He Will Not Die
“Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die.” – Proverbs 23:13
The words of Solomon on the topic of child discipline bring uneasiness to 21st century readers, with Christians even growing a bit squeamish with talk of “striking with a rod.” Despite what on the surface appears to be a barbaric approach to disciplining a child, the proverb is actually given in the child’s best interest. An understanding of context helps make this point clear.
The ancient nation of Israel was governed by God-given laws. It is no surprise that these laws promoted holiness in all facets of life and took a hardline stance against sin and rebellion. Understanding that the leaven of wickedness would spread quickly through His people, God refused to tolerate those who promoted discord. In the most extreme cases, the offender was required to pay for wickedness with his life. Among those receiving the sentence of capital punishment was a son who rebelled against his parents. The circumstances leading to this punishment are recorded in Deuteronomy 21:18-21:
If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and, though they discipline him, will not listen to them, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gate of the place where he lives, and they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This our son is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones. So you shall purge the evil from your midst, and all Israel shall hear, and fear.
Note carefully the situation under consideration. First, the parents of the alleged rebel were not allowed to carry out this penalty on their own. Though their society was patriarchal, the father was required to bring his son to a court of law. Second, this law did not apply to young children or even troublesome teenagers. The one ultimately punished for this crime had a record of offenses: stubbornness, rebellion, gluttony, and drunkenness. Finally, it was only after a son was found guilty by impartial judges that his rebellion was removed from the camp through stoning.
It should also be noted that parents were put on trial when they made a charge against their son. The law stated that this charge could only be brought against a son who was disciplined by his parents. In other words, parents derelict in their duty of discipline could not rightfully bring charges against a son who became a rebel. Parental duty involved disciplining a son in his youth so that he could learn the ways of righteousness; thus, the proverb of Solomon: “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die.” Far from advocating abusive behavior, Solomon admonished parents to maintain a firm hand in youth so that such a charge of rebellion would never be made against their child. Under Old Testament law, they literally were saving their child from death.
The Old Testament law reached its ultimate fulfillment and conclusion in Jesus Christ. Since God’s people today comprise a spiritual nation rather than a physical one as did ancient Israel, they are not required to carry out capital punishments. Still, God maintains insistence that modern parents bring up their children by the same standard as given to their ancient counterparts; namely, they are to teach children to abhor rebellion. Therefore, discipline is fundamental to help a child develop a respect for parents that will ultimately transcend into a respect for God.
Western culture has placed Christian parents in a difficult situation. With negativity associated with corporal punishment, parents are often timid in teaching children through physical discipline. As well, parents have sometimes allowed children to become the authorities within the household. Rather than parents instructing children, some households operate in reverse with children “ruling the roost.” Perhaps, though, the biggest detriment to discipline in the West is simply the lack of family cohesiveness. Busy parental schedules simply do not allocate the necessary time to provide the necessary discipline needed for children to become godly adults.
Though challenges prevail, modern parents can discipline effectively. This involves learning to use methods appropriate to the situation. More importantly, it is learning to use discipline appropriate for the child. Even children within the same family will respond to discipline in different ways; thus, parents must learn what works most effectively for the child by spending time with the child. When a “one size fits all” method is discarded and replaced with a well-structured specific plan for each child, good discipline will follow.
Though the old laws of Deuteronomy no longer bear authority, they still contain principles which speak loudly and boldly across the generations. Like those of old, modern parents are piloting young souls that have a destiny in either Heaven or Hell. The guidance given in youth will go a long way in determining the destination. Parents who lovingly discipline their children by godly principles may very well save a soul from eternal death by providing the godly template for righteous living. What greater gift could a parent provide for a child?