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Exodus 20:12

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

Honor thy father and thy mother - There is a degree of affectionate respect which is owing to parents, that no person else can properly claim. For a considerable time parents stand as it were in the place of God to their children, and therefore rebellion against their lawful commands has been considered as rebellion against God. This precept therefore prohibits, not only all injurious acts, irreverent and unkind speeches to parents, but enjoins all necessary acts of kindness, filial respect, and obedience. We can scarcely suppose that a man honors his parents who, when they fall weak, blind, or sick, does not exert himself to the uttermost in their support. In such cases God as truly requires the children to provide for their parents, as he required the parents to feed, nourish, support, instruct, and defend the children when they were in the lowest state of helpless in fancy. See Clarke's note on Genesis 48:12. The rabbins say, Honor the Lord with thy substance, Proverbs 3:9; and, Honor thy father and mother. The Lord is to be honored thus if thou have it; thy father and mother, whether thou have it or not; for if thou have nothing, thou art bound to beg for them. See Ainsworth.

That thy days may be long - This, as the apostle observes, Ephesians 6:2, is the first commandment to which God has annexed a promise; and therefore we may learn in some measure how important the duty is in the sight of God. In Deuteronomy 5:16; it is said, And that it may go well with thee; we may therefore conclude that it will go ill with the disobedient; and there is no doubt that the untimely deaths of many young persons are the judicial consequence of their disobedience to their parents. Most who come to an untimely end are obliged to confess that this, with the breach of the Sabbath, was the principal cause of their ruin. Reader, art thou guilty? Humble thyself therefore before God, and repent. 1. As children are bound to succor their parents, so parents are bound to educate and instruct their children in all useful and necessary knowledge, and not to bring them up either in ignorance or idleness. 2. They should teach their children the fear and knowledge of God, for how can they expect affection or dutiful respect from those who have not the fear of God before their eyes? Those who are best educated are generally the most dutiful. Heathens also inculcated respect to parents.

Ουδεν προς θεων τιμιωτερον αγαλμα αν κτησαιμεθα πατρος και προπατορος παρειμενων γηρᾳ, και μητερων την αυτην δυναμιν εχουσων· οὑς ὁυταν αγαλλῃ τις, τιμαις γεγηθεν ὁ θεος.π - Πας δη νουν εχων φοβειται και τιμᾳ, γονενων ευχας ειδως πολλοις και πολλακις επιτελεις γενομενας .

Plato de Leg., lib. xi., vol. ix, p. 160. Ed. Bipont.

"We can obtain no more honorable possession from the gods than fathers and forefathers worn down with age, and mothers who have undergone the same change, whom when we delight, God is pleased with the honor; and every one that is governed by right understanding fears and reverences them, well knowing that the prayers of parents oftentimes, and in many particulars, have received full accomplishment."

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible
Verses 1-17

The Hebrew name which is rendered in our King James Version as the ten commandments occurs in Exodus 34:28; Deuteronomy 4:13; Deuteronomy 10:4. It literally means “the Ten Words.” The Ten Commandments are also called the law, even the commandment Exodus 24:12, the words of the covenant Exodus 34:28, the tables of the covenant Deuteronomy 9:9, the covenant Deuteronomy 4:13, the two tables Deuteronomy 9:10, Deuteronomy 9:17, and, most frequently, the testimony (e. g. Exodus 16:34; Exodus 25:16), or the two tables of the testimony (e. g. Exodus 31:18). In the New Testament they are called simply the commandments (e. g. Matthew 19:17). The name decalogue is found first in Clement of Alexandria, and was commonly used by the Fathers who followed him.

Thus we know that the tables were two, and that the commandments were ten, in number. But the Scriptures do not, by any direct statements, enable us to determine with precision how the Ten Commandments are severally to be made out, nor how they are to be allotted to the Two tables. On each of these points various opinions have been held (see Exodus 20:12).

