The fourth commandment reads “honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you” (Exodus 20:12). It is often relegated to the attic of forgotten relics of the past. However, the Bible lists it before more famous commandments such as you shall not kill or steal.
What does it mean and why was it regarded to be so important by the ancient Jews? Ephesians 6 gives us a clue. It refers to it as “the first commandment with a promise.” It explicitly promises cultural prosperity and longevity if we honor our mother and father.
We can interpret this literally, but, as so many things in the Bible do, it has layers upon layers of deeper metaphorical meanings.
Layer Upon Layer
One interpretation is that we should honor the institution of motherhood and fatherhood. Even in the case where your parents were not so honorable, you can still honor the institution by recognizing the importance of good parenthood and not repeating their mistakes with your children.
In this age, when so many children are growing up without a father, we are painfully reminded of the devastating effects of neglecting to honor the institution of the nuclear family. We pay the price for it in the form of violence, delinquency, poverty, and lower health among the affected population.
At an even deeper layer, our mother and father can be interpreted as the sum of all ancestors that brought us to the point we are today. At this level, the commandment means to honor our cultural heritage. We do that by learning from their accumulated wisdom and preserving their contributions for future generations.
Sadly, the dominant ideology of our time seeks to dishonor our mother and father as much as possible. That ideology is called progressivism. At heart, its idea is that everything from the past is bad and needs to be destroyed. According to progressives, all our ancestors were one giant basket of deplorables. Hey hey, ho ho. Our heritage has got to go.
The tragic irony of progressives is that by destroying the past they are also dismantling the very future that they idolize. It takes an enormous amount of effort merely to maintain what we have already achieved, and we tamper with our working solutions at our peril.
But it is equally dangerous to idolize the past. Many nationalists fall into this trap by emphasizing national and cultural pride. Pride is the dessert of one’s achievements. To be proud of our ancestors means to take credit for the unearned.
Honor is different. It means to recognize and respect the achievements of our mothers and fathers and to put in the effort needed to ensure that their hard work was not wasted and sullied by a spoiled generation. We honor our parents not to celebrate the past but to ensure “that we may live long in the land.”