The Fifth Command

What is the fifth command?

כַּבֵּ֥ד אֶת־אָבִ֖יךָ וְאֶת־אִמֶּ֑ךָ לְמַ֙עַן֙ יַאֲרִכ֣וּן יָמֶ֔יךָ עַ֚ל הָאֲדָמָ֔ה אֲשֶׁר־יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ נֹתֵ֥ן לָֽךְ׃ס

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)


What is meant here by “honor”?

The word means that we show respect to our parents by loving them, obeying them in all lawful things and helping them when they are in need.


What can we say about the form of this word?

The form used here is the infinitive absolute which is sometimes used to make a command cf. Gesenius §113bb (also in the fourth command).


What can be said about the reasonableness of this command?

Samuel Clarke writes (p683):

And here ’tis observable, that God is pleased to begin where nature itself does; requiring us in the first place to make just returns of honor and benevolence to those by whose care and tenderness we have been preserved and supported in the most helpless part of our lives. The extent of this and the like precepts, is indeed much enlarged by the gospel; wherein we are commanded to love all mankind, and to be ready to do good offices even to our enemies themselves. But this is evidently to be understood of that universal good will, which must of necessity be exercised in very different manners and proportions, according to the different circumstances and relations wherein different persons do hand to us; and alters nothing of that particular honor and regard, which we are here required to pay in the first place to our parents and benefactors.


How should we honor our parents?

Honoring our parents differs according to our age and place in life.

  • First, as children we should obey their commands and patiently bear with their weaknesses and failings.
  • Second, as older children, we should recognize their superior wisdom in life and defer to their leading and guidance.
  • Third, as adult children, we should continue to honor them by protecting them and providing for their needs in their older age. In addition, when our parents grow elderly and if their mind should begin to slip, we should bear with their often unguarded comments and actions knowing these are not made with their full reason.
  • Finally, we should respect our parents in their death by burying them with a Christian funeral and carrying out their wishes as previously expressed.

The following story is a touching illustration (p285).

The commander of the ship-of-war Orient, before the battle of the Nile, placed his son, who was thirteen years of age, on certain duty, to stay at his post till relieved by his father’s order.  Soon after the father was slain.  The boy held his post in the midst of fearful carnage, ignorant of his father’s fate; and, while the sailors were deserting the burning and sinking ship, he cried, “Father, may I go?” The permission did not come from his dead father’s lips; and there he stood alone, firm at his post, and perished in the flames.

The opposite example is provided by Ham who failed to cover his father when he was drunk. (Genesis 9:22)


Why do parents have authority over their children?

This comes from God who first instituted marriage and defined the roles of husband, wife, and children in this relationship.


What are the duties of parents towards their children?

Parents are bound to seek baptism for their children and to teach them their place in God’s covenant. Parents should bring them to the feet of Jesus, to love, support and maintain them; to attend to their religious and secular education; to set before them a good example; to keep them from the occasions of sin, and to correct their faults.


What would be the consequence if people lived on their own apart from families?

People would not be able to develop the kind of relationships that the human spirit craves. God created us to live in society, and almost all people desire intimate relationships with other people. God in His wisdom has provided for this in His perfect creation.  Even secular studies bear this out as seen in this book.


Where else in Scripture are we commanded to honor our parents?

Paul makes the same command in his letter to the Christians in Ephesus. “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER (which is the first commandment with a promise), SO THAT IT MAY BE WELL WITH YOU, AND THAT YOU MAY LIVE LONG ON THE EARTH.” (Ephesians 6:1-3)


Why does Paul say that this is the first command with a promise?

This clause is difficult to understand. The most likely meaning is that in the list of commands given in Exodus 20, this is the first command that has a specific promise attached to it rewarding those who keep it with long life. Paul would have included this as another reason to give our most diligent attention to this command.


Where else do we find this command in Scripture?

There are many proverbs that speak on this subject:

  • Pro 6:20 My son, observe the commandment of your father, and do not forsake the teaching of your mother.
  • Pro 10:1 A wise son makes a father glad, but a foolish son is a grief to his mother.
  • Pro 15:20 A wise son makes a father glad, but a foolish man despises his mother.
  • Pro 19:26 He who assaults his father and drives his mother away is a shameful and disgraceful son.
  • Pro 20:20 He who curses his father or his mother, his lamp will go out in time of darkness.
  • Pro 23:22 Listen to your father who begot you, and do not despise your mother when she is old.
  • Pro 23:25 Let your father and your mother be glad, and let her rejoice who gave birth to you.
  • Pro 28:24 He who robs his father or his mother and says, “It is not a transgression,” is the companion of a man who destroys.
  • Pro 30:17 The eye that mocks a father and scorns a mother, the ravens of the valley will pick it out, and the young eagles will eat it.
  • Pro 31:28 Her [the worthy woman] children rise up and bless her; her husband also, and he praises her, saying…


What history does Scripture give us of Solomon’s treatment of his mother?

We read of Solomon’s obedience to the fifth command in the first book of Kings: So Bathsheba went to King Solomon to speak to him for Adonijah. And the king arose to meet her, bowed before her, and sat on his throne; then he had a throne set for the king’s mother, and she sat on his right. (1Kings 2:19)


This command only speaks of father and mother. Is there more implied here than just our actual father and mother?

Yes, it also applies to other authorities to whom we are subject in this life.


Where does Scripture teach this?

There is no Scripture which explicitly says this.  Paul, however, speaks of the “ordinance of God” in Romans 13 by which he may very well be referring to the fifth command.

Let everyone be subject to the higher authorities, for there exists no authority except from God, and those who exist have been appointed by God. Therefore he who resists authority resists the ordinance of God; and they that resist bring on themselves condemnation. (Romans 13:1-2)


Is the fifth command then a manifestation of this ordinance of God mentioned in Romans 13?

Yes, the fifth command is very likely this ordinance spoken of here in Romans 13.


What are these different authority structures to which we are to give our respect?

The closest authority is our parents, then the church, and finally the state.


What duties do we owe to the church?

We owe the elders in our church respect and honor. Paul wrote to the Thessalonian church:

And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labor among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. And be at peace among yourselves. (1Thess 5:12-13)


How far does the authority of the elders in our church extend?

It extends no further than the word of God. No person, whatever office he may hold or to whatever credentials he may claim, has any authority, unless his teaching is consistent with the word of God.


What should we do when we disagree with the teaching of an elder or with a course of action they have decided to take?

We should first grade the importance of the disagreement.  Does this point of disagreement pertain to an issue which compromises the very truth of the gospel or is it an issue of lesser importance? If it is of lesser importance, then perhaps we could drop it entirely or work out some compromise in order to keep the peace. (Romans 12:18)  If it is a gospel issue, then we should begin the steps of fraternal correction (Matt 18:15f).


What are the duties of citizens toward their country?

All citizens must love their country, be sincerely interested in its welfare, and respect and obey its lawful authority.


How does a citizen show a sincere interest in his country’s welfare?

A citizen shows a sincere interest in his country’s welfare by voting honestly and without selfish motives, by paying just taxes, and by defending his country’s rights when necessary.


Why must we respect and obey the lawful authority of our country?

We must respect and obey the lawful authority of our country because it comes from God who is the source of all authority.


Why should we take an active part in works of good citizenship?

First, because we are obligated by the fifth command to submit to those in authority over us.  Second, because it is only reasonable that citizens work together to advance the public welfare of the country as a whole.


What are the chief duties of those who hold public office?

All politicians should see it as their duty and privilege to exercise their authority in such a way that the liberties of people are protected and the general welfare advanced.


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