Of the Words of Yahweh engraven on the tables of Stone, we have two distinct statements, one in Exodus Deuteronomy 5:7-21, apparently of equal authority, but differing principally from each other in the fourth, the fifth, and the tenth commandments.

It has been supposed that the original commandments were all in the same terse and simple form of expression as appears (both in Exodus and Deuteronomy) in the first, sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth, such as would be most suitable for recollection, and that the passages in each copy in which the most important variations are found were comments added when the books were written.

The account of the delivery of them in Exodus 20:18-21 is in accordance with their importance as the recognized basis of the covenant between Yahweh and His ancient people (Exodus 34:27-28; Deuteronomy 4:13; 1 Kings 8:21, etc.), and as the divine testimony against the sinful tendencies in man for all ages. While it is here said that “God spake all these words,” and in Deuteronomy 5:4, that He “talked face to face,” in the New Testament the giving of the law is spoken of as having been through the ministration of Angels Acts 7:53; Galatians 3:19; Hebrews 2:2. We can reconcile these contrasts of language by keeping in mind that God is a Spirit, and that He is essentially present in the agents who are performing His will.

Exodus 20:2

Which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage - It has been asked: Why, on this occasion, was not the Lord rather proclaimed as “the Creator of Heaven and Earth”? The answer is, Because the Ten Commandments were at this time addressed by Yahweh not merely to human creatures, but to the people whom He had redeemed, to those who had been in bondage, but were now free men Exodus 6:6-7; Exodus 19:5. The commandments are expressed in absolute terms. They are not sanctioned by outward penalties, as if for slaves, but are addressed at once to the conscience, as for free men. The well-being of the nation called for the infliction of penalties, and therefore statutes were passed to punish offenders who blasphemed the name of Yahweh, who profaned the Sabbath, or who committed murder or adultery. (See Leviticus 18:24-30 note.) But these penal statutes were not to be the ground of obedience for the true Israelite according to the covenant. He was to know Yahweh as his Redeemer, and was to obey him as such (Compare Romans 13:5).

Exodus 20:3

Before me - Literally, “before my face.” The meaning is that no god should be worshipped in addition to Yahweh. Compare Exodus 20:23. The polytheism which was the besetting sin of the Israelites did not in later times exclude Yahweh, but associated Him with false deities. (Compare the original of 1 Samuel 2:25.)

Exodus 20:4

Graven image - Any sort of image is here intended.

As the first commandment forbids the worship of any false god, seen or unseen, it is here forbidden to worship an image of any sort, whether the figure of a false deity Joshua 23:7 or one in any way symbolic of Yahweh (see Exodus 32:4). The spiritual acts of worship were symbolized in the furniture and ritual of the tabernacle and the altar, and for this end the forms of living things might be employed as in the case of the Cherubim (see Exodus 25:18 note): but the presence of the invisible God was to be marked by no symbol of Himself, but by His words written on stones, preserved in the ark in the holy of holies and covered by the mercy-seat. The ancient Persians and the earliest legislators of Rome also agreed in repudiating images of the Deity.

A jealous God - Deuteronomy 6:15; Joshua 24:19; Isaiah 42:8; Isaiah 48:11; Nahum 1:2. This reason applies to the First, as well as to the second commandment. The truth expressed in it was declared more fully to Moses when the name of Yahweh was proclaimed to him after he had interceded for Israel on account of the golden calf (Exodus 34:6-7; see the note).

Visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children - (Compare Exodus 34:7; Jeremiah 32:18). Sons and remote descendants inherit the consequences of their fathers‘ sins, in disease, poverty, captivity, with all the influences of bad example and evil communications. (See Leviticus 26:39; Lamentations 5:7 following) The “inherited curse” seems to fall often most heavily on the least guilty persons; but such suffering must always be free from the sting of conscience; it is not like the visitation for sin on the individual by whom the sin has been committed. The suffering, or loss of advantages, entailed on the unoffending son, is a condition under which he has to carry on the struggle of life, and, like all other inevitable conditions imposed upon men, it cannot tend to his ultimate disadvantage, if he struggles well and perseveres to the end. The principle regulating the administration of justice by earthly tribunals Deuteronomy 24:16, is carried out in spiritual matters by the Supreme Judge.

