Editor's Note: Writer Philip Stine continues his series on the 10 Commandments and the people who don't fit neatly into them. This is the second installment. To read the first article, Are the 10 Commandments relevant. . .to women, click here.
In the 10 Commandments. . .
• Resident aliens are referred to, and they have to observe the sabbath, but they are not addressed in these laws. They are in the same position as cattle – obliged to obedience.
• Others who are not addressed are the unmarried, slaves, children, elderly parents, the disabled, beggars, the landless, the dispossessed, day-laborers and the urban poor.
So the next question is, in whose interest is it to have a text telling these pillars of society what they should and shouldn’t do in the name of Yahweh? The only group in the society that stands to benefit from observance of these commandments as a whole are those who have spent their lives in the enforcement of such commandments and who are consequently the only ones who have the authority to tell the addressees of the commandments that they must obey them. It is the old men in the society, who speak in the name of God and whose interests are represented in every one of the commandments.
The interests of the fathers is most explicitly represented in the fifth commandment (“Honor your father and your mother so that your days on the earth may be long”). The fathers’ physical survival is dependent on it, but also their self-esteem will be measured by their ability to ensure that their sons maintain the family and national traditions. So it is a good idea to say that God commands you to “honor” your father, for that means the son will continue to feed the parents even when they are no longer productive, and it also means you have to uphold the values he has stood for.
Incidentally, the command is also to honor the mothers, simply because to dishonor the mother would be to dishonor the father.
Note that this is the only commandment with a promise.
Why? Because it has the highest chance of benefiting both the addressees and the authors. If the younger generation will honor their elderly parents and ensure that the society supports this value, it is only a matter of time until they’ll be beneficiaries themselves.
Only if they undertake to keep their aged parents alive do they have a chance of their own days being long!