Recently an article on the subject of spanking came to my attention via social media.
After the first time through the central argument of it I had to stop, go back and re-read from near the beginning to find what I had missed. The article jumped from enumerating the possible meaning a few Hebrew words to the re-writing of holy scripture. The most glaring item was how the word “rod” got redacted from all of the verses mentioned. Here’s the only excerpt that I could find in justification for substituting the word “rod” for the word “wisdom.”
“The word shebet is translated ‘rod’ and means, literally, ‘shepherd’s crook’ and, in Hebrew culture, was a means not only of guiding and protecting sheep, but also a symbol of leadership. The markings on the head of the shebet often identified the head of a family or tribe, letting everyone know who to go to for guidance and protection. The shebet, then, denotes wisdom, leadership, and protection.”
Wait… That’s it?
That’s why rod doesn’t mean rod?
In summary: Because some rods had associations culturally attached to them that were separate from the physical object, i.e. the rod itself, therefore any textual references to the physical object can be safely replaced with (some of) those cultural associations. This raises the question: What would the author have said if he had wanted to denote an actual stick in the literal sense of the word? I’m at a loss to answer that. A trial lawyer might be proud, but I tell you truthfully that I would be ashamed to put such an argument forward.
When you leave aside the silly assertion that smiting/beating must mean triggering the conscience, (which assumes that the Jews had the same metaphor about one’s conscience being smitten), the argument becomes even more absurd. Let’s try Proverbs 23:13 – 14.
“Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell”
“Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod [wisdom], he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod [wisdom], and shalt deliver his soul from hell”
Here the context is much harder to sidestep, and so the substitution treatment applied above catapults us into the realm of the ridiculous.
In many ways removing the word “rod” from the verses named is the linchpin of the argument made in the article above. When we put a physical rod into those verses the context narrows the possible meanings of the other Hebrew words mentioned. When you have a word with a list of possible meanings you use context to determine which one to go with. This is not an esoteric concept. We make such contextual inferences about English words on a daily basis. Notice also that the substitution of the word “rod” makes no attempt to find an alternate meaning in a Hebrew word definition. And while the author claims to have used literal substitution to derive the doctored version of the verses in question, she does not, by any stretch of the imagination do so for this word. Instead the author simply leaps over it with some vagaries about an unrelated use of the rod, and settles on one particular and highly symbolic concept as the meaning of the word. This is by far the biggest logical leap, but not the only one. However, most everything else the author asserts collapses with the re-assumption of the plain sense of the word.
So much for not spanking then. But what about the author’s definition of the Hebrew word “na`ar?” Does it really only mean a young man? That puzzled me until I looked it up in a few online sources. (See below) I discovered that the meaning of the word is not nearly so restrictive as the author asserts, but can in fact be applied even to infants. I’m not sure where the author obtained the definition being used, but this error does not aid the credibility of the article. It should also be noted that the idea of instructing a baby with wisdom is patently absurd. (And hence the author’s necessity of limiting the definition of “na`ar.”)
Finally the author suggests that the entire old testament should be thrown out root and branch because Christians are now under the new covenant. One wonders why the author took such pains to strip the previous verses of their meaning if that meaning did not apply in the first place. Regardless, the argument used is not valid because it does not separate old testament law, which was dictated to and for the nation of Israel, from other God-breathed writings which were given with no such limitation in scope.
The rest of the article is what I would call “touchy-feely” stuff about love and gentleness. (Which in themselves are wonderful, necessary things.) Since this post is mainly about what the Bible actually says, as opposed to how I feel about it, and in light of the scriptural bankruptcy of the arguments made in the linked article, I will not address these points in detail or at length. I will, however, observe that they are indicative of the acceptance of a lie that Satan happens to be pedaling at this time in history. That lie is that it is possible to separate God’s love and mercy from his justice. But the very concept of mercy has no meaning in the absence of justice. Love then, in the Biblical sense of the word, does not always mean doing what is most pleasant for either party in the relationship. Rather, it means doing what is best for the object of one’s love. That isn’t easy. Maybe it is why some people feel the need to try and explain away the scriptures relevant to this truth. I fear they will do so to their own sorrow because any failure to accept that reality is as God says that it is, always leads to pain down the road.
The Bible speaks quite clearly on the reality and nature of the heart condition that we are all born into. Children are no exception. It isn’t pretty, but it’s a lot worse if we choose to act as if it weren’t true. These verses tell us the truth. The question is, will we accept it?