12 The fifth commandment, to “honor” one’s parents, involves: (1) prizing them highly (cf. Pr 4:8; i.e., wisdom, when sought above everything else and prized more highly than all else, will bring honor to its seekers); (2) caring and showing affection for them (Ps 91:15; i.e., God’s honoring of individuals is shown by his care for them in being with them and delivering them from trouble); and (3) showing respect and fear, or revering them (Lev 19:3). When Ephesians 6:1 says, “Obey your parents,” it immediately and necessarily qualifies it with, “in the Lord.” Parents are to be shown honor (v. 2), but nowhere is their word to rival or be a substitute for God’s Word.
Proverbs likewise urges deep regard for one’s parents (see Pr 10:1; 15:20; 17:6, 21, 25; 19:26; 20:20; 23:22; 28:24; 30:11, 17). There are also examples of special care for parents and other members of the family in the OT (Ge 45:10–11; 47:12; 50:21; Jos 2:13, 18; 6:23; 1 Sa 22:3; Houtman, 3:52).
The promise in Ephesians 6:2–3 attached to this commandment to revere one’s parents is unique, even though there is a sense in which the promise of life stands over all the commandments (Dt 4:1; 8:1; 16:20; 30:15–16). The promise of a long life in the land refers primarily to the land of Canaan and the people of Israel. The national character of this language can be confirmed by referring to Deuteronomy 4:26, 33, 40; 32:46–47. The captivity of Israel is caused, in part, by a failure to honor their parents (Eze 22:7, 15). This commandment possesses what we might call a ceremonial or a national promise, but it does have present-day individual application in the same way that all the commandments are meant to give a new quality of life (without creating a merit system to gain eternal life).
20:12 / The fifth commandment is, “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you” (see also Deut. 5:16). The integrity of the newly formed community required that the adults honor parents who were no longer an economic asset in the family. While later applications (by adults) have focused this command on preadult children, the original context was a covenant with the adult children in the community (Deut. 27:20). Young children learned (or not) to honor their parents through the honor (lit., “weight”) they saw adults give to their elders. This commandment mentions both mother and father (mother first in Lev. 19:3), in contrast to the Akkadian Code of Hammurabi (1750 b.c.) that only expressed concern for the father. The attached promise of long life in the land demonstrates the central value God placed on extended families for the health of the community.
Specific laws offer details describing what it meant to radically dishonor one’s mother and father. Children should not attack or curse their parents (21:15, 17; Lev. 20:9; Deut. 21:18–21; 27:16). The commandment, however, is positive, instructing that honor (or “weight,” kabed) is due parents simply because they are one’s mother and father. This is not a question of subordination, but of giving serious weight to parents’ concerns and needs. Leviticus 19:3 adds that children should give “respect” (yareʾ). There is no mention of “earning” the respect. The elder was also liable before God for keeping the six hundred and thirteen laws. The new sociality was based on the command of God, not on social contracts. This commandment does not address the abuse of parental authority. We see this, rather, in the commands against killing (physical abuse), adultery (sexual abuse), and false witness (verbal abuse).
The advice of Proverbs 4:1–27 demonstrates the positive role of the father with a preadult child, guiding the child to a life of wisdom (see also Prov. 10:1; 13:1; 15:5; 19:18). The nt specifically links good parenting and the command to honor parents when it quotes the fifth commandment (Eph. 6:1–4; Col. 3:20–21).
20:12 Honor father and mother. To honor here means to obey. The verse teaches that a life of obedience to parents is the type of life which, in general, insures length of days. A life of disobedience and sin often leads to premature death. This is the first commandment with a promise attached (Eph. 6:2). It teaches respect for authority.
20:12 Fifth commandment. The concept of honouring is usually associated with God or his representatives, prophets and kings. In all likelihood parents were envisaged as representing God to their children; the family unit being a miniature of the nation. The seriousness of this commandment is reflected in the fact that the death penalty was required for children who wilfully disrespected their parents (Ex. 21:15, 17). If parents, as authority figures within the home, are respected by children, then respect for authority figures within society at large will also follow.
