The Rod of Discipline

Solomon, in Proverbs 13:24, emphasizes that discipline, akin to a shepherd's rod, is an essential expression of love necessary for a child's growth, as it teaches them accountability and obedience, ultimately preventing a life without direction and self-discipline.
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In Proverbs 13:24 Solomon writes:

He who withholds his rod hates his son,
But he who loves him disciplines him diligently.
- Proverbs 13:24

The rod spoken of here was a very meaningful image in the Old Testament. It referred to the shepherd's rod or staff, carved wood from a tree branch, usually the height of the man.

It represented several ideas to the Jews. For example,

  • Support – the shepherd would lean on it when tired;
  • Defense, or punishment – he would fight off predators or use it to keep the sheep in line.

When Solomon uses it here in connection with the discipline of children, he is referring to its use as a tool for punishment and correction. Not that punishment or discipline was always administered with a staff but rather discipline was necessary to raise children like a staff was necessary to care for sheep.

The idea of discipline being necessary is further explained by Solomon in the following way.

1. Discipline is an expression of love

Discipline should be viewed as an expression of caring by the parents and the child. Children need both kinds of love: the kind that gives, encourage, forgives; as well as the kind that demands accountability and administers punishment for disobedience. Parents should not be afraid to discipline, and children should not resent it: it is what they need and shows that parents love them because ignoring the responsibility to discipline is a lot easier than actually administering discipline itself.

2. Discipline is necessary

As much as we would like them to be perfect, or at least be better than we were at their age, kids are not perfect and have not even learned what we have learned yet. Discipline is a way to help them mature and grow into what we hope they will become.

3. Discipline needs repeated effort

You have to work at discipline constantly. Parents become discouraged because they have to repeat over and over again. I once heard on the news that a woman brought out a CD with 45 of the most oft repeated nags of parents (i.e. clean up your room; turn down the music; get off your phone). Just punch a button and the record will nag your kid. Maybe kids can record a CD to answer this one. It would only have two messages on it though ("in a minute" and "I dunno").

It takes more than one brick to build a wall, more than one note to play a song, more than one stroke to paint a great picture. It also takes the repetition of many acts of discipline to form a child's character.

Parents or children should not be discouraged in disciplining because children require a lot of discipline to grow right.

4. Lack of discipline ruins a child

Solomon says that a parent who does not discipline his child hates him. He must hate him because he is sending a person into the world without a conscience; without a sense of direction; without self discipline and, most importantly, without the assurance that they are truly loved.

This, of course, is the recipe for a disastrous life; only a person who hates you would send you out to face the harsh world in this condition.

Of course, the ultimate purpose of discipline is so that we learn to discern good from evil and that we learn to obey. The obedience muscle or reflex needs training. We have to learn to obey because obedience is not hereditary, it is a learned skill. Wise Christian parents know that ultimately their children must learn not only to obey them but also learn to obey God.

Discussion Questions

  1. What, in your opinion, is the hardest type of discipline to administer to children? Why?
  2. Who was the disciplinarian in your family? What was their method? Was it successful?
  3. Which of your children were the most (least) difficult to discipline? Why?
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