I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “spare the rod, spoil the child”. I suspect you heard it from your parents or grandparents just before they disciplined you either by spanking or some other means. They may have even said, “the Bible says spare the rod, spoil the child”. Many people believe that this saying does come from the Bible. Well it doesn’t. You may be surprised where it originated.
It comes from a 17th century poem, “Hudibras”, by Samuel Butler . In the poem, a love affair is likened to a child, and spanking is commended as a way to make the love grow stronger. Here’s the actual verse,
“What medicine else can cure the fits
Of lovers when they lose their wits?
Love is a boy by poets styled
Then spare the rod and spoil the child.”
The idea, in the poem, which is very long, was that the absence of periodic spankings in the relationship will spoil it. In fact Butler says, and this may surprise and shock you, that women desire a good spanking more than gifts
Most people today, who think that the saying comes from the Bible believe it comes from;
Proverbs 13:24 (NLT)24 Those who spare the rod of discipline hate their children. Those who love their children care enough to discipline them.
The Hebrew word translated “rod” in Proverbs is shebet. Shebet is the staff a shepherd used to tend his sheep. The shepherd didn’t beat the sheep, he struck their hindquarters to get them to go in the direction that he wanted them to go. If one ot the sheep was too far away the shepherd threw the staff in front of the sheep and the sheep would then run back to the flock. The sheep didn’t fear the shepherd they feared the rod.
Shebet is the what that David said protected and comforted him.
Psalm 23:4 (NLT)4 Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.
Shebet refers to the discipline, protection, authority, and power that God as the Good Shepherd gives to His children. As parents, grandparents and guardians, we are compelled to follow His example in order to raise children for the kingdom of God.
1 Corinthians 7:14 (NLT)14 For the Christian wife brings holiness to her marriage, and the Christian husband brings holiness to his marriage. Otherwise, your children would not be holy, but now they are holy.
Proverbs 23:24 (NLT)24 The father of godly children has cause for joy. What a pleasure to have children who are wise.
Proverbs 29:17 (NLT)17 Discipline your children, and they will give you peace of mind and will make your heart glad.
The disciplining of children is not a popular subject today so before I go any further, and you accuse me of condoning or promoting “child abuse”, let me say now that there is no excuse for abuse and parents, grandparents, relatives, or others who abuse children deserve to be punished. There are huge differences in child abuse and loving caring biblical discipline.
A child should never be bruised, injured, or cut by a physical correction. The Bible warns that parents should never abuse the power and authority they have over their children
Ephesians 6:4 (NLT)4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.
Discipline should always done in love, never in frustration or anger. The Lord uses discipline to reveal our sin to us. This is also how parents reveal the truth of our need for a Savior to their children. When there are no consequences for disobedience , a child won’t understand that there is punishment for sin. There is salvation and forgiveness through Jesus but that won’t mean anything unless a child sees their disobedience as sin.
Discipline and punishment will show that there are consequences for our actions. Children are by nature rebellious and believe that the world revolves around them but discipline shows them that everything they do is not acceptable.
Proverbs 22:15 (NLT)15 A youngster’s heart is filled with foolishness, but physical discipline will drive it far away.
Romans 5:12 (NLT)12 When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned.
The most important thing that a parent can do for a child is lead them to salvation and discipline in part of the process because it show that there are negative consequences for sin.
Proverbs 23:13-14 (NLT)13 Don’t fail to discipline your children. They won’t die if you spank them.14 Physical discipline may well save them from death.
Proverbs 13:1 (NLT)1 A wise child accepts a parent’s discipline; a mocker refuses to listen to correction.
Proverbs 29:15 (NLT)15 To discipline a child produces wisdom, but a mother is disgraced by an
Apply Discipline The Way God Does
God is the ideal loving parent and He often shows His love through discipline. God only disciplines His own, which proves that Christians are His children.
Hebrews 12:5-6 (NLT)5 And have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you as his children? He said, “My child, don’t make light of the LORD’s discipline, and don’t give up when he corrects you.6 For the LORD disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.”
Communicate Before and After Discipline
Ezekiel 3:17-19 (NLT)17 “Son of man, I have appointed you as a watchman for Israel. Whenever you receive a message from me, warn people immediately.18 If I warn the wicked, saying, ‘You are under the penalty of death,’ but you fail to deliver the warning, they will die in their sins. And I will hold you responsible for their deaths.19 If you warn them and they refuse to repent and keep on sinning, they will die in their sins. But you will have saved yourself because you obeyed me.
