“Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol.”
This is one of several passages in the book of Proverbs that admonishes parents to teach and instruct their children and hold them accountable. There is much controversy today about spanking, with many “experts” claiming that all forms of corporal punishment are wrong. The truth is that there are situations where spanking, done appropriately, is effective.
Like everything, wisdom is the key. There are different ways to administer discipline to children, and “time out” and withholding privileges and other approaches should be used. But again, there are also times when corporal punishment is effective. The following verses spell it out:
“He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.” (Proverbs 13:24)
“Folly is bound up in the heart of a child. But the rod of discipline will drive it far from him.” (Proverbs 22:15)
“Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol.” (Proverbs 23:13-14)
“The rod of correction imparts wisdom, but a child left to itself disgraces his mother.” (Proverbs 29:15)
The focus of these passages is training and accountability. Corporal punishment is actually a minor theme. The word for “discipline” used in Proverbs 23.13 is once again the Hebrew musar, so it is referring to the process of rigorous, systematic, disciplined training. The word musar was used in the previous verse (23.12), where it is translated “instruction.” There is no reason to translate it differently here. The primary focus of musar is the process of learning, not corporal punishment.
The Hebrew word for “rod” is shebet, which has various meanings: a stick for walking, writing, fighting, ruling, and punishment. Shebet is often used in reference to shepherds who are tending their flocks. Shepherds used the shebet to fight off prey and to guide wandering sheep.
The word for “strike” is the Hebrew nakah, and it means to hit or deliver a blow. It implies a physical strike, but the “blow” that a parent delivers during discipline need not always be physical. Sometimes? Yes. All the time? No. Sitting a child down and removing them from fun activities can be a painful, attention-getting blow.
One of the main reasons parents should use nakah with their children is that the fallen world will deliver nakah to children. The difference is that the “blows” that parents deliver are motivated by love and designed to teach and develop, whereas the “blows” that the world delivers are motivated by deceit intended to damage and destroy.
Parents need to prepare their children for the blows that the world will deliver. If parents go easy and withhold discipline, they actually weaken their children and make them vulnerable to the inevitable challenges and difficulties of life in a broken world.
Prepare your children for the road; don’t try to prepare the road for your children.
The picture being painted in these verses in Proverbs is one of creating a culture of teaching, training, and accountability. The point that God is making is that parents are to teach, train, and hold our children accountable for their choices and actions. And there are many ways to hold a child accountable and “deliver a blow” that gets their attention.
Reread the passages above and replace the references to the use of “the rod” with the word “accountability” and the meaning stays the same.
Proverbs 13:24 would read, “He who spares accountability hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.”
Proverbs 22:15 would read, “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child. But holding him accountable will drive it far from him.”
Proverbs 23:13-14 would read, “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you create a culture of accountability he will not die. Hold him accountable and save his soul from death.”
Proverbs 29:15 would read, “The culture of accountability imparts wisdom, but a child left to itself disgraces his mother.”
Teach your children, help them commit to the disciplined process of learning, and hold them accountable. Be wise and creative in your use of discipline.