Tag Archives: biblical

Biblical Proverb with Colloquial Use


“Spare the rod and spoil the child.”


JN is a 50-year-old freelance writer in Minnesota, where she grew up as well. When asked about any proverbs she knows, she mentioned this proverb, that her parents used to say to her when she was growing up. She described it as “children in the 1970s and 1980s were sort of in the way.” Meaning that they were seen as a burden sometimes and weren’t viewed in a positive light. She mentioned that this proverb is based on a biblical proverb that children were supposed to receive corporal punishment (like spanking) so they don’t get spoiled.


Proverbs like this can give a good insight into what values were important in different times. This is a proverb that isn’t as common nowadays because corporal punishment is usually looked down upon as a form of discipline, but it used to be very normal and not seen as an issue/abusive (as we might consider it now). It gives insight into generational differences in values and how children are treated as a result of those values. The verse it comes from reads “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.” (The Holy Bible, Prov. 13.24). The use of this proverb also showcases the importance of religion in this context, where people derive their treatment of children (and others) from biblical teachings (even if they misinterpret or loosely interpret the teachings themselves). People can use proverbs like this to justify behavior, even if we would consider that behavior wrong, using a common saying makes it seem like it is advisable. 


Background: Informant is a 19 year old, Jewish American college student from New Hampshire. They shared this story about their family and how it relates to their Jewish tradition and culture. The informant has been through Jewish education and experiences the holidays every year.

Informant: So, one really bizarre story is the story of Lillith. So, Lilith is rumored to be the first wife of Adam, and so it’s very controversial in Judiasm because Orthodox Jews follow what I’m about to share. So, Lillith escaped the Garden of Eden to gain independence so in some ways it’s been adopted by feminist Jews who see Lillith as regaining her independence. But, largely she’s seen as a sort of she-demon. So basically Lillith left the Garden of Eden and was not allowed back in because she was replaced with Eve. So we commonly know Adam’s partner to be Eve. So, she returns and is furious with men. So for this reason Orthodox Jews do not cut boys’ hair for an extended period of time because the idea is that in the night, if Lillith passes over and sees a child with short hair they see it as a man, so then Lillith will kill the baby boy. So, it’s this really intresting thing where she steals the children of Adam and Eve because she’s jealous and also a feminist twist. 

Reflection: This story was so intresting to me. As the informant told it and inserted some of their own opinions on it using a modern lens, I saw how folklore changes over time. This piece of folklore reflects people’s changing opinions on women, as Lillith is a woman who was demonized. Today, however, Jewish feminists have adopted the story as a story of a woman who they can look up to. It’s really compelling to see how folklore can change over time in it’s meaning while the content of the story is actually very much the same. 

“The race is not for the swift nor the battle for the strong”

The original script is found in the Bible but originally written in Hebrew. “I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, not the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.” Ecclesia 9:11

Full proverb: The race is not for the swift nor the battle for the strong

M: In church we like to say “the race is not for the swift nor the battle for the strong”

My interpretation is that the fastest one doesn’t always win the race. Stuff happens. God (or fate) determines the outcome of the race. This is why we tell our children stories like the tortoise and the hare. It’s about the principles that they teach. The goal is to maintain humility even anticipated victory because the outcome in this world is the one thing we will never have control over. What this proverb teaches people is to drop their sense of entitlement but still hold onto their hope.

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

My informant first heard the phrase from her husband about twenty years ago. The two of them were in their car in the parking lot of a shopping center looking for a space to park in. The parking lot was quite full, and my informant was getting impatient, as they had been driving around looking for a space for some time. Finally the husband came upon a parking space deep in the back of the parking lot. My informant did not want to have to walk that far to the store, so she told her husband to continue looking for a space closer to the store she wanted to go to. At this, the husband told my
informant, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”

The husband used this analogy to explain that even though the spot they found was not the bast spot, continuing to search for a closer spot that didn’t exist at the time was not wise because there were no guarantees that they would ever actually find that closer spot. In other words, the spot they had was better than the prospective closer spot that wasn’t available.

Annotation: This phrase can be found in the Living Bible Version of the Bible in Ecclesiastes 6:9.

Pride goes before a fall.

This phrase was first told to me by mom when I was about eight or nine. She continues to remind me of even now, at the age of twenty-one. She can always tell when I’m beginning to get a swelled ego, and she will quickly bring me back down to earth with this phrase. As I have had success in baseball, there are times when things are going so well on the field that it can make one feel like he’s invincible; like he can do no wrong. At times like that my mom will hit me with the phrase “Remember, the Bible says, ‘Pride goes before a fall.’ Always give all the glory to God.”

This proverb likely carries most of it’s weight in religious circles, because it actually comes from the book of Proverbs in the Bible. In the religious sense, many believe that pridefulness leads to sin and destruction because it will cause a person to rely on himself or herself rather than relying on God.

Annotation: This proverb can be found in the Bible in the book of Proverbs 16:18.