The term “scepter” (or as it is often translated “rod”) is used in Proverbs 22:15, which I think brings a great deal of clarity to that often abused passage. The “rod” is the scepter of the household, of the family. There are three elements bound up in this scepter imagery: authority, protection/favor, and punishment. So, the foolishness bound up in the nature of a child will need to encounter all three elements from his/her parents. Discipline is not a straight shot to punishment. It could be the very clear verbal or illustrative reminder of who is in charge. Young children often threaten to “run away” for various absurd reasons. A wise parent can use such an opportunity to authoritatively and creatively remind the child of the benevolence the child experiences as a member of the household contrasted to the harsh realities outside of that household. It could be an act of favor or benevolence or protection that demonstrates the parent’s authority to the child. And of course, punishment for transgression against the parents and/or family is a third alternative. It should be observed that this punishment is reserved for the wicked, lawless, hated, dangerous, traitorous enemy to a king and a nation. Therefore, this use of the scepter in the household should be reserved for the severest of cases. In this text, a genitive modifies the scepter, which means, “the act of providing guidance for responsible living, upbringing, training, instruction.” Therefore, the range of meaning for scepter along with the genitive modifier “instruction” paints a very helpful and clear picture that it is authoritative instruction with a use of benevolent protection and a very reserved use of severe punishment that corrects the folly bound up in a child’s heart. Ephesians 6:4 makes even more sense in light of this exegesis. A lack of careful instruction may provoke anger from the child toward the parent, and as Col. 3:21 teaches, thoughtless, reactionary parental authority may lead to discouraged and disheartened children.
To answer the question in the title of this post—do we spoil the child if we spare the rod? When the rod is properly understood in its biblical context and range of meaning as authoritative distribution of benevolent protection and reserved punishment with the aim of instruction, the “rod” is key to freeing a child’s heart from folly. Don’t spoil your calling as a parent or your child!
For a good read on parenting, check out Paul Tripp’s book Parenting.