The Fourth Commandment according to the understanding of the Old Testament

Like the Mosaic Law as a whole, the Fourth Commandment stands in the context of the Israelites' desert migration (Deuteronomy 5: 16). It is from this historical situation that the original meaning of the commandment can be derived: it applied first and foremost to the liberated Israelites (according to the understanding of the time, it thus did not include women, foreigners, or slaves). They were to show honour to the older members of the family by providing them with support in this arduous journey. The promise mentioned in the commandment also applied to the Israelites: they were to live long–that is things were to go well with them–specifically in Canaan, the land that had yet to be conquered. Here it becomes clear that, for the people of the old covenant, "long days" were associated with earthly life. When the Israelites later settled in Canaan, the children honoured their aged parents by providing for them and caring for them in the event of illness.


Several writings of the Old Testament give interpretations of this commandment: for example, Ecclesiasticus 3: 12 relates the Fourth Commandment to the relationship with the now aged parents: "My son, help thy father in his age, and grieve him not as long as he liveth." Proverbs 1: 8 admonishes obedience toward father and mother, and according to Tobit 10: 12, even one's parents-in-law are to be honoured: "And he said to his daughter, 'Honour thy father and thy mother-in-law, which are now thy parents, that I may hear good report of thee.' And he kissed her."