Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee. – Exodus 20:12
Meaning of Exodus 20:12
The verse Exodus 20:12 is the fifth of the Ten Commandments directly given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai. The meaning of Exodus 20:12 is very easy to grasp and is self-explanatory. The verse ‘Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee’ means a child must always honor or respect their parents at all times. It also means the child must not speak ill of the parents and insult them even if they find them unreasonable. God also adds a promise with the commandment that if children honor their parents, their life will be good, and God will also bless them.
Interpretations of Exodus 20:12
Exodus 20:12 is the most used verse in the Christian and non-Christian communities among all the ten commandments. It is also one of the very few misinterpreted verses in the Bible. A few are given below.
Interpretation #1 Children must not leave their parents
In this interpretation, the reader believes that children are meant to be with their parents as long as they are alive. As the family unit before the 19th century was different, parents and children lived together under one roof, even after the children were married and had children. Very few people chose to live in a separate home if they had their own farm or property or they moved to a different city. Also, traditional churches support both opinions from the Bible, which mentions that a man must leave their parents after marriage. Also, the phrase ‘the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee’, according to the reader, implies that a person must care for their parents in the land given by God.
Interpretation #2 Children must tolerate abusive parents
The priest at churches and the elders in the families expect and teach children to be obedient based on this verse, which is also the most important commandment after ‘Thou shall have no other gods’. Even if parents are severely abusive to children, where a few children may even need rescuing or taken to a shelter. However, the church and traditional community require children to continue being obedient and tolerate their parents even if they are abusive. Children or readers mostly agree with this interpretation out of obedience and fear of punishment from God.
Interpretation #3 Honoring parents brings blessings
In this interpretation, the reader recognizes the blessings that are promised by God if he or she honors their parents. The church and the community also add an exception to the verse ‘Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee’. Here the children do not have to love their parents in order to honor them. However, by keeping the commandment, children, especially adults, must remain respectful to their elderly parents and look after their needs. Thus, God, who can see their obedience to the commandments, will be blessing them.
Historical background of Exodus 20:12
According to the historical record, the book of Exodus was written between the 13th and 12th century BC during the reign of King Rameses II. The Ten Commandments were given right after Moses released the Egyptians from four centuries of slavery after the series of ten plagues and walking through the Red Sea. The verse Exodus 20:12 is the fifth commandment out of the ten commandments that were given to Moses by God and written by God’s hand on the tablet. Later, other commandments given to Moses continue in the rest of the book and the book of Leviticus.
Literary Devices of Exodus 20:12
A few literary devices used in verse Exodus 20:12 are given below.
Theme – The major themes of Exodus 20:12 are obedience and dedication.
Alliteration – The verse has two consonant sounds used in repetition, and few are not in quick succession. For example, the sound of /th/ and the sound of /l/ in ‘Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee’.
Assonance – The verse has a repeated use of vowel sounds, and one of them is used in quick succession. For example, the sound of /a/, the sound of /o/, and the sound of /ee/ in ‘that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee’.
Adage – An adage is a traditional saying that is based on universal fact. Though the verse is one of the most important commandments in The Bible, it is universally accepted in every religion that honoring parents brings good fortune or blessings.
Consonance – The verse has a rich use of consonant sounds in repetitions without quick succession. For example, the sound of /r/, the sound of /n/, and the sound of /d/ in ‘Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee’.