“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.” Exodus 20:12 (ESV)
Picture this. Moses is walking down Mt. Sinai with the two tablets in his hands, and he is coming to proclaim the words of the LORD to the people. It is a powerful image! The LORD, YHWH, has spoken! The one who brought His people out of the land of Egypt and out of the house of slavery has commanded these words, and fear falls upon the people. The reverence and awe of YHWH is overwhelming. This is the narrative that we are given in Exodus 20:1-21.
Most of us know this story well and many of us have memorized the Ten Commandments in Sunday school classes, but have we given much thought to why these Ten Commandments are on two tablets?
Quickly, we can just shrug off the question and say that there were five on one and five on the other. We can pass by the thought and think it was impossible to fit all ten of them on one. The reason we have two tablets is the Ten Commandments teach us our duty to God and our duty to our neighbor. The first four commandments is our duty to God, and the last six commandments is our duty to our neighbor.
Jesus summarizes the Old Testament Law in Mark 12:30-31, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
This summarization highlights what the Ten Commandments is trying to teach us, our duty to God and our duty to man. Our failure in the first four commandments will lead to failure in the final six commandments.
An Introduction to the Final Six
The first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me,” lays a clear foundation for the following three. Therefore, you could say that the first commandment lays a foundation for our duty to God. This is exactly what is happening with the fifth commandment.
The fifth commandment, “Honor your father and your mother…” is laying a clear foundation for our duty to our neighbor. To understand this we must look past the common idea that this commandment is only talking to children. This commandment is addressing every relationship in our lives! This commandment is clearly summarizing what it means to love our neighbor as ourselves.
The way that the Scriptures use “Father and Mother” is an amazing way to underline this point. Let us specifically look at Genesis 45:8 as Joseph proclaims that God made him a father to Pharaoh. Of course, this does not mean that God literally made Joseph Pharaoh’s father, but God placed Joseph in a place of authority over Pharaoh. This is a familiar story, Pharaoh could not interpret his dreams, but Joseph could. Therefore, there was a relationship of dependency as Pharaoh relied on Joseph just as a child relied on a father, because his days could be long.
This is a running theme through the Old Testament, but we can look just at 2 Kings and see three great examples, as Elisha refers to Elijah as his father (2 Kings 2:12), Naaman’s servants call him father (2 Kings 5:10-14), and King Joash calls Elisha father (2 Kings 13:14).
In the New Testament, repeatedly, Paul uses this father and mother imagery in his letters. Paul tells Timothy that he cannot sharply rebuke an older man, but to respect him like a “father” (1 Timothy 5:1-2). Also, in 1 Thessalonians 2:7-12, Paul gives a very intimate picture for pastors and their congregation. Paul writes, “Like fathers with his children, we exhorted each of you…”
With these examples, we see how the fifth commandment is giving us a great foundation for loving our neighbor. This commandment addresses what is required of inferiors to their superiors, but it does not stop there. It also teaches what is required of superiors to their inferiors.
Examples of Biblical Submission in our Lives
In Ephesians 5:17-6:20, we see three models that can summarize all relationships in our society. Paul writes that wives should submit to their husbands, that children should submit to their parents, and we should submit to the earthly authorities. As Paul is writing these things, he even says that submission is a sign of being filled with the Spirit.
Notice, however, it is mutual submission – submitting to one another.
The temptation is to underline the fact that Paul writes that wives should submit to their husbands, but quickly forget that Paul follows that statement with a plea for husbands to love their wife as Christ loves the Church. How much does Christ love the Church? He laid His life down for her. Therefore, it was a sacrificial love and a submissive love!
This submitting to one another comes with a great assurance from the LORD, and it is the tag to the fifth commandment, that our days might be long in this God-given life.
The fifth commandment is the principle of our society. If we submit to one another, honoring our father and our mother, our society is better. On the other side of that coin, if we fail in this commandment our society suffers.
Dear readers love God and love one another.