Sunday, August 28, 2005

The Rod

With all the talk about spanking, I thought it was worth devoting a bit of time and blog space to "the rod".  Since the rod is used so often within Christian circles as a reason for spanking, I thought it was definitely worth looking into.  How often is the rod spoken of?  What kind of scripture passages do we find it in?  What does it mean within it's context?  What does it mean for us?

This is by no means a definitive study, nor do I have the authority to speak definitively on scripture.  This is just what I found when I did a bit of digging, and my thoughts.

The rod is mentioned 51 times in the bible.  At least according to the search I did on my palm pilot bible (gotta love technology).  I thought it would be clear from the scriptures that rod never meant a stick to hit with.  But the first scripture I found proved that wrong:

  • Exodus 21:20-21 " When a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod so hard that the slave dies under his hand, he shall be punished.  If, however, the slave survives for a day or two, he is not to be punished, since the slave is his own property."

  • 2 Samuel 7:14-15 " I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. And if he does wrong, I will correct him with the rod of men and with human chastisements; but I will not withdraw my favor from him as I withdrew it from your predecessor Saul, whom I removed from my presence."

  • Job 9-33-35 "Would that there were an arbiter between us, who could lay his hand upon us both and withdraw his rod from me. Would that his terrors did not frighten me; that I might speak without being afraid of him. Since this is not the case with me,"

  • Psalms 89:31-35 "If his descendants forsake my law, do not follow my decrees, If they fail to observe my statutes, do not keep my commandments, I will punish their crime with a rod and their guilt with lashes But I will not take my love from him, nor will I betray my bond of loyalty.  I will not violate my covenant; the promise of my lips I will not alter."

In all of the verses that I found dealing with the rod as a form of physical punishment, I couldn't find many similarities, but I did find one thing that they all seemed to have in common.  None of them had to do with the physical punishment of children.  Exodus 21:20-21 deals with laws and the treatment of slaves.  One would not consider treating their child the way they treated their slaves.  2 Samuel 7:14-15 seems to be dealing specifically with King David and how God would treat him, not anyone else.  In Job 9:33-35 Job certainly felt that God's rod was physical.  He suffered physically and emotionally with the trials he endured.  And yet, he asks for an arbiter to remove that rod.  As Christians we have that arbiter, and God's wrath is no longer upon us.  Psalms 89:31-35 is dealing with a physical punishment (or so it appears) of God's people who do not follow His ways.  Of course, now, we are covered by the Blood of Christ, and by the Grace of God.  We are no longer subject to that punishment.

There are many more scriptures that deal with the rod in ways that describe punishment.  But, with all of them I was at a loss to how they could be applied to parenting.

So my next question was in regards to other uses of the rod in scripture.  These are what I found.

  • Lev 27:32 " The tithes of the herd and the flock shall be determined by ceding to the LORD as sacred every tenth animal as they are counted by the herdsman's rod. "

  • Ps 23:4 " Even when I walk through a dark valley, I fear no harm for you are at my side; your rod and staff give me courage. "

  • Eze 20:37 " I will count you with the staff and bring back but a small number." (staff is translated "rod" in the NIV version)

There are other rod verses as well, which show the multiple uses of the rod in Old testament times.  Rods were used in weaving, and for measuring.  The shepherd knew his sheep and they would be measured by the rod as they returned to the pen.

So, now I know that overwhelmingly it seems the rod is used biblically to show punishment, though not necessarily physical.  So, I wanted to know what the bible said in regards to the rod and parenting.

  • Pr. 13:24 "  He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him takes care to chastise him. "

I found it interesting that this verse doesn't say that "he who loves him takes care to strike him." or other such language that would indicate that corporal punishment was necessary.  Obviously, a parent who doesn't take the time to correct poor behavior does not love his son.  But this verse doesn't prove to me that spanking is necessary.

  • Pr. 22:15 " Folly is close to the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him. "

This verse calls discipline itself a form of a rod not the other way around.  It does not say that use of a rod, as used in spanking, is a form of discipline.  I think a better case can be made to say that the rod of discipline is firm guidance as one would use with sheep.

  • Pr. 23:13-14 "Withhold not chastisement from a boy; if you beat him with the rod, he will not die.  Beat him with the rod, and you will save him from the nether world."

This verse is much more difficult to dismiss.  It clearly states that if you beat your child (note that it says beat, not give a light spanking) that you will save him!  So, I'm forced to look at this scripture within a larger context.  Is this what the whole of scripture tells me about parenting?  Are there any other scriptures that deal with punishment that we no longer consider necessary?  And why?

