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The Rod of Discipline

This is not an essay on spanking. The focus is more in line with Psalm 23:4, an obvious allusion to a shepherd using the rod and staff as tools of his trade,

Andrea G. Schwartz
  • Andrea G. Schwartz,
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He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes. (Proverbs 13:24)
Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him. (Proverbs 22:15)

I hope I’m not disappointing you, but this is not going to be an essay on spanking. Having been both on the giving and receiving end of this practice, I am personally convinced of its merits, both as a child and as a parent. My focus on the rod, while it takes into consideration the verses referenced above, is more in line with the way it is used in Psalm 23:4, which reads, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” There is an obvious allusion here to a shepherd tending his flock, and the rod and staff are among the tools of his trade, if you will, that allow him to do the job he has been entrusted to do. Homeschooling parents also have similar tools at their disposal to steward the lives of the child(ren) the Lord has blessed them with — a rod and staff to comfort them.

It is customary in our modern culture to encourage self-esteem in children. Note that this is quite different than teaching them to respect other people in their speech and actions; thereby will they know that as they honor God, they will develop a proper image of themselves. Self-esteem, as it is currently defined, is all about liking oneself. However, that begs the question as to whether or not any individual has good reason to esteem himself. In fact, we know that there is that nasty blot of sin that, without the Redeemer’s blood, makes it so there is nothing much to esteem, let alone like, in our nature. So, a parent’s job is more to develop a proper sense of duty and responsibility in a child, and have those things bring about a child’s proper view of himself.

Homeschooling situations provide regular hands-on, one-on-one situations whereby the homeschooling mother must make good use of the “rod” and the “staff” to prod and corral her student(s) to persevere through a subject or activity that is proving difficult. This can take a variety of forms and is often accompanied by the child/student glaring at and making irritated/irritating faces at mother/teacher! Never having been a shepherd, I am only speculating when I say that most likely the shepherd, as he attempts to manage a flock of unruly sheep, does not resort to screaming and yelling as his main tools. The Scriptures point out that sheep know their shepherd’s voice (not his yells) and respond to his authority, care, and love. Throughout the pages of the gospel narratives, Jesus gives us this shepherd/sheep analogy over and over. As parents, we need to imitate our Savior when it comes to shepherding the sheep He gave us. Thus, as we discipline our children, we need to be careful to differentiate willful disobedience from the sinful nature (and all those manifestations) that came with them at birth.

For example, my daughter is a competitive golfer, and I often accompany her during practice times. Golf can be a frustrating game, even to someone good at it, and there are times that errant shots or unintended consequences have produced angry reactions, which only serve to make the next shots even worse. As a parent, I realize that she is not trying to get angry; rather the situation is making her angry. However, I also realize that unchecked, this can and will develop into a pattern of angry responses to adverse situations — something I know is unbiblical per Proverbs 22:24, “Make no friendship with an angry man; and with a furious man thou shalt not go.”

So, how do I use my rod and staff to comfort her in these situations — her “valley of the shadow of death”? (Note: mathematics also has had the ability to produce similar teary eyed, eruptive responses!). Simply put, I continue to put forth the standard that the activity we’re involved in has value over and above itself. I emphasize that this struggle is being given to her by God for the express purpose of refining her — removing the dross and leaving the refined gold. If she wants to quit the activity in the midst of defeat, I refuse to let her. If she tries to wiggle out of the situation by deciding she is stupid or incapable, I hold her “feet to the fire” and make her produce even a somewhat positive result. In other words, I don’t let the situation end in failure. Even if that means continuing with the activity an additional hour or two. Keep in mind that I am not trying to produce a golf star or math whiz. I’m attempting to get my daughter to see that she can do all things through Christ who strengthens her. And, that no temptation has or will seize her that is new to her, and that she can be sure Christ will provide the way out for her by means of His grace.

The point here is that the parent/teacher isn’t there to build up the child/student’s self-esteem. Our job as parents is to mold and shape the youth of today for the tasks of adulthood tomorrow has in store for them. The only real accolade that matters, and will produce the greatest “self-esteem,” will come from the mouth of our Lord:

Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. (Matthew 25:21)