“Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him” (Proverbs 22:15).
“Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell” (Proverbs 23:13-14).
“The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame” (Proverbs 29:15).
The rod is mentioned four times in Proverbs in association with child discipline. This is the proper biblical instrument of discipline. A rod is not a fist; it’s not a slap; it’s not a club or a leather whip; it’s not a kick; it’s not yelling; it’s not threatening. Webster’s 1828 dictionary defined a rod as “the shoot or long twig of any woody plant; a branch, or the stem of a shrub; as a rod of hazel, of birch, of oak or hickory.” See Genesis 30:37 and Jeremiah 1:11. Previous generations called the spanking rod a “tree switch.” My maternal grandmother used switches from the trees that grew around her house in central Florida, and they were so effective that all of her many children professed faith in Christ as adults and had successful marriages and no divorces.
The rod must be used instead of man-made alternatives
The Bible emphasizes the use of the rod for correction, but mankind has devised many alternatives. Humanistic psychology thinks that it knows more than God about human nature and proposes a wide variety of manipulative rewards and punishments that avoid the use of the rod. Even many Christian parents in Bible-believing churches draw back from using the rod and try to find an effective alternative but this is not wise.
Missionary Bob Nichols says,
“My dad didn’t get saved until he was 37, and my mom and dad didn’t go to an Independent Baptist church until a few years after that. Consequently, my mom set me in a corner quite a bit. She put me there and told me to think about what I’d done. Of course, I didn’t think about that. I was thinking about my friends out playing ball or something like that. I thank the Lord for my parents. My dad was a man of tremendous character, and he taught us to work and to be honest and not to lie. But sending kids to their rooms or putting them in a corner breeds rebellion. It doesn’t get the job done.”
The rod must be used when the child is rebellious
A biblical rod is a rod of correction (Prov. 22:15; 23:13). It is used to correct a child that refuses to obey verbal commands and instruction. It is used to correct disobedience and rebellion. It is not used when the child doesn’t understand or is confused or is otherwise acting out something rather than disobedience to authority.
Pastor David Sorenson describes how that one of his girls had to be corrected for her stubborn rebellion:
When one of our girls was small, she decided one evening that she did not want to stay in her bed. She had been put to bed, but she decided she wanted to get up. She climbed out of her bed and came out into the living room. She was lectured about the fact that it was her bed time and that if she got out of bed again she would be spanked. She was placed back in her bed. A few minutes later, she came out again. As promised, she was paddled and placed back into her bed. ... A few minutes later, she came out again. She again was paddled and placed back into her bed amidst rather rebellious crying. She was throwing a tantrum. After a while she proceeded to get out of bed and come out again into the living room. As far as we could tell, there was no legitimate reason for her to get up. She just did not want to stay in bed. Again she was spanked. This went on for about a half an hour, but she finally got the message; if she openly defied Mom and Dad, she would be spanked. It was consistent. It happened every single time. ...
That night a major battle was won. Her rebellious little will was broken. She had tried her hardest to challenge parental authority, and she had lost. ...
Did we as parents enjoy spanking our little girl? We hated every moment of it. She was our pride and joy. Nothing would have pleased us more than for her to have cuddled up to us out in the living room, but we knew how she needed to have discipline developed in her life (Sorenson, Training Your Children to Turn out Right, pp. 71, 72).
The rod must not be spared (Prov. 13:24)
This means to draw back from using it, to fail to use it.
There are many things that can tempt a parent to spare the rod, such as a child’s cries and whining (Prov. 19:18), the child’s lies (e.g., insincerely saying “I’m sorry” as soon as he realizes that he is going to get a spanking), physical weariness, impatience with the slow process of discipline, interference by well-meaning but misguided friends and relatives, and mental frustration. But if the rod is spared when it should be used the discipline will be ineffective.
The rod can be spared by withholding it altogether. Many parents commit this sin.
The rod can also be spared by withholding it from time to time when it should be used. Some parents start out using the rod properly, but they then slack off. Others use the rod from time to time, but they do not use it consistently. Consistency in discipline is essential, because inconsistency actually trains the child to disobey. “If a child is told not to run in church, and the parent sees the child run and does nothing about it, that is inconsistent discipline. Parents, the child needs to know the rules and that if they break the rules they will be disciplined” (Terry Coomer, Rearing Spiritual Children, p. 62). As David Sorenson says, “We positively demanded that our children obey us. If they did not obey, there were immediate and consistent consequences. Every time. Every single time!”
The rod can also be spared by withholding it from some of the children. It is not uncommon for parents to be stricter with a firstborn child, for example, than with those that come later. It is especially common for older parents who have a child out of season to spare the rod.
The rod must be used with sufficient force to correct the child (Prov. 23:13)
The foolishness that is bound in a child’s heart must be “driven” away (Prov. 22:15). The rod should hurt enough to get the point across and to bring real heart-level submission. To drive foolishness away from the child takes proper force, firm resolve, and perseverance (Prov. 22:15).
If the rod is used but the child still persists in disobedience, it has not been used with sufficient vigor or persistence (or it is used with a wrong attitude and spirit). Parents often fail at this point. They use the rod a little but not enough to bring the desired results, and they then become convinced that it doesn’t work. Or they use it inconsistently. The problem in such cases is not with the rod; the problem is with its half-hearted, inconsistent misuse.
