Those who spare the rod hate their children, but those who love them are diligent to discipline them. (NRSV)The more familiar version is "Spare the rod, spoil the child." I'm not sure which version that is off the top of my head. This verse has been used frequently to justify spanking and other forms of "physical" discipline for children. (Now before you tune me out, automatically lumping me into an anti-spank afraid to get sued for spanking his child kind of parent, let me tell you, as of right now spanking is an option for discipline in the future for my little one as long as other forms of discipline have been tried and rendered ineffective. Will it always be an option? I don't know. It's not right now, because she is not of age to associate the spank with her behavior and redirection is working so I don't need to introduce a swat or a spank.) Allow me to proceed. Where was I? This verse has been used frequently to justify spanking. Not only appropriate spanking, but it has also been used to provide a Biblical mandate that I should hit my child when misbehaving. To this I provide a resounding, "NO!" It's just not good responsible Biblical interpretation.
The second part of the verse speaks of discipline and love...but "those who love them (their children) are diligent to discipline them." Love is not abusive or violent, it is NOT Abusive or Violent. Discipline is not abusive or violent, it is NOT Abusive or Violent. (Intentionally repetitive.) For what love is, refer to 1 John 4.7-21. They, love and discipline, go hand in hand. There are plenty of people who feel spanking is violent and that's fine for them. Spanking may not be a good option for discipline in their family. But I want to talk about the rod a little bit more.
What is the rod? Keep in mind that society in Biblical times was primarily agrarian. Much of the illustrations in the OT and the NT reflect this society, that is why there are parables about farming and stories about shepherding. These things were familiar to the culture and the people could get their metaphorical meanings. The rod was a tool used by shepherds to protect their flock from predators. The rod was not used to pummel the sheep into submitting to the shepherd's will, it was used to protect. The shepherd's staff had a crook on the end of it that could be used to snag the sheep from dangerous situations, but that is just FYI for this particular blog posting. Back to the rod, it was used for protection, but I want to flush this out a little more.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff--they comfort me. Psalms 23.1-4 (NRSV).So most of us are familiar with the 23rd Psalm. With this passage in mind, do we view God as using his shepherd's rod for abusive purposes? When we deviate an iota from God's path for us, do we envision God knocking us on the head with his rod to get us back in line? Or do we see God placing people, circumstances, events, and discernment in our lives to lovingly bring us back to where we belong? We know that God loves us, cares for us, allows us to mess up and lovingly turns his face upon us.
Using the rod is disciplining in a loving and caring manner, protecting children from predators, I don't think, though, that it is a mandate for spanking, slapping, swatting, etc.... I don't think this because the mandate can, has, and will be taken too far and the "rod" won't be used for loving guiding discipline.
Now for the tricky part. Anyone with a half-way decent concordance can find that Proverbs has another verse referring to using the rod as discipline for your children. This verse is actually kind of disturbing for me:
Do not withhold discipline from your children; if you beat them with a rod, they will not die. If you beat them with the rod, you will save their lives from Sheol. Proverbs 23.13-14. (NRSV)So now literally, "If you beat...they will not die." Ok, ok. So the writer of Proverbs did have in mind that the rod be used upon some of the reader's children as a tool of physical discipline. Here is what I have to say to this: "Maybe so, but not in a harmful, abusive manner." No never, never, never. We as parent's are to take care of our children, all children, ours, our neighbors, etc.... The reason for this is because we live in a time where we reconcile and place into conversation with each other the wisdom and teaching in the OT with the wisdom and teaching of Christ in the NT.
In Matthew, Jesus is talking about stumbling blocks or temptations to sin. He says, in regards to children,
If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea. Matthew 18.6. (NRSV)Now that's serious. I have to think of this verse any time I am with children, not just my little bean either...any kids. There is a profound innocence and for those parents who have sat with their infant long before pseudo-words were formed, long before they could communicate, and all they could do was cry and we had to figure out what it was about....these parents have seen the divinity residing in the sleeping child, residing in the eyes of the content child just gazing back upon you. An abusive use of the rod strips this divinity away. An abusive use of the rod provides a stumbling block for the child, and it would be better for you to have a stone around your neck and tossed into the sea.
Let me wind this down. All of this is to say that disciplining your children is warranted and necessary. The overuse of "Spare the rod, spoil the child," without real thought, provides a doorway for an irresponsible Biblical interpretation to mandate that "I can beat my child if I want to, Spare the rod and all that stuff." (In my best Appalachian accent I can muster.) No, we don't want to spare the rod. Our children need our guidance, they need our discipline. And remember that when we think of this verse, we have to also remember how a true shepherd uses the rod: for protection of his flock--thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me. They don't inflict pain, harm, or instill fear--they comfort me.
Shalom, Grace, and Blessings.