Summary: This no-nonsense and short sermon about spanking will cut to the chase about child discipline.
Straight Talk About Spanking
~A Biblical Perspective on the Meaning of “Rod”~
If you’ve heard it once you’ve heard it 1,000 times – “Spare the rod, spoil the child.” But is that really in the Bible? Well, yes and no. Technically, that exact phrase is not in the Scriptures. But the principle is found in Proverbs 13:24: “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.” Other verses support the same principle, such as…
…”The rod of correction imparts wisdom, but a child left to himself disgraces his mother.” (Proverbs 29:15)
…”Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him.” (Proverbs 22: 15)
Without a doubt, the “rod” is an effective tool for making sure our children grow up biblically, spiritually and emotionally healthy. Nothing works like the “rod.”
But to what does the “rod” refer? What exactly is meant by this word? Is this an exact reference to a tool we use to physically punish (i.e., spank), or is it an overarching umbrella for child discipline?
In the Old Testament, “rod” has two primary meanings”: one of correction/judgment and one of protection/comfort. For instance, it was the “rod” of God that was David’s comfort in Psalm 23, but is was also the “rod” of God that was used to protect him from injustice at the hands of his enemies in Psalms 2 and 89.
Not as strong but just as interesting is the fact that the word “rod” also pictures authority in the Old Testament, as in Moses’ rod and Aaron’s rod. No doubt a “rod” was the staff of authority for a shepherd, his tool to correct/judge as well as protect/comfort.
Oddly enough, the word “rod” is only found six times in the New Testament. Of these six references, four of them are about judgment, one deals with authority, and the other is a simile for comparison purposes. None refer to any parent-child relationship. In fact, the New Testament more commonly uses words such as “nurture”, “train”, “discipline” and “admonition” when referring to the parent-child relationship.
So what’s a parent to make of all this? When the entire usage of the word “rod” is considered, a clear principle stands out: It is the role of the parent to exercise his or her biblical authority for the express purpose of correcting and protecting their children. The “rod” is the verbal and biblical symbol – the word picture – of all those elements summarized.
To be sure, a parent may use their “rod” and spank when appropriate. But it is for the purpose of correction, not because the word “rod” means we have no other option than to whip a child into subjection. Extreme literalists often argue that the word “rod” leaves us no other option but to spank. Yet, the very same reasoning can be used to show the exact opposite. For instance, does the use of the word “rod” in Psalm 23 leave no option but to comfort with the same tool we used to correct? Are we bound by the Bible to use the “rod” when our child is scared or nervous just as we would when he or she is disobedient? After all, didn’t David use the same exact word to talk about how God comforts him? Should we, then, approach our fearful child who just woke up from a bad dream with the paddle? Of course not!
Furthermore, to assume the word “rod” always means we must spank is to overlook the use of synonyms in Hebrew poetry. Synonyms were used often in Jewish poetry to emphasize a point or drive home a conclusion. Such is the case in most of the references in Psalms and Proverbs, where “rod” is associated with a number of various elements in discipline, such as “rule” (Psalm 110), “correction” (Proverbs 23), “chastening” (Proverbs 13), as well as “whip” and “bridle” (Proverbs 26).
A better and more literal interpretation would be to see the word as it is used in the Bible – as an umbrella term that encompasses one’s responsibility (in this case a parent) to properly correct and protect his/her child.
To correct and protect - this is the essential meaning of discipline as pictured by the “rod.” When we discipline our children, we at times correct them through means of a spanking, perhaps a verbal rebuke, or even a loss of blessing/privileges. These are scripturally-supported avenues for stopping wrong behavior and encouraging proper behavior. However, we also discipline our children when we teach and instruct them prior to bad behavior, such as in sexual matters or issues of addiction. This, too, is discipline, and stems from the “rod” of the parent. Correction and protection combined form a “rod” that “…drives foolishness from the heart of a child…”, “delivers his soul from death…”, and “…produces the peaceable fruit of righteousness…”.