Spare the rod and spoil the child
This phrase is biblical in origin, but distilled through the poetry of Samuel Butler:
“Love is a Boy,
by Poets styl’d,
Then Spare the Rod,
and spill the Child.”
In 1662 “spill” was an alternative spelling for “spoil.” But it seems that Butler relied on a yet more ancient poet. In 1377 William Langland wrote:
“Who-so spareth ye sprynge, spilleth his children.”
Both of these drew on the book of Proverbs which often speaks of disciplining “thy son” with “the rod” (see verses here). Perhaps the closest that Proverbs gets to this actual phrase is Proverbs 13:24:
He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.
Why this emphasis on the “rod” of discipline?
Well, let’s remember that Proverbs is a fire-side chat between the King and his son, the crown prince. The son who will face “the rod” is no ordinary son!
Second, think of how the word “rod” is used throughout the bible.
The word appears first in Genesis 49:10 (though the King James translation renders it as “sceptre”). It’s a wonderful prophecy of Christ’s coming as universal King:
The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.
Here the rod (or sceptre) is being passed from king to king to king “until Shiloh come” – and He will be a universal Ruler. That’s interesting, because generally in the Bible if someone comes at you with a “rod” you are about to get a beating. But here, when the dying king comes at his son with the rod, he is passing on the rule.
And so the “rod” combines glory and suffering. We see the glory of the “sceptre” and the suffering of the “rod”. The Crown Prince experience both.
The theme continues. In Exodus the rod is the staff by which Moses rules. But it’s also used to “strike” Egypt with plagues, to “strike” the Red Sea and to “strike” the rock so that water will flow for the people. Again we see how the rod is both sceptre and club!
When we come to 2 Samuel 7, David is given a prophecy about the Future King – “Shiloh” – to Whom the sceptre will be handed:
12 And when thy days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build an house for my name, and I will stablish the throne of his kingdom for ever. 14 I will be his father, and he shall be my son. If he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men: 15 But my mercy shall not depart away from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away before thee. 16 And thine house and thy kingdom shall be established for ever before thee: thy throne shall be established for ever. (2 Samuel 7:12-16)
Even for Jesus – in fact, especially for Jesus – the sceptre will mean a rod. Verse 14 is not referring to Christ having committed iniquities. The word “commit” is not there in the Hebrew. But Jesus did take our sins to Himself and was punished with the rod on our behalf.
So then here’s what this means: Even for Christ the sceptre means suffering. The Crown Prince of Heaven inherits His rule only through the cross. He would hold the rod because first He was struck by it!
Now that we are in Him, we cannot expect to enter glory via any other route:
Jesus [was] crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death (Hebrews 2:9)
Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him; (Hebrews 5:8-9)
Not even the Eternal Son is spared the rod. Therefore…
My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? (Hebrews 12:5-7)
When hardship comes, remember: your Father in heaven loves you. That’s why He does not spare the rod!
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