Parenting, spanking

Part 5: Who is “the child” in Proverbs?

He who withholds his rod hates his son,
But he who loves him disciplines him diligently.
Proverbs 13:24

Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child;
The rod of discipline will remove it far from him.
Proverbs 22:15

Do not hold back discipline from the child,
although you strike him with the rod, he will not die.
You shall strike him with the rod and rescue his soul from Sheol
Proverbs 23:13-14

 The rod and reproof give wisdom,
But a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother.
Proverbs 29:15

That’s it. An entire parenting philosophy that has lasted hundreds of years has stemmed from these four verses from a book of poetry.

To summarize what we have learned thus far in this series:

  1. “Spanking” is not found anywhere in the Word of God, so we are either not obeying these verses correctly or we are not understanding these verses correctly.
  2. The “rod” in these verses is a figurative rod symbolizing authority.
  3. The book of Proverbs is a collection of wisdom literature written by a King for his son in order to prepare him to take over the throne and is intended to be read as a collection of wise sayings (not commands) that are generally true (not always true).

Now, we will take a deeper look at the object of this discipline – the “child” – in order to see who was intended to be the receiver of the “rod.”

One of the greatest books that I have read on this subject is Thy Rod and Thy Staff They Comfort Me by Samuel Martin. (You can read the book for free here!)

Much like in English, Hebrew has nine different words that represent nine different stages of a person’s growth.

If you went to visit a friend who had two sons – a toddler and a teenager – and asked her, “Is your child still in diapers?” She would easily understand that you were referring to her toddler and not her teenager.

Similarly, if you were to say to her, “Your son can move my car from the driveway,” she wouldn’t hand the keys to her toddler.

Likewise, if she were to say, “The toddler can drink juice, but the teenager may have a soda for lunch,” I highly doubt that you would be confused as to which one should drink juice and which one should drink soda.

The reason why we understand these terms easily is because while both of these boys are her children and both of these boys are her sons, the words “toddler” and “teenager” imply totally different stages of growth.

Below is a chart that represents the various terms used in Hebrew to represent the different stages of growth from infancy through adulthood.

Male

Female

Root

Meaning

English

Age

yeled

yaldah

yalad

“To give birth”

newborn

0-1 month

yonek

yanak

“To suck; to nurse”

infant

1-12 months

olel

olal

“To ask bread”

Not yet weaned child that eats solid food

1-3 years

gamul

gamal

“To wean; to complete”

Weaned child

3-4 years

taph

taf

“To cling; to swaddle”

Child close to mother

4-6 years

elem

almah

“To become firm”

Pre-Teen

7-11 years

na’ar

na’arah

“To shake off”

Teenager (unmarried man/woman)

12-18 years

bthulah

“Virgin”

Unmarried woman right before marriage

bachur

bachurah

“Ripened one”

Ready to be married man/woman

ish

isha

Man/Woman

In order to accurately interpret and apply the verses in Proverbs, it is important to understand which stage of development is being referred to in the verses above so we do not end up “giving soda to a toddler.”

Proverbs 13:24 uses the Hebrew word “ben” which is a general term meaning “son.” The other three verses listed above use the more specific Hebrew word, “na’ar” – which as you can see from the chart indicates a young man of the ages 12-18. (The word na’ar is also translated as a “male servant.”) Logic would follow that we would use the most specific term in order to determine who is being referred to in these passages.

So if spanking advocates truly want to hit children “the way the Bible commands,” then according to Scripture, they should not start hitting children with a rod until the child is at least 12 years of age (a legal adult in Jewish culture).

This simple truth utterly destroys the “Biblical” basis for spanking as is done in our “modern” culture which is almost exclusively aimed at children under the age of 12.

Just because I am not the type to “believe whatever you hear or read,” I asked one of my friends who was born and raised in Israel and is now working as a Hebrew teacher at a Jewish school, “What is a na’ar?” I did not provide her any context for the question – just simply wanted to get her instant answer.

She replied, “A na’ar is a boy that is like 17 – not a little boy, but not really mature like a man either.”

Just to be sure, I asked her to clarify, “Is Sophia (my 3 year old daughter) a na’ar?”

To which she laughed and said, “No!”

Again, I asked her, “Is your son (an 8 year old boy) a na’ar?”

And again, she replied, “No. A na’ar is like 15 or 16 or 17. My son is not a na’ar yet.”

