What about punishments, especially spanking, as a last resort? Doesn’t the Bible say in Proverbs 23:13-14, “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you beat him with the rod, he will not die. Beat him with the rod and save his soul from death”?
I might actually condone hitting a child as a last resort, if that child were an adult child who was behaving as a fool and bringing shame on your family and himself. I would consider this a better and preferable alternative to the instruction given in the Law that an adult child who is a glutton, drunkard, rebellious and stubborn be taken by his parents to the city gates where he is to be stoned by the city elders.
So, if my child was out date raping, carousing, living in debauchery and drunkenness, or somehow bringing shame on us — if I had to admit that I had completely and totally and utterly failed my child — I would probably be provoked to taking up a large object and chasing him around the room before I would give up completely and take him to be stoned.
The thing we need to remember about the rod verses, however, is they are not discussing hitting a child — even an adult child. The rod is the symbol of authority — a walking stick held by the head of the family, a shepherd’s staff, or a king’s scepter.
Because Proverbs is a compilation of wisdom sayings compiled by a king, we can assume a scepter as the intended rod. This was never used to hit and, as we see in Esther, it is when it is extended to you that you have life and when it is withheld that you have death.
If the verse in question was intended to mean hitting then it would be lying and Scripture is not filled with lies. You *can* kill a child by hitting them with or without a stick. And if the literal meaning cannot be the possible intended meaning, then the meaning must be figurative or symbolic.
It helps to understand the symbolic and figurative meanings when we realize that the word translated “beat” is “nakah” and is the same word used when the sun beat down on Jonah – it represents a constant presence. The verse is telling parents that their discipline is required as a constant presence in their child’s life in order to guide them.
Is this a pleasant constant presence? No, not necessarily. Even in the book of Jonah, when the sun was beating down on him, it was unpleasant, so unpleasant he wanted to die. And discipline does seem unpleasant at the time — just tell your toddler no and see what happens. Anytime we stop someone from doing what they want to do we are reigning in their passions and we are all resistant to having this happen to us.
If you are a constant presence of discipline in your child’s life, you will not kill him and he will not make choices that lead to his own demise. By being a constant presence of wisdom and instruction, you will prepare him and keep him from making choices that lead to death. Yes, being a constant presence of discipline can lead to saving your son’s soul from hell. This verse is speaking truth and wisdom.
You will also be able to say, as Solomon does in the next few verses, “My son, if thine heart be wise, my heart shall rejoice, even mine. Yea, my reins shall rejoice, when thy lips speak right things.” (verses 15-16)
One thing that many people don’t realize is that the book of Proverbs IS discipline! Solomon was disciplining his son by compiling the wisdom sayings of his day for his son’s instruction.
Like Solomon, we can have faithful instruction be on our tongue and we can be a presence of discipline for our children. We don’t have to hurt them physically to do this, even if they don’t seem to be learning a lesson in our timing or to our liking. And they might not like what we are teaching them. This doesn’t mean that we need to become harsh or cruel or punitive. It just means that we need to also be disciplined as we develop patience and kindness in the face of the struggle and challenge that is disciplining a child.