Some companies (including well-known ones), through retirements and turnover of their staff, have found themselves revisiting work from years ago, and discovering that they no longer have the knowledge to rebuild something from the past. Maybe it is a computer program whose source code has been lost, or a design that was done by slide rule, with rules that are no longer documented. Past experts may be called out of retirement, or perhaps solutions are reconstructed from scratch. However, at other times, the original information is simply no longer available.
Consider this instruction from the Ten Commandments:
“Honor your father and mother. Then you will live a long, full life in the land the Lord your God is giving you.
Exodus 20:12 NLT
The Hebrew people to whom this commandment was given had recently been rescued from slavery in Egypt. They had walked across the Red Sea, and had seen pillars of cloud and fire. Despite some issues with a golden calf and general grumbling, this was a generation who had seen God at work, and could personally testify to His power.
So, what does this have to do with honoring our parents? Let’s take a look at the second part of this verse which, as Ephesians 6:1-3 reminds us, “is the first commandment with a promise”. Why would honoring one’s parents lead to a long life in the promised land for these Hebrews?
Some parents might say that it is because their wisdom is supreme to that of their children. It is probably true that following the advice of the wise will help one to live longer (in general), but this verse from Exodus suggests that the result of obeying this command is not limited to only a promise of longevity.
Others might say that obeying God’s commands incurs His favor, so regardless of what He instructed His people to do, that would result in blessings for them. Although God often blesses righteousness, if this were the only reason for the people to live well in Canaan, why wasn’t the same promise attached to the other commandments?
My theory is based on a principle outlined in these verses:
“But if your heart turns away and you refuse to listen, and if you are drawn away to serve and worship other gods, then I warn you now that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live a long, good life in the land you are crossing the Jordan to occupy.
Deuteronomy 30:17-18 NLT
In Deuteronomy here, we find what would cause the people to not be blessed in their new home. Based on this alone, one might expect the promise above (from Exodus) to be associated with the earlier commandments, about having no gods other than God (Jehovah).
I wonder, though, if the worship of God was exactly what was supposed to be passed down from one generation to the next? What if the memories of God’s power, fresh in the minds of the recently-rescued Hebrews, was what they needed to teach to their children, so that future generations would not fall away from God, their rescuer? Passages like Deuteronomy 6:1-3 and Deuteronomy 11:18-21 suggest something similar.
In this case, children honoring their parents (including listening to what the older generation had to say about God, and following God’s commandments that they were taught) would give the children an opportunity for a good life in the promised land. When this message was lost in later years, whether through parents failing to deliver the news, or (as alluded to in these verses) through children not showing respect to what their parents communicated about their ancestors’ experiences with God, disaster befell the nation.
I can appreciate that mere descriptions of God’s intervention, along with testimonies about His work in other peoples’ lives, are not the same as experiencing Him firsthand. As a child, I didn’t fully appreciate many lessons that my parents taught until I got older and ran into those situations myself.
However, when children honor their parents enough to listen and obey (even before they have experienced the opportunities to see these life lessons in action), they can escape many of the consequences that come from living a life without God.
So, if we are in a situation where we can pass along our testimony for the glory of God to our children (or to others), may we take those opportunities. We don’t control whether or not we are honored, but we can honor God and others through what we do, and provide an opportunity for others to learn about Him.
And, if we are being taught about others’ experiences with God, whether from our biological parents or other people who have walked with Jesus, let us follow this commandment to honor them. Yes, honoring our parents probably also includes how we talk about them, and taking care of them when necessary, but sometimes a little bit of respect goes a long way – both for them and for us. If we can pick up the message that God gave, it is my hope that we, too, can experience the life that God had in mind for the Israelites…and for us.
Don’t lose the valuable information that is stored in the memories of previous generations. If we disrespect and dismiss their wisdom, we do so at our own peril.
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.