“Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live a long time in the land that Jehovah your God is giving you.”—Exodus 20:12, New World Translation.
“Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.”—Exodus 20:12, King James Version.
Meaning of Exodus 20:12
God commanded the ancient Israelites to honor their parents. By adding a promise to the command, he gave an additional incentive for obeying it. Although God’s Law to the Israelites, called the Mosaic Law, is no longer binding, his standards have not changed. The principles underlying God’s Law still apply and are therefore important to Christians.—Colossians 3:20.
Children—young and old—honor their parents when they respect and obey them. (Leviticus 19:3; Proverbs 1:8) Even when grown children later have families of their own, they continue to take a loving interest in their parents. For example, they ensure that their parents are well cared for in their old age, even giving them financial help when needed.—Matthew 15:4-6; 1 Timothy 5:4, 8.
The command to honor one’s parents has always had limits. Israelite children were not to obey their parents, or any other human, if doing so meant disobeying God. (Deuteronomy 13:6-8) Likewise today, Christians “obey God as ruler rather than men.”—Acts 5:29.
In the Law God gave to Israel, he promised that children who honored their parents would “live a long time and . . . prosper” in their God-given land. (Deuteronomy 5:16) They would not suffer the penalty that came upon grown children who ignored God’s law and rebelled against their parents. (Deuteronomy 21:18-21) Time has not changed the principles behind those laws. (Ephesians 6:1-3) Whether young or old, we are accountable to our Creator. And true to his promise, children who obey him and their parents will have a long life. In fact, they have the hope of living forever.—1 Timothy 4:8; 6:18, 19.
Context of Exodus 20:12
The command at Exodus 20:12 occupies a significant position in the Ten Commandments, or Ten Words. (Exodus 20:1-17) The commands preceding it defined the Israelites’ obligations to God, such as their need to worship only him. The commands following it defined their obligations to fellow humans, including the commands to be faithful to one’s spouse and not to steal. Thus, the command to “honor your father and your mother” has been viewed as a natural bridge between the two sets of requirements.
Read Exodus chapter 20 along with explanatory footnotes and cross-references.