"He that spareth the rod hateth his son, but he who loveth him chastiseth him betimes" (Prov. 13:24). "Chasten thy son while there is still hope and let not thy soul spare for his crying" (Prov. 19:18).
These are quotations from the Book of Proverbs, the twentieth book of the Holy Bible. There are some who hold that these proverbs are the Word of God. That the Lord sanctions and indeed advocates the corporal punishment of youth. But the Holy Bible tells us otherwise. Proverbs is the word of a mortal man, "Solomon, the son of David, King of Israel" (Proverbs 1:1). The tenth chapter tells us again, these are "The Proverbs of Solomon" (Prov. 10:1).
God's voice appears frequently in the Old Testament. From the first stunning phrase, "Let there be light" and "It is not good that man should be alone", the words that God speaks are labeled clearly.
God speaks to Adam and Eve in anger for their disobedience (Genesis 3). God lays a curse on Cain for the murder of Abel (Genesis 4). God warns Noah to build the ark (Genesis 6). He tells Abraham to circumcise all male children as a token of the Holy Covenant (Gen. 17:10-14).
The Lord blesses Isaac (Gen. 26:2-5). He comforts Rebekah, mother of the twins, Jacob and Esau, in her pregnancy (Gen. 25:23). God instructs Jacob to build an altar (Gen 35:1).
The Lord promises Moses to deliver the Children of Israel from bondage (Exodus 6). He reveals the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20).
God tells Samuel to select a king over Israel (I Samuel 8:22). He commands David to smite the Philistines (I Samuel 23:2-4).
God tells Joshua to blow the seven trumpets that the walls of Jericho may crumble (Joshua 6:2-5). He tells Gideon to destroy the evil altar of Baal (Judges 6:25). God appears out of a whirlwind to the suffering Job and restores his faith (Job, Chapters 38 to 42).
The Lord speaks to Jeremiah and pronounces judgment against Judah and Jerusalem for their abominations (Jeremiah, Chapters 1 to 25). He speaks to Jonah and bids him call Nineveh to repentance (Jonah 1:2). And God speaks to Elijah not in the earthquake, nor in the fire, nor in the wind that rent the mountains, but "in a small still voice". God bids the aging prophet anoint Elisha as his successor and anoint Jehu as King that Jehu may destroy the evil worshippers of Baal (I Kings 19:12-18).
There are times in the Holy Bible when God Himself speaks. At other times, He sends an Angel, that is a Divine Messenger. But the Holy Bible also records the words and thoughts of men. Some of these human sayings are wise and inspiring. Some are foolish and wrongful. But these human words are quite different from the Words of the Lord.
God does also talk to Solomon - twice to bless him (I Kings 3:11-14, 9:2-9) and later to condemn Solomon for his evil-doing (I Kings 11:11-13), but never to approve using "the rod" on youth. The words of Proverbs are Solomon's only. Never the Lord's.
In the Bible, the rod is many things. It is a symbol of miraculous power. Moses hold up his rod and the waters of the Red Sea part before the escaping Hebrews (Exodus 14:16). He lifts up his rod and the Children of Israel prevail over their enemies (Exodus 17:9). In the desert, he smites his rod against a rock and water flows (Numbers 20:11).
The rod of Levi blossoms as a plant and God designates the House of Levi as the true priests of Israel (Numbers 17:8).
The rod is the symbol of God's anger and retribution. "I will visit their iniquities with the rod and their transgressions with stripes" (Psalms 89:32). The Assyrian king, conquering Judah, is "the rod of God's anger" (Isaiah 10:5). Suffering Job cries out, "Let him take his rod away from me" (Job 9:34).
Sometimes, on the other hand, the rod symbolizes God's gentle guidance. "Thy rod and staff, they comfort me" (Psalms 23:4).
Again, the rod symbolizes the force and power of a human tyrant. "He shall rule them with a rod of iron" (Revelations 19:15). "Thou hast broken the rod of the oppressor" (Isaiah 9:4). "The rod of the wicked shall not rest upon the lot of the righteous" (Psalms 125:3).
And the rod may be just a twig, with no symbolism at all. "Jacob took him rods of green poplar" (Genesis 30:37).
Exclusively in the Book of Proverbs is the rod recommended for child rearing. "Withhold not correction from the child, for if thou beatest him with the rod, he will not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod and deliver his soul from Hell (Prov. 23:13, 14).
These references are most frequently quoted by the advocates of corporal punishment in school and home. They could, however, equally cite the Bible to support the flogging of adults. Deuteronomy (25:2,3) authorizes forty stripes for "he who is worthy to be beaten". St. Paul was among the victims of this law (II Corinthians 11:24).
Proverbs urges corporal punishment for Fools as well as children. "A rod for the fool's back" (Proverbs 26:3).
The corporal punishers, understandably never quote the part about using the rod on fools. For if this Proverb were strictly enforced, they might find themselves on the receiving end.
But let us leave the fools to fend for themselves and return to the kids. The Biblical authority for the whipping of youths in school and home rests solely on King Solomon's Proverbs and has no other Biblical support.
