wherefore, worship the Lord thy God, and honor thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long in the land which the Lord thy God shall give thee. 1 Nephi 17:55
God’s commandments are powerful in ways that are often beyond our initial understanding or expectations. This power comes from the truth commandments contain and from God’s sanction and honoring of them. When we keep God’s commandments their power becomes tangible and miraculous. This principle is associated with other truths as well, such as the truth that when we add to or take away from simple, God given commandments, following after the wisdom and precepts of men we lose spiritual meaning and power.
The Ten Commandments may be divided into two groups based upon the Two Great Commandments with the first four of the Ten Commandments focused on love for God and the last six commandments on love for neighbor. In the above verse, Nephi refers to the first commandment of each of these two groups as they exercise faith in their journey to the promised land. Life is simpler for them at this point as they have left Jerusalem and the culture of the world behind and refocus on the most fundamental of truths and commandments.
Refocusing with worship of God is intuitive, but what, then, does the placement of the fifth commandment as the first of those focused on love for neighbor indicate in terms of the priority and importance of our relationship with our earthly father and mother?
Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee. Exodus 20:12
This fifth of the Ten Commandments and how it is kept or not kept provides a profound illustration of the truths that keeping commandments brings power and miraculous blessings, and that following after the wisdom and precepts of men as fallen men and institutions lead away from this commandment brings a great loss of spiritual meaning and power.
The relationship and roles of father and mother are the most foundational and important in all existence as they are the key to creation spiritually before mortality and then physically and spiritually in this life. The first and fifth commandments point us to the first two creations, first spiritual by God and then physical by earthly parents. Christ, then, can become our Father in mortality when we are spiritually reborn and become His sons and daughters through covenant and a change of nature through faith in Him:
And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters. Mosiah 5:7
One way of looking at the Hebrew verb to create is to fatten or fill up with life, which meaning aligns itself with a creation that occurs not out of nothing but rather as an organization and nurturing of existences that are eternal. It is interesting and instructive in this regard that one of the most important physical symbols of spiritual truths is oil, which is a fat used in cleansing and binding up, anointing and healing, and as a source of light, and that the Messiah (Anointed One) is the source of all life and light.
This understanding of creation leads to the question as to what means are optimal for fattening, filling up with life, enriching, endowing, and in all ways blessing existences that have always existed in order to raise them up and lead them along a path that leads to an increasingly greater existence and enjoyment. Both in the heavens and on earth God ordains families beginning with two parents, male and female, as the central organization to accomplish this process of creation. The creative process is only partially expressed in the power of procreation as it is understood in a limited sense, and is fully expressed in the totality of the combined and complementary roles of father and mother. In this life, God always starts and resets with parents, as other institutions fall away: Adam and Eve, Noah and his wife, Abraham and Sarah… all are God’s chosen instruments of creation, and with each start and reset they are the institutions God preserves, as He restores truth in its pure simplicity. In this way God honors fathers and mothers in a way that His children rarely do.
A prototypical illustration of these truths and eternal ideal is found in the lives and ministry of Abraham and Sarah. Even though they do not have children until their old age it is the family organization that anciently covers all needs and situations. In the patriarchal era, the family provides all religious, political, economic, and social organization and authority, even in cases where individual family members and relationships fail, as the family organization is charged with caring for all who are in need, including widows, orphans, and strangers in the land. It is important to understand that the Abrahamic Covenant is not a subset of God’s covenants but rather is comprehensive of all covenants and blessings, as through it all people are to be blessed with the blessings of the Gospel, of salvation, and of eternal lives. This covenant is contained in the second chapter of Abraham, included below together with a few preceding verses that lend context:
But I, Abraham, and Lot, my brother’s son, prayed unto the Lord, and the Lord appeared unto me, and said unto me: Arise, and take Lot with thee; for I have purposed to take thee away out of Haran, and to make of thee a minister to bear my name in a strange land which I will give unto thy seed after thee for an everlasting possession, when they hearken to my voice.
For I am the Lord thy God; I dwell in heaven; the earth is my footstool; I stretch my hand over the sea, and it obeys my voice; I cause the wind and the fire to be my chariot; I say to the mountains—Depart hence—and behold, they are taken away by a whirlwind, in an instant, suddenly.
My name is Jehovah, and I know the end from the beginning; therefore my hand shall be over thee.
And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee above measure, and make thy name great among all nations, and thou shalt be a blessing unto thy seed after thee, that in their hands they shall bear this ministry and Priesthood unto all nations;
And I will bless them through thy name; for as many as receive this Gospel shall be called after thy name, and shall be accounted thy seed, and shall rise up and bless thee, as their father;
And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse them that curse thee; and in thee (that is, in thy Priesthood) and in thy seed (that is, thy Priesthood), for I give unto thee a promise that this right shall continue in thee, and in thy seed after thee (that is to say, the literal seed, or the seed of the body) shall all the families of the earth be blessed, even with the blessings of the Gospel, which are the blessings of salvation, even of life eternal. Abraham 2:6-11
The equivalence set forth here of Abraham, his seed, and the priesthood is a profound affirmation of the importance of the fifth commandment together with its connection to the first commandment as expressed above by Nephi. To illustrate, the Hebrew word for priest as it appears in ancient, pictographic Hebrew powerfully depicts these concepts and the essence of the priesthood:
From right to left the first letter is the shape of an open palm of a hand, bending in submission to and receiving from another. The second letter is that of a man with arms outstretched, anciently meaning to behold a great sight and being associated with revelation, aligning perfectly with an understanding of Christ being lifted up as the Great Sight, to bring all men unto Him from whom all good is revealed and all blessings received. The third letter depicts a seed sprout and represents continuation and offspring. Combined, the message to me is that the priest bends in submission to Christ in order to receive revelation and all good blessings and blesses his posterity with those same blessings. Anciently, priesthood and parenthood are inseparable, as for instance two requirements for a high priest anciently are to be married and to be able to procreate.
Again, as expressed by Nephi, we are to worship and follow God with full consecration, as our eternal, spiritual Father, and to honor our earthly father and mother that our days may be long in the land which the Lord God shall give us. There is great power in keeping these two commandments and in not following after the precepts and cultures of men that lead away from them.