Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you. (Exodus 20:12)
God had miraculously brought the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt at the time when Israel received the Ten Commandments. God was setting them apart as a nation unto himself, a nation from which would one day come the Christ.
These commandments were later written on physical tablets by God. Yet, after receiving these tablets from God, Moses witnessed the same Israelites—who were not long before miraculously rescued by God—worship a golden calf fashioned by their own hands. According to Exodus 32:19, at that moment Moses “threw the tablets from his hands and shattered them at the foot of the mountain.”
Later, after wandering—both physically and spiritually—God brought the Israelites to the land that he promised them—a promise that traced back generations, first given to Abraham (Genesis 12:1). God was faithful to his promises; his people would have an abundant place to call home.
On the brink of entering into this land, God re-states the Ten Commandments within a series of instructions to the nation. The promises associated with obedience to these commandments are abundant: possession of a land from the hand of God that is “a land flowing with milk and honey,” (Deuteronomy 11:9) and “a land for which God cares” (Deuteronomy 11:12).
Parents, Be Motivated by God’s Greatness
When speaking to the Israelites about the rewards of obedience, as well as about the consequences of disobedience, God says, “I am not speaking with your sons who have not known and who have not seen the discipline of the Lord your God—his greatness, his mighty hand and his outstretched arm” (Deuteronomy 11:2).
Notably, when talking about the benefits of obedience and the consequences of disobedience, God is speaking to fathers—not sons.
Giving children what they want and what makes them happy can come oh-so-easily to the heart of a parent; yet, the better goal—the way God steers our hearts as parents—is through the reminder that there are eternal blessings with loving the Lord and real warnings that accompany unbelief. Each day, we as parents are a witness to our children in words and actions of the abundance we have in Christ and the truth he is.
Not many verses prior to reminding the Israelites about rewards and consequences is the Shema, which are focal verses in the Old Testament. Shema literally means “hear.” Israel, be attentive to this!
Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to you sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).
Christian, hear this. Love the Lord! Be diligent in teaching those who come after you about him! We are a witness to our children of the abundance of Christ because we have seen great things—greater things than Israel.
We have not seen God part the Red Sea. We have not seen God send manna from heaven. We have not seen God part the river Jordan so that we can take possession of a promised land. But what we have participated in is even greater.
After all, which is easier—for God to part the Red Sea, or for him to say that our sins are forgiven (Matthew 9:5)? What we have to tell our children is what the Israelites longed to know (1 Peter 1:10-11). The risen Christ washes our sins away, and he is our bread of life from heaven through whom we never go hungry.
Our parenting is motivated by the greatness of our God in Christ.
Children, Honor God by Honoring Your Parents
God designed that parents would tell their children about him and how to please him: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you” (Exodus 20:12). The Israelites were to honor their parents because their possession of the land was conditional:
Beware that your hearts are not deceived, and that you do not turn away and serve other gods and worship them. Or the anger of the Lord will be kindled against you, and he will shut up the heavens so that there will be no rain and the ground will not yield its fruit; and you will perish quickly from the good land which the Lord is giving you. (Deuteronomy 11:16-17).
In God’s design, honoring our parents would be equivalent to honoring him and his ways; honoring their parents as Israelites would be equivalent to enjoying the blessings of the promised land. Ideally, when we honor our parents, it is equivalent to honoring what God has taught.
When Fathers and Sons Are Calf-Worshippers
But, sometimes, we as people are calf-worshippers. Sometimes, we have not been made a priority by our parents in our past. Or sometimes, we are fatherless or motherless. Or sometimes, children do not honor their parents who are godly. Or sometimes, children resent the gospel. Or sometimes, we don’t give the best examples to follow. Or sometimes, we don’t see our children for the priorities they are. And sometimes, though we try and pray, we do not get parenting right.
How do we move forward when God’s commandments are effectively shattered—as Moses symbolized when he shattered those tablets?
We remember this: Who gives our abundance, but Christ? “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you” (Exodus 20:12, emphasis mine).
He always gives. He gives our deliverance. He gives our forgiveness. He gives us teachings that help us know how to honor him. He gives us care. He fulfills his promises. He rescues us from our sin. He gives us hearts that love him. He gives us Christ. Even when Christ’s abundance imperfectly comes through our natural parents—or does not come at all—the Lord our God gives us perfect abundance. And because of his greatness in our lives, we see our role in the lives of our children as great because of the God we tell them about.
When life does not unfold according to the design of God, we ask him to rewrite his ways into our lives so that we can do what is unnatural for us. We can honor our fathers and mothers, noting the significance of who they are to us as children, by extending compassion regardless of their actions. We can continue to bear witness to our children about the abundance of Christ through our words and actions, regardless of their responses. We can accept God’s grace and mercy in order to again seek to make God great in our children’s eyes, regardless of yesterday’s parenting failures.
We continue to care because, as Pastor Colin taught, “that’s what God is like.” We think about how God gives, and we can give—continually seeking and asking that he rewrite what’s been shattered.