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New International Version Exodus 20:

12 “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.

How should we interpret this verse in terms of its applicability?

Ephesians 6:

1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2“Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— 3“so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”

Did Jesus enjoy long life on the earth?

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  • Are you asking : Since Ephesians 6:1-3 validates Exodus 20:12, was the earthly duration (33-years) of Jesus the Nazarene's physical existence considered "long life" for 1st century Israelites? Aug 17 at 14:30
  • 1
    Well yes, that's one way to interpret this question.
    – Tony Chan
    Aug 17 at 14:42
  • Would you consider John 8:57 as an indicator (50-years) of long-life age expectations for 1st century Israelites? Aug 17 at 14:53
  • Good point. Please expand it into an answer :)
    – Tony Chan
    Aug 17 at 15:03
  • 1
    The very existence of such types of injustice represents one of the main historical arguments in favor of the resurrection.
    – Lucian
    Aug 17 at 15:33
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A word about earthly blessings

We have to avoid the temptation to over-spiritualize the Bible when we don't need to.

When the OT (Deuteronomic Covenant) talks about "live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you" (Ex 20:12) or even in the context of the NT (New Covenant) as when Paul (as a pastor) teaches the congregation how to live in light of the Ten Commandments "... which is the first commandment with a promise -- so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth." (Eph 6:2b-3), it's obvious that Moses and Paul are referring to earthly blessing as God's reward for living righteously.

The Beatitudes (Matt 5:3-12) can then be more naturally understood as well, that those righteous people who did NOT receive earthly blessing before they die, will be rewarded in heaven (the new earth): "God blesses those who are humble for they will inherit the whole earth" (v. 5), "God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you ... great reward awaits you in heaven. ..." (vv. 11-12).

Thus, Jesus, Paul, and the martyred 10 apostles (John was the only apostle who died a natural death), obviously did NOT enjoy the usual reward of long life on the earth. And they model for the subsequent martyrs and for us in the 21st century to be hopeful when God allow trials and sufferings to happen to us, just as Peter reminds us in his own sermon to his congregation: "... we have a priceless inheritance -- an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you ... There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while." (1 Pet 1:4, 6). Obviously Peter is referring to the Beatitudes as well !

Therefore, God's promises are NOT spiritualized. The righteous will enjoy a literal long bodily life, either on this earth, the new earth, or both (depending on God's plan for us). This reward is in addition to the blessings Jesus gave us (through his death):

  • to overcome original sin when we have faith in Him
  • to have a new heart that can obey God's commandments more readily
  • to cast out demon that interferes with us
  • to have more command over our depraved humanity (through the fruits of the Holy Spirit)
  • etc.

These blessings should be understood as separate from the "long life in the land", a reward of righteous living promised in Ex 20:12 and reiterated in Eph 6:3.

How several people are asked to postpone their earthly blessings

Out of love Jesus obeyed the suffering mission prophesied in Isa 53 where it includes an explicit reference that the usual earthly blessings will be denied to him (v. 8), namely: many descendants (v. 10b), long life (v. 10c), and honor (v. 12a). The passage clearly shows that it's God's plan for Him to suffer (v. 8c, v. 10a):

8 Unjustly condemned, he was led away. No one cared that he died without descendants, that his life was cut short in midstream. But he was struck down for the rebellion of my people. 9 ... 10 But it was the LORD's good plan to crush him and cause him grief. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have many descendants. He will enjoy a long life, and the LORD's good plan will prosper in his hands. 11 ... 12 I will give him the honors of a victorious soldier, because he exposed himself to death. ...

Like Jesus (a victorious soldier, Isa 53:12a), Paul also sees himself as a "soldier of Christ Jesus" (2 Tim 2:3). We are supposed to imitate Jesus (Matt 16:24, 1 Pet 2:21) and to imitate Paul (1 Cor 4:16, 1 Cor 11:1). We are then also eligible for the earthly reward denied us, if God has a plan to make us suffer out of love for God and for our neighbors.

If instead God's plan for us does NOT leave us "cut short in midstream", we can then expect earthly blessings and we should use them in the manner that God clearly taught the Israelites in the OT:

  • honor God with those blessings by giving thanks to Him
  • raise Godly descendants
  • use the earthly blessings to help the weak, the persecuted, and the victims of injustice ("the widows, the orphans, and the unjustly imprisoned").

Conclusion

How should we interpret this verse [Ex 20:12] in terms of its applicability?

It still applies to us under the New Covenant, it has NOT been abrogated. The OT promised land of Canaan is a prefiguration for prosperous earthly life for us, whether it is in America, Canada, China, England, etc.

According to Paul [Eph 6:3], did Jesus enjoy long life on the earth?

No, because Jesus accepted God's mission to suffer out of love, and accepted the postponement of the reward. He would have relied on Isa 53 where the same passage that prophesied His mission also prophesied how He will receive His postponed earthly reward as well. We, as imitators of Christ, can expect the same "suffering -> postponed reward" as well, clearly taught in the NT, such as in the Beatitudes and in Peter's sermon: "So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world." (1 Pet 1:7b).

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Even the Bible speaks of Messiah as having His life cut short in places like Isa 53:8

Unjustly condemned, he was led away. No one cared that he died without descendants, that his life was cut short in midstream. But he was struck down for the rebellion of my people. See also Acts 8:33.

This question could be viewed as part of a larger question about the saints (Christians) whose lives are cut short, even while serving God. Indeed, Jesus even said this - Christ's followers should be prepared to lay down their lives for their friends as Jesus did, John 15:13, Eph 5:2. Further,

  • Jesus’ suffering leaves us an example. John 16:33, 1 Cor 7:28, 2 Tim 1:4, Heb 13:12, 13, 1 Peter 2:21.
  • Because Jesus was persecuted, so are His followers. John 15:20, 21

So, where does this leave the promise of the commandment in Ex 20:12? The saints ask a very similar question in John's vision in Rev 6:10 -

And they cried out in a loud voice, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You avenge our blood and judge those who dwell upon the earth?”

