This past June there was a small bit of heat over a blog post at The Gospel Coalition that argued that we should discipline, not punish our children. Some were quick to quote Hebrews 12:6; “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” What the ESV has as “chastises” the HCSB and NIV have as “punishes.” Chastise and punish are synonyms. Yes, but what does the Greek mean? Well the NASB, KJV, and NKJV get at it pretty well with “scourgeth.”
Am I advocating for scourging? Do the Scriptures? I don’t believe so. When we try to read a sentence’s meaning out of a word, rather than a word’s out of a sentence we’ve got things backwards. I believe there is something to the distinction the author was trying to make, but the problem, the reason I believe the post created more heat than light, was because the distinction was forced into words when it lies within metaphor. Both judges and fathers punish, but they punish differently. Ultimately, judges condemn whereas fathers correct.
In the sixth psalm, David appears fearful that the lines might be blurred between judge and father. David doesn’t plead against discipline, for this would be unwise and mark him as a bastard (Hebrews 12:8). David pleads not to be disciplined in wrath.
The psalm transitions from lament to faith in verse 8 as David warns his enemies that his prayer has been heard. We’re aware of no change of circumstances or prophetic revelation that came to David to assure him of this. What made the transition? The answer isn’t in something outside his prayer, but within it. David pleas with God on the basis of covenant, repeatedly using God’s covenant name, “Yahweh,” as indicated by all caps “LORD” in our English translations. God’s “steadfast love” (v. 4) is His covenant love (cf. Exodus 34:5–7, Deuteronomy 7:9). David knows that because of God’s covenant, wrath is not His lot. Earthly fathers may mix sinful and destructive wrath and anger with their punishment, but not God. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. But, for those who are sons in the Son, there is correction. David here how God as Father breaks to heal. The same God who shatters the nations with a rod of iron, breaks and heals his children with the rod of discipline.