Tradition has attributed great wisdom to King Solomon. The Encyclopedia Britannica, however, terms him "perhaps the most overrated figure in the Old Testament"1. He accumulated great wealth and treasure and erected the magnificent Temple. But ordinary people were oppressed and impoverished by his crushing taxation and forced labor.
So great was Solomon's passion for wealth that he "gave away" "twenty cities in Galilee" to the King of Tyre (I Kings 9:11). The King of Tyre, we are told, was displeased and thought he got stung.
In his later years, Solomon "did evil in the sight of God". He turned to idol worship. To "Chemosh, the abomination of Moah, and Molech, the abomination of the children of Ammon, and the Ashtoreth, the goddess of the Zidonians" (I Kings 11:4-8). These were not just a passing fancy. Solomon built temples to the three abominations which stood throughout his lifetime. Later, King Josiah tore these "mounds of corruption" down (II Kings 23:13).
Ashtoreth was a Semitic goddess of love and fertility. Chemosh may have been her mate and a god of war.
Most nasty and evil of all was the bloody Meloch (Moloch) to whom children were sacrificed, and who became one of the chief devils in the Christian Hell. Moloch is cited by Milton in Paradise Lost: "Horrid king...besmeared with blood and parent's tears..."2.
One might forgive Solomon's dalliance with the sexy Ashtoreth, who was relatively harmless. But should we take advice on child-rearing from one who followed the abominations of Moloch?
Perhaps the abominations and the Proverbs were not altogether unrelated. Gibson3 and others have shown that youth floggings involve deep subconscious drives, both sexual impulses (Ashtoreth) and violent impulses (Chemosh, Moloch).
"The rod and reproof bring wisdom." (Proverbs 29:15) Now King Solomon, we are told, had seven hundred wives and thus must have had a goodly number of children. Presumably he practiced what he preached and all were raised by the rod.
How did his own children turn out? Did they honor their father and grow in wisdom? Perhaps the story of Solomon's sons carries the real message of what happens to families when children are beaten with rods.
When Solomon died, his son Rehoboam succeeded him as king. At the coronation, the people petitioned for a redress of grievances. Led by Jeroboam, once Solomon's chief executive officer but later an exile in Egypt, they came before the new king and said, "your father put a heavy yoke on us, but now lighten the harsh labor and the heavy yoke he put on us and we will serve you." (II Chronicles 10:4)
Rehoboam was unsure of how to answer. He told them to come back in three days and sought counsel, first from the elder statesmen among his father Solomon's wisemen. They advised that he agree to lighten the load.
Their counsel was: "If you will be kind to these people and please them and give them a favorable answer, they will always be loyal subjects."
But Rehoboam rejected the advice from the elder statesmen and turned instead to the young men who had grown up with him - the horde of half brothers who were also Solomon's sons. From them he heard the ultimate insult to the memory of their father. They said to tell the people:
"My little finger is thicker than my father's loins." (II Chronicles 10:10).
What Solomon's son said of their father remains in the private and vulgar language of junior high age boys to this day. To say that a man has a thin, small organ is to say that he lacks what it takes to be a man, that he is a wimp with no real guts at all. To growing boys, this is the ultimate insult.
Solomon's sons advised their elder brother to tell the people - as some might express it today, "You ain't seen nothing yet!" They told him to say: "My father laid on you a heavy yoke; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions." (I Kings 12:14) What were scorpions? It sounds like they may have been whips with multiple strips with stingers at the tips, perhaps something like a cat-o-nine-tails used to flog sailors in the days of sail. Whatever scorpions were, they were dreaded by the people.
King Rehoboam followed the advice of the young men who had been raised with him under the "rod of correction." The people who had come to him in good faith listened to his insulting threats and went home to their tents. But they were so angry that the next time the King and his foreman in charge of forced labor came to conscript laborers, they stoned the foreman to death and Rehoboam himself barely escaped in his chariot back to town. (II Chronicles 10:18)
Ten of the tribes, led by Jeroboam revolted. Many years of devastating civil war followed. "There was war between Rehoboam and Jeroboam all the days of his life" (I Kings 15:6). Rehoboam forsook the Lord and turned to idol worship. Jerusalem was raided by the Egyptians who carried off much of Solomon's treasure. Rehoboam "did evil because he prepared not his heart to seek the Lord" (II Chronicles 12:9,14).
The civil war continued after Rehoboam's death. At length the divided and weakened Jewish kingdom, first Israel in the north, then Judah in the south, was overrun and conquered.
Rehoboam and his half-brothers, indeed seem far more like an abused child than an example of rod-inspired wisdom.
Nowhere in the Bible does God approve the hitting of kids. When the Lord stops the sacrifice of Isaac, He tells Abraham, "Lay not your hands upon the lad and do nothing to him" (Genesis 22:12). God doesn't say, "Don't kill the lad, but it's all right to beat him."
"Foolishness is found in the heart of a child. But the rod of correction will drive it far from him." So declared Solomon (Proverbs 22:15). But Jesus held otherwise. "Verily, I say unto you, unless you become as a little child, you cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven" (Matthew 18:3).