Exodus 20:6

Unto thousands - unto the thousandth generation. Yahweh‘s visitations of chastisement extend to the third and fourth generation, his visitations of mercy to the thousandth; that is, forever. That this is the true rendering seems to follow from Deuteronomy 7:9; Compare 2 Samuel 7:15-16.

Exodus 20:7

Our translators make the Third commandment bear upon any profane and idle utterance of the name of God. Others give it the sense, “Thou shalt not swear falsely by the name of Jehovah thy God.” The Hebrew word which answers to “in vain” may be rendered either way. The two abuses of the sacred name seem to be distinguished in Leviticus 19:12 (see Matthew 5:33). Our King James Version is probably right in giving the rendering which is more inclusive. The caution that a breach of this commandment incurs guilt in the eyes of Yahweh is especially appropriate, in consequence of the ease with which the temptation to take God‘s name “in vain” besets people in their common conversation with each other.

Exodus 20:8

Remember the sabbath day - There is no distinct evidence that the Sabbath, as a formal ordinance, was recognized before the time of Moses (compare Nehemiah 9:14; Ezekiel 20:10-12; Deuteronomy 5:15). The word “remember” may either be used in the sense of “keep in mind” what is here enjoined for the first time, or it may refer back to what is related in Exodus 16:22-26.

Exodus 20:10

The sabbath … - a Sabbath to Yahweh thy God. The proper meaning of “sabbath” is, “rest after labor.” Compare Exodus 16:26.

Thy stranger that is within thy gates - Not a “stranger,” as is an unknown person, but a “lodger,” or “sojourner.” In this place it denotes one who had come from another people to take up his permanent abode among the Israelites, and who might have been well known to his neighbors. That the word did not primarily refer to foreign domestic servants (though all such were included under it) is to be inferred from the term used for “gates,” signifying not the doors of a private dwelling, but the gates of a town or camp.

Exodus 20:12

Honour thy father and thy mother - According to our usage, the fifth commandment is placed as the first in the second table; and this is necessarily involved in the common division of the commandments into our duty toward God and our duty toward men. But the more ancient, and probably the better, division allots five commandments to each table (compare Romans 13:9), proceeding on the distinction that the First table relates to the duties which arise from our filial relations, the second to those which arise from our fraternal relations. The connection between the first four commandments and the fifth exists in the truth that all faith in God centers in the filial feeling. Our parents stand between us and God in a way in which no other beings can. On the maintenance of parental authority, see Exodus 21:15, Exodus 21:17; Deuteronomy 21:18-21.

That thy days may be long upon the land - Filial respect is the ground of national permanence (compare Jeremiah 35:18-19; Matthew 15:4-6; Mark 7:10-11). The divine words were addressed emphatically to Israel, but they set forth a universal principle of national life Ephesians 6:2.

Exodus 20:13-14

Matthew 5:21-32 is the best comment on these two verses.

Exodus 20:15

The right of property is sanctioned in the eighth commandment by an external rule: its deeper meaning is involved in the tenth commandment.

Exodus 20:17

As the sixth, seventh, and eighth commandments forbid us to injure our neighbor in deed, the ninth forbids us to injure him in word, and the tenth, in thought. No human eye can see the coveting heart; it is witnessed only by him who possesses it and by Him to whom all things are naked and open Luke 12:15-21. But it is the root of all sins of word or deed against our neighbor James 1:14-15.

