Spare the Rod and being spoiled might be the least of the child’s problems

Spare the rod, spoil the child. 

As with most popular proverbs, there are elements of truth contained within this saying, which is probably why it is often mistaken for Scripture. Some verses in the Bible have similar wording as well, further complicating the confusion. This blog will discuss two major difficulties with this saying and determine if the Bible supports the principle of corporal punishment. 

Several verses in Proverbs have similar wording to our saying in question. 

Proverbs 13:24 He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.

The first difficulty is the meaning of “rod.” Two translations could be used here. One means “a rod or staff for smiting” and the other means “a shepherd’s implement used in mustering or counting sheep.” In Psalm 23:4, it is obviously the latter because the whole psalm is about a shepherd, but is Proverbs 13:24 saying a father should be a shepherd to his son or a disciplinarian? Since a sheep is not likely to understand why it might be disciplined, it seems that the definition would fit better if the son is being struck by a rod to be chastised rather than prodded so his father can count how many children he has.

Literally this verse is saying, “The one who withholds the rod from his son, hates his son, but the one who loves his son seeks him out early in the morning to discipline him.” The implication is that it happens often when the son is in need of discipline, but it is not saying parents should beat their kid every day without cause. Doing so would certainly “provoke your children to anger,” which Paul warns us not to do in Ephesians 6:4.

 Proverbs 23:13-14 Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod, he will not die. Punish him with the rod and save his soul from Sheol.

This passage actually promises that if a child is disciplined with a rod, he/she will be saved from Sheol, which was the place the Hebrews believed they would go when they died. In other words, punish your child when he does wrong, and your child will not go to Hell. Some translations say “if you punish him with the rod, he will not die,” but this should not be misinterpreted as a promise that if you beat your child within an inch of his life that God will miraculously save him from death (believe it or not, I have heard that interpretation). As verse 14 explains, the death being referred to is the death of his soul or as some call it, the “second death.”

 This brings us to the second difficulty of this saying. How does one apply this without going too far? For legal purposes, one should not beat their child in such a way as to leave a mark on the child’s body. Some children need only a time out or a privilege taken away to get the message and change their behavior. Others need more stern punishment to get the point. Spanking exclusively would make it difficult to go to the next level. What are you going to do if it doesn’t work? Spank them harder next time? I can’t answer these questions, but the principle found in these verses is this: if you do not punish your children when they do wrong, you hate your kids and are literally telling them to go to Hell. Whether your punishment includes spanking them, grounding them, or taking away privileges, it seems the Bible leaves that for you to decide.

 I know this is a controversial topic so by all means leave a comment or a question. Even if you disagree, I will post your comment if you give a cohesive argument and back it up with Scripture. Come let us reason together!

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Does God want us to be happy?

 

Jon,

A friend of mine is struggling with the question “Doesn’t God just want me to be happy?” – how would you respond to that?

 Great question! This might surprise some people, but God is not solely concerned with whether we are happy or not at the present moment. We are humans with changing emotions and feelings; that is what makes us human! Happiness, as with any other feeling, is fleeting and does not last. We can draw one of two conclusions from this: either we will never experience eternal happiness or the happiness we experience now is a foreshadowing of what we will experience eternally in Heaven. I believe it is the latter, that any happiness that we experience is just a taste of what is to come in the afterlife if we place our faith in Jesus. And if we believe in Jesus, then we must believe His description of Heaven. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4) Certainly that will be a happy time! I like to think of it this way: God is not trying to make everybody happy right now, but He is preparing us now through trials and difficulties so that we can experience true and lasting happiness with Him in Heaven.

 This does not mean that God does not want us to be happy, but our happiness is only fleeting if it is not from God. I might be quite happy the day I buy a big screen tv, but soon after, looking at that tv will not bring any happy feelings (especially if I am watching the Detroit Lions on it). The Bible says repeatedly that God is the source of true happiness. One of the Hebrew words for “blessed” can also be translated “happy,” and in the following verses “happy” makes more sense.

 “Happy are they whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the teachings of the Lord. Happy are they who keep his statutes and seek him with all their heart.” Psalm 119:1-2

 “Happy is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.” Psalm 32:1

 “Happy is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the teaching of the Lord, and on his teachings he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.” Psalm 1:1-3

 Does this mean that Christians will be happy all the time? No. Life is hard and full of sadness, despair, disappointment, and evil. But if we persevere, we can experience happiness and joy in the midst of our difficulties because all of our hopes are placed in Jesus rather than a hopeless and flawed world. In Him we can hope in His promise that He would go to prepare a place for us to be with Him forever. Though we might not be able to imagine it, we know that “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” The thought of that should put a smile on your face.

