Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Fifth Commandment (Exodus 20:12, 21:15; Leviticus 20:9; Proverbs 20:20)

The following quotes are taken from

"Death for Hitting Dad - "Whoever strikes his father or mother shall be put to death."  (Exodus 21:15 NAB)

"Death for Cursing Parents - 1) "If one curses his father or mother, his lamp will go out at the coming of darkness."  (Proverbs 20:20 NAB)
2) "All who curse their father or mother must be put to death.  They are guilty of a capital offense."  (Leviticus 20:9 NLT)
            Why would capital punishment be prescribed for dishonoring one's parents?  In considering these texts, we must consider what a great responsibility has been placed on parents.  Being a parent entails the enormous tasks of birthing a child, caring for that child's physical needs until they reach adulthood, and raising them to be responsible adults.  Being a good parent requires a great amount of love, sacrifice, time and effort.
            All of Scripture reaffirms God's command to honor and obey one's parents (Exodus 20:12; Ephesians 6:1-3; Colossians 3:20).  God has directly placed our parents in a position of authority over us, and we are directed to respect the position that God has given them. 
            In light of God's command to honor one's parents and also in light of the fact that good parents do so much for their children throughout their lives, it would do parents a great disservice for their children to curse them.  We must also take into account that the meaning of the term "curse" carried a much greater weight in the Ancient Near East than it does in our modern Western culture.  To curse someone meant to call on an outside power to cause them misfortune or harm.  This directly goes against God's command to honor, respect, obey and love our parents.
            In the case of Exodus 21:15, many English translations render the Hebrew word nakah as "to strike" or "to hit".  However, the word can also mean "to kill" [1].  In either case, to strike one's parent or kill them is a direct affront not only to their authority, but to God's, who placed them above the child.  And if, in the opinion of the author of, it is such a terrible thing for capital punishment to be given to someone who cursed, struck or killed their parents, why then is the act of killing a parent not worthy of the death penalty?    
            Again, it is important to note that capital punishment commands such as these were given specifically to the nation of Israel during the time period and culture of the Ancient Near East.  All of Scripture, both Old and New Testament, stresses the importance of honoring one's parents; however, the capital punishments prescribed do not apply in our time period and culture (Romans 6:14; Galatians 3:24-26).

[1] Gesenius's Lexicon, Heinrich Friedrich Wilhelm Gesenius (translated by Samuel P. Tregelles), 1847