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The rule of USAGE: The Old Testament was written originally by and for Jews. The words and idioms must have been intelligible to them. The majority of the New Testament likewise was written in a milieu of Greco-Roman (and to a lesser extent Jewish) culture and it is important to not impose our modern usage into our interpretation.

I will use Proverbs 13:24 as one example of this rule. “He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him early.”

The verse is often used to teach parents the importance of discipling their children, and in some cases to encourage the usage of spanking children. Any reasonable thinking adult would agree discipling their children as a means to teach them and guide them is simply good parenting. But what is meant by this word discipline?

It is helpful in understanding this text to realize the Jewish culture was primarily an agrarian culture. The word in the Hebrew that is translated into our English word rod is “shebet”. The shebet was a special stick used by shepherds in caring for their sheep. It was a wooded stick approximately 20-24 inches in length. To understand the author’s intent in this passage we need to understand the purpose of the shebet.

Shepherds had the responsibility of often caring for sheep. They would lead them out in the morning into the fields to graze. When we think of fields we often view large flat areas of flowing grass. Fields in most of Israel would have been rough and hilly. In this terrain the sheep would be in danger of predators, so shepherds had their shebet as a tool to protect the sheep. The shebet was the most valuable tool a shepherd had in caring for the sheep, and they used the shebet for five common practices.

  1. The shebet were symbols of the shepherd’s guardianship of the sheep, and would have markings that represented the family he was working for. The shebet would represent the owner of the sheep. Children need to belong to a loving family.

  2. The shebet could be thrown with great accuracy just beyond a wandering sheep to send the animal back to the flock. Children need parental guidance warning them of dangers.

  3. The shebet was use as a weapon to ward off an intruder to protect the sheep from attack. Parents should provide a safe and nurturing environment for their children’s health.

  4. When returning to the sheep pen the shebet was used to count the sheep as they passed under the shebet. Each night as the shepherds return the sheep to the sheep pen they would count them to make sure none are lost. Our children should get their value and self esteem from belonging to a healthy and loving family giving them direction for life.

  5. The shebet was used to part the wool in order to examine the sheep for disease, and/or wounds which may need to be treated. Parents have to be teachers, nurses, counselors, chefs, coaches, providers, and a host of many other responsibilities in caring for their children.

Hopefully you better understand this verse. It is a beautiful wisdom verse to remind us the very important and loving relationship between parent and children.

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