God requires death for the son who "curses" his father or his mother. There are two words for "curse" in Hebrew. One means "to separate from or banish," used in Gen. 3:14. The second, which is used in Exo. 21:17, basically means "to make light of, or repudiate." This verb "to make light of" is the opposite of the verb which means "to make heavy, honor, or glorify" (1 Sam. 2:30 and 2 Sam. 6:22). For the Hebrew, to glorify or honor someone was to treat them as weighty, just as American slang has used the word "heavy" to refer to important or impressive matters. The fifth commandment orders sons and daughters to honor their parents, and the verb used is the verb "to make heavy, to glorify." Thus, to make light of, to despise, is the opposite. An example of this is clearly set out in Deut. 21:18-21. Notice that it is an older child who is in view, not a little boy; he is old enough to be a drunkard. Second, notice that the sin is a settled disposition to rebel, not a one time act of disobedience. Third, the young man has given public witness to his rebellious heart; the parents can remind the judges that they all know he is a drunkard and a glutton. Note, fourth, that the parents do not have the power to deal with this rebel on their own; they have to bring evidence and testimony to the judges. This shows us how the law was carried out, and what is involved in making light of one's parents, ridiculing them, and repudiating them.
- James Jordan, The Law of the Covenant 105-06 (1984), at http://www.garynorth.com/freebooks/: HTML, DjVu.