Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.I am struck again with how important this commandment is. My grandmother passed away at age 99 a few weeks ago, and at her side during the last months of her life were her three remaining sons, all of whom are in their seventies and eighties and dealing with their own health issues.
Exodus 20:12 ESV
While tempted to pay a long tribute to them in today's blog post, I will refrain, though they certainly deserve the praise, and I will simply say that their love and innate understanding of this commandment has become a fresh example of the wisdom in God's word.
When Paul cited this passage in Ephesians 6, he reminded his readers that this is the first commandment with a promise: that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.
I am not certain why there is a connection between honoring parents and longevity of life, but I suspect that the real intent of the promise is to the family of faith (Israel of old, and to include the Christian family today) so that we may continue to exhibit the eternal love of God within the family structure, thereby passing it to future generations, and giving greater honor and glory to the Lord our God.
It makes sense, doesn't it? Within the family of faith, the design of God is to pass on his covenantal grace within the family structure, father to son, mother to daughter, parents to children. When there is a disruption in this preferred flow of generational teaching and tradition, whether through death, separation or unfaith, then the danger is losing the next generation. When this happens, God mercifully uses other means to rescue those whom he has chosen as his children.
Within the families of faith, the believing son or daughter ministers to his/her parents, not simply out of necessity, but as a very real and tangible mercy of Jesus.
There is great wisdom in this commandment. While old age is a blessing from God, it doesn't come without some hard work. There comes a time when the real exercise of one's faith is required in caring for those who are no longer able to care for themselves. A son's or daughter's response to this requirement is all at once both a test of his love for the parent AND a test of his love for God.
And, the accompanying blessing to the next generation is great as well. The believing caretaker says to his own children and the generations that follow: Even though you have known me to be harsh, unforgiving, and sometimes unloving, in the end I am but a humble servant of the Lord, here only because of his mercy, and not on my own strength.
When my grandmother passed away she had been suffering from dementia, but she had retained much of the self-reliance which exhibited as stubbornness. She used to tell me that she was ready any time to go and meet the Lord. She joked with me many times that she attributed her long life to the "scotch in my blood." She meant Scottish blood; I, of course, made comments about not knowing she drank scotch. It was an old joke that we laughed about many, many times. But, as my sister said, she had had her bags packed for years. But, her good health had allowed her to be with us for a long time, and this was indeed a blessing.
In the end, she was not an easy patient. If a son, or daughter-in-law, or grandchild, were to be looking for reasons to be offended in her last days, they could have found it and thrown up their arms and left her to her own suffering. However, nurtured through 99 years of a hard and trying life, her faith and service were successfully transmitted to the next generation as evidenced in the love and compassion her aging children showed to her.
If ever we are tempted to think that God's wisdom is irrelevant in this particular commandment, let us think again. Only he fully understands the way faith is transmitted, because after all, he is the giver of it:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.
Ephesians 2:8 ESV