Some thoughts on Proverbs 23:11

Barefoot Betsy had done a fabulous job of discussing the interpretation of the rod verses and why we believe they are meant gently and figuratively.  Her series on the subject starts here.

But in discussion in the comments section of a previous post, I found I have a couple of things I want to say, so at the risk of being redundant…

Beat him with the rod…

First, a letter to the editor found in the newsletter of the MT Willow Education society, August 2225

Drumming in the multiplication tables

We read in ‘On Mathematical Education’ the statement, “It is imperative that multiplication tables from 2 to 15 be drummed into the head of each and every child by the age of 10.” There have been some well-meaning attempts in recent years to soften the clear instructions of the 20th century educator we all seek to follow, suggesting that the phrase ‘drum it in’ was perhaps not meant literally. In a recent letter to the editor, Casey Trimble says, ‘I believe this this phrase was used to simply mean simply repeating a lesson over and over until it is learned.’ But no matter how much we would like to believe Mr Willow to have been consistently gentle in all his methods, his words are quite clear and can only mean one thing: In Willow schools, the method of inculcating multiplication tables into students was to take a pair of drumsticks and beat a tattoo on the child’s head as the teacher recited them.

He does not give any clear direction as to how hard to rap.
Some parents/educators have surmised that the drumming should be more severe as time progresses, until the child has learned the entire table. t is my personal belief that it should always be a light tattoo, designed simply to provide a child with a kinesthetic experience that aids in building memory.

Of course, some parents will feel that this method is outdated and prefer not to use the sticks, and claim that they are able to ‘drum’ the tables into the child by means of songs, flash cards or games. We are all free to do what we believe is best in our own homeschools, but I submit that a child who learns the tables without the drumsticks has not received a true Willow education.


This is what I believe has been done with the verses about the rod of correction. Why do I think the original audience of the author of Proverbs would read it differently?

  • Partly because of the view of modern Jews. For example, the ‘rod of chastisement’ is considered an instrument of mercy. The Talmud allows for corporal punishment – with a shoestrap only (there is no mention of rods at all).
  • Another reason is that in the Mosaic law, there are instructions on punishing a man who beats his slave to death, but absolute silence about beating children too severely. I can only assume this is because the very idea of beating one’s child was anathema to the culture and so did not need addressing.
  • Also because a rod is not a switch, not a flat hand, not a paddle, not a belt… the closest thing in my home to a rod is the wooden curtain rod that fell down last year and now leans against my bedroom wall. If I hit my child with that, it would be abuse and no one would disagree.
  • And partly because I try to read the Bible with a Christotelic hermeneutic of love – Jesus said, ‘Let the children come unto me and do not hinder them.’ and ‘Love your neighbour as you love yourself’ and ‘if you did it to the least of these you did it to me’. If I assume that the words of Proverbs are inspired by Jesus, the Living Word, then I must seek the interpretation that best fits with his life and teachings. Too many people have been hindered from following Christ, or knowing his grace fully, by the belief that he commands spanking – that his grace is not sufficient for the sins of the least of these.

He will not die…

Prov 23:11
Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you beat him with the rod, he will not die. Beat him with the rod and save is soul from death.

The common understanding of this verse is typified in the Living Bible rendering: “A spanking won’t kill him…”

I want to ask what the above understanding of this verse says about our view of God and our view of our children, viz:

Is God’s standard for raising children in a godly way, not killing them? Do we really think God will be happy with our discipline if we beat them to within an inch of their lives? And as long as we don’t kill him, our beating will be used by God to save the child from Hell?… What does this verse say if she *does* die?…

Where is Jesus, who gently laid his hands on the children and blessed them, in this interpretation of this verse?

I believe a truer rendering – both closer to the intent of the author and more in line with God’s nature – is this:

Do not withhold moral education from a child; if you drum God’s life-giving truth into him, he will live, not die. Teach him God’s wisdom day in and day out and so save him from an early grave.

About Claire

I'm part-time stay-at-home mum to 3 children under 10. We're trying to raise them with the gentleness and creativity God uses with us. I'm also a part-time nurse and a volunteer breastfeeding advocate. We live not far from the beach or the bush in NW Tasmania.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Some thoughts on Proverbs 23:11

  1. Pingback: More Thoughts About the Rod in Proverbs | Why Not Train A Child?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s