This theme runs throughout the Bible, appearing in such words that are rendered into the English most commonly as "fear," "honor," "respect," and sometimes even as strong as "reverence." Romans 13:7 makes this clear. "Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor." So we find it actually commanded to give deference, not based on whether we think they deserve it, but simply because they are somebody who fits a certain description (like the elderly) or who is an elected, appointed, or ordained person.
So strong is this theme that God shows that insolence toward those who should be respected presages calamity (cf. II Kings 2:23-25 and Isaiah 3:5). We should thus be warned that when we see disrespect rising, severe social troubles are on the horizon.
The purpose of these scriptures is to help ensure that there is a proper attitude toward God. God is the Giver of all authority (Romans 13:1), and it is really out of respect for the God-given office that the deference is shown.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Respect or Respect of Persons?
Honor must not stop with the nuclear family. All older people should be honored as well. God includes no reservations or qualifiers in this verse.
When was the last time we saw children and younger adults automatically stand when a senior citizen entered the room? God says this should happen. It still does in parts of the world, especially in Asia, but not so in our own country. Some people rise for women. Why do we not do this for the elderly?
Even more important than this honorific action is the attitude of respect for the older generation. Imagine what our society would be like if everyone followed this principle of honor!
A Matter of Honor
Leviticus 19 deals with social relationships within the community, and these commandments are seen as major regulators of community relationships. God gives all of these laws with a common thought in mind: "You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy." These laws are given because the Lawgiver is God (see verses 4, 10, 12, etc.).
They are not primarily statements of authority ("Do this because I tell you"), though some of this is included, but statements of the relationship between the Lawgiver and His law. The laws reflect His nature. The law is what it is because God is what He is. Therefore, if we want to be like God, we will imitate Him by obeying His laws in their physical and spiritual applications.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fifth Commandment (1997)
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Leviticus 19:32:
1 Peter 3:8