Last Christmas season, I was at home chatting with friends who happened to be my mates in the primary school in the fifties. Somehow, our discussion drifted to our teachers and their relationships with students. In those days, teachers were highly respected and feared. When the issue of corporal punishment came up, one of them removed his shirt to show us the scars on his back left by the headmaster’s cane. He came very late to school that day and the headmaster seriously flogged him and inflicted the injury. The headmaster was fond of saying that he would not spare the rod to spoil any child. His belief was that if you don’t punish your children when they do wrong, you will spoil them. The cane was an instrument of punishment. In the African cultural society, the use of physical punishment is acceptable. Corporal punishment is, however, associated with psychological trauma and abuse. In fact, there is a thin line of difference between abuse and punishment.
Recently, I read in the dailies that a woman flogged and beat her stepson until the boy collapsed and died. According to the woman, the boy was fond of stealing her money. This time, he stole N50. The boy lost his life because of N50. What a tragedy.
Our prisons used to be a place of punishment. I thank God that things are changing now. They are becoming places of correction. Efforts are being made to transform and make the inmates better citizens. A good number of them are being born again in the prisons. They are taught trades and vocations to help them earn a living at the end of their sentences.
This idea of the rod as an instrument of punishment might have been derived from the adage which says, “Spare the rod, and spoil the child.” This has encouraged the use of tools that may leave bruises and cause negative association with punishment. Proverbs 13:24 says, “He who withholds his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him.” Here, the purpose of the rod is discipline and the purpose of discipline should be to correct and not to punish. “My child, don’t reject the Lord’s discipline, and don’t be upset when he corrects you. For the Lord corrects a child in whom he delights” (Proverbs 3:11-12). God intervenes in our lives because He loves us not because He is angry with us. His discipline follows a divine design that is calculated not merely to punish our wrongdoing, but to promote our spiritual growth and maturity.
Sometimes we interpret God’s discipline as punishment. Of course, discipline brings pain but it is not punishment. For instance, I have a garden in my compound and occasionally the gardener trims the flowers so that they do not overgrow. After trimming, new and beautiful leaves and flowers are produced. Any garden that is not cared for will grow wild and turn into a bush after a long time. John’s gospel, chapter 15 verse 2 says, “He prunes the branches that bear fruit so they will produce even more.”
God’s power passes into this common instrument, just as the “rod” of Moses became the might of God. It became a devouring serpent and swallowed up the rods of the magicians. The same stick became the instrument in the hand of Moses by which God rolled back the waters of the Red Sea and delivered the Israelites. By this rod, streams of water flowed in the dessert.
The rod of the shepherd is specifically designed for sheep and professional shepherds use it for care and management of the sheep. The staff is used for supporting the body. Spiritually, it is God’s support to hold up and protect someone. The rod is a defence against danger. It is a symbol of the concern and compassion that a shepherd has for his sheep. It is also a symbol of authority and power. The rod and staff are universal instruments used by shepherds.
Shepherds use the rod to guide and direct the sheep along the path they are expected to take. They use the rod to lead them to where they can graze or drink water. If they try to eat grass that may be poisonous, the rod is used to keep them away.
In Psalms 23 verse 4b David says, “Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.” Comfort here stands for protection, peace, preservation, strength and assurance in the hard places and times of life. If we are left to our own strength and wisdom, we would be overcome and destroyed. There is no place of safety, except in the Shepherd’s care.
The shepherd’s rod is a spiritual parallel to the Word of God. It is a symbol of the shepherd’s strength, his power and authority. It is used to discipline and correct wayward sheep that wander off. It is used for effective control of the sheep; to examine and count the sheep and also as an instrument of protection for the shepherd and his sheep, when in danger of an attack. We use the Word of God to counter the attacks and assaults of Satan.
The Word of God is absolute truth and full authority over our lives. It is the extension of God’s mind, will and intentions to us. It keeps our lives from confusion and chaos and brings peace and serenity. When we stray away, God uses His Word as a tool to correct, reprove and discipline us. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim.3:16).