Edited to add: Since the initial publishing of this post, I have gone farther in my study of the rod.  I would like to clarify, specifically, Proverbs 23:13-14. This is a proverb, not a law.  Some Christians believe that we are no longer under the law.  Some Christians believe that we are still under the law, except for places where Jesus has released us.  Regardless, Proverbs in not a law, either way.  Which is not to say that it's not important.  Proverbs are a book of Wisdom.  A way for God to share His ideals with us.  The Hebrew in that verse uses the word Shebet for rod.

A shebet was a shepherds rod, used to guide sheep and defend against predators.   I believe , when this verse is read in context, and within the context of scripture as a whole, it is God sharing how incredibly valuable discipline is.  The man who doesn't guide and discipline doesn't love his son.

Well, here's a good scripture that regards parenting that I don't think many of us use any more:

  • Deut 21:18-21 "If a man has a stubborn and unruly son who will not listen to his father or mother, and will not obey them even though they chastise him, his father and mother shall have him apprehended and brought out to the elders at the gate of his home city, where they shall say to those city elders, 'This son of ours is a stubborn and unruly fellow who will not listen to us; he is a glutton and a drunkard.  'Then all his fellow citizens shall stone him to death. Thus shall you purge the evil from your midst, and all Israel, on hearing of it, shall fear."

We no longer use this, because (unless I am mistaken) we are no longer under Mosaic law.  While honoring Mother and Father is still valuable to God, we pray for God's Grace in dealing with their hearts.  We may even come up with consequences for their poor behavior.  But we no longer stone them.

Edited to add: Upon further study, I also have found these verses to deal primarily with adult children, and not small children.  We still wouldn't use them today, but it further discounts the use of such extreme examples as a "proof text" for spanking.

Of course, that verse deals with the Law, not proverbs.  Is there a reason that we shouldn't apply this proverb to our parenting now?  Yes.  Because we learn about parenting from the whole of scripture.  From what God tells us throughout His word.  And we learn from the Supreme Example.  How Our Father deals with us.

So, how does God describe parenting?

  • Isaiah 66:11-13 "Oh, that you may suck fully of the milk of her comfort, That you may nurse with delight at her abundant breasts!  For thus says the LORD: Lo, I will spread prosperity over her like a river, and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing torrent. As nursling's, you shall be carried in her arms, and fondled in her lap;  As a mother comforts her son, so will I comfort you; in Jerusalem you shall find your comfort."

  • Ephesians 6:1-4 "Children, obey your parents (in the Lord), for this is right.  Honor your father and mother." This is the first commandment with a promise, that it may go well with you and that you may have a long life on earth.  Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up with the training and instruction of the Lord."

  • Job 1:4-5 "His sons used to take turns giving feasts, sending invitations to their three sisters to eat and drink with them. And when each feast had run its course, Job would send for them and sanctify them, rising early and offering holocausts for every one of them. For Job said, "It may be that my sons have sinned and blasphemed God in their hearts." This Job did habitually."

  • Ps. 127:3-5 "Children too are a gift from the LORD, the fruit of the womb, a reward.  Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children born in one's youth.  Blessed are they whose quivers are full. They will never be shamed contending with foes at the gate."

There are many scriptures to be found (hundreds) with the words mother, father, child, or children.  But time and time again throughout scripture it seems God is presented to us as a loving Father.  Mothers are not seen as punishers, but as nurturers.  And we humans are shown forgiveness and understanding time and again, even when we don't deserve it.  Jesus calls the children to himself and encourages us to be like them.  I can't imagine Jesus calling the children so that he could beat the folly from them, or drive foolishness from their hearts.  Though all of us parents know both of those things are definitely within our children.

God allows us to experience consequences related to our actions.  But the rod of punishment that we deserve from God is with us no longer.  Christ has removed it.  We will not be physically punished for our sin.  Jesus has accepted that punishment in our place.  It seems clear to me that the rod verses are not persuasive reasons for spanking, and that while I am most definitely called to discipline and correct my children, I am also called to love and nurture them.  In order to create the bond that will best allow me to do all of those things in a way that resembles Our Father in Heaven, I cannot continue to spank in my house.

Please remember that this is not a definitive rod study.  I am not a great biblical scholar or Theologian.  This was a study completed in a few hours, not days or weeks.  And I did not consult the original Hebrew or Greek of these verses.  I hope for this post to be a cause of reflective prayer and further study on the part of any interested readers, not an authoritative piece.

Blessings to all parents and their children.

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