Once you embrace the reality that many, if not most, of the Proverbs are, in fact, not to be read literally, you are free to ask what the spirit of this passage is. Just as the point of telling a glutton to put a knife to his throat is to warn a young man against becoming a glutton, so we are reading a father’s words of wisdom to his son. Remembering that the Shebet is the staff of authority, in King Solomon’s case the King’s scepter, we are free to read this passage as being about true discipline. Reason together and teach correct ways to your son. Let your staff of authority be a constant presence in their lives and you will teach him the way that does not lead to death. Be a constant presence of discipline and teaching in his life and you will save him from his passions that would lead to death.
The idea of your authority causing you to be a constant presence in your child’s life is not new to the topic of discipline in Scripture. When God gave the Torah/Law to the Israelites, he admonished them to “teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.” Deut. 6:7. This is the responsibility given to every Israelite parent and one’s authority is to exercise your responsibilities.
As we dig even deeper we must examine the role of a father in the life of his sons during King Solomon’s day. Before the age of 5, when the child was still a nursling, he was the primary responsibility of his mother. At age 5, his play would take him to the feet of the men where he would begin to bridge the gap — playing while they worked, helping where he could, and learning Hebrew while memorizing all of Torah by the time he was 10.
At the age of 13, a boy would become a young man in the community, but not fully a man. It is best understood as an apprentice man — he becomes his father’s disciple and would be learning directly from him. This path of life works beautifully with the way that we now understand the brain to work.
Between the ages of 5 and 10 the child is in the Grammar stage where they are able to learn vast amounts of information and retain it-what better age to memorize Scripture; at age 10 they develop logic and between 10 and 14 they are in the Logic stage where they are learning how it all fits together — what better age to make a commitment to your faith; and at age 14 they develop reason and from age 14-18 they are in the Reasoning stage — what better stage to be the disciple of your father and interact with him in a style of “come let us reason together”.
What is so beautiful to me is that the book of Proverbs is this very idea in action. King Solomon is writing the book of Proverbs to his adolescent son to teach him the wisdom of living a life of Torah — of living according to Scripture! He is not beating him, he is reasoning together with him. He is not beating him, he is exercising his authority, as symbolized by his scepter, to parent his child in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, to teach him diligently the things which the Lord commanded.