A time to coax and a time to cudgel (pt. 2)

The previous post acknowledged a growing disagreement in Christian circles over the value and necessity of physical discipline for children. Proverbs 22:15 was proffered as a focal point in the debate, specifically in how we should understand “the rod” of discipline: is this an allusion to corporal punishment or not? I think an honest evaluation would answer that question in the affirmative for three reasons: (1) the use of “rod” in Proverbs implies a striking that produces pain (2) the broad context of Proverbs asserts that physical discipline is a necessity (3) the broader context of the OT only affirms the place of corporal punishment in child rearing. For the sake of time I’ll expand on #1 now and return to #2-3 in a post to follow.

1) The use of “rod” in Proverbs implies a striking that produces pain.

First, the OT Hebrew word for “rod” in Prov 22:15, shebet, has a variety of uses depending on the context: rod, staff, club, scepter, and even tribe. However, in the 191x that shebet occurs in the OT only twice(!) does it clearly refer to a shepherd’s staff (Lev 27:32; Micah 7:14 – both verses speak of shepherds and sheep). Further, shebet occurs 8x in Proverbs (see below) and none of these occurrences contain a shepherding analogy. “Rod” is a better English rendering than “staff”.

Second, occurrences of shebet in Proverbs leave little doubt that the rod is a fearful thing:
10:13 On the lips of him who has understanding, wisdom is found, but a rod is for the back of him who lacks sense.
13:24 Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.
22:8 Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity, and the rod of his fury will fail.
22:15 Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.
23:13 Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die.
23:14 If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol.
26:3 A whip for the horse, a bridle for the donkey, and a rod for the back of fools.
29:15 The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.

Third, in 22:15 the rod doesn’t coax and draw in. It strikes and drives away. Even if a shepherding analogy was to be seen here the fitting analogy is a shepherd fighting off dangerous predators that will harm the sheep, not a shepherd trying to draw a sheep in. As will be demonstrated later, Proverbs portrays folly is a predator that kills. If folly isn’t killed, the child is. How then will folly be destroyed: with coaxing or cudgeling?

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Author: Jonathan P. Merritt

Happily married father of six. Associate pastor for education at Edgewood Baptist Church (Columbus, GA). Good-natured contrarian and theological Luddite. A student of one book.

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