“Beat Him With a Rod; He Will Not Die” (Proverbs 23:13)

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How often have you seen an out of control, two-year-old, pitching a temper tantrum in the grocery store, screaming defiantly as he tries to grab anything in reach from the perch on his mother’s cart? Every time I see this, it’s as if the child has a flashing neon sign around his neck that says, “Please, please train me!”

Whose job is child training in our culture today? Make no mistake; biblically, it is the father’s job—not the mother’s, the school’s, the church’s, the day-care’s—because the father has ultimate authority in the child’s life before God. His wife is his helper in the task, possessing equal authority in the child’s life that her husband has delegated to her. She will undoubtedly exercise much of the hands-on effort, but he alone faces the other two relentless truths that always accompany authority in the kingdom of God—responsibility and accountability before King Jesus. Men, you may delegate some of the authority, time and effort involved in the training of your children but not the ultimate accountability; the buck stops with you!

“Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). What does ”train up a child” mean in this well-known verse? There are two main aspects to child training: 1) controlling him (getting him to do what you ask him to do), and 2.) teaching him (so he will know what to do when the parent is not present).

The first, and absolutely necessary, component is controlling the child. Without an understanding of this, trying to teach the child truth for life will be essentially fruitless. He will not listen, because his rebellious nature, and an inflated view of himself, will prohibit it! So, how does the Bible teach we can control our child?

Before we address that question, let me beat again on a drum I have, you may think, over-used. However, no truth is more important to understand. Both love and firmness are the foundations of all kingdom living. All authority in the kingdom (including the family), must be exercised with these two essentials.

It is so important to know that love is never leniency and firmness is never harshness. All that comes from the parent’s mouth is positive and uplifting, and never expresses anger, judgment or impatience. But the child has been rebellious or disobedient, and the standard is never lowered. The child failed in the one and only task God has given him to do: “Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well pleasing to the Lord” (Colossians 3:29), and there will be consequences. 

Fifty years ago, it was common practice for all families, Christian and non-Christian alike, to spank their children in order to control them. It was also accepted practice in public schools, all the way through high school. Though I never had to visit the principal’s office, I heard the stories told by those who had, and I can remember the fear that gripped my heart when I even considered the possibility of such a visit. Of course, man has devised a “better way” of dealing with rebellion, and has rejected God’s way. We are reaping the results today of at least fifty years of that “better way.”

In the Bible, spanking is called chastening, or chastisement. It is the imposition of legitimate, godly force to impose the will of the parent upon the child under his authority, when the child is in rebellion against it. 

There are those, even Christians, who say that spanking is child abuse. They say that it is barbaric and teaches a child to handle problems by hitting. Some even say that the verses I’m going to quote are not to be taken literally, but figuratively.

Our standard of truth is the revealed law in the word of God. There is room for different interpretations, but we must not twist (or misread or manipulate) the Bible to allow for our own prejudices. As you read the following verses, ask yourself if they were meant to be taken literally or figuratively, and do we really believe that we are to live our lives by the Bible.

In chapter 12, the author of Hebrews is discussing how the circumstances the readers are enduring are really the chastening (spanking) of the Lord, and how God’s discipline, even His scourging (whipping), is evidence that he loves us and that we are His sons. He then moves to an example the readers can understand—the chastening an earthly father gives to his sons.

“If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons, for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but grievous; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:7-11).

The author is equating the chastising of the Lord, as seen in the circumstances in which the readers found themselves, with something they could understand, the physical spanking of their earthly fathers.  Let’s look at some details in these verses.

First, all sons were spanked. That’s a given, and if you were not spanked, it was a sign that you were illegitimate, i.e., the father did not care about you enough to train you. Second, chastisement produced respect for, or fear of, the father. Third, spanking was at the father’s discretion (“as seemed best to him”). Fourth, chastisement is painful when it is inflicted, but produces righteousness “to those who have been trained by it.” Spanking was the way children were trained. The motivation for chastisement was love. Spanking was even proof of that love, for if there was no spanking, there was no love [“For whom the Lord loves, He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives (Hebrews 12:6)]. 

Parents who say that they love their children too much to spank them really love only themselves. They want to spare themselves the conflict that will result when their children’s rebellion is properly confronted and dealt with. They are willing to sacrifice their children for their own comfort. “Chasten your son while there is hope, and do not set your heart on his destruction” (Proverbs 19:18). They certainly don’t understand this, but by refusing to properly chastise their children they are literally setting their heart on their destruction.

Other verses in Proverbs that seem to me rather hard to interpret figuratively are; “He who spares his rod, hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly” (Proverbs 13:24,. “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of correction will drive it far from him” (Proverbs 22:15), “Do not withhold correction from a child, for if you beat him with a rod, he will not die” (Though he may sound like he is dying!), “You shall beat him with a rod and deliver his soul from hell” (Proverbs 23:13,14).

From these verses, we can see that the proper instrument to use for spanking is a “rod.” This is a flexible branch from a tree; what we called a “switch” when I was a child. It needs to be the proper size for the particular child; nothing more than a twig for the baby who is resisting on the changing table, and a good sized branch for the rebellious 14 year-old boy. Belts are for holding up your pants, and hands are for loving and nurturing. The rod is the symbol of authority in the family, and the proper instrument to use for chastisement. It should strike fear in the heart of the child.

Next week, a step by step model for biblically (with love and firmness) spanking your child.

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