Amos 3:3-7 (NLT)3 Can two people walk together without agreeing on the direction?4 Does a lion ever roar in a thicket without first finding a victim? Does a young lion growl in its den without first catching its prey?5 Does a bird ever get caught in a trap that has no bait? Does a trap spring shut when there’s nothing to catch?6 When the ram’s horn blows a warning, shouldn’t the people be alarmed? Does disaster come to a city unless the LORD has planned it?7 Indeed, the Sovereign LORD never does anything until he reveals his plans to his servants the prophets.
If we follow God’s process for discipline we will communicate how much we love our children by enforcing the rules. If you don’t care about the rules yourself then you won’t discipline.
Never Discipline in Anger
Abuse often happen when a parent loses his or her temper. Loving discipline is alway applied calmly. Do whatever you need to do to not disciple when you are mad or in front of others. If the discipline requires spanking, and yes there is a proper time and place for spanking, it should be done in private and when you have calmed down. Here is something I read while researching this blog post.
There was a woman who passed a man in a grocery store who was standing behind his shopping cart where his three-year-old son was screaming at the top of his voice. When the woman got closer, she hear the man saying, “Easy, Albert. Settle down, Albert. Take it easy, Albert” The woman was impressed with the father’s patience, she stopped and said,. “Sir I want to commend you on the gentle way in which you are speaking to Albert.” He looked at the child and said, “Oh, his name is Sam. My name is Albert.” That’s the way you need to be before disciplining your child.
If You Threaten Discipline Follow Through
If you threaten you child with punishment the worst thing that you can do is not deliver on you promise. Letting a child get away with something that they were told not to do is not doing them any favors. If you tell your child not to do a certain thing and tell them that disobeying will result in a spanking or in being grounded and they do that certain thing you must follow through with the punishment. If you don’t the child will then believe that there are no consequences for disobeying the rules.
Praise More Than Punish
Sometimes discipline is necessary but it’s much more important to praise. Yes, punishment discourages bad behavior, but praise encourages good behavior. The Bible tells us not to overdo the punishment in the absence of praise because it will have a detrimental effect on the child.
Colossians 3:21 (MSG)21 Parents, don’t come down too hard on your children or you’ll crush their spirits.
Are you one of those parents who when your child comes home with a report card with four A’s and one B who focuses on the B rather than praising them for the four A’s Give your children ten times more compliments than complaints, and a hundred times more hugs than spankings.
Biblical Discipline Is Love In Action
“Spare the rod, spoil the child” is the negative consequence of withholding punishment. The Bible gives us the benefits of applying discipline.
Proverbs 3:11-12 (NLT)11 My child, don’t reject the LORD’s discipline, and don’t be upset when he corrects you.12 For the LORD corrects those he loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights.
Revelation 3:19 (NLT)19 I correct and discipline everyone I love. So be diligent and turn from your indifference.
Hebrews 12:5-11 (NLT)5 And have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you as his children? He said, “My child, don’t make light of the LORD’s discipline, and don’t give up when he corrects you.6 For the LORD disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.”7 As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. Who ever heard of a child who is never disciplined by its father?8 If God doesn’t discipline you as he does all of his children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really his children at all.9 Since we respected our earthly fathers who disciplined us, shouldn’t we submit even more to the discipline of the Father of our spirits, and live forever?10 For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness.11 No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.
No, “spare the rod, spoil the child” is not in the Bible, but what is in the Bible is how loving, biblical discipline can lead to salvation and keep your child out of trouble and out of hell. The values and belief that are developed in the first few years of a child’s life will determine, in a large part, their direction for the rest of their life. It’s easy not to discipline and not deal with the stress that comes with it, but your child will thank you applying the rod of correction when it was needed.
Saint Francis Xavier, a sixteenth century Roman Catholic missionary wrote “Give me the children until they are seven and anyone can have them after that.”
This blog is for you! If you have any questions or topics you would like me to address please use the comments section or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Donald Jacobs is an ordained minister with the spiritual gift of teaching. He is the Associate Pastor of a non-denominational church in Los Angeles, CA.