God moves in mysterious ways: Scripture or modern-day proverb?

God moves in mysterious ways. 

Where did this saying come from? Many believe this was popularized by a poem written in the eighteenth century by William Cowper entitled “God Moves in Mysterious Ways.” Whether this popularized the phrase or drew from an already popular phrase no one can be sure. The popular band U2 wrote a song called “Mysterious Ways,” which made the phrase’s popularity grow in the 20th century and led to many falsely believing that Bono was doing a wordplay with Scripture in the chorus by repeating “She moves in mysterious ways.”

The word “mysterious” does not appear anywhere in the Bible. “Mystery” occurs over 20 times (22x in KJV and 25x in NIV), but usually refers to God revealing mysteries through Jesus Christ (Mark 4:11, Romans 16:25-26, Eph 1:9, Col.1:26).

The popularity of this modern-day proverb probably stems from the “ring of truth” that is inherent in its message. The Bible is not an exhaustive resource for truth, but everything in the Bible is true. For instance, “don’t eat yellow snow” is not in the Bible, but hopefully all of us understand the truth that led someone to coin such words of wisdom. Such is the case with “God moves in mysterious ways;” though it is not in the Bible, it contains truth which can be supported with Scripture. We can not always understand God’s plans for His ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8). For a time the reason for things might remain a mystery known only to God, but if we trust Him at His word, then He can move in us, through us, and in our circumstances to accomplish His will. Jesus described this concerning all who are born again in John 3:8. “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” May we stop trying to control the wind and allow God to blow us all away with the wonders that He wants to accomplish in our lives.

James 5:16: Another bad translation bites the dust

James 5:16b “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” This passage might be the most misquoted English Scripture of all time (“money is the root of all evil” comes in a close second). The reason for the confusion is that it is a direct quote from the King James Version, which translated it incorrectly. No one quite understands where “fervent” came from since it is not in the Greek text or even implied in the context. This poor translation has even influenced other versions to poorly translate the following verse, stating “Elijah…prayed earnestly” in verse 17. If “earnestly” is the proper translation, then perhaps “fervent” could be implied in verse 16 so we will deal with verse 17 first.

The Greek text literally says that Elijah “prayed with prayer that it would not rain.” The controversy concerns whether the two words were placed together to reflect the intensity of the action (“earnestly prayed”) or establish the author’s emphasis of the word as if to put it in bold italics to highlight “prayed.” James Adamson, author of NICNT’s The Epistle of James, believes James intended the latter, fluidly translating “when a righteous man prays, it is very powerful in operation. That is precisely what Elijah did, and that, let me tell you, is how it worked.” My translation is along the same lines:

“The prayer of a righteous person results in miracles and healings. Elijah was a human being just like us with the same emotions, passions, and feelings. All he did was pray that it would not rain and it did not rain for three and a half years.”

The incident James cites is from 1 Kings 18. There is no mention of how Elijah prayed to stop the rain, but there seems to be a description of his prayer to bring the rain in 1 Kings 18:41, 42. “And Elijah said to Ahab, “Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rain. So Ahab went off to eat and drink, but Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees.” James Freeman, author of Manners and Customs of the Bible, states that this position “refers to a common Oriental position for meditation and devotion.” (1972, p.161) He goes on to say that it was common in other cultures including Egypt and India. Whether you agree with him or not, this is clearly not a position of fervent prayer. The only fervent prayer in this passage was prayed by the prophets of Baal! “So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed.” (1 Kings 18:28) As you know, “there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention” (18:29).

The point I am making is that the emphasis of this passage is on prayer. It doesn’t matter how righteous you think you are or how fervent you pray. James is not saying that your prayers are left unanswered because you have not been fervent enough! I have seen many people misapply this Scripture by praying harder (or “praying through”) only to become even more frustrated and disappointed when God does not answer their prayers the way they want Him to. James is encouraging us to pray just as he does in chapter 4. “You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” (4:2b-3) I had a professor once that said, “If you feel led to pray, pray knowing that it is the Holy Spirit leading you to pray. It is not the Devil, he hates prayer; and it isn’t you, your flesh doesn’t like it much either.” I hope this blog leads you to pray, knowing that prayer leads to powerful miracles that only God can do.