If people knew and understood the meaning of this one crucial word in Hebrew as easily as native speakers of Hebrew do, the case for spanking would certainly be closed.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:

  1. Who is the “child” mentioned in the verses used to advocate for hitting children?
  2. How does understanding the connotations for the Hebrew word na’ar impact our understanding of these verses?
  3. If there is no biblical basis for hitting a child under the age of 12, on what basis are we advocating for hitting our children as a method of discipline and correction?
  4. How are we being influenced by our traditions and our culture more than by the Word of God?
  5. What is the significance that King Solomon wrote these verses to his son in preparation for becoming King?

Another interesting thing to note about these verses is that they make frequent connection between “the rod” and “discipline.”  Let’s explore what Biblical discipline really means.

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Parenting, spanking

Part 4: How Should We Read The Book of Proverbs?

How should we read/interpret the Books of Poetry in the Bible?

(Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon)

If we are going to accurately interpret and apply the four verses from the book of Proverbs used in defense of the practice of spanking, it is important to understand the purpose and intention of the book of Proverbs as a whole.

  1. Who wrote the book of Proverbs? (mostly) King SolomonThe proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel: (Proverbs 1:1)
  2. For whom was the book of Proverbs written? King Solomon’s son as preparation for his time as KingHear, my son, your father’s instruction,
    and forsake not your mother’s teaching, (Proverbs 1:8)
  3. Why was the book of Proverbs written?To know wisdom and instruction,
    to understand words of insight,
    to receive instruction in wise dealing,
    in righteousness, justice, and equity;
    to give prudence to the simple,
    knowledge and discretion to the youth—
    Let the wise hear and increase in learning,
    and the one who understands obtain guidance,
    to understand a proverb and a saying,
    the words of the wise and their riddles. (Proverbs 1:2-6)

Proverbs are WISDOM LITERATURE and are part of the BOOKS OF POETRY in the Bible. As such, they incorporate symbols, metaphors and other figurative literary devices. As “wisdom,” they are NOT commands from the LORD, but rather recorded wise sayings from King Solomon.

Proverbs are:

  • Principles
  • Wise Sayings
  • Memorable
  • Usually figurative
  • Generally true – not necessarily true

Proverbs are NOT:

  • Commands from the LORD
  • Guarantees
  • Promises
  • Usually literal
  • Applicable or true in every circumstance or situation

Other Proverbs Verses We Don’t Read Literally

For they eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence. (Proverbs 4:17)

Are they LITERALLY eating bread of wickedness? Are they LITERALLY drinking wine of violence? No, of course not.

In the mouth of the foolish is a rod of pride: but the lips of the wise shall preserve them. (Proverbs 14:3)

This Proverbs also includes a reference to a “rod.” It is clear that this “rod” is NOT a literal rod but rather a symbol of pride. Or do you think a fool has a LITERAL rod of pride in his mouth?

From the fruit of a man’s mouth his stomach is satisfied; he is satisfied by the yield of his lips. (Proverbs 18:20)

If we take this Proverbs literally, there is no reason for us to eat since we should be satisfied by our words. Do our mouths literally produce fruit? Obviously not. These Proverbs were not intended to be read literally.

A hard worker has plenty of food, but a person who chases fantasies has no sense. (Proverbs 12:11)

Do you know any hard workers who do not have plenty of food? As someone who has worked in third world countries for most of my life, some of the hardest working people I know are often those who struggle daily with hunger and providing basic food necessities for their families. This proverb is not a promise.

Put a knife to your throat if you are given to appetite. (Proverbs 23:2)

If we are going to assume that the verses that supposedly promote spanking are commands from God, than we should also interpret this as a command from God, but I don’t see anyone in church putting a literal knife to their throat for eating too much. Clearly this is verse NOT a command nor is it meant to be read literally.

Answer not a fool according to his folly,
lest you be like him yourself.
Answer a fool according to his folly,
lest he be wise in his own eyes. (Proverbs 26:4-5)

So… which is it?

REFLECTION QUESTIONS:

  1. What are some other verses in the book of Proverbs that we should not read literally?
  2. What are some other verses in the book of Proverbs that we should not read as commands?
  3. What are some other verses in the book of Proverbs that we should not read as promises?
  4. What are some other verses in the book of Proverbs that we should not read as guarantees?
  5. If we know the book of Proverbs was written by King Solomon for his son (who would be the future king), how might this knowledge shape our understanding of the four “spanking verses”?
  6. If we know the book of Proverbs is almost always meant to be read figuratively and not literally, how might this knowledge impact our understanding of the four “spanking verses”?