Matthew Henry
Concise Bible Commentary
The laws of the SECOND table, that is, the last six of the ten commandments, state our duty to ourselves and to one another, and explain the great commandment, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, Lu 10:27. Godliness and honesty must go together. The fifth commandment concerns the duties we owe to our relations. Honour thy father and thy mother, includes esteem of them, shown in our conduct; obedience to their lawful commands; come when they call you, go where they send you, do what they bid you, refrain from what they forbid you; and this, as children, cheerfully, and from a principle of love. Also submission to their counsels and corrections. Endeavouring, in every thing, to comfort parents, and to make their old age easy; maintaining them if they need support, which our Saviour makes to be particularly intended in this commandment, Mt 15:4-6. Careful observers have noted a peculiar blessing in temporal things on obedient, and the reverse on disobedient children. The sixth commandment requires that we regard the life and the safety of others as we do our own. Magistrates and their officers, and witnesses testifying the truth, do not break this command. Self-defence is lawful; but much which is not deemed murder by the laws of man, is such before God. Furious passions, stirred up by anger or by drunkenness, are no excuse: more guilty is murder in duels, which is a horrible effect of a haughty, revengeful spirit. All fighting, whether for wages, for renown, or out of anger and malice, breaks this command, and the bloodshed therein is murder. To tempt men to vice and crimes which shorten life, may be included. Misconduct, such as may break the heart, or shorten the lives of parents, wives, or other relatives, is a breach of this command. This command forbids all envy, malice, hatred, or anger, all provoking or insulting language. The destruction of our own lives is here forbidden. This commandment requires a spirit of kindness, longsuffering, and forgiveness. The seventh commandment concerns chastity. We should be as much afraid of that which defiles the body, as of that which destroys it. Whatever tends to pollute the imagination, or to raise the passions, falls under this law, as impure pictures, books, conversation, or any other like matters. The eighth commandment is the law of love as it respects the property of others. The portion of worldly things allotted us, as far as it is obtained in an honest way, is the bread which God hath given us; for that we ought to be thankful, to be contented with it, and, in the use of lawful means, to trust Providence for the future. Imposing upon the ignorance, easiness, or necessity of others, and many other things, break God's law, though scarcely blamed in society. Plunderers of kingdoms though above human justice, will be included in this sentence. Defrauding the public, contracting debts without prospect of paying them, or evading payment of just debts, extravagance, all living upon charity when not needful, all squeezing the poor in their wages; these, and such things, break this command; which requires industry, frugality, and content, and to do to others, about worldly property, as we would they should do to us. The ninth commandment concerns our own and our neighbour's good name. This forbids speaking falsely on any matter, lying, equivocating, and any way devising or designing to deceive our neighbour. Speaking unjustly against our neighbour, to hurt his reputation. Bearing false witness against him, or in common conversation slandering, backbiting, and tale-bearing; making what is done amiss, worse than it is, and in any way endeavouring to raise our reputation upon the ruin of our neighbour's. How much this command is every day broken among persons of all ranks! The tenth commandment strikes at the root; Thou shalt not covet. The others forbid all desire of doing what will be an injury to our neighbour; this forbids all wrong desire of having what will gratify ourselves.
Ellen G. White
Fundamentals of Christian Education, 100-2

In these days of peril and corruption, the young are exposed to many trials and temptations. Many are sailing in a dangerous harbor. They need a pilot; but they scorn to accept the much needed help, feeling that they are competent to guide their own bark, and not realizing that it is about to strike a hidden rock that may cause them to make shipwreck of faith and happiness. They are infatuated with the subject of courtship and marriage, and their principal burden is to have their own way. In this, the most important period of their lives, they need an unerring counselor, and infallible guide. This they will find in the word of God. Unless they are diligent students of that word, they will make grave mistakes, which will mar their happiness and that of others, both for the present and the future life. FE 100.1

