The Lost Art of Honoring Your Parents: Deuteronomy 5:16

 What it does mean to “honor your parents?”

In western society, this phrase may feel outdated, antiquated, and irrelevant. As believers in God’s Word, we know the Lord repeatedly admonishes us to honor our father and mother. Yet, our society gives us a different message, making it difficult to decipher how this applies in today’s world.

“Honor your father and mother, so that your days may be long in the land that Yahweh your God is giving you.” — Exodus 20:12

Deuteronomy 5:16 elaborates upon this in more detail,

“Honor your father and your mother, as Yahweh your God has commanded you, so that your days may be long and that it may go well with you in the land that Yahweh your God is giving you.” 

A Weighty Ask

The Hebrew word for honor means, “to give weight to”, or “to consider heavy.”



When you add weight to an object, like weights to a barbell, it makes it more difficult to carry but also more important to carry. If you carry a heavy weight incorrectly, it can lead to injury or damage to the object. We should put effort into how we treat our parents as if we were carrying a heavy item.
We like to equate “honor” with obedience, but it extends far beyond that as the “Corban episode” demonstrates,

“For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God.” – Matthew 15:406 (cf. Mark 7:10–13)

Jesus says that obedience without true concern for parents is not true honor. 

Honoring your parents is not just a reactive obedience but a proactive esteem.

Is it Still Relevant?

“Honor” is a culturally loaded term. Back in those days (and for many eastern cultures today) honor and shame were socially essential. It was vital for a family to have honor to avoid ostracization and embarrassment. The conduct of the children could bring shame upon the entire family (though the Old Testament makes clear that every person is responsible for their own sin). 

Furthermore, God makes clear that honoring one’s parents would lead to prosperity in “the land [Canaan; Promised Land] Yahweh is giving you.” This is specifically about Israel. 

Yet, Ephesians 6 makes it very clear that “honor your parents” is still applicable today. 

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord [in Christ], for this is right.‘Honor your father and mother’ (this is the first commandment with a promise), ‘that it go well with you and that you may live long in the land.’ ”  — Ephesians 6:1–3

Paul gives this command along with many others pertinent to relational unity within the Church. He makes clear that the promises of this command are still principles today.

Tangible Benefits

“. . . that your days may be long, and that it may go well with you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” — Deuteronomy 5:16b

The promised benefits of honoring our parents are portrayed as cause and effect: honoring parents (cause) leads to long days (effect) and a pleasing life (effect).

These can be understood in two ways:

  1. The activity of honoring parents inherently leads to a better life

  2. God spiritually blesses us in ways that may not be fully realized

Recognizing the value (or weight) of our parents in our lives will generally lead to better outcomes (this does not mean submitting to abuse or other ungodliness). Regardless of our position before our parents (whether we live with them or not) God has generally ordained them with wisdom and authority about situations in our lives. Obeying them will allow us to reap benefits from God embedded in their wisdom. 

Respecting them and listening to them shows that we care and promote harmony in the relationship—we can often avoid the strife that has plagued countless people who have had broken parental relationships. 

Living a well-mannered life, one that would bring honor to our family name (and not shame it) will lead to better results overall. Society benefits as a whole when people are honoring their parents. 

At the very least, honoring our parents will not cause us any harm (if applied correctly). These things are true even for nonbelievers.

Intrinsic Rewards

God promised the people of Israel their lives would be prolonged and they would experience prosperity in the land. We do not inhabit the land of Canaan—God had a special promise for the Israelites who would honor their parents. While they would receive the land of Canaan regardless, each person could choose whether they would receive God’s best available blessings—a longer life, a flourishing society, and success in their endeavors compared to life experienced in Egypt (and the Sinai desert).

For us today, the inherent benefits of proactively esteeming our parents are general principles but not guarantees. God graciously tells us why we should esteem our parents and gives us inherent incentives. Even if we honor our parents we may not experience a long life or have prosperity in our ways. Regardless, God will spiritually bless us in ways that may not be realized in this life.
Yet, our motivation to consider our parents highly goes beyond tangible benefits. As Scripture makes clear we, 

“obey [our] parents in the Lord” (Eph 6:1a), “it pleases the Lord” (Col. 3:20) “as Yahweh your God commanded you.” (Det. 5:16). 

What can be inferred from across Scripture is—we should seek to honor parents in the same way that we seek to honor God. Perhaps, the concept of honoring our parents is reciprocal to how we honor God: the more we honor our parents, the more we demonstrate we honor God. Inversely, if we honor God well we should seek a similar honor for our parents. 

This honor is not synonymous but rather similar to the honor we have for God. 

Honor is more than lip-service obedience. Honoring parents means assigning them great value and acting accordingly. This may manifest in ways that are counter-cultural in a world where honor and shame are much less considered. God asks us to honor our parents so that we may benefit—but our ultimate motivation is to model the esteem we hold for God in the way we esteem our parents. 

As I need to grow in this, I pray we may all grow in highly esteeming our parents and resurrect the lost value of honor in our self-sufficient culture. 

TL; DR

  1. Honoring your parents is not just a reactive obedience but a proactive esteem

  2. Though the command had cultural and theological implications specific to Israel, its essence and principles still apply to us

  3. The activity of honoring parents inherently leads to a better life (generally)

  4. When we honor our parents, God’s spiritual blessings may not be fully realized on Earth

  5. We should honor our parents in a similar way to how we honor God



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