Since we know we are to read the book of Proverbs as a figurative book and we are to read the word “rod” as a figurative rod, let’s dive deeper into the four verses that people use to support spanking in order to understand their true meaning and application.

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Parenting, spanking

Part 3: What is the Biblical “rod”?

What is the Biblical “Rod”?


Image by Crystal Lutton
(http://crystallutton.com/you-keep-using-that-verse/)

According to Strong’s Concordance, the “Rod” referred to in Proverbs is the Hebrew word “Shebet.”

  • The word “shebet” is used 191 times in the Bible
  • 76% of those times, “shebet” is translated as “tribe” or “tribes” or “half-tribe”
  • Only 14% of the time, “shebet” is translated as “rod”
  • “Shebet” is also translated as:
    • correction 1 time
    • scepters 1 time
    • spears 1 time
    • staff 1 time
    • club 4 times
    • scepter 11 times
    • half-tribe* 22 times
    • rod 27 times
    • tribe 40 times
    • tribes 83 times
  • “Shebet” is defined as:
    • a rod or staff
    • the shaft of a spear or dart
    • a club that shepherds used to protect the sheep
    • a truncheon or scepter as a symbol of authority
    • a clan or tribe (usually of the nation of Israel)
  • “Shebet” is used in the book of Psalms 11 times
    • Figurative symbol of authority (evil, severe authority as well as God’s authority)
      • Psalm 2:9 – ‘You shall break them with a rod of iron, You shall shatter them like earthenware .’ “
      • Psalm 45:6 – Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; A scepter of uprightness is the scepter of Your kingdom.
      • Psalm 89:32 – Then I will punish their transgression with the rod And their iniquity with stripes.
      • Psalm 125:3 – For the scepter of wickedness shall not rest upon the land of the righteous, So that the righteous will not put forth their hands to do wrong.
    • Representing the nation of Israel, God’s chosen people
      • Psalm 74:2 – Remember Your congregation, which You have purchased of old, Which You have redeemed to be the tribe of Your inheritance; And this Mount Zion, where You have dwelt.
      • Psalm 78:55 – He also drove out the nations before them And apportioned them for an inheritance by measurement, And made the tribes of Israel dwell in their tents.
      • Psalm 78:67-68 – He also rejected the tent of Joseph, And did not choose the tribe of Ephraim, But chose the tribe of Judah, Mount Zion which He loved.
      • Psalm 105:37 – Then He brought them out with silver and gold, And among His tribes there was not one who stumbled.
    • Figurative image representing God as our Shepherd
      • Proverbs 23:4 – Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me
      • It is interesting to note that the rod AND the staff are intended to comfort us – not beat us. A shepherd used the rod to protect the sheep from any enemies that would seek to attack. The staff was used to gently guide the sheep along the path they should follow.
  • “Shebet” is used in the book of Proverbs 8 times
    • The Four “Spanking Verses”
      • Proverbs 13:24 – He who withholds his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him diligently.
      • Proverbs 22:15 – Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; The rod of discipline will remove it far from him.
      • Proverbs 23:13-14 – Do not hold back discipline from the child, although you strike him with the rod, he will not die. You shall strike him with the rod and rescue his soul from Sheol
      • Proverbs 29:15 – The rod and reproof give wisdom, But a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother.
    • Two Verses on Corporal Punishment of Fools
      • Proverbs 10:13 – On the lips of the discerning, wisdom is found, But a rod is for the back of him who lacks understanding.
      • Proverbs 26:3 – A whip is for the horse, a bridle for the donkey, And a rod for the back of fools.
    • A figurative symbol of oppressive authority
      • Proverb 22:8 – He who sows iniquity will reap vanity, And the rod of his fury will perish.

So from this simple word study, we have learned that:

  1. The “Shebet” is a symbol of authority.
  2. The “Shebet” was also used by shepherds to protect the sheep from enemies and to guide the sheep gently along the path they should follow.
  3. The “Shebet” is used in Wisdom Literature as a FIGURATIVE image – not a LITERAL one.

REFLECTION QUESTIONS:

  1. What is the significance of the “rod” being used as a figurative image and not a literal one?
  2. What is the impact of reading the four “spanking verses” in Proverbs as a figurative rod and not a literal one?
  3. What do you think the “rod” could be symbolizing in those four verses?

Since the only verses in the Bible that refer to spanking are the four verses found in the book of Proverbs, it would be helpful to examine the book of Proverbs as a whole to better understand how we should read this book of Wisdom Literature.

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