Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Spare The Rod - Spoil The Child, Proverb 13:24

We love the gospel of grace when we come to God with our sins. None of us wants justice in the sense of God giving us what we deserve. But as much as we love His mercy when applied to us, we have a difficult time applying the same mercy to others. The Scriptures tells us that if we spare the rod, we will spoil the child, but many Christians forget God's grace while administering the child's punishment in our anger at them. The closer the relationship, the more betrayed and frustrated we feel. One needs to know that the messages we send our children while punishing them is one of discipline, not anger.

Few parents will bluntly declare that they're penalizing a child for his misbehavior. We should not be expressing our punishment in terms of vengeance. But when the veins are popping, the voice is escalating, and the parent towers intimidatingly over their children, the message is easily confused. You may have discipline in mind, but you need to be clear in their minds that you are imposing boundaries for their good because you love them. My commentary today is on Proverb 13:24.
Those who spare the rod hate their children,
but those who love them are diligent to discipline them.
Proverbs 13:24
One of the most unfortunate misunderstandings of Scripture concerns passages that refer to the necessity of using “the rod of discipline” in the training of children. These include:
“Foolishness is bound in the heart of the child,
but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him.”
Proverbs 22:15
“Do not withhold discipline from a child;
if you punish him with the rod, he will not die.”
Proverbs 23:13
Let me begin by saying that I am not arguing against spankings your children. I happen to believe that a properly administered spanking can be an example of “the rod.” Spankings have their place, but they are not the be-all, end-all of discipline. In fact, no where in the whole of Scripture does God prescribe a specific form of discipline for children. He only emphasizes that discipline must embody certain characteristics and emanate from a legitimate authority figure who is acting with righteousness. The mere fact that a parent spanks does not mean his discipline has been “rod-like.” A spanking delivered impulsively in anger only communicates his anger. It does now do anything but cause resentment on the part of his child. This is what Paul was referring to when he exhorted the Ephesian fathers to not exasperate their children. Parents exasperates their children when their punishment is delivered impulsively and out of anger.
Fathers, do not exasperate your children,
instead bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
Ephesians 6:4
That being said, many well-intentioned Christians these passages, and others like them, to mean that God is specifically instructing parents to always spank their children when they misbehave. Plus, spankings should be administered with variations on the general theme of “the rod”: belts, hickory switches, paddles, and the like. This misinterpretation is understandable, but it reflects a misunderstanding of the Scriptures and the context for which they should be used.

In the Old Testament Scriptures may have various meanings which are revealed by the context in which a word or phrase is used. In other words, the setting if the often determines the meaning. Therefore, arriving at a proper understanding of any Scriptural term requires that the seeker carefully examine how that term is used in various contexts across the whole of Scripture, with an eye for contextual similarities.

In the matter of disciplining ones child with the rod, you will learn that there are two distinct usages. “The Rod” and “A Rod”. The difference may seem insignificant, but in fact the preceding article used before the word “rod” determines meaning. So one should understand the context of the meaning by understanding the article before the word. In this case the article is either, “the” or “a”. The rod can either be used in a metaphorical sense, as in Lamentations 3:1, “I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of his wrath.” Or in a physical reference as in a straight stick that might have been used as a tool of measurement (1Samuel 17:7, Revelations 21:16), a symbol of authority (Isaiah 14:5), or a staff used in herding sheep ( Leviticus 27:32).

In every case, when the word rod is used with reference to the training or discipline of children, it is preceded by the article “the”, connoting that the usage is metaphorical. To understand it otherwise results in irreconcilable confusion. For example, in Exodus 21:20, The Lord specifies that if a man beats his male or female slave with a rod, and the slave dies as a direct result, the man must be punished.
““And if a man beats his male or female servant with “a” rod, so that he dies under his hand, he shall surely be punished. ” Exodus 21:20
Speaking in Proverbs 23:13, however, The Lord assures parents that if they punish their children with “the” rod, “they will not die.”
“Do not withhold discipline from a child;
if you punish him with “the” rod, he will not die.”
Proverbs 23:13
Reading these two passages, one should be moved to ask, if in fact these two rods are one and the same, how can something that can kill a strong adult slave hold absolutely no potential of being fatal to a child (remember that Proverbs 23:13 is a promise from God Himself!). The only way of reconciling the seeming contradiction is to understand that Exodus refers to an object (a rod), while Proverbs refers to a quality, an attribute (the rod).

So what is this quality? What is rod-like discipline? Metaphors borrow their meaning from the concrete. So, for example, the metaphorical use of “slow train” as in “there’s a slow train coming” refers to a powerful, virtually unstoppable force with somewhat ominous significance. In other words, understanding the concrete nature of a train that is moving slowing, inexorably, down a track is prerequisite to comprehending the metaphor. Likewise, understanding the ancient uses to which rods could be put allows us to understand what is meant by “the rod of discipline.”

In one context, “a” rod was used to insure that measurements were consistent and true; in another, it was a symbol of authority, a scepter; and in yet another, as a herding staff, it was used to herd domesticated animals in one general area and compel them to move from one place to another. Used metaphorically, therefore, rod-like discipline (a) is consistent and true, (b) emanates from a legitimate authority, and (c) establishes boundaries and compels action and/or change. Further understanding of the metaphor can be had by noting that “the rod” is also used to refer to God’s righteousness, as in Isaiah 11:4, where The Lord is described as smiting the earth with “the rod of his mouth.” Rod-like child discipline, therefore, is righteous. It is in keeping with the nature of God’s discipline of us, his children both adult and child, and consistent with His Plan for us.

It's my hope that these understandings should serve to free parents from a narrow approach to discipline that might result from a literal interpretation of “the rod of discipline.” Hopefully this will enable them to match their discipline to the specific nature of any given misbehavior and the context in which it occurs. Understanding the difference between “a rod” and “the rod” also leads to the realization that discipline and punishment are not one and the same, that discipline is first and foremost leadership, not punishment-ship. The effectiveness of a parents leadership will minimize the necessity. It follows that parents who punish a great deal are parents who have failed to properly assume the mantle of leadership in their relationships with their children.

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