The Fifth Commandment—Exodus 20:12


Levi Durfey


1 And God spake all these words, saying, 2 I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. 3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me.


4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: 5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; 6 And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.


7 Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.


8 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: 10 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: 11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.


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

13 Thou shalt not kill.

14 Thou shalt not commit adultery.

15 Thou shalt not steal.

16 Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.

17 Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.




We are in the midst of a national family crisis, are we not? We could spend all day listing elements of the crisis—the overturning of traditional marriage, no-fault divorce, babies born out of wedlock, and so on. 


The fifth commandment tips us to another cause—the lack of respect for authority. For the last 50 years or so, we’ve seen a diminishing respect for authority in our nation.


The sixties were a time of anti-this and anti-that. Young people, in the name of love and peace, rebelled against just about everything and everyone that could be rebelled against. 


One commentator that I read quoted someone’s analysis of that time,


Annie Gottlieb is one of many participants who identify “the Sixties” as “the generation that destroyed the American family.” She writes, “We might not have been able to tear down the state, but the family was closer. We could get our hands on it. And … we believed that the family was the foundation of the state, as well as the collective state of mind…We truly believed that the family had to be torn apart to free love…And the first step was to tear ourselves free from our parents.”[1]


The effects carry on today. It is expected, in most circles, that teenagers will hate their parents and think it to be their job to rebel against them. Thankfully, in many cases, parents and teenagers survive those years with their relationship intact. 


But more and more, it seems, families are permanently broken apart and the children carry their lack of respect for authority into other areas of their adult lives.


The last six commandments deal with our relationships with others. They lay the foundation of a good society. If these commandments are not followed by a large portion of the people of a nation, it will be nation of liars, thieves, and murderers. 


The fifth commandment, in particular, stands as a cornerstone of this foundation. It is the cornerstone of respect for authority.




Exodus 20:12 Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee. 


“Honour thy father and thy mother” has to do with more than obedience. The word for “Honour” means to give weight and dignity to someone (CHALOT). Therefore, it’s someone that children and adults can show toward their parents at any season of life.


As children, we are to “…obey our parents in the Lord: for this is right” (Ephesians 6:1). As adults, we are to care for our parents when they are too old to work or care for themselves. 


Why should children (young and old) honor their parents?


1) They make untold sacrifices of time, money, sleep, and personal ambitions and dreams on behalf of their children. 


The cost of raising a child to the age of 18, according to a recent study will range from $145,000 to nearly $500,000, depending on how poor or rich you are.[2]


However, this is not the most important reason for children to respect their parents because most parents do not mind the cost, money or otherwise. Most parents will have no regrets and wouldn’t trade their children for anything in the world.


A far more important reason to respect our parents is that…


2) God has made the family the smallest, most basic, spiritual unit. He made parents to be teachers of the children (Deuteronomy 6:6-9), and have a God-given authority over their children.


So to disrespect parents is to disrespect God. That’s why there are such stiff penalties in the Old Testament for disobeying a parent (see Leviticus 20:9; Deuteronomy 21:18-21).


Finally, a third reason is that…


3) So goes the family, so goes the nation. The family is the basic social unit. If you want a strong nation, you need to have strong families. That’s at least part of what the next phrase means, “that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.”


When Paul quotes this verse he says,


2 Honour thy father and mother; (which is the first commandment with promise;) 3 That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth. (Ephesians 6:2–3)


This cannot, obviously, be a promise that if you obey your father and mother that you will be guaranteed a long life. Experience teaches us that even the best child, adult or otherwise, can suffer and die at a young age.


It is, rather, one of those general promises. If you build a society where older people are honored, then you may expect, all things being equal, to enjoy that in your old age. 


Or to put it another way, this is not a personal promise so much as it’s a national promise. The society that cares for it’s aged is a society that will endure.


Is old age honored in our society? In what ways? In what ways is it not?


Once upon a time there was an old man, so old his hands trembled. When he ate, his fork or spoon sometimes missed his mouth, and often he spilled food on the tablecloth.