To Jesus, not only did the grown-ups not have all the answers, but they may have forgotten things that they knew in youth. Many things fade as we depart from childhood. The power to laugh joyfully, to dream and imagine, to love truly and form deep friendships, to believe in wonders and sense the things of the Spirit. In teaching youth our knowledge, instead of "beating the foolishness out of them", we may have something to learn in return.
Some of the gloomier theologians believed that children were born depraved. They were "tainted with sin" and had to be beaten and subdued. Thus, John Wesley wrote, "Break his will, if you would not damn the child. Teach him to fear the rod and to cry softly ... Break his will now that his soul shall live"4. But Jesus viewed the child as did the poet Wordsworth:
In trailing clouds of glory do we come ....Said Jesus, "Suffer the little children to come unto me., and forbid them not. For of such is the kingdom of Heaven" (Mark 10:14)
And Jesus warned, "It were better for him if a millstone were hanged around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should offend one of these little ones" (Luke 17:2).
Jesus does not advocate throwing child abusers into the sea with millstones around their neck. He just says it would be better for them if it happened.
There are some who cite the Bible to populate our schools and homes with rods and paddles. But they are very silent on the subject of millstones.
Instead of force and fear, Jesus would bring forth the Divine Power that lay within, for man was made in the image of God. "Be ye perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:48) .. "Seek and ye shall find ... Call and it shall be answered ... Knock and it shall be opened" (Matthew 7:7).
And Jesus asks, "Of what man is there of you who, if his son asks for bread, would give him a stone?" (Matthew 7:9)
Yet for hundreds of years, in the schools of avowedly Christian nations, youths who sought the bread of education were given the stone of corporal punishment.
St. Paul took a gloomier view of human nature. But he never favored "beating the sin out of kids". The chastisers of children were sinful themselves.
"Whom the Lord loveth, He chastiseth and scourgeth. The Lord dealeth with you as with sons. If ye be without chastisement, ye are bastards and not sons ......"
"The Lord chastiseth us for our profit, that we may partake of His Righteousness".
But human fathers, he warned, "Chastise us after their own pleasure" (Hebrews 12:5-10).
Certain elders, over the centuries, have misread this Epistle. Modestly, they have set themselves in the Lord's place and proceeded to chastise and scourge youth "for their own good". They failed to heed the warning of Jesus: "Judge not, that ye be not judged. For what measures ye mete out, so shall be meted out to you" (Matthew 7:1,2).
Paul's Epistle shows great psychological insight. The punishing father (or teacher, master, guardian) may derive unwholesome pleasure out of chastising a culprit. The flogger gets enjoyment from his flogging, though he pretends it is a painful duty. This can be as sinful as the punished sin.
Paul had only contempt for the human floggers who wielded their rods unjustly and for selfish reasons. He suffered from them, too. In Macedonia, Paul and a companion, Silas, were severely beaten, put in stocks and jailed, after being falsely accused of stirring up violence. Paul had freed a troubled girl from possession by an evil spirit that gave her psychic powers. The girl's master, who had made a lot of money from her fortune-telling, caused the whippings of Paul and Silas to get even (Acts 16:16-23).
Sinful humans were not fit to chastise justly. Only divine punishments were righteous. Chastisements should be left to God.
Again, Paul asks, "Which shall it be? Shall I come to you with the rod? Or with love and the spirit of meekness?" (I Corinthians 4:21).
There is no hypocrisy here, as in the Proverbs, about beating somebody because you love him. The rod or love. It must be one or the other. It cannot be both. Paul does not doubt that love and meekness are the way of Christ.
And Paul wrote:
Fathers, provoke not your children to wrath, but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. (Ephesians, 6:4).We now know well that corporal punishments do provoke youth to anger, though the effects may be delayed. Many of such youths tend to be more violent and aggressive, more inclined to juvenile delinquencies, vandalism and adult crime. They also have lower achievements in learning and education. This has been confirmed many times by scientific studies.
Nowhere is there a more sublime statement of Christianity than in the Pastoral Letter of the Apostle John (6). He urges Love rather than Force and Fear - in education and in life.
We urge all Christians next time to reach for the Bible instead of the rod or paddle and read the words of John.
"Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them (fear and evil), because greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world (I John 4:4).
There is no authority in the Bible for the corporal punishment of children with rod or otherwise, except in the Proverbs of Solomon. It is only Solomon who recommends child-beating. Never the Lord.
Solomon's child-rearing methods worked very badly for his own son, Prince Rehoboam. Solomon has an undeserved reputation for wisdom. In reality, he left his country oppressed and impoverished. In his later years, he turned to idol worship and practiced "the abominations of Chemosh and Moloch".
There is no support for he beating of youth outside of Solomon's Proverbs. Solomon's views are controverted both by Jesus and the Apostle John.
Paul warned Fathers against the anger and resentment that might be aroused in their children by corporal punishments. The way of love was better.
St. Paul deplored the punishment of youth by human fathers who chastised youth "for their own pleasure". Only divine chastisements were righteous.
Jesus and John saw children as being close to God and urged love rather than fear in education.
If a Christian henceforth grabs for a rod or a paddle because "the Bible says so", he is heeding the words of an idol-worshipping king, rather than the words of Christ.