Proverbs 23: 2020 Bible Challenge

Devotional Text and Meditation for the Day

By Walt Townshend

Proverbs 23:13-14

Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish them with the rod, they will not die.

Punish them with the rod and save them from death.

Most people have heard and perhaps used this phrase: “Spare the Rod and Spoil the Child”. The Book of Proverbs uses words like these, shown here:

Proverbs 13:24- Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.

Proverbs 19:18- Discipline your children, for in that there is hope; do not be a willing party to their death.

Proverbs 22:15– Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far away.

Proverbs 23:13-Saying 13, Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish them with the rod, they will not die.

Proverbs 23:14Punish them with the rod and save them from death.

Proverbs 29:15- A rod and a reprimand impart wisdom, but a child left undisciplined disgraces its mother.

However, although the saying “spare the rod and spoil the child was clearly inspired by these Biblical verses, it does not appear in the Bible!

It comes from the epic-length 17th-century poem, Hudibras, written by Samuel Butler (1612-1680), a British poet who enjoyed mocking religious extremists and hypocrites The famous “spare the rod” quote comes in Part II, which was entered into the Stationer’s Registry (Britain’s early version of a copyright office) on November 5, 1663.[1]

Note in verses 13-14 that one is not to “withhold” the discipline that rightly belongs to the child; thus, to not bring needed correction is to withhold it. Consider, too, that in verse 12, Solomon admonishes his son to apply his “heart to instruction” and his ears to “words of knowledge”.  Thus, a parent must be a “disciple” or “disciplined” in order to rightly administer reproof to the son.  Likewise, in verse 14, Solomon says that IF “my son [‘s]… [a term of affection]…  heart is wise”, THEN the father’s “heart will be glad indeed” and [his] inmost being will rejoice when your lips speak what is right.”

There is perhaps no greater debate in child-rearing than the use of “corporal” or bodily punishment.  While we cannot explore in depth here an analysis of this issue, consider at least these seminal thoughts:

  1. The figure of the “rod” is sometimes used literally (as in spanking) and sometimes figuratively, through the right administration of the rod through an alternative punishment or word. Discernment is needed.  You may choose not to use the rod on a 13-year-old, as withholding an iPhone for a week may be even more effective.  What “rod” has God used in your life?
  • One commentator summed a key issue this way: “…is it possible that you have been slack in using the rod because you do not want to conceive of God as a disciplinarian? Do you wish that God were patronizing rather than punishing sin? Many of us have failed in our child-raising simply because we do not like the model–God. Like it or not, the God of the Bible–Old Testament and New–is a God who deals with sin, whether in the life of a believer or an unbeliever.”[2] 
  • To be godly is to be God-like. “In every instance of God’s disciplining of His people, God is seen to be righteous for judging sinners. His discipline is never seen as a flaw in His holy character, but as a manifestation of His holiness.”[3] We are taught in Proverbs that human discipline and Godly discipline are similar, if not synonymous. ”My son, do not reject the discipline of the Lord, or loathe His reproof. For whom the Lord loves He reproves. Even as a father, the son in whom He delights.” (Proverbs 3:12).  Or consider 1 Sam. 7:14: “I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me; when he commits iniquity, I will correct him with the rod of men and strokes of the sons of men.”
  • Have you ever really thought about saving your child from death (v. 14)?  We teach our children to avoid a hot stove; we place gates at the tops of stairs to prevent what may be a tragic fall.  Will we not follow God’s precepts in appropriate discipline to avoid not only physical death, but spiritual death as well?

Think of times in your life when you were disciplined. A quote often attributed to Mark Twain[4] but which cannot be verified is this: “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years!” 

I think back to me as a ten-year-old, disrespecting my father at the dinner table, abruptly leaving the table and the house and running across the field (yes, redheads DO have tempers!).  I thought I was safely away. Suddenly a hand grasped my shirt collar.  Looking around I saw flared nostrils, a reddened face and heard a most stern rebuke. At that moment, I realized once again my earthly father loved me enough to pursue me and provide but a glimpse of his righteous wrath. The virtual rod applied through his reproof along with his unexpected love reverberates with me to this day, nearly sixty years later. 

Twain’s credited words are right; but God’s Word is TRUTH. 

Spare the rod? It’s a matter of life and death.

Read Proverbs 23: |

[1] From, November 05, 2017. “Spare the rod and spoil the child”

[2] Deffinbaugh, Robert L., from the series: The Way of the Wise: Studies in the Book of Proverbs 16. Wisdom and Child-Rearing (Part III).

[3] Ibid.

[4] No researcher has found any direct evidence that connects Twain to the quote. Further, the first known attribution to Twain occurs five years after his death: 1915 December, The Square Deal edited by Joseph W. Bryce, Found in the Black Chest by Fred N. Rindge, Vol. 17, Page 160, Column 2, Square Deal Press. (Hathi Trust). So, the evidence is weak. On the other hand, no one else is credibly credited with the saying.


Subscribe to Podcasts

Comments are closed.