Spare the Rod…

At this point, it must be stated clearly that within the Law there is a penalty for the man who strikes his slave with his Shebet and kills him. Therefore, this Proverb cannot be literally stating that if you strike your child with your rod you will not kill him. That would not be true. For this reason, I would suggest this Proverb need not be taken any more literally than the one found in 23:2 that reads “And put a knife to thy throat, if thou [be] a man given to appetite.” This is especially important because the second half of our lesson, in verse 14, tells us that through beating with the Shebet we can save our child’s soul from death.

“And shalt deliver” is “natsal” and means1) to snatch away, deliver, rescue, save, strip, plunder a) (Niphal) 1) to tear oneself away, deliver oneself 2) to be torn out or away, be delivered b) (Piel) 1) to strip off, spoil 2) to deliver c) (Hiphil) 1) to take away, snatch away 2) to rescue, recover 3) to deliver (from enemies or troubles or death) 4) to deliver from sin and guilt d) (Hophal) to be plucked out e) (Hithpael) to strip oneself

His “soul” is “nephesh”1) soul, self, life, creature, person, appetite, mind, living being, desire, emotion, passion a) that which breathes, the breathing substance or being, soul, the inner being of man b) living being c) living being (with life in the blood) d) the man himself, self, person or individual e) seat of the appetites f) seat of emotions and passions g) activity of mind 1) dubious h) activity of the will 1) dubious i) activity of the character 1) dubious

A literal reading of this passage would read: Make sure to reason together with your child because if you strike him with your staff of authority he won’t die prematurely. If you strike him with your staff you will pluck the seat of his passions from the grave.

Let me point out a few obvious discrepancies. Reasoning together with someone has nothing to do with physically striking them. Striking them can kill them. Furthermore, striking someone with a staff will not save someone from death. Even if you elaborate on the second verse to mean that you will teach your child to live a life that won’t lead to premature death, you are still left with the reality that striking someone with your staff can kill them, so you cannot take this as a promise of any kind.

Looking at this the way it’s been taught in many church circles brings even more problems to light. First, there is nothing you can do as a parent to save your child. Jesus did that on the cross — and if it were a matter of beating someone with a staff, then we can save a lot of money on missions and just buy some big sticks. Second, there is a parallel drawn between correction from the Hebrew word expressing “come let us reason together” and the use of the Shebet. You cannot simultaneously beat someone and reason together with them. Third, this verse, however you understand it, does not apply to a child under the age of 5, or to a female child. Simply acknowledging the limited scope of this verse undermines the entire teaching of punitive circles within the church today.

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