In an ongoing examination of the Bible book of Proverbs we have been studying all that King Solomon has to say about anger and violence. This spanning subject lends itself to a digression. This week we will investigate what God states about spanking a child. We will study what Proverbs, as well as the whole of Scripture, teaches about this controversial subject.
A. THE CAUSE FOR SPANKING
Jeremiah 17:9 states, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” This is a classic summary passage pertaining to the sinful status of mankind. Scripture is replete and consistent on the fact that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Contrary to this truth, if children come into this world morally and ethically neutral then all they really need is education; direction, not correction. Herein is the viewpoint of the Humanist, who believes that man is basically good and his greatest need is education. Since all problems are remedied with learning, there is therefore no need for corrective discipline.
In reality, however, there is a sin problem that needs addressing. To illustrate this, watch toddlers long before they talk. They struggle against you (as their parents), for example, during diaper changes or when you instruct him or her not to touch something. They all have a self-will that defies authority. Left unchecked it will eventually bloom into teenage rebellion. A child’s problem is not a lack of education and instruction. Proverbs 22:15a states, “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child . . . ” Proverbs defines a fool as one who refuses to submit to authority or reproof (cf. Ps. 14:1).
B. THE CASE FOR SPANKING
Proverbs 13:24 states, “He who withholds his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently.” The Hebrew word for Rod (Shebet) means “staff or stick.” This derivation of the word refers to that part of a tree from which the same could be made. Philologically, the word meant “a tool of discipline.” In Psalm 2:9 shebet describes the wielding of a rod of iron over opposing nations by the Messiah at the beginning of the Millennial Kingdom (Cf. Job 21:9; 37:13; Psa. 45). Proverbs 10:13 is the first mention of corporal punishment in the book (corporal derived from “corpus,” meaning “body”). Solomon states, “A rod (shebet) is for the backside of him who lacks understanding.”
Why? This tactile response of the parent to the child provides an immediate correlation of sowing and reaping regarding the foolishness of rebellion (Gal. 6:7). Merriam-Webster defines corporal punishment as “that which is administered by an adult to the body of a child ranging in severity from a slap to a spanking.” Author Tedd Tripp, in his excellent book, Shepherding a Child’s Heart, goes a step further. The rod isn’t so much the physical object as much as it is the parent who spanks in obedience to Scripture:
The rod is a parent [who] in faith toward God and faithfulness toward his or her children, undertakes the responsibility of careful, timely, measured, and controlled use of physical punishment to underscore the importance of obeying God, thus rescuing the child from continuing in his foolishness until death (p. 104).
In summary then, the rod, according to the Bible, is God’s specific means of dealing with foolishness in the heart of a child. Yes, effective verbal communication is necessary too, but speaking fails without spanking. Consider this in a governmental sense. The Legislature creates penalties for those who violate its decrees. It requires submission. Punishment follows a lack of submission to California’s authority. How would the people of California behave if the Legislature removed all penalties for violating its laws? Would “talking things through” with law-breakers be more effective? Anarchy would rule in the streets! Words without enforcement are ineffective. It is the same in the family.
Continuing on this point:
22:15 Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of discipline will remove it far from him.
23:13-14 Do not hold back discipline from the child, although you strike him with the rod, he will not die. You shall strike him with the rod and rescue his soul from Sheol.
The instrumentality of the rod is the means God has ordained wherein foolishness is exchanged for wisdom and a proper fear of God and His authority. It therefore matters little what we might think about spanking. The issue is obeying God by following His methods for childrearing. Unfortunately, some parents abuse their children under the guise of spanking. Such is most certainly not God’s design.
C. THE CAUTIONS IN SPANKING
Parents (and only the parents of a child) are to spank when there is clear-cut rebellion to authority. Again, it is a measured, careful, timely and controlled act of love toward the child who has distanced himself or herself by insubordinate actions.
The best way to think of this is as a rescue mission. As a parent, you are on a mission to redeem your child from foolishness. Since God has commanded your children to obey you (Eph. 6:1), it is not an act of kindness to allow them to get away with rebellion. To do so is a severe disservice to your kids and undercuts your parental headship in the institution of the family.
As was stated previously, it is akin (in the institution of government) to the police force becoming passive on crime, or the elders in the church turning their eyes away from evil. There is no difference in principle. Your God-given authority (in any institution) will deteriorate if you fail to act as a loving, authoritative, disciplinarian.
Having said that, there are at least four ways in which spanking can be performed incorrectly. They are:
1. SPANKING WITH ANGER
James 1:20 says, “For the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” The biblical injunction to spank does not mean that God gives parents the right to become angry in the process. Spanking should be done in love in order to restore. Ephesians 6:4 echoes this principle, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
2. SPANKING WITH PHYSICAL VIOLENCE
When Proverbs speaks of violence it is the Hebrew word betsa, meaning “unjust or dishonest gain, illicit gain, plunder.” The rod is specifically for the particular purpose of correction and discipline; meaning that Scripture does not grant parents the uncontrolled use of physical force. Such license is found nowhere in the scriptural concept. Parents who bully their children will crush their children’s spirit and lose their loyalty—grossly failing to achieve the biblical purpose of corporal punishment. The following Proverbs underscore the negative fruits of violent behavior, be it a parent who disciplines abusively or any other violent activity:
1:19 So are the ways of everyone who gains by violence; it takes away the life of its possessors.
3:31 Do not envy a man of violence and do not choose any of his ways.
16:29 A man of violence entices his neighbor and leads him in a way that is not good.
The root word for entice can also be translated “persuade or lure.” A man of violence persuades his child to follow in his own violent patterns.
