The first time the word “discipline” is found in the Bible is in Deuteronomy 4:36.
Out of the heavens He let you hear His voice to discipline you;
and on earth He let you see His great fire, and you heard His words from the midst of the fire.
God disciplined the Jews by letting them HEAR his voice. In English, the word “discipline” connotes physical punishment. However in Hebrew, the word “yacar” means to teach or instruct. The emphasis is on verbal teaching or instruction.
God also disciplined (taught/instructed) the Jews by letting them SEE.
Know this day that I am not speaking with your sons who have not known and
who have not seen the discipline of the LORD your God
– His greatness,
His mighty hand and His outstretched arm,
and His signs
and His works
which He did in the midst of Egypt to Pharaoh the king of Egypt and to all his land; (Deuteronomy 11:2-3)
Scripture teaches that they SAW His discipline. What did they see? They saw God’s greatness, His mighty hand, His outstretched arm, His signs and His works throughout Egypt that God did to judge Egypt and to set the Jews free.
Let’s examine another commonly quoted passage replacing the word “discipline” with its true Hebrew meaning of “teaching/instruction.”
And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the [teaching or instruction] of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved [convicted] by him. For the Lord [teaches or instructs] the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” It is for [teaching and instruction] that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not [teach or instruct]? If you are left without [instruction], in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who [taught and instructed] us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live?
This passage makes complete sense when reading it in light of the knowledge that we should understand Hebrew discipline as verbal teaching and instruction. Just as God teaches and instructs us, we should also teach and instruct our children.
What can we learn from other passages of Scripture about the true nature of God’s discipline?
But to the wicked God says, “What right have you to tell of My statutes And to take My covenant in your mouth? “For you hate discipline, And you cast My words behind you. (Psalm 50:16-17)
Again, notice the connection between DISCIPLINE and God’s Words. The wicked who hated God’s discipline cast aside His words. It would not make any sense to interpret discipline in this passage as physical punishment.
For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching is light;
And reproofs [correction] for discipline [teaching] are the way of life.
Again we see that it is through correction that we are taught the right way to live. Commandments and teaching are intimately connected to reproof and discipline.
Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge,
But he who hates reproof is stupid.
Would this verse make any sense if discipline referred to physical punishment? Not at all. But when we read this scripture in light of its true meaning, it makes perfect sense! Whoever loves teaching and instruction loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid.
“Behold, how happy is the man whom God reproves,
So do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.
This verse would also not make any sense if reproof and discipline are simply meant to be physical punishment. We also see a clear instruction to not despise the teaching and instruction of the LORD. The word “despise” is most often translated as “reject.” Do not reject the teaching of the LORD.
My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline
or be weary of his reproof,
Another instance in which we see a command to not despise [reject] the LORD’s discipline [teaching]. It would not make sense to interpret this passage as a command to not “reject physical punishment.” Instead, we are commanded to heed the teaching and instruction of the LORD.
Poverty and shame will come to him who neglects discipline,
But he who regards reproof will be honored.
The word “neglects” in this verse means “to ignore.” It makes sense to say that poverty and shame will come to someone who ignores instruction. But the person who regards [listens to] correction will be honored.
A fool rejects his father’s discipline,
But he who regards reproof is sensible.
This verse is an example of antithetical parallelism in the book of Proverbs in which the first portion of the verse is meant to serve as the antithesis – or direct contrast – to the second portion of the verse. We can clearly see that this verse not referring to physical punishment. The author is contrasting a fool that rejects his father’s teaching and instruction with one who listens to his father’s correction and is wise.
He who neglects discipline despises himself,
But he who listens to reproof acquires understanding.
If I neglect spanking, I despise myself? That makes no sense. But the one who neglects teaching and instruction? That would be someone who despises himself. The one who LISTENS to reproof acquires understanding. Again we see the connection between discipline and reproof and WORDS – not actions.
Understanding is a fountain of life to one who has it,
But the discipline of fools is folly.
Here we see another example of antithetical parallelism in the book of Proverbs. This is a clear example of a comparison of the wisdom of understanding and the foolishness of the teaching of fools.
Discipline your son while there is hope,
And do not desire his death.
Are you getting it yet? Now can you read this verse and clearly see what this Proverb is trying to teach us?
Listen to counsel and accept discipline,
That you may be wise the rest of your days.
LISTEN to counsel (words) and accept discipline (physical discipline?) so that you may be WISE. Would it make sense to interpret this verse as accepting physical punishment in order to be wise? The passage is clearly speaking of accepting instruction so that we may be wise.
Cease listening, my son, to discipline,
And you will stray from the words of knowledge.
In this verse, we learn that we can stop LISTENING to discipline. Discipline simply cannot be interpreted as physical punishment.
Apply your heart to discipline
And your ears to words of knowledge.
Another parallel passage in Proverbs teaching us to apply our HEARTS and our EARS to instruction and to knowledge.
Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline;
therefore be zealous and repent.
God teaches and convicts those whom He loves. Something interesting about this verse is that the word “zealous” is the Greek word “zelos” which means “excitement of mind” and the word “repent” is the Greek word “metanoeo” which means “to change one’s mind.” The verse is literally saying that because God teaches and convicts those He loves, we should be excited and change our minds.
God is described as our Father. However, God not only teaches and instructs us. There are almost 100 passages of Scripture that refer to God’s compassion upon us as His children.
Just as a father has compassion on his children,
So the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him.
This word to “have compassion” means “to love deeply and to have mercy.” God, as our Father, has compassion and mercy on us, and He loves us deeply!
You, O LORD, will not withhold Your compassion from me;
Your lovingkindness and Your truth will continually preserve me.
This is such an amazing verse! We see three attributes of God that “continually preserve us:” His compassion, His lovingkindness and His truth. Likewise, we should parent with compassion, lovingkindness and truth.
“Can a woman forget her nursing child
And have no compassion on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget, but I will not forget you.
I love the imagery of this verse! God promises that He will not forget us, but will instead have compassion on us.
In an outburst of anger I hid My face from you for a moment,
But with everlasting lovingkindness I will have compassion on you,”
Says the LORD your Redeemer.
Notice that it was in ANGER that God HID from us, but His lovingkindness brought us back into fellowship with Him as He had compassion on us.
- What is the Hebrew concept of “discipline”?
- How does the Hebrew concept of discipline differ from the Western view of discipline?
- How does God discipline His children?
- How did your parents teach and instruct you?
- When was a time when your parents showed you compassion? How did you respond?
- How did your parents respond to you when they were angry? What impact did their anger have on your relationship with them?
- How have you responded to your children in anger? What was the impact of your anger on your children? What was the impact of your anger on you?
- What would it look like to continually and intentionally draw our children back into fellowship with us through lovingkindness and compassion?
- When is a time that you would typically respond to your children in anger? How can you plan to show them compassion instead?