This verse ought to give any person who has some measure of respect for God's seriousness about a child's responsibility toward his parents pause to think about things. Modern translations often choose to render "obscure" as pitch or complete. "His lamp shall be put out in pitch darkness (or in complete darkness)." It means in an area where there is no possibility of seeing anything, utter blindness. God's warning indicates utterly dark. If a lamp is snuffed out, extinguished in the darkness, how will a person see where he is going?
A lamp puts forth light, and light is a biblical symbol of truth. Therefore, God is in reality speaking of having correct guidance and direction. He is saying that if children curse their parents, the death penalty may not be not executed, but following right on the heels of this, God says He will remove the guidance that He would ordinarily make available.
This proverb, then, is saying that God will not necessarily put one to death. Instead, the penalty for cursing parents is that one will receive no guidance from Him. This imagery comes close to the punishment that is reserved for demons—to be able to see and desire greatly but to be able to do nothing about it.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Sanctification and the Teens
We can dishonor our parents through stubbornness, mocking, scorning, angrily talking back to them, thievery, and violence. These will eventually be punished by death, shame, disgrace, darkness of understanding (ignorance), and destruction. Through greedy human reasoning, the Pharisees encouraged financial neglect of parents to increase the riches of the treasury, a hypocrisy Jesus condemned (Matthew 15:3-9; Mark 7:6-13).
Martin G. Collins
The Fifth Commandment
This verse soberly warns that children who treat their parents lightly or contemptuously, who pay them and their word no heed, are headed for failure that may include death. They are putting themselves "behind the eight-ball" by developing habits of disregard of those who are more experienced and wiser.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fifth Commandment (1997)
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Proverbs 20:20:
1 Corinthians 7:14