“Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.”
Verse 17 may seem unnecessarily harsh to some people.
If a child curses his mother or father, he or she is to be put to death?!
This is a tough one.
It’s more understandable how “striking” one’s parents could result in the harshest of penalties.
In this context, “striking” would mean to cause serious bodily harm that would prevent a parent from working or being able to fulfill his or her necessary day-to-day duties.
“Whoever deals violently with his father or forces his mother to flee is a son who brings shame and disgrace.” -Proverbs 19: 26
Administering the death penalty in this case is much more understandable, but having a child killed just for cursing one’s parents?!
The Hebrew word used for “curse” here is QALAL and it is the precise opposite of “honor” (KABED) from “honor your father and your mother”.
The word for “honor” derives from a root that means “heavy” or “important” and the word for “curse” derives from a root that means “light” or “worthless”.
So no doubt, QALAL is used in the sense of being an embarrassment to or treating one’s parents with contempt.
This would include neglecting to care for one’s parents if they needed your help.
Here is an example from Deuteronomy that I think gives us a clearer idea of what “to curse one’s parents” is really all about.
“If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not listen to the voice of his father or to the voice of his mother, and even when they discipline him he does not listen to them, then his father and his mother should take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city, at the gate of that place, and they should say to the elders of his city: ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He does not listen to our voice. He is foolish and a drunkard.’ Then all the men of his city should stone him to death. Thus you will remove the evil from your midst, and all Israel will hear and be afraid.”-Deuteronomy 21: 18– 21
So why such a harsh punishment-the death penalty for “cursing” one’s parents?
The reason for the death penalty is that God views as this as actually protecting life.
The unruly son who treats his parents with contempt is stealing life from those whom the Lord sees as innocent and upright.
Ultimately, I feel like there are two important takeaways here.
First, the relationship God intends a child to have with his parents is to be patterned after the believer’s relationship with His Father in heaven.
In the eyes of God, and in the eyes of a small child, a parent stands in the place of God Himself.
Physically speaking, the parents are the child’s creator, provider, lawgiver, teacher, and protector.
The second takeaway is that if the parents represent God, then it also becomes their obligation to live lives worthy of honor to Him?
That makes sense, doesn’t it?
Certainly the responsibility for keeping this commandment lies with the child.
However, the parents, by carrying out their responsibilities lay the foundation for the child keeping this commandment.
CONNECTING THIS TEACHING TO THE NEW TESTAMENT
Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law
came to Yeshua from Jerusalem and asked,
“Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders?
They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”
“And why do you break the command of God
for the sake of your tradition?
For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and
‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.‘
But you say that if a man says to his father or mother,
‘Whatever help you might otherwise have received
from me is a gift devoted to God,’
he is not to ‘honor his father’ with it.
Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition.
Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:
” ‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teachings are but rules taught by men.'”