What Does 'Spare the Rod Spoil the Child' Mean in Proverbs 13?

Contributing Writer
What Does 'Spare the Rod Spoil the Child' Mean in Proverbs 13?

“Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.” – Proverbs 13:24

As a parent, one of the most difficult things you have to do is discipline your child. I remember growing up watching television shows where the parent is going to spank their child and they would use this line, “This is going to hurt me more than it does you.” As a child I could never understand how that was even possible, but as a parent it makes complete sense. As challenging as disciplining your child can be, this is part of the responsibility of being a parent and it is what we are called to do. There is a verse I want to bring to your attention that talks about the importance of discipline.

Have you ever considered that your attitude toward discipline is a reflection of whether or not you truly love your child? I know this is a hard question to ask but when you understand what 'spare the rod hate the child' really means you will see why this is a question that truly demands an answer.

A Closer Look at ‘Spares the Rod / Hates Their Children’ in Proverbs 13:24

There are five keywords or phrases I want to point out in this verse. Let’s define them so we are all on the same page.

Spare the rod – The word for spare in Hebrew means to keep back, withhold, restrain, or halt. The person who is sparing is preventing something from happening. The rod on the other hand was useful in correcting, defending, protecting, guiding, and even punishment. The rod was an instrument that as you can see had many functions. The rod also represented authority for the person who held it. The person who held the rod did not just have the power to use it but the right to as well.

Hates their children – Bible translations actually use the word hate vs. spoil, as some are used to hearing the phrase said. I know hate by itself is a strong word but look at what this word can also mean in Hebrew. It can mean abhor, detest, loathe, be hostile, to have a feeling of open hostility and intense dislike.

Loves their children – This means to have a strong affection for your child based on the familial relationship.

Is Careful – This word means that the action is intentional. It is not done by accident, but they look to do it because of the love for their child.

Discipline – This word can mean instruction, punishment, correction, or warning.

Let’s put these meanings together to give you a full picture of what does spare the rod hate the child mean in Proverbs 13:24. If you withhold correction when needed, punishment when needed, guidance when needed, protection when needed, even defending when needed then you are showing an intense dislike or loathing for your child. On the flip side, if you are intentional about giving instruction, correction, warning, and punishment when warranted then you are displaying the right affection towards your child.

Somehow when you put it in these words, the meaning of this verse intensifies. If you were to ask most parents, they would probably say they don’t dislike their children (notice I said most not all). However, if you spare the rod with your child then you are showing your child that you do not love them, but you actually hate them. I know these are strong words, but they are God’s words, not mine.

Why Is Sparing the Rod a Form of Hatred?

We don’t often think of this, but it is your attitude toward discipline that shows whether you love your child or if you hate them. The reason sparing the rod is correlated to hating your child is because you are no longer doing what is in their best interest. How is it possible to say you love a person, but you don’t care about or do what is in their best interest? If you cannot look out for someone else’s best interest, then can you truly say you love them? This is true of us as natural parents but also true of our Heavenly Father.

“My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline,
 and do not resent his rebuke,
 because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
 as a father the son he delights in.” – Proverbs 3:11-12

The reason the discipline becomes so important is because of what it produces. It is designed to make you better. When we think of discipline, we often think of punishment but as we have seen discipline can also mean instruction. While most parents probably won’t struggle giving instruction to their children that is only part of the discipline of the rod. To truly display love for your children it will sometimes require correction and punishment. This is the part that is not always pleasant but without it according to Proverbs you are not loving your child, in fact, you are hating them. I would also like to state that the rod does not mean that you must hit your child to apply discipline or exercise authority. In fact, you can be extremely effective in instilling discipline and never have to hit your child.

The Sobering Truth of Proverbs 13:24

I wish this Proverb was an easy pill to swallow but it is not. If you really take these words to heart, they are sobering as a parent and should cause you to evaluate your attitude toward your children. What makes this such a challenge is we don’t usually see the rod as the measure of how much we love our children. Even if this makes the list it is usually not at the top. For some, it is not on the list at all because it is difficult to make the connection, especially in the moment.

What is ironic is that we use this same mentality when we try to process how much God loves us. When we think about how much God loves us the first place we usually turn to is the sacrifice Christ made on the cross and rightfully so because this is a demonstration of his love. My question is how often do you connect God’s great love for you to him using the rod? My guess is little to none. Usually, because his discipline can be uncomfortable and even painful making it difficult in those moments to associate God’s discipline with his love. If we are going to be honest and understand this proverb, then we must acknowledge that God’s love for us is proven by his discipline just as your love for your child is proven in the same way. This is the truth behind spare the rod hate your child in Proverbs 13:24.

Tying it All Together: Do You Love Your Child?

I want to ask you four questions. Consider this your do you love or hate your child quiz. Here are the questions and you must answer honestly.

  1. Do you withhold instruction from your child?
  2. Do you withhold correction from your child?
  3. Do you withhold warning from your child?
  4. Do you withhold punishment from your child?

How did you do on the quiz? If nothing else hopefully this will cause you to rethink the rod and how you use it. Though most often associated with punishment the rod is much more than that and your children need all of its functions to help them grow and mature in the right way. Furthermore, you need it too because if you don’t use it then you are not loving your children, worse yet you are showing hatred toward them. Understanding the role of the rod will help you to apply it correctly so that it used appropriately in each situation. Doing this will not always be easy and there will be times it will hurt you more than it hurts them. However, when used in the right way the rod will not only make you a better parent it will also produce better children.

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Clarence Haynes 1200x1200Clarence L. Haynes Jr. is a speaker, Bible teacher, and co-founder of The Bible Study Club.  He is the author of The Pursuit of Purpose which will help you understand how God leads you into his will. His most recent book is The Pursuit of Victory: How To Conquer Your Greatest Challenges and Win In Your Christian Life. This book will teach you how to put the pieces together so you can live a victorious Christian life and finally become the man or woman of God that you truly desire to be. Clarence is also committed to helping 10,000 people learn how to study the Bible and has just released his first Bible study course called Bible Study Basics. To learn more about his ministry please visit clarencehaynes.com

This article is part of our larger resource library of popular Bible verse phrases and quotes. We want to provide easy-to-read articles that answer your questions about the meaning, origin, and history of specific verses within Scripture's context. We hope that these will help you better understand the meaning and purpose of God's Word in your life today.