Exodus 20 v 12. Honour your father and your mother.
You may wonder why I am staying so long on this text. It is because this law is a basic foundational text for understanding the idea of authority and structure in our society. It speaks to a hunger we all have for order and guidance in our lives. If this command was obeyed we would all be happier people.
Implicit in this law is respect for secular authorities. This does not mean that all political leaders are worthy of respect or obedience – in fact there may be occasions when civil disobedience might be the more Christian option. When the authorities demand something of us that transgresses biblical norms we must obey God rather than men. But even in such circumstances we cannot disregard the need for respect. A look at the story of Daniel and his friends and the circumstances in which they found themselves, will reveal that even though they had to disobey the king, their disobedience was free of malice, hatred and disrespect. So although we may make a private inner judgement about an individual’s worthiness we are still called upon to treat that person with dignity and respect.
In the Old Testament those who were in authority were sometimes described as gods. In Exodus 21:6 and Exodus 22:8 we are told of some people who are brought before the judges. In the footnote of the New International Version you will find the word ‘god’. There is one particular Hebrew word which can be used to describe either God or a ruler. So God allows one of His names to be used of His representatives who keep law and order in this world. This is also reflected in Psalm 82:1 and 6 referred to by our Lord in the gospels.
But He also places His dignity upon rulers by giving them the name of ‘father’. In Job 29:16 He refers to rulers being ‘….a father to the poor’. Being a father is one of the titles God gives to rulers. What are the functions they must perform? In Isaiah 49:23, God actually describes kings as ‘foster fathers’ for His people and queens as ‘nursing mothers’. So rulers are described by God as performing the function of a national father. In 2 Kings 5:13, Naaman the Syrian comes to be healed and he is told by Elisha to go and dip in the Jordan river but he refuses to do so. His servants come to him to plead with him and address him as ‘father’. The principle of honouring rulers is implicit in the fifth commandment.
The honouring of rulers and authorities is carried through the Bible into the New Testament. In Romans 13:1, we are told:
‘Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.’ Although we are free to criticise our leaders we should be very careful of the language we use. We should remember that our rulers are in place because God has sovereignly placed them there.
I will finish this train of thought tomorrow.
We are perfectly within our right to criticise our leaders when they do wrong. Nor should we honour them if they command us to do wrong. But we should remember that laws have been put in place by the Providence of God. Do you pray for your government both local and national?