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Training Your Child with Love

Proverbs 13:24 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
24 He who spares the rod hates his son,
    but he who loves him seeks him diligently with discipline.

He who spares the rod hates his son: The important principle of physical punishment in the training of the youth is found in the book of Proverbs numerous times. (22:15; 23:13–14; 29:15) He who spares (חוֹשֵׂךְ chosek) translates a masculine singular participle that the ESV translates as “whoever,” and the NRSV and others render as a plural “those who spare.” Spares mean to save or relieve from an experience or action, to restrain, hold back or keep back, to halt, or to withhold. This verb can be found in 10:19, in reference to the lips, “but he who restrains his lips is prudent.”

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The rod is the rendering of a general term for a staff, stick, i.e., a wooden stick of various lengths and thicknesses, or symbol of authority. Most modern translations do not try and sidestep the verse plain meaning spare the rod means avoiding physical punishment. However, some do seek to avoid the plain meaning of the text, physical punishment; for example, the GNT (TEV) reads, “If you don’t punish your children.” The CEV reads, “If you love your children, you will correct them” and the SPCL “Whoever does not correct his son.”

Hates his son (Heb. שׂוֹנֵא בְנוֹ) is an emphatic expression that is basically saying that any father who does not train his son (child) with physical punishment, he does not really love his son (child), that is, he does not truly care about training his son (child). In the book of Proverbs, the father who genuinely cares for his son (child), he must be ready to go to the fullest extent in punishment, physical correction. More on this below.

But he who loves him seeks him diligently with discipline: Many of the dynamic translations replace “he” with “those who,” “you,” or “the one” in an effort to sidestep the masculine gender. He who loves him is the father who loves him, of course. However, this does not mean that the mother cannot use physical punishment to train the children. She should, especially in the absence of the father. Diligent (Heb. שִׁחֲרוֹ ;שָׁחַר shachar) renders a word that means ‘to long for, to look or seek for, to earnestly seek, to search for. One possible meaning is ‘to look early for,’ which would convey the idea that physical discipline should begin early in the child’s life while he is still young. Any parent with grown children now looking back knows that if one avoids training a young child, they lose respect, and will pay for this in the teenage years. Discipline (Heb. מוּסָר musar) renders a word used in 1:2-3, 7-8, where the RSV translates it as “instruction.” It is also used in 3:11, where the 2017 CSB also translates it as “instruction.” However, in 3:11 and here in 13:24, in this context, the sense is that of being disciplined (trained); it is referring to being chastised, corrected, rebuked, or warned in 3:11, and here to the extent of physical discipline (training).

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Genesis 6:5 and 8:21 tell us that imperfect humans are mentally bent toward evil. Jeremiah 17:9 tells us that imperfect humans have a treacherous heart, which we cannot fully understand. The apostle Paul tells us that our natural desire is to do bad. All humans in our imperfection need disciple. However, it is most crucial in our childhood. In the Bible, “the rod” is also used as a symbol of authority. Here in our text, it is referring to parental authority. In the context here, it primarily does refer to physical discipline (spanking the child) but can, in general, refer to all forms of child discipline. Spanking should be the last resort. 13:24 is referring to child correction in whatever it may take so as to train the child. It may be a simple, mild rebuke that is enough, while in another you may have to raise your voice, and at other times taking away privileges to correct improper behavior. We need to consider Proverbs 17:10 in this context, which says, “A rebuke goes deeper into a man of understanding than a hundred blows into a fool.”

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Physical discipline, that is, spanking a child, is meant to get their attention, so they will more aptly listen to the verbal correction that you are about to give them. It is not meant to be abusive. The age of the child will determine the degree that will be needed to get the child’s attention. When physical discipline is applied, it should always be done with love and wisdom, so as to benefit the child.

The father or mother are not loving parents if they overlook or ignore the child’s behavioral problems. Rather, the parent should be diligently seeking to discipline such bad behavior. The parent starts disciplining early in the child’s life, when discipline is comprehensible, removing the bad behavior before it becomes too deeply rooted. Again, we follow other biblical counsel in conjunction with Proverb 13:24, such as Ephesians 6:4, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

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Some parents may think that physical discipline is going too far and so they become permissive and fail to apply this form of correction when the child is young enough to get their attention. What many parents have learned later is that they never get thanks from a child for such a permissive attitude. Rather, it is the parent who seeks out the child for physical discipline if it is needed, who later hears the child later say, ‘Thank you for disciplining me when I was younger, I thought it was wrong at the time, but now that I am a parent, I understand.’ Proverbs 29:15 states: “The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a boy left to himself brings shame to his mother.” To withhold parental authority shows indifference or a lack of love for the child and a lack of trust in God’s Word. Applying parental authority kindly, lovingly, and firmly shows one’s loving concern for their child. One final qualification, if the child has been diagnosed with ADHD or any other kind of learning disorder by a mental health expert; then, this must be taken into the way we apply our parental authority. We may make allowances for certain things, but we do not let the disorder set aside discipline. We simply discipline with it in mind. Many modern-day child psychologists believe that spanking is barbaric because, in their mind, they are thinking of the abusive cases, not correct biblical understanding. Many modern-day child psychologists are very permissive when it comes to discipline, which has led to the disrespect for authority that we have with our young people today. If a parent takes their child to a child psychologist, make every effort to seek out a Christian child psychologist who is grounded in a correct understanding of God’s Word.

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