally, by God’s design and plan, children are to give their parents the recognition and obedience under God-given authority. Such obedience brings with it a promise of God’s blessing.

However, in a world where children are abused, exploited, and tortured, we might be tempted to write this commandment off as obsolete.

Not so quick! Certainly abuse is deplorable and worthy of intervention. But I would argue that because we have departed from a culture of honor and respect, we find ourselves eating the bitter fruit of unbridled rebellion.

Under the theocracy of Israel, one of the most frightening provisions in the law was reserved for children who rebelled against their parents: “If there is anyone who curses his father or his mother, he shall surely be put to death…” (Leviticus 20:9)

The picture here is not a child spilling milk, but rather an older child with a deliberate pattern of life that opposes parental authority and is given over to manifest rebellion. Such behavior in Israel was to receive a free escort outside the city gate.

In the New Testament, disobedience to parents is listed as one of the signs that we are living in the troubling times of “the last days”. (2 Tim. 3:1,2)

With such weighty biblical commentary on this commandment, how are we to apply this to our lives? Let me offer three applications:


Honor in the early years of life is seen primarily through obedience. If we do not respect authority at home, we will not respect it anywhere.

Augustine’s question helps clarify the urgency, “If anyone fails to honor his parents, is there anyone he will spare?”


This commandment was given to a nation. It was given first to adults who were in turn to teach it to their children. This enlarges the application in that we are to respect our parents all the years of their lives.

Do you truly respect your parents? How do you speak to them?

How do you treat them? These probing questions will serve us well for a lifetime. Even when there has been mistreatment, embracing God’s loving commands will keep us from the swamp of bitterness.


One of the greatest legacies that you could leave for your family is a legacy of honor and respect. Nowhere is that seen more powerfully than in a faithful obedience to the fifth commandment.

Once again the Ten Commandments do not lead us to a self-congratulatory stroke fest where we applaud our perfect obedience. No, we are all painfully aware that we have not obeyed this commandment as we should, and in our disobedience we are brought to the whole meaning of the cross. It is there that Jesus Christ died for rebels, for disobedient children, and it is there we receive new beginnings.


Photo Credit: Source: Wikimedia Commons, Image is Public Domain.