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February 24, 2006

Proverbs, Parellelism, and the Rod

A friend recently was talking with me about the "rod verses" in Proverbs and the importance of context for studying the Bible.

We can take the Bible seriously, without reading these verses as being symbolic--nor with it being prescriptive of hitting young children.

I believe that Proverbs is included in the 2 Tim 3:16 assurance that "All scripture [is] given by inspiration of God, and [is] profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness."

However, it is a Wisdom book, and the verses have less context around them to help clarify them, than others in the Bible. As John MacArthur writes of Proverbs that "These are wise sayings and truisms -- not necessarily inviolable rules."

And have you noticed, Proverbs appears to use quite a bit of hyperbole.

For example, earlier in the chapter that includes "beat him with the rod and save his soul from death", are the verses:

When you sit to dine with a ruler,
note well what is before you,
and put a knife to your throat if you are given to gluttony.
Proverbs 23:1-2

So when I read these "rod" verses, it's very easy for me to read them for the concept (don't be a glutton, faithfully discipline your child) rather than taking them as specific commands (slit your throat, beat with a rod.)


In these rod verses, the concepts seem clear when we look at the parallelism, for example:

"Withhold not correction from the child. . ."
". . .but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes."
". . .but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame."

These concepts are very much in line with what I think one of the clearest and strongest commands for us, both as people and as parents:

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.

Duet 6:4-7

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Comments

I remember that a friend told me that she had asked a rabbi what that verse meant and he said "They're proverbs. We're not supposed to know what they mean.", hehe. Thanks for the reminder that its not all meant to be taken literally :) Sometimes I get so wrapped up in defending my interpretation that I forget to mention that!

Posted by: Amanda at February 24, 2006 08:25 PM

i still get that gagging, choking-in-my-throat, heart-racing reaction when someone mentions spanking.
i agree that a second look at proverbs (all these years later than the first *chasteneth* look) does seem to reveal a large amount of hyperbole.

hindsight and all that.
thanks to amanda for the rabbi's comment. love it!

Posted by: kate5kiwis at February 24, 2006 09:52 PM

Strong's has, for rod:

shêbeṭ--From an unused root probably meaning to branch off; a scion, that is, (literally) a stick (for punishing, writing, fighting, ruling, walking, etc.)

A word that could be used for something as light as a writing instrument or for as heavy a thing as a fighting stick seems pretty flexible; there seems to be no warrant in the text for taking the reference to a rod to be anything more substantial than what we would now call a switch, which is a common enough instrument by which we apply discipline here in Oklahoma.

Posted by: Dan Paden at February 24, 2006 09:55 PM

Hi, Dan!

I hope you understood the topic of this particular post--which wasn't about Strongs or the word rod / shebet. But, as one of the key tools for properly understanding the Bible--looking at passages within context.

In the context of Proverbs--with its hyperbole, vivid imagery, wise sayings, parallelism, and so forth--it is more of a stretch to interpret them as "hit your child with your hand or an implement on the bum" than it is to interpret them as "a wise parent is careful to discipline their children faithfully."

I do expect to discuss the specific rod verses at a later date and go further into shebet. However, for those reading, here is a quick link to Strong's for shebet and the instances it is used in the Bible.

Posted by: TulipGirl at February 24, 2006 10:15 PM

"A word that could be used for something as light as a writing instrument or for as heavy a thing as a fighting stick seems pretty flexible; there seems to be no warrant in the text for taking the reference to a rod to be anything more substantial than what we would now call a switch,"

Strong's dead-tree edition has writing implement listed as a possible derivitive from the root, but the online version doesn't. Do you know why that is?

I haven't see shebet used in the Bible for a writing instrument. The Biblical usage of shebet is most frequently read as figuratively as tribe, family, authority or correction. The Bible also uses shebet to represent, in various contexts, a physical rod used as a spear, shepherd's rod, measuring rod, rod for beating a harvest, sceptre, or rod for beating fools and slaves. Those examples of a shebet calls for a large physical rod, as is understood in the cultural and historical context.

Btw, here is also a link to Thayer's Hebrew lexicon for shebet.


To view a glue stick, wooden spoon, hand or paddle as a "rod" as shebet it is used in the Bible is. . . a stretch.

Posted by: TulipGirl at February 24, 2006 10:28 PM

I find Dr. Sears' interpretation of the rod interesting... it's item #6 on this page
http://www.askdrsears.com/html/6/T062100.asp

Posted by: Stephanie at February 24, 2006 11:46 PM

Yes, I understood the point you were making. I brought up the Strong's entry only to point out, for the sake of others who might be reading, that is also a stretch to conclude that people who believe in physical discipline on the basis of these verses necessarily believe that Scriptures prescribe hitting children with a big, heavy stick.

I used some physical discipline with my children when they were young. Eventually it became unnecessary and faded away. The children are doing very well. I make no claims other than that is has been effective for our family.

Posted by: Dan Paden at February 25, 2006 09:06 AM

When I said that your websites/blogs make assumptions, I meant that statements have been made without offering credible evidence. I find parentingdesicions.com to be laden with them.

Posted by: Heather at February 25, 2006 02:19 PM

So when I read these "rod" verses, it's very easy for me to read them for the concept (don't be a glutton, faithfully discipline your child) rather than taking them as specific commands (slit your throat, beat with a rod.)
Yes, those are the principles. But what are the methods employed to carry out those principles? Perhaps, for you, putting a knife to your throat isn't necessary, but if you're weighing in at 450lbs, that might sound helpful. :)


Posted by: Heather at February 25, 2006 02:26 PM

". . .that is also a stretch to conclude that people who believe in physical discipline on the basis of these verses necessarily believe that Scriptures prescribe hitting children with a big, heavy stick."