20:12 Before the discovery of ancient treaty patterns and their relation to the Ten Commandments, many people assumed that the two tablets of the Law (Ex. 34:1) were divided on the basis of laws relating to God and those relating to other people. In this approach, the fifth command, in this verse, would begin the second tablet. Following our understanding of ancient treaties, however, it is probable that each of the tablets contained all ten commandments. In the ancient world, one copy of a treaty would be placed in the principal temple of each contracting party. Here both copies were kept together before God and the people in the Most Holy Place. Honor your father and your mother: The term honor means “to treat with significance.” It is the opposite of in vain (v. 7). Care of one’s elderly parents was a basic element of social responsibility and godly piety in Israel. Here it is tied directly to how a person would fare in the land. People who were faithless to God in disregarding their parents would not last long in the new Promised Land.
20:12. Commandments 5–10, the second portion of the Law (vv. 12–17), deal with one’s relationships to others. All the commandments include a negative except the fourth (the last in the first group) and the fifth (the first in the second group). The fifth commandment enjoins respect (honor) of parents. It implies obedience and submission to them (cf. Eph. 6:1–2). The promise of longevity that accompanies the command (live long) refers to duration as a nation in covenant relationship with God (in the land the Lord your God is giving you) rather than a lengthened lifespan for each obedient individual. Cursing one’s parents, tantamount to repudiating their authority, was a capital offense (Ex. 21:17; Lev. 20:9; Prov. 20:20).
20:12 — “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.”
With every divine commandment comes not merely a curse for disobedience, but a blessing for obedience. God does not give us commandments because He wants to control us; His commandments prepare us for His blessings.
20:12 Honor your father and your mother. The key to societal stability is reverence and respect for parents and their authority. The appended promise primarily related the command to life in the Promised Land and reminded the Israelite of the program God had set up for him and his people. Within the borders of their territory, God expected them not to tolerate juvenile delinquency, which at heart is overt disrespect for parents and authority. Severe consequences, namely capital punishment, could apply (cf. Dt 21:18–21). One of the reasons for the Babylonian exile was a failure to honor parents (Eze 22:7, 15). The Apostle Paul individualized this national promise when he applied the truth to believers in his day (cf. Mt 15:4; Mk 7:10; Eph 6:1–3).
20:12Honor your father and your mother. The word “honor” means to treat someone with the proper respect due to the person and their role. With regard to parents, this means (1) treating them with deference (cf. 21:15, 17); (2) providing for them and looking after them in their old age (for this sense of honor, see Prov. 3:9). Both Jesus and Paul underline the importance of this command (Mark 7:1–13; Eph. 6:1–3; 1 Tim. 5:4). This is the only one of the Ten Commandments with a specific promise attached to it: that your days may be long—meaning not just a long life, but one that is filled with God’s presence and favor. See note on Deut. 5:16.
20:12Honor your father and your mother This acts as a hinge between the two categories of the laws (see note on Exod 20:1–21) since it has elements of both divine and interpersonal relationship. The dual focus demonstrates that faith to God was of central importance for the family. This is the only law with an entirely positive message and an offer of reward.
The Hebrew verb kabbed (“honor”) refers to reverence and respect. This verb is used with both parents and God as its object, reflecting the command’s dual emphasis (21:17; Deut 21:18–21; Lev 24:10–16; Num 15:30; 1 Kgs 21:10).
Yahweh your God is giving you Like the book of Proverbs and many other instances of proverbial language in the ot, this promise is not a prophecy. It is a proverb or aphorism—a saying whose general validity is demonstrated by life experience.
 Kaiser, W. C., Jr. (2008). Exodus. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Genesis–Leviticus (Revised Edition) (Vol. 1, p. 482). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Bruckner, J. K. (2012). Exodus. (W. W. Gasque, R. L. Hubbard Jr., & R. K. Johnston, Eds.) (pp. 186–187). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 109). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
 Alexander, T. D. (1994). Exodus. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., pp. 107–108). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.
 Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (p. 123). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.
 Hannah, J. D. (1985). Exodus. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 1, p. 140). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
 Stanley, C. F. (2005). The Charles F. Stanley life principles Bible: New King James Version (Ex 20:12). Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Ex 20:12). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
 Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 176). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
 Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Ex 20:12). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.