The reason this section of my site is called “Spare the Rod” is because this verse, and a handful of verses that mention the Rod, have been touted as teaching the modern day practice of spanking. In fact, I often get emails from people who have visited my site and want to ask me why I don’t know that the Bible teaches parents to spare the rod and spoil the child.
First of all, that isn’t Scripture — it’s a poem by Samuel Butler called “Hudibras” . Not only that, but in the poem he is referring to the topic that provides the background for the modern day practice of spankings, namely corporal punishment between adults in the bedroom.* I can imagine the shocked look on your face. Before you write me off as a loon, please hear me out.
Proverbs does speak of the rod, but what exactly is the rod?
In Hebrew there are three main words that are translated into English as “rod” and the one used in Proverbs is “Shebet”. The Shebet was the large walking staff held by the head of a family, the shepherd’s crook, or the king’s scepter. Considering Proverbs was written by King Solomon, it makes sense to assume that of all the meanings we are reading a reference to the one held by a King. Reading in the book of Esther, we see that when the Shebet is extended to someone that they find life, but when it is spared, or set aside, it brings death.
Make no mistake, the Shebet is a very real implement. The next question is: “What does it mean when King Solomon speaks of the Shebet?” Let’s examine the verses.
Proverbs 23:13-14 Withhold not correction from the child: for [if] thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell.
“Correction” is the Hebrew word “muwcar” and means 1) discipline, chastening, correction a) discipline, correction b) chastening. It carries the connotation of “Come let us reason together” and speaks to verbal correction.
The “child” is “na’ar” and is a boy, lad or youth and the “child” is between the ages of 5 and 21. There is a different word for children under age 5 that speaks to them as nurslings and at 21 they are adults.
“Beatest” does speak to striking, but is followed by “he shall not die”. “He shall not die” is “muwth” and means 1) to die, kill, have one executed a) (Qal) 1) to die 2) to die (as penalty), be put to death 3) to die, perish (of a nation) 4) to die prematurely (by neglect of wise moral conduct) b) (Polel) to kill, put to death, dispatch c) (Hiphil) to kill, put to death d) (Hophal) 1) to be killed, be put to death a) to die prematurely.
*What med’cine else can cure the fits
Of lovers when they lose their wits?
Love is a boy by poets stil’d;
Then spare the rod and spoil the child.
A Persian emp’ror whipp’d his grannam 845
The sea, his mother VENUS came on;
And hence some rev’rend men approve
Of rosemary in making love.
As skilful coopers hoop their tubs
With Lydian and with Phrygian dubs, 850
Why may not whipping have as good
A grace, perform’d in time and mood,
With comely movement, and by art,
Raise passion in a lady’s heart?
It is an easier way to make 855
Love by, than that which many take.