The Ten Commandments were given to Moses on two tablets of stone, written by the Hand of God. Whether the commandments were divided into five on one tablet and five on the other, we are not told, but it is clear that the first four deal with the relationship of God’s covenant people with Himself, and the last five with their relationship with their fellow man. What about the Fifth Commandment? There is good reason to believe that this commandment belongs with the first five: Honoring father and mother is linked with honoring God. Leviticus 19:3 makes the connection clear:
Every one of you shall reverence his mother and his father, and you shall keep My sabbaths; I am the LORD your God.
It is striking here that reverence for one’s mother is mentioned first. And the word translated ‘reverence’ is the same Hebrew word found in verse 14 and applied to God: “... but you shall revere (reverence) your God; I am the LORD.” Commentator C. F. Keil in commenting on Exodus 20:12 also makes the connection:
The Fifth Word, “Honour thy father and thy mother,” does not refer to fellow-men, but to “those who are the representatives of God. Therefore, as God is to be served with honour and fear, His representatives are to be so too” (Luther). This is placed beyond all doubt by Leviticus19:3, where reverence towards parents is placed on an equality with the observance of the Sabbath . . .
The 19th century Methodist theologian Adam Clarke commented on this commandment:
There is a degree of affectionate respect which is owing to parents, that no person else can properly claim. For a considerable time parents stand as it were in the place of God to their children, and therefore rebellion against their lawful commands has been considered as rebellion against God. This precept therefore prohibits, not only all injurious acts, irreverent and unkind speeches to parents, but enjoins all necessary acts of kindness, filial respect, and obedience. We can scarcely suppose that a man honors his parents who, when they fall weak, blind, or sick, does not exert himself to the uttermost in their support.
The reiteration of the Fifth Commandment in Deuteronomy 5:16 adds an important phrase: “that it may go well with you . . .” The Apostle Paul quotes Deuteronomy in pointing out that this is the first commandment that carries a promise (Ephesians 6:1-3).
The first key to true well-being is to honor the Lord God, and the second is like it: “Honor your father and your mother.”