What does Proverbs 23:14 mean?
ESV: If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol.
NIV: Punish them with the rod and save them from death.
NASB: You shall strike him with the rod And rescue his soul from Sheol.
CSB: Punish him with a rod, and you will rescue his life from Sheol.
NLT: Physical discipline may well save them from death.
KJV: Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell.
NKJV: You shall beat him with a rod, And deliver his soul from hell.
Verse Commentary:
Solomon continues his exhortation to discipline a child (Proverbs 23:13). His point here is that proper discipline instructs children about consequences and choices. This knowledge is best learned at home, where penalties for mistakes are light. Undisciplined children tend to become unruly adults, and the adult world brings consequences through law enforcement, loss of jobs, and violence. Though the imagery here involves a rod, the point is not about any literal object or even physical punishment, itself. The meaning involves the concept of loving, guiding discipline, which varies based on the child and the situation.

Each person is ultimately responsible for their own decisions. Even diligent parents have, at times, mourned to see their children suffer from foolish choices. Solomon's point here is not an absolute promise. Yet it is a sensible, reasonable general truth. How many people suffer permanent consequences due to a lack of self-control or disrespect for authority? If any of those might have been avoided through proactive parenting, that seems to be a wiser and more loving choice.

An English-language proverb which echoes this idea says that "as the twig is bent so grows the tree." Proverbs 22:6 endorses child discipline by stating, "Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it." Other statements in this book make the same general point (Proverbs 3:11–12; 5:23; 13:1; 19:18; 22:15). A positive example of this comes from Timothy's grandmother and mother. Paul commends those two women in 2 Timothy 1:5 as having the same faith that Timothy now exhibited. In 2 Timothy 3:15 Paul reminds Timothy that he was acquainted from childhood with the sacred writings that were able to make him "wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus."
Verse Context:
Proverbs 23:12–21 lays out more of the thirty wise sayings which Solomon recorded for others to hear (Proverbs 22:17–21). Verses 12 and 19 repeat the call to heed wisdom. The following helpful statements touch on child discipline, personal integrity, caution about one's companions, and the benefits of listening to godly parental advice.
Chapter Summary:
This portion of wise sayings (Proverbs 22:17–21) starts with the sixth of thirty mentioned in chapter 22. These include advice on presenting oneself well to a host, while not being unduly influenced by such hospitality. The passage also speaks on the right time to share wisdom, ethics, discipline, and the joys associated with godly children. Also included are warnings about relationships and those who lack self-control. The chapter ends with the Bible's most strident warning about the dangers of alcohol abuse; this is the eighteenth of the thirty promised teachings.
Chapter Context:
This chapter continues Solomon's collection of the sayings of wise men (Proverbs 22:17–21). These lessons continue through Proverbs 24:34. Here, Solomon addresses his "son," perhaps meaning a student, with warnings about money, gluttony, speaking in the company of a fool, dishonesty, withholding discipline from a child, keeping company with drunkards, and the abuse of alcohol. The description of alcohol's risks is the most extensive such caution given in Scripture.
Book Summary:
Proverbs is best understood in context with the books of Ecclesiastes and Job. In Proverbs, “wisdom” is given in short, simple, general terms. Ecclesiastes represents wisdom based on observation and experience. This often shows how the general principles of the book of Proverbs don’t apply in absolutely every circumstance. Job represents wisdom based on the experience of suffering and injustice. All three come to the conclusion that God does indeed know best, and the most sensible course of action is to follow His will.
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