What does it mean to honor?

Q: One of the 10 commandments tells us to honor our fathers and our mothers. What exactly does this mean?

A: There are many instructions regarding children and their parents. Your specific question deals with the commandment from Exodus 20:12, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you.” The Hebrew word that is used in this passage is  כַּבֵּ֥ד kabeyd which is translated as honor. The root of the word means glory, or weightiness, as in the glory of the Lord. The connotation of this passage seems to be saying to be conscious of ones actions so as not to bring dishonor to your parents. It isn’t blind obedience, as some believe. It has more to do with respect than blind obedience. Just like any child desires his or her parents to be proud of them, it is pleasing to God when we desire that our actions reflect glory on our parents. All of the other passages that talk about our behavior concerning our parents are consistent with this thinking. Don’t curse your parents. Don’t hit your parents.
There is one other element here that we need to consider. The command has a consequence: that your days may be prolonged in the land. The idea here is that if your behavior is such that it cannot be tolerated by the community, you run the risk of being cast out of the community. There are plenty of verses that talk about being cut off from your people. This may be what this commandment refers to. Don’t tick your parents off and make them kick you out, might be how that commandment would read if written today.

There are many instructions regarding children and their parents. Your specific question deals with the commandment from Exodus 20:12, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you.” The Hebrew word that is used in this passage is  כַּבֵּ֥דkabeyd which is translated as honor. The root of the word means glory, or weightiness, as in the glory of the Lord. The connotation of this passage seems to be saying to be conscious of ones actions so as not to bring dishonor to your parents. It isn’t blind obedience, as some believe. It has more to do with respect than blind obedience. Just like any child desires his or her parents to be proud of them, it is pleasing to God when we desire that our actions reflect glory on our parents. All of the other passages that talk about our behavior concerning our parents are consistent with this thinking. Don’t curse your parents. Don’t hit your parents.

            There is one other element here that we need to consider. The command has a consequence: that your days may be prolonged in the land. The idea here is that if your behavior is such that it cannot be tolerated by the community, you run the risk of being cast out of the community. There are plenty of verses that talk about being cut off from your people. This may be what this commandment refers to. Don’t tick your parents off and make them kick you out, might be how that commandment would read if written today.

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