The old man lived with his son and his wife, who found the old man’s eating habits disgusting. “Cleaning up the mess takes so much time,” they said. “You’d better eat in a corner of the kitchen. Come right here behind the stove.”


So each time they ate, they made the old man sit all by himself behind the kitchen stove and served him food in a clay bowl. 


One day the bowl dropped from his tumbling hands and broke. His daughter-in-law lost her temple. “If you act like a pig,” she told the old man, “you must eat like a pig.” So she bought a cheap wooden bowl. From that day on, he ate all his meals from a wooden bowl.


Now the woman and her husband had a four-year-old son. Some days later they noticed that their son was playing with pieces of wood. 


“What are you doing, Son?” the father asked.

“I am making a trough,” he said.

“A trough?” the father asked. “What for?”

“For you, Mom and Dad. You can eat from it when you get to be as old as Grandpa.”


The man and woman looked at each other, dumbstruck. They didn’t know what to say. They cried a little. And then they brought the old man back to the table, put him in a comfortable chair, and gave him food on a plate. From then on they never got angry at the old man when he spilled his food.[3]


That sums up the gist of the fifth commandment. If you honor your father and mother, it will come back around to you in the end.




Now, we have all failed in keeping the fifth commandment, have we not? No one has been perfect in keeping this or any commandment, no one, that is, except Jesus. Let’s see a brief overview of his obedience.


First, we find an explicit statement that Jesus obeyed his earthly parents—


51 And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them: but his mother kept all these sayings in her heart. (Luke 2:51)


There where only two recorded times that Jesus’ relationship with his earthly parents was strained. One was when he was in the Temple—


46 And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. 47 And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers. 48 And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. 49 And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business? 50 And they understood not the saying which he spake unto them. (Luke 2:46–50)


How do we explain this? Simple, he was obeying his Heavenly Father. Another time he refused to come to visit with his family when he was preaching (Luke 8:19-21). Again, he was obeying his Heavenly Father.


It’s also interesting that Jesus made arrangements for the care of his mother before he died.


26 When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! 27 Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home. (John 19:26–27)


I think that’s a real important addition here, because it shows us that Jesus did not neglect obeying any part of the fifth commandment.


Jesus obeyed his Heavenly Father even when the obedience would be painful for him. 


39 And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt. (Matthew 26:39)


This particular obedience led Jesus to the cross, where he died for the sins of the world. When you trust in Christ, you can have salvation from eternal damnation and eternal life with Jesus.


But more than that—you can have his perfect righteousness imputed to you (transferred to your account), so that when God looks at you, he sees a perfect person. 


Jesus obeyed the fifth commandment perfectly, so you, in God’s eyes, will also have obeyed the fifth commandment perfectly. Now, we need to live out our perfect position before God practically in our lives.




So goes the family, so goes the nation. We cannot be responsible for what other people in our nation are doing to contribute to the destruction of the family. But we can certainly be mindful of our own contributions.


One writer said,


How urgent it is in these days that parents and children together should relearn the ways of Christian family life. In the West, yesterday’s extended family has shrunk to today’s nuclear family; social security and community affluence have reduced the family’s importance as an economic unit; and all this has weakened family relationships. Parents are too busy to give time to their children, and young people, identifying with current “youth” culture, are more prone than ever to write off their parents as clueless old fuddy-duddies. But the fifth commandment recalls us to God’s order at this point.[4]


1) Are we honoring our parents by, if we live in their care, by obeying them?


2) Are we honoring our parents by caring for them in their old age?


3) Are we lovingly teaching our children to honor us, by teaching, discipline, and example?



[1] Annie Gottlieb, Do You Believe in Magic? (New York: Time, 1987), pp. 234, 235 qtd in Philip Graham Ryken and R. Kent Hughes, Exodus: Saved for God’s Glory, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2005), 601.


[3] Adapted from the Brothers Grimm story, “The Old Man and His Grandson” qtd in John Timmer, How Long Is God’s Nose?: And 89 Other Story Sermons for Children.

[4] J. I. Packer, Growing in Christ, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1994), 256–257.

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