Beginning of Wisdom

Proverbs from the Hebrew Bible and the ancient Near East

Training for the future (Proverbs 19:18)

Posted by jac/cdc on February 20, 2007

יַסֵּר בִּנְךָ כִּי־יֵשׁ תִּקְוָה וְאֶל־הֲמִיתֹו אַל־תִּשָּׂא נַפְשֶׁךָ׃

ya-SAYR bin-CHA kee-YAYSH tiq-VAH v’-el-ha-mee-TO al-ti-SA naf-she-CHA

Discipline your child when there is hope, and toward his death do not set your desire.

The first part of this proverb may be rendered “for there is hope,” and the interpretation of the last part varies. Murphy, under the influence of the Septuagint (“do not become overwrought”) thinks it warns against beating the child to death. However, the overriding concern throughout the wisdom literature of the ancient Near East is not on killing the child, but on indulging them by withholding the rod of discipline:
חֹושֵׂךְ בְטֹו שֹׂונֵא בְנֹו וְאֹהֲבֹו שִׁחֲרֹו מוּסָר׃
Whoever spares their rod hates their child, but whoever loves them diligently disciplines them. (Prov 13:24)

אַל־תִּמְנַע מִנַּעַר מוּסָר כִּי־תַכֶּנּוּ בַשֵּׁבֶט לֹא יָמוּת׃
Do not withhold from your child discipline; if you beat them with a rod they will not die. (Prov 23:13)

אל תהחשך ברך מן חטר הן לו לא תכהל תהנצלנהי מן באשתא
To not spare your child from the rod, otherwise you will not be able to rescue them from wickedness. (Aḥiqar 81)

הן אמתאנך ברי לא תמות והן אשבקן על לבבך לא תחיה
If I beat you, my child, you will not die; but if I leave you to your own devices, you will not live. (Aḥiqar 82)

אִוֶּלֶת קְשׁוּרָה בְלֶב־נָעַר שֵׁבֶט מוּסָר יַרְחִיקֶנָּה מִמֶּנּוּ׃
Folly is bound up in the mind of a child; a rod of discipline will remove it far from them. (Prov 22:15)

בנים לך יסיר אותם ושא להם נשים בנעוריהם
(If) you have children, discipline them and remove their stubbornness in their youth (Sirach 7:23)

He who loves his son will whip him often, so that he may rejoice at the way he turns out. He who disciplines his son will profit by him, and will boast of him among acquaintances. He who teaches his son will make his enemies envious, and will glory in him among his friends. When the father dies he will not seem to be dead, for he has left behind him one like himself, whom in his life he looked upon with joy and at death, without grief. He has left behind him an avenger against his enemies, and one to repay the kindness of his friends. Whoever spoils his son will bind up his wounds, and will suffer heartache at every cry. An unbroken horse turns out stubborn, and an unchecked son turns out headstrong. Pamper a child, and he will terrorize you; play with him, and he will grieve you. Do not laugh with him, or you will have sorrow with him, and in the end you will gnash your teeth. Give him no freedom in his youth, and do not ignore his errors. Bow down his neck in his youth, and beat his sides while he is young, or else he will become stubborn and disobey you, and you will have sorrow of soul from him. Discipline your son and make his yoke heavy, so that you may not be offended by his shamelessness. (Sirach 30:1–13)

So is this type of discipline still valid or is it invalid (and barbaric!) for enlightened moderns who recognize the abusiveness in spanking?


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