A Promise and a Duty
Exodus 20:12
Honor your father and your mother: that your days may be long on the land which the LORD your God gives you.

I. THE PROMISE. Expanded in Deuteronomy 5:16. The promise is of a long and prosperous life. It is so plain that it can admit of no other interpretation. The only question can be, "Is it an individual or a national life that is here meant?" But this is answered, first, by noticing that the command can only be kept by an individual person; and by a nation only as a number of individuals; and hence, as the command is only addressed to the individual, the prolongation of the individual life must be intended. The "thy" of "thy days" must refer to the same person as the "thy"of "thy father and thy mother." It is answered, secondly, that a long national career of prosperity presupposes and implies a goodly degree of personal longevity and prosperity, and that the latter is a cause of the former, while the former could in no sense be considered a cause of the latter.

II. THE NATURE OF THE DUTY ENJOINED, The word "cabbed" is very strong; it strictly means "load with honour," and is often used in reference to the Deity. Obedience is only one of the more prominent practical forms of this honour. The honour strikes deeper than mere obedience — it touches the heart, it bespeaks the affections. It is a reverence inwoven in the very nature, connected with all the chords of being, and so coming to the surface in obedience and outward respect. We notice —

1. That the command is not "Honour thy father and thy mother when they do right." Our parents, like ourselves, are frail, and may commit error. If their error absolved their children from respect, there could be no filial piety in the world. While the honour due to parents will not go to wicked or foolish lengths, it will go to all reasonable and allowable lengths. It will submit to inconvenience and loss; it will hold its private judgment of what is better in abeyance; it will even keep its own clearly superior wisdom subject to the parental prejudice. So long as conformity to the views and expressed wishes of parents does not harm any third party, a right respect for father and mother will gracefully yield and lay the self-denial on the altar of filial piety.

2. The command is not, "Honour thy father and thy mother while thou art a little child." Many act as if they had no parents after they had reached their full stature, and some use this theory even earlier. Now, if to anybody this command is not given, it is to the little child, for in his case nature and necessity teach some degree of obedience and respect to parents, and hence the command is comparatively unnecessary to these.

III. Lastly I would ask if there is not NEED THAT GOD'S WILL IN THIS MATTER BE OFTEN REHEARSED IN OUR EARS. I would say not to little children, "Be obedient to your parents," but rather to parents, "Make your children obedient." It is all in your power. If you indulge your little ones in little irreverences and little disobediences because it looks "so cunning," and foolish friends urge you to the dangerous pastime, then you will have the little disobedient children grow to be big disobedient children, and they will bring down your grey hairs with sorrow to the grave. Or if, through sheer carelessness and selfish laziness, you avoid the active watchfulness and discipline that are necessary to ensure obedience, and to promote an obedient habit, you will obtain the same disastrous result. Beware, too, how, in your anxiety to have your boy a man before the time, you consent to his consequential swagger at sixteen, and furnish him with a night-key as a help to independence, in which you are destroying the bonds of dutiful humility and respectful submission with which God bound him to you to preserve. It is in this way I would apply the Fifth Commandment to young children through the parents, who are responsible before God and man. But I also make the special application of the text to children of maturer growth. Let our continued reverence for parent or parents still living, be of itself a glorious example, deeply written on the thoughts and future memories of your own children. Surround the old age which adorns and honours your household with the tribute of your assiduous care, jealous of its comfort and its dignity, and cover its defects with the mantle, not of your charity, but of your filial love and sympathy.

(H. Crosby, D. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.

WEB: "Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which Yahweh your God gives you.

A Noble Sentiment
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