There is a disposition with many to be impetuous and headstrong. They have not heeded the wise counsel of the word of God; they have not battled with self, and obtained precious victories; and their proud, unbending will has driven them from the path of duty and obedience. Look back over your past life, young friends, and faithfully consider your course in the light of God's word. Have you cherished that conscientious regard for your obligations to your parents that the Bible enjoins? Have you treated with kindness and love the mother who has cared for you from infancy? Have you regarded her wishes, or have you brought pain and sadness to her heart by carrying out your own desires and plans? Has the truth you profess sanctified your heart, and softened and subdued your will? If not, you have close work to do to make past wrongs right. FE 100.2

The Bible presents a perfect standard of character. This sacred book, inspired by God, and written by holy men, is a perfect guide under all circumstances of life. It sets forth distinctly the duties of both young and old. If made the guide of life, its teachings will lead the soul upward. It will elevate the mind, improve the character, and give peace and joy to the heart. But many of the young have chosen to be their own counselor and guide, and have taken their cases in their own hands. Such need to study more closely the teachings of the Bible. In its pages they will find revealed their duty to their parents and to their brethren in the faith. The fifth commandment reads, “Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.” Again we read, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right.” One of the signs that we are living in the last days is that children are disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy. The word of God abounds in precepts and counsels enjoining respect for parents. It impresses upon the young the sacred duty of loving and cherishing those who have guided them through infancy, childhood, and youth, up to manhood and womanhood, and who are now in great degree dependent upon them for peace and happiness. The Bible gives no uncertain sound on this subject; nevertheless, its teachings have been greatly disregarded. FE 100.3

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Ellen G. White
Patriarchs and Prophets, 337

Satan's enmity against God's law had impelled him to war against every precept of the Decalogue. To the great principle of love and loyalty to God, the Father of all, the principle of filial love and obedience is closely related. Contempt for parental authority will soon lead to contempt for the authority of God. Hence Satan's efforts to lessen the obligation of the fifth commandment. Among heathen peoples the principle enjoined in this precept was little heeded. In many nations parents were abandoned or put to death as soon as age had rendered them incapable of providing for themselves. In the family the mother was treated with little respect, and upon the death of her husband she was required to submit to the authority of her eldest son. Filial obedience was enjoined by Moses; but as the Israelites departed from the Lord, the fifth commandment, with others, came to be disregarded. PP 337.1

Satan was “a murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44); and as soon as he had obtained power over the human race, he not only prompted them to hate and slay one another, but, the more boldly to defy the authority of God, he made the violation of the sixth commandment a part of their religion. PP 337.2

By perverted conceptions of divine attributes, heathen nations were led to believe human sacrifices necessary to secure the favor of their deities; and the most horrible cruelties have been perpetrated under the various forms of idolatry. Among these was the practice of causing their children to pass through the fire before their idols. When one of them came through this ordeal unharmed, the people believed that their offerings were accepted; the one thus delivered was regarded as specially favored by the gods, was loaded with benefits, and ever afterward held in high esteem; and however aggravated his crimes, he was never punished. But should one be burned in passing through the fire, his fate was sealed; it was believed that the anger of the gods could be appeased only by taking the life of the victim, and he was accordingly offered as a sacrifice. In times of great apostasy these abominations prevailed, to some extent, among the Israelites. PP 337.3

The violation of the seventh commandment also was early practiced in the name of religion. The most licentious and abominable rites were made a part of the heathen worship. The gods themselves were represented as impure, and their worshipers gave the rein to the baser passions. Unnatural vices prevailed and the religious festivals were characterized by universal and open impurity. PP 337.4

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Ellen G. White
Testimonies for the Church, vol. 1, 217