Exactly. I do not know any modern Christian teacher or parent who believes that the "rod" verses prescribe beating small children with a big, heavy stick. However, I do know many modern Christian teachers and parents who proport that I (and others) do not take the "rod verses" literally. I simply want to help Christian parents who say that the Proverbs literally mean rod=spank that they are reading into the verses, rather than taking the verses within their literary and cultural context.


"I used some physical discipline with my children when they were young. Eventually it became unnecessary and faded away. The children are doing very well. I make no claims other than that is has been effective for our family."

And Dan, I would say this is a very honest and respectable statement.

When parents choose to use physical discipline and punishments in their homes, it should be out of personal decision that it is the most appropriate course of action for their child and family.

However, spanking usually is done from an unexamined adherence to teaching within the Christian subculture, an incomplete reading of the Bible, and/or a lack of asking how the Gospel impacts the smallest disciples in our families.

Posted by: TulipGirl at February 26, 2006 10:58 PM

"Yes, those are the principles."

I'm glad to see we are in agreement, Heather. *grin*


"But what are the methods employed to carry out those principles?"

And isn't that the question of the hour?

You've probably seen, as I have, detailed instructions on how to spank "Biblically." It varies from teacher to teacher, however, each of them give details (when, where, which implement, bare bottom or clothed, quick and move on vs. discuss, hug and pray, etc. . .) Each proport they are teaching the Biblically recommended model of spanking.

Reality is, the Bible does not give instructions on how to spank. And if we read the "rod" verses literally, they imply using a large rod on the back of a grown or almost grown male. (Hardly the quick smack on the thigh of a baby resisting a diaper change, as some insist.)

What we can clearly say is that God has given parents the responsibility to carefully discipline, teach, train and disciple the children He has entrusted to our care. God has emphasized the importance of this duty. I believe the primary instruction on this is Duet 6:4-7, as quoted above.

And throughout the Bible, we have instructions on how to care for, interact with, and teach others. Just look at the multitude of "one another" verses! God has given us great direction in the "how to" area, and yet has also given us freedom in using the methods that most closely fit the family He has given each of us.

Posted by: TulipGirl at February 26, 2006 11:10 PM

What we can clearly say is that God has given parents the responsibility to carefully discipline, teach, train and disciple the children He has entrusted to our care. God has emphasized the importance of this duty. I believe the primary instruction on this is Duet 6:4-7, as quoted above.

Right. And if part of the discipline is to apply a painful reminder that disobedience is sinful and should be resisted, then how am I not following the principle of Proverbs 23:13-14?

I think I have seen a part of our disgreement. I say "I am taking Proverbs literally when I spank". You say, "no you're not. You're not using a walking stick to whack your 14 year old son."
What do we each mean by "literally"?
I mean that if the Bible teaches that training and discipline can be painful, cause momentary suffering, affliction, and persecution, then it is well within reason to believe that striking my child in an firm, yet controlled manner is not unBiblical and should not be dismissed as ungraceful, meaning lacking grace in my discipline.

Posted by: Heather at February 27, 2006 02:22 PM

Yes, those are the principles. But what are the methods employed to carry out those principles? Perhaps, for you, putting a knife to your throat isn't necessary, but if you're weighing in at 450lbs, that might sound helpful. :)

Hah! I chuckled at that one. I actually think this is a very good point. Given the type of literature this is, we can see that "putting a knife to the throat" or "hitting with a rod" is not mandated - as some who read Proverbs woodenly would have us believe. Although it might actually work in some scenarios. :)

That gives us a believers a great deal of freedom to implement the wisdom behind the maxim given our own unique situations. Some may find this scary but I find it consistent with maturation process that we should be going through as believers.

Posted by: brian at February 27, 2006 03:05 PM

This is very timely...I have friends who have read and are adhearing to the discipline style recommended in "To Train up a Child." Primarly~spanking...a lot. I am concerned because their son (just turned 3) is very assertive and strong willed and is getting spanked (and bruised) quite frequently. I am praying about chatting with them with regard to the "rod" verses and encouraging them to consider firm and consistent discipline in other ways than just spanking (which in their case is punishment conditioning). I look forward to reading your upcoming posts on this subject.

Posted by: Phyllis at February 27, 2006 03:51 PM

I happened to stumble onto your blog-site by accident. I'm interested in hearing what you truly believe before I commit myself to reading each of your posts. Are you able to clearly state your doctrinal beliefs about the Bible? From what I have read, you appear to be very knowlegeable. People call me a Christian. I thank them, but I call myself a person that walks in "the Way" (John 14:6, Acts 9:2, Hebrews 10:19-20, Matthew 28:18-20, and 1 Peter 2:9-10).

Posted by: Eric at February 28, 2006 06:19 PM

Brian wrote:
"Given the type of literature this is, we can see that "putting a knife to the throat" or "hitting with a rod" is not mandated - as some who read Proverbs woodenly would have us believe."

You mean, "wooden-spoonedly would have us believe." ;-)
Lynn

Posted by: Lynn at March 3, 2006 11:39 AM

I found it very useful.

Posted by: Mary K. at November 8, 2007 05:56 PM


 
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