1Then God spoke all these words: 2I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 3you shall have no other gods before me.
4You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, 6but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.
7You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.
8Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work – you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.
12Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.
13You shall not murder.
14You shall not commit adultery.
15You shall not steal.
16You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
17You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
18When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, 19and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.” 20Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.” 21Then the people stood at a distance, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.
This should be familiar to all of us; but sometimes the familiar words have the hardest time landing. Take the fifth commandment—“honor your father and mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the LORD is giving you.” At first glance this should be easy. Maybe it was one of the first lessons we learned at church as our parents incentivized, threatened, and cajoled us into good behavior. Maybe, we think, a little respect and deference should suffice here. But, like most simple commands in scripture, this one wants context. When God dispensed the ten commandments through Moses the people of Israel didn’t have land, safety, or shelter. They had years of wilderness wandering ahead of them. And, in the midst of this wandering, maybe it would have been tempting for Israel to leave their elderly and vulnerable parents behind so that they might enter God’s Promised Land more expeditiously. But the purpose of the wilderness wasn’t just to get the people to the Promised Land, but to fit them for it. And how could the people be fit to be a blessing to the nations if they left their parents to die by the roadside? Honor your father and mother. It means so much more. Even today, it seems, many have trouble with the “simple” commands.
Holy God, we thank you for all those parents in faith who have gone before us, to teach and to lead us in your way. Help us to honor them through our work, our care, and our love, that we might honor you, our Father in heaven, through Jesus Christ, your Son. Amen.