Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child

15 The rod and reproof give wisdom,
but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.
16 When the wicked increase, transgression increases,
but the righteous will look upon their downfall.
17 Discipline your son, and he will give you rest;
he will give delight to your heart.
18 Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint,
but blessed is he who keeps the law.
19 By mere words a servant is not disciplined,
for though he understands, he will not respond.
20 Do you see a man who is hasty in his words?
There is more hope for a fool than for him.
21 Whoever pampers his servant from childhood
will in the end find him his heir.
22 A man of wrath stirs up strife,
and one given to anger causes much transgression.
23 One’s pride will bring him low,
but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor.
24 The partner of a thief hates his own life;
he hears the curse, but discloses nothing.
25 The fear of man lays a snare,
but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.
26 Many seek the face of a ruler,
but it is from the Lord that a man gets justice.
27 An unjust man is an abomination to the righteous,
but one whose way is straight is an abomination to the wicked. – Proverbs 29:15-27 ESV

The life of wisdom begins in childhood. Children are natural-born fools. They come out of the womb with a predisposition for foolishness because they are born with a sinful nature, a sad but all-too-real byproduct of the fall. Many of the proverbs of Solomon are based on the premise that “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child” (Proverbs 22:15 BSB). That’s why there are numerous proverbs dedicated to the training and discipline of children.

Train up a child in the way he should go;
even when he is old he will not depart from it.– Proverbs 22:6 ESV

Training includes exposing the child to the ways of God and encouraging him to follow the path of the righteous. But when the child fails to obey, loving discipline is required. The child must learn that disobedience comes with serious and sometimes painful consequences. Here in Proverbs 29, we find yet another wise saying that encourages the practice of loving correction so that the child will increase in wisdom rather than foolishness.

To discipline a child produces wisdom,
but a mother is disgraced by an undisciplined child.– Proverbs 29:15 NLT

But the biblical concept of discipline also includes the occasional use of corporal punishment. There will come times when a child needs to experience the painful consequences of his refusal to obey. While a “time out” may be appropriate for a very young child, that kind of behavioral correction will diminish in its effectiveness as the child matures. That’s why the Proverbs encourage a brand of discipline that includes the use of some form of physical punishment.

Those who spare the rod of discipline hate their children.
Those who love their children care enough to discipline them.– Proverbs 13:24 NLT

Some people believe in discipline, but not in physical discipline such as spanking. However, the Bible is the final word on what is truth; it is not mere opinion or theory. The word rod indicates a thin stick or switch that can be used to give a small amount of physical pain with no lasting physical injury. A child should never be bruised, injured, or cut by a physical correction. – What does it mean to “spare the rod and spoil the child?”,

Our modern culture tends to reject the concept of physical discipline, having deemed it as antiquated and a rather barbaric form of punishment. Instead, parents are encouraged to see the use of reason and logic as a more enlightened means of correction. And while there is nothing inherently wrong with appealing to a child’s intellect, it fails to adequately teach the painful consequences of sinful behavior. That is why the Proverbs are filled with repeated admonitions to not “spare the rod.”

Don’t fail to discipline your children.
    The rod of punishment won’t kill them.
Physical discipline
    may well save them from death. – Proverbs 23:13-14 NLT

And Solomon understood that the concept of loving discipline was not a man-made invention, but the will of God. It was in keeping with the way God disciplines those whom He loves.

My child, don’t reject the Lord’s discipline,
    and don’t be upset when he corrects you.
For the Lord corrects those he loves,
    just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights. – Proverbs 3:11-12 NLT

It is likely that Solomon knew the story of his own birth and its close association with the sin of his own father. David had committed an egregious sin by committing adultery with the wife of one of his own soldiers. Having discovered that his one-night stand had resulted in an unwanted pregnancy, David tried to cover up his sin by ordering the woman’s husband back from the battlefield. His plan was for Uriah to be reunited with his wife so that there might be another explanation for her unexpected pregnancy. but Uriah refused to enjoy the pleasures of his wife’s company while his fellow soldiers suffered on the battlefield. So, David ordered that Uriah be sent back to the front lines and exposed to enemy fire. In other words, David ordered Uriah’s murder.

Upon news of Uriah’s death, David took Bathsheba to be his wife. But the story doesn’t end there. God was displeased with David’s actions. And while Bathsheba eventually gave birth to the son she had conceived with David, God would not allow David to enjoy the “fruit” of his sin. Nathan the prophet delivered the painful news that David’s sin would have devastating consequences.

“…the Lord has forgiven you, and you won’t die for this sin. Nevertheless, because you have shown utter contempt for the word of the Lord by doing this, your child will die.” – 2 Samuel 12:13-14 NLT

David mourned the loss of his child, but God eventually blessed him with another son.

Then David comforted Bathsheba, his wife, and slept with her. She became pregnant and gave birth to a son, and David named him Solomon. The Lord loved the child and sent word through Nathan the prophet that they should name him Jedidiah (which means “beloved of the Lord”), as the Lord had commanded. – 2 Samuel 12:24-25 NLT

Solomon was the byproduct of God’s discipline of David. He was literally “beloved of the Lord” but he understood that his very existence was due to the loving discipline of God. Solomon’s father had committed a terrible sin against God and had paid the price. That’s why Solomon so strongly encouraged the practice of godly, loving discipline.

Discipline your children, and they will give you peace of mind
and will make your heart glad.– Proverbs 29:17 NLT

Solomon understood that instruction alone was not enough. To simply teach someone the ways of God was no guarantee that they would walk in them. Successful communication of the rules will not assure compliance because people have to make the choice to obey.

When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild.
    But whoever obeys the law is joyful. – Proverbs 29:18 NLT

That’s why physical discipline is required. Not everyone obeys. Not everyone willingly adheres to the rules. But if disobedience brings attention-getting and sometimes painful consequences, there is a higher likelihood that the sin will not be repeated a second time. As the proverb states, “Words alone will not discipline a servant; the words may be understood, but they are not heeded” (Proverbs 29:19 NLT).

Wisdom reveals that the coddling of a child or a servant will not end well. It will not produce the outcome you desire.

A servant pampered from childhood
    will become a rebel. – Proverbs 29:21 NLT

Those who go through life without the threat of discipline never learn the consequences of their sin. They become prideful and arrogant. They display disdain for rules of any kind. They become a disgrace to their parents and a blight on the community. The undisciplined end up becoming increasingly ungodly because they have never learned to fear God. Because their unrighteous behavior has gone unpunished, they never learn to fear the righteous wrath of God.

There is no guarantee that the godly discipline of your children will turn them into godly and God-fearing adults. But no discipline at all will almost always assure that your adult child will be characterized more by foolishness than wisdom.

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