Tough Issues of Christianity: “Spare the rod…”
“Spare the rod, spoil the child.” Most of us are familiar with this old saying, right? Seems it’s from Proverbs.
These words come from a poem written in 1662 by Samuel Butler (amended for changes in the English language.) But the concept is much older. Proverbs 13:24 (KJV) reads:
“He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.”
The concept of the oft used quote is that children will only flourish if chastised, physically or otherwise, for any wrongdoing. It is very often used as the justification for corporal punishment, otherwise known as spanking. And this form of physical punishment is what has made this quote such a tough issue in Christian families today.
The purpose of this blog is not to explore directly the pros and cons of spanking. As with so many things, corporal punishment can be very effective when used properly just as it can be abusive.
Instead, here we are going to take a fuller look at the original Hebrew word used for “rod”, shebet. This Hebrew word has quite a number of meanings:
– a stick (or branch) for punishing, writing, fighting, ruling or walking.
– a clan or tribe.
There are many places in the Bible where shebet is clearly used to mean a rod for striking, either as punishment of defense. This is the common understanding of the word in the saying “Spare the rod…”
Used in this way, the term “rod” can mean physical punishment for a child’s misdeeds. But it can also mean adverse consequences of other sorts. A simple example is a “time out.” It’s critical that our kids learn that their actions have consequences, both positive and negative. This is a basic concept of personal accountability.
The rod of a shepherd was also used as a tool of measurement. The shepherd would use his rod (as in “rod and staff”) to measure how far a sheep could wander and still be protected by the shepherd.
As parents we must teach our kids that there are limits and that they must be accountable. They will test us to see just how far they can go. By using the ‘rod of measure” we can set limits (to be adjusted as the kids mature). Then we need to enforce those limits. I see so many children who are spoiled and unruly not because the limits were not set, but because they were not enforced. As parents, we far too often fail the test.
The Hebrew word for “rod” can also mean a symbol of authority or rule, such as a scepter. Aaron’s rod was such a symbol.
Simply stated, as parents we are to BE parents, not best friends. It is our role to set and communicate the limits and to enforce them.
And finally the Hebrew for rod means clan or tribe. As members of the Body of Christ, we all take vows to help raise and guide children as they are baptized, dedicated or christened. This is a vow quickly forgotten. And it is a Christian responsibility that is highly controversial. But it remains our role within the Christian community.
Spanking is clearly controversial. But the role of the rod by parents in this broader context clearly is not.
Shalom, Art :reading:
Alive in The Word