Deuteronomy 5:16 (Interpretation)

            This verse in Deuteronomy has been traditionally ascribed to Moses and is part of the last installment of Moses’ biography, which was preached to all of Israel shortly before his death.[1] More specifically, Deuteronomy 5:16 is the fifth commandment out of the ten commandments that were originally given to the nation of Israel at Mount Sinai (Ex. 20:12), which places this verse under the category of law. The text in this verse should be taken literally and its original intended meaning is quite clear, “Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you” (Dt. 5:16 ESV). The reason is also stated, “that your days may be long, and that it may go well with you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.”

This verse was written during a transitional time in the history of Israel. Throughout their time in the wilderness, God formed a nation out of them; however, God had yet to deliver the promised land into their hands because of the previous generation’s reluctance to rely completely on Him (Nm. 14:30-35). So, at this point, God’s Kingdom on earth was made up of a people without land to establish the Kingdom; however, that was about to change. Furthermore, the people were currently living under the Mosaic covenant, which was initiated and confirmed at Mount Sinai (Ex. 19:3-9). In fact, Deuteronomy emphasizes the continuation of the Mosaic covenant throughout, which is clearly seen with the renewal of the covenant in Moab (Dt. 29).[2] Both the Kingdom of God at that point in time and the Mosaic covenant are significant in determining how we are to interpret this verse in light of our modern world.

Before we arrive at this verse’s contemporary meaning we must recognize a few things about this verse that must be left in the Ancient world. First, this verse was originally directed specifically to the Israelites. Second, this verse was originally part of the Mosaic covenant and although this commandment was carried over to the new covenant in Christ, we are not bound specifically to the blessings and curses that occur as a consequence of being obedient or disobedient to God’s command here, such as being blessed in the land that the Lord God has given them. Realizing that these things must be left in the ancient world, we are now prepped to discover this verse’s contemporary meaning.

It is best to approach this verse’s contemporary meaning in light of Christ. Christ gave us the perfect example of what a parent child relationship should look like. He was completely obedient and He honored God His father by fulfilling His will. Furthermore, the relationship between God and Jesus Christ was not one out of reluctant servitude. Christ loved carrying out the will of His Father (Jn. 8:28). Considering all of this, then, Christians can look to the relationship between Christ and His Father in order to better understand the parent child relationships that we share with our loved ones. This verse isn’t just saying – children, obey your parents rather it speaks to both parent and child by calling them to mirror the relationship between God the Father and God the Son.

Deuteronomy 5:16 (Application)

            When this verse was written, God’s Kingdom on earth was in the process of being established through the nation of Israel. In addition, the people were living under the Mosaic covenant. Much has changed since then. For one, God’s Kingdom on earth is now represented through all people who believe in the name of Jesus Christ and furthermore, God’s people are now living in accordance to the new covenant, which was initiated through the Son’s sacrificial death, resurrection and exaltation above all names.

Deuteronomy 5:16 is quite narrow in meaning and one must be very careful not to make it say what it never intended to say. This verse does directly address the relationship between the parent and child and as we have just discovered, when we interpret this verse in light of Christ, it points to the relationship between God the Father and God the Son, which we are to mirror within our relationships with each other. When we look to the original Father-Son relationship as a model for our lives, we can be sure that His blessings are sure to follow.

[1]. Holy Bible: English Standard Version, Study Bible, 326.

[2]. Ibid.