Many of today’s prison inmates suffered at the hands of violent, abusive parents or guardians. Perhaps this motivates anti-spanking legislation. Wisdom suggests, however, that society will grow far worse if spanking is banned. If spanking is outlawed in the home today, the police force will have to absorb that affect tomorrow. Familial discipline is much more effective than state discipline. For the government to prohibit families from performing their God-ordained responsibilities (in the area of parental discipline) is to incur a workload without infrastructure. The prison overcrowding crisis of today is nothing compared to what will be, if parents are prohibited from properly correcting the errant behavior of their children. A careful, wise lawmaker allows the family to discipline citizens at a young age rather than taking on the family’s assignment.
3. SPANKING WITH FRUSTRATION
Spanking is not the venue for venting one’s frustrations.
4:17 For they eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence.
In the Legislators’ Bible Study several weeks ago we learned that “strong drink is a brawler” (20:1). Alcoholism and violence usually go hand in hand. The abuse of alcohol and the abuse of children are kindred folk. Again, the rod requires careful, timely, measured and controlled use—all opposites to intoxication.
21:7 The violence of the wicked will drag them away, because they refuse to act with justice.
Spanking for reasons other than a child’s rebellion will have a highly injurious and destructive effect. Keep in mind that if a child is spanked unjustly—out of the parent’s frustration rather than as a result of his or her sin—it will cause further separation, versus rescuing, bonding, and restoration.
4. SPANKING WITH RETRIBUTION
13:2 From the fruit of a man’s mouth he enjoys good, but the desire of the treacherous is violence.
Treachery carries the idea of an insecure footing, the idea of a lack of trust. Whether on the part of the parent or the child, biblical corporal punishment does not carry the idea of getting even. An overly authoritarian parent who attempts to extract a “pound of flesh” will not endear a child’s heart. A vengeful spirit in spanking will only drive children further away, fostering a spirit of distrust, suspicion, and provocation.
D. THE COMPARISON TO SPANKING
Hebrews 12:5-11 is a wonderful NT passage outlining God’s heavenly desire to discipline His spiritual children—those whom He has chosen but who still need to be rescued from besetting sins. This passage serves to incorporate the previous proverbial instruction on parental discipline with the very character of God:
“MY SON, DO NOT REGARD LIGHTLY THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD, NOR FAINT WHEN YOU ARE REPROVED BY HIM; FOR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES, AND HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES.”
It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.
The capital letters are a quote by the writer of Hebrews from the OT book of Job (that is the translation style of the NASB editors). It should be noted that Solomon quotes the same passage in Proverbs 3:11-12. What is being said in Hebrews is certainly illustrated by the life of Job in perhaps the most extreme way. Notice the authentication of the principle of the rod here in the NT: “Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them . . . for they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them.” The reason God disciplines His children (His saints, cf. Eph. 1:4) has to do not only with our yielding the fruits of righteousness but God’s preparation of a spotless bride—His church—to present to His Son at the future marriage supper of the Lamb (cf. Rev. 19:9; 21:1 & 2).
He is intent about bring His children to maturity, and the rod is His means.
In one of the most well-known Psalms of all, the one that depicts the LORD as our shepherd, King David states, “Your rod (shebet) and your staff, they comfort me” (23:4). Divine discipline ultimately produces spiritual comfort (cf. James 1:2-4). Thus, Hebrews 12 provides a wonderful insight into the mind of God on this matter: Corrective discipline (including spanking) is a practice He models for us; it is, in fact, part of His nature (cf. 1 Cor. 14:21; Phil. 1:6; 2:13; Rev. 12:5). Should it not therefore be ours too? Herein is a communicable attribute of God to us.
E. THE CONCLUSION OF SPANKING
The following Proverb illuminates the fabulous results of proper parenting. Notice it carefully:
1. THE FUTURE OF THE CHILD
29:15, 17 The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother. . . . Correct your son, and he will give you comfort; he will also delight your soul.
Not only does the rod bring the skill at living life to the child, in contrast to life-long rebellion toward all forms of authority, but proper use of the rod blesses and will bring comfort and delight to the innermost parts of the parents. This is reflected by the idea of training in the following Proverb:
22:6 Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.
These principles should motivate everyone to use God’s ordained tools for childrearing. It should be noted that God’s Word does not allow parents to choose whether or not to spank their children as a form of discipline. Spanking a rebellious child is not optional, as was previously seen in Proverbs 23:13-14. Spanking is not a suggestion. Today unfortunately, too many professing Christians, because of a lack of biblical understanding or outright rebellion, assert that whether or not one spanks is a personal choice. It is not. Christians are not at liberty to pick and choose when they will follow God’s commands. Parents, think of spanking in this way: As hard as it is for you to spank your child, his or her obedience to God in the future is directly related to yours in the present
2. THE FUTURE OF THE STATE
In the Proverbs just mentioned from chapter 29, verse 16 was intentionally bypassed for the purposes of emphasis herein. Notice what Solomon tells his son about the impact on the state from a lack of familial spanking:
29:15-17 The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother. 16 When the wicked increase, transgression increases; but the righteous will see their fall. 17 Correct your son, and he will give you comfort; he will also delight your soul.
The bottom line:
In context, and paraphrased, verse 16 finds Solomon instructing his son, who would become the next king, on the relationship of the health of a nation to familial spanking. How’s that for the applicability of the Bible for today? He states that when children get their own way in the home, transgressions in society increase. And as a result the reign of those societies is short-lived. This principle is replete throughout Scripture: deter spanking in the home now and you are sure to pay for it later—in a major, major way!
Because government is called by God to be a form of His restraining grace in a fallen world (1 Pet. 2:13) it must empower and encourage—not encroach upon—the family and the church to do their job of wielding the rod in the home. It would be foolish to take it away! Our state’s penal system must partner with the other institutions God has ordained, versus cutting them off and taking on a burden that will be unmanageable within another generation.
Article from Pulpit Magazine