“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.” Exodus 20:12
If you’re God and you want to teach a nation full of people how to have a relationship with you and these people can’t seen or come close to you, they frequently don’t hear you when you talk to them, and they naturally want to do things that are the direct opposite of how you would do them, how would you even begin?
God began with the simple basics: no other gods except me, no images or idols, don’t make my name empty or weak, and remember to keep my Sabbath holy. The fifth commandment, honor your mother and your father, falls into a category where God is teaching us how to treat other people, specifically our parents, and how to treat him. The reason for this is because our concept of who God is and how we should treat him begins with our relationship with our parents. The concept or idea of God and who he is is too much for little children, even if they say they believe and love him, but they see and know their parents and that relationship is the foundation upon which God begins to build his relationship with them.
The Hebrew word which is translated “honor” literally means, “to make heavy.” And it basically means that children are to, by their words and behavior, add to the weight of respect, honor, and glory of their parents. The various contexts of the way this word is used throughout the Old Testament tell us that children are to be almost worshipful in the relationship they have with their parents. Notice I said, “almost.” Only God deserves our worship.
The fifth commandment also doesn’t obligate parents to earn the honor their children are commanded to give. Neither does it set an expiration date on the fifth commandment telling us when we no longer need to keep it. No mater how faulty our parents may be we still have a Heavenly Father we need to learn to honor, love and respect. And it doesn’t matter how old we become God is still God to us and we still need to grow in our capacity for honoring him so we need to continue to develop that ability by honoring our parents.
If you’re fearful that I’ve given permission for parents to be tyrannical and to terrorize their children, rest assured, I haven’t. Scripture contains many instructions for parents obligating us to be loving, respectful, and respectable in our relationship with our children. But the willingness or ability of the parents to meet these instructions in no way affects the obligation of their children when it comes to keeping the fifth commandment.
We need to have a relationship with God as God in our lives. Our relationship with our parents, and our choice of behavior toward them, is the starting point in our learning what it means to honor, love, respect, and worship God. We need to be very thought and careful in the way we treat our parents. They deserve the best we can give. And we and God deserve the best we can learn to give him.