I think the answer is found in the promise/prophecy of that evokes the prediction in the preface to the giving of the commandments and repeated in the the NT

  • Ex 19:6 - And unto Me you shall be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’
  • 1 Peter 2:9 - But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, to proclaim the virtues of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.

In Rev 5:10 we have the final fulfilment of that promise/prophecy:

  • You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign upon the earth.”

I presume that this will occur when the New Jerusalem is established on earth and the saints will live forever.

  • Rev 21:1-3 - Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth,a for the first heaven and earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying: “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man, and He will dwell with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God.

In this promise, Jesus will live with the saints forever and they will "live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you." Ex 20:12.

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Notice how the number changes from plural to singular when Paul quotes Exodus 20:12.

Τὰ τέκνα, ὑπακούετε τοῖς γονεῦσιν ὑμῶν ⸋[ἐν κυρίῳ]⸌· τοῦτο γάρ ἐστιν δίκαιον.* 2 τίμα τὸν πατέρα σου καὶ τὴν μητέρα, ἥτις °ἐστὶν ἐντολὴ πρώτη ἐν ἐπαγγελίᾳ, 3 ἵνα εὖ σοι γένηται καὶ ἔσῃ μακροχρόνιος ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς [also can mean the land] (Eph. 6:1–3, NA28).

כַּבֵּ֥ד אֶת־אָבִ֖יךָ וְאֶת־אִמֶּ֑ךָ לְמַ֨עַן֙ ‬ יַאֲרִכ֣וּן יָמֶ֔יךָ עַ֚ל הָאֲדָמָ֔ה אֲשֶׁר־יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ נֹתֵ֥ן לָֽךְ (Exodus 20:12 BHS MT) [כַּבֵּ֥ד piel, imperative, 2nd person, masculine, singular] [הָאֲדָמָ֔ה means land, soil, seldom does it mean earth]

Paul's number for the 2nd person singular subject matched the Hebrew in his quote. This is signification because the neuter plural subject when not quoting the Commandment can take a singular verb, but Paul used plural. The singular in Hebrew applies to Israel as a whole. The promise is for the nation of Israel's days to be long on the earth. We might apply it to Christianity as a whole, but it doesn't necessarily apply to individuals.

Rather than mark an English translation, I'm quoting the KJV because in KJV you/your is plural and thee/thou/thy is singular. I did note the imperatives in the KJV.

Children, obey [ὑπακούετε, 2nd person plural present active imperative] your parents in the Lord: for this is right. 2 Honour [τίμα, second person present active singular imperative] thy father and mother; (which is the first commandment with promise;) 3 That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth. (Eph. 6:1–3, KJV)

Children Τὰ τέκνα is the neuter plural subject. Since the verb is 2nd person plural it is less significant than the fact of the 2nd person singular of the Ten Commandments.

Neuter Plural Subject with Singular Verb: neuter plural subjects normally take singular verbs since impersonal things are usually in view; treated as a collective whole; when they take a plural verb, individual identity is stressed (399–400) -- Wallace, D. B. (1996). Greek Grammar beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (p. 745). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Compare how the rabbi trained Paul is similar to this rabbi on this commandment. Also notice the emphasis on the survival of Jewish society and loss of the Temple.

The parallels point up the supreme importance that the Torah assigns to the integrity of the family for the sake of the stability of society and generational continuity. Family life is the bedrock on which Jewish society stands. No other item in the Decalogue is similarly formulated wholly in positive terms, and for none other is there a promise of reward. The prophet Ezekiel includes the dishonoring of parents among the grievous sins that characterized the generation of the destruction of the First Temple. -- Sarna, N. M. (1991). Exodus (p. 113). Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society.

long endure Respect for parents is deemed to be vital for the preservation of the social fabric; dishonoring parents imperils the well-being of society. -- Sarna, N. M. (1991). Exodus (p. 113). Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society.

Senses of הָאֲדָמָ֔ה from Logos Bible Software (number of occurrence determines size)

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  • Notice how the number changes from plural to singular. Which word are you talking about?
    – Tony Chan
    Aug 17 at 20:05
  • Is it clearer now?
    – Perry Webb
    Aug 17 at 21:20
  • Paul's number for the 2nd person singular subject. Which word is this?
    – Tony Chan
    Aug 17 at 21:52
  • I've marked the KJV quote. The 2nd person singular subject is the part of the imperative verb.
    – Perry Webb
    Aug 17 at 22:05
  • +1 Can you just write out the word here?
    – Tony Chan
    Aug 17 at 22:32
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Did Jesus enjoy long life on the earth?

Answer: No. He did not arrive on earth to have one.

Christ's mission was to save humanity. Most of His ministry was filled with heartache (He even had to be born in a manger as an infant — a long open box or trough from which horses or cattle had to eat).

Luke 9:57-58: "As they were going along the road, someone said to Him, 'I will follow You wherever You go.' 58And Jesus said to him, 'The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.'"

To paraphrase, "[If] you decide to follow me, your life will likely become almost unbearably difficult." The promise: "[You] may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you" (Ex. 20:12) wasn't applicable to the One who came to save us all. His road would be paved with rejection, humiliation, and death by torture.

No, Jesus did not "enjoy long life on the earth" because He was unique among all men, with an extraordinarily harsh, grueling future ahead. It is amazing that Jesus could live a happy life with the knowledge of the horrific circumstances that lay before Him.

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