I recall some Christian friends who had a two-year-old boy who was extra large and extra stubborn. The mother would “spank” him by giving him a couple of swats on his thick diaper with her hand and he would literally laugh it off and persist with his mischief and rebellion. Not surprisingly, by the time the child approached teenage years he was uncontrollable. The biblical use of the rod could have stopped that fearful rebellion in its tracks and saved the family a lot of heartache and the child a lot of sorrow.
The rod must be used without multiple commands and threats
Many parents fall into the trap of telling their child “no” repeatedly and warning and threatening instead of calmly, swiftly, and consistently using the rod to train the child to obey at their first command. If he doesn’t obey after ONE command, he should be spanked with the rod until he does obey. If he is given multiple commands before he is spanked with the rod he is actually being taught NOT to obey and he is training his parents more than they are training him. He learns that his parents don’t really mean it when they give him a command or even when they warn him, because they let him get away with multiple acts of disobedience.
Pastor Sorenson says:
As a pastor, I have visited in thousands of homes. I have witnessed the following scenario played out numerous times. ... Mom (or, sometimes Dad) would say to Junior. ‘It’s time to go to bed’ (or some other parental directive). Junior ignored his mother and continued to watch TV. ... After a few moments, she would say, ‘Junior, I told you to go and get ready for bed.’ He replied, ‘Awe, I don’t want to.’ Mom let that go by. A few moments later, Mom became a little hot about the matter. She raised the volume of her voice and said, ‘I TOLD YOU TO GET READY FOR BED.’ Junior replied, ‘But Mom, I want to watch my program.’ Mom tolerated that counter for a few more moments. She then announced, ‘THIS IS THE LAST TIME I AM GOING TO TELL YOU. GO AND GET READY FOR BED!’ Junior, by now himself getting exasperated at being shouted at, shouts back, ‘I TOLD YOU, I DON’T WANT TO!’ Finally, Mom shouts, ‘I’M WARNING YOU. MARCH RIGHT NOW, OR I AM GOING TO WHIP YOU.’
Variations of that scene go on by the thousands every single day. The real culprit was not Junior. He knew from considerable experience that Mom could be ignored. Mom was too lazy to get up and deal with the situation. She, in fact, was in her own way contributing to the delinquency of Junior. ...
One might say, ‘If I handled the situation described above as recommended, there would be a pitched battle.’ Well, you had better get on with the battle and win the war while it can still be won. The day is coming when you will not be able to win the battle or the war (Training Your Children to Turn out Right, pp. 69, 70).
The rod must be used wisely and in the context of communication with the child
Parents need to understand their children so they can discern the difference between childish silliness and confusion and ignorance and rebellion. Sometimes the child just needs to be talked to.
Following are some wise rules about how to spank a child, from the book Raising Children in an Ungodly World:
1. Make sure that the children understand the rules.
2. When discipline is necessary, take the child aside privately and tell him that what he has done wrong and how he will be disciplined.
3. Carry out the discipline with self-control, explaining first to the child what will happen.
4. Hug the child and tell him that you love him.
5. Explain why the discipline had to happen and why their actions were wrong; talk with them about how they can correct this in the future and suggest alternative actions.
6. Always emphasize that obedience is required by God, and that is not just our own program.
Every time this has happened in our home, step 4 has never been evaded by either child or parents. In fact, step 4 in the discipline process has often been some of the more special times in our relationship with our children. It says that we love you unconditionally and that our children know that sincerely. When a child can tell you that they love you after they have received a spanking from you, it means they can sense your sincerity and self control. I am not saying that as parents we have done this faultlessly every time. I certainly have made mistakes along the way (e.g., not admonishing in private and even allowing anger to rule instead of Christ) but even with a few sinful mistakes here and there, God has been gracious to us in the discipline of our much-loved children (Ken Ham, Raising Godly Children in an Ungodly World, p. 197).
“I always appreciated that Dad would always tell us not only what we did wrong, but why it was wrong. When we would get caught doing something, and we already knew why it was wrong, he would still tell us again anyway, just to reinforce the reason. We were never confused about discipline. Dad’s explanations made it clear” (Ham, p. 204).
Missionary Bob Nichols says,
“The children realized that when we spanked them, it wasn’t against them or their person but it was against their actions. We wanted to correct their attitude or actions. We would take them aside and correct them and then spend time in prayer with them and then hug them. They knew that the correction didn’t come because we were angry or we were embarrassed for the Nichols’ name or something like that, but that they were acting against God and God’s Word.”
Nichols adds the following wise suggestion,
“You need to maintain eye contact with your children. I have noticed in many cases that the children’s eyes wander when they are being corrected, but they need to look right into the parent’s eyes. This is a form of rebellion, too. They’re saying, ‘I’m here but I’m not at home.’ They need to be accountable for what they’ve done.”
Unwise and hasty and angry use of the rod can provoke the children to wrath and drive them away from the parent.
Communicating with the child is essential. Otherwise he or she can be confused and frustrated and might consider the parent unreasonable.
The parent needs to be ready to apologize when he or she makes a mistake in discipline.
Parents must confirm their love to the children during the entire process.
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