Eli might have restrained his wicked sons, but he feared their displeasure. He suffered them to go on in their rebellion, until they became a curse to Israel. Parents are required to restrain their children. The salvation of children depends very much upon the course pursued by the parents. In their mistaken love and fondness for their children, many parents indulge them to their hurt, nourish their pride, and put upon them trimmings and ornaments which make them vain, and lead them to think that dress makes the lady or gentleman. But a short acquaintance convinces those with whom they associate that an outside appearance is not sufficient to hide the deformity of a heart void of the Christian graces, but filled with self-love, haughtiness, and uncontrolled passions. Those who love meekness, humility, and virtue, should shun such society, even if it be Sabbathkeepers’ children. Their company is poisonous; their influence leads to death. Parents realize not the destructive influence of the seed which they are sowing. It will spring up and bear fruit which will make their children despise parental authority. 1T 217.1

Even after they are of age, children are required to respect their parents, and to look after their comfort. They should listen to the counsel of godly parents, and not feel that because a few more years are added to their life, they have grown out of their duty to them. There is a commandment with promise to those who honor their father and their mother. In these last days children are so noted for their disobedience and disrespect that God has especially noticed it, and it constitutes a sign that the end is near. It shows that Satan has almost complete control of the minds of the young. By many, age is no more respected. It is considered too old-fashioned to respect the aged; it dates back as far as the days of Abraham. Says God: “I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him.” 1T 217.2

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Ellen G. White
Counsels to Parents, Teachers, and Students, 169

Teach the youth that sin in any line is defined in the Scriptures as “transgression of the law.” 1 John 3:4.... Teach them in simple language that they must be obedient to their parents and give their hearts to God. Jesus Christ is waiting to accept and bless them if they will only come to Him and ask Him to pardon all their transgressions and take away their sins. And when they ask Him to pardon all their transgressions they must believe that He does it. CT 169.1

God wants every child of tender age to be His child, to be adopted into His family. Young though they may be, the youth may be members of the household of faith and have a most precious experience. They may have hearts that are tender and ready to receive impressions that will be lasting. They may have their hearts drawn out in confidence and love for Jesus, and live for the Saviour. Christ will make them little missionaries. The whole current of their thought may be changed, so that sin will not appear a thing to be enjoyed, but to be shunned and hated. CT 169.2

Small children, as well as those who are older, will be benefited by this instruction; and in thus simplifying the plan of salvation, the teachers will receive as great blessings as those who are taught. The Holy Spirit of God will impress the lessons upon the receptive minds of the children, that they may grasp the ideas of Bible truth in their simplicity. And the Lord will give an experience to these children in missionary lines; He will suggest to them lines of thought that even the teachers did not have. The children who are properly instructed will be witnesses to the truth. CT 169.3

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Ellen G. White
The Desire of Ages, 146

This answer, abrupt as it seems to us, expressed no coldness or discourtesy. The Saviour's form of address to His mother was in accordance with Oriental custom. It was used toward persons to whom it was desired to show respect. Every act of Christ's earthly life was in harmony with the precept He Himself had given, “Honor thy father and thy mother.” Exodus 20:12. On the cross, in His last act of tenderness toward His mother, Jesus again addressed her in the same way, as He committed her to the care of His best-loved disciple. Both at the marriage feast and upon the cross, the love expressed in tone and look and manner interpreted His words. DA 146.1

At His visit to the temple in His boyhood, as the mystery of His lifework opened before Him, Christ had said to Mary, “Wist ye not that I must be about My Father's business?” Luke 2:49. These words struck the keynote of His whole life and ministry. Everything was held in abeyance to His work, the great work of redemption which He had come into the world to accomplish. Now He repeated the lesson. There was danger that Mary would regard her relationship to Jesus as giving her a special claim upon Him, and the right, in some degree, to direct Him in His mission. For thirty years He had been to her a loving and obedient son, and His love was unchanged; but He must now go about His Father's work. As Son of the Most High, and Saviour of the world, no earthly ties must hold Him from His mission, or influence His conduct. He must stand free to do the will of God. This lesson is also for us. The claims of God are paramount even to the ties of human relationship. No earthly attraction should turn our feet from the path in which He bids us walk. DA 146.2

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