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Exodus 21:15-17 - Homiletics

Injuries to parents.

The command to honour father and mother ( Exodus 20:12 ), which is enough for the conscience, and which, if obeyed, would render all further laws upon the subject unnecessary, is here reinforced by two important enactments, intended to restrain those who do not scruple to disobey mere moral laws. The penalty of death is affixed to two crimes:

1 . Smiting a parent;

2 . Cursing a parent.

I. SMITING A PARENT . When it is considered that our parents represent God to us, that they are in a real sense authors of our being, that they protect and sustain us for years during which we could do nothing for ourselves, and that nature has implanted in our minds an instinctive reverence for them, the punishment of parent-strikers by death will not seem strange or excessive. A son must have become very hardened in guilt, very reckless, very heartless, very brutal, who can bring himself to lift a hand against a father, not to say a mother. There is as much moral guilt in a light blow dealt to one whom we are bound to love, honour, and protect from hurt, as in the utmost violence done to a stranger. However, according to the Talmud, it was not every light blow that was actually punished with death, but only a blow which caused a wound; and, of course, the punishment was only inflicted upon the complaint of the party aggrieved, who would be unlikely to take proceedings, unless the assault was of grave character. Probably the law had very seldom to be enforced. What it did was to invest parents with a sacred and awful character in their children' s eyes, and to induce them to submit to chastisement without resistance.

II. CURSING A PARENT . To curse a parent is almost as unnatural as to strike one. ALL cursing is unsuitable to such a being as man—so full of faults himself, so liable to misjudge the character and conduct of others; but to curse those to whom we owe our existence is simply horrible. The sin is akin to blasphemy, and is awarded the same punishment. At the present day, when the Mosaic law is no longer in force, and when on this point no echoes of the Mosaic legislation are to be traced in existing codes, it is specially incumbent on conscientious persons to observe the spirit of the Mosaic enactments, and (as it were) make a Christian use of them.

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