Stoning Rebellious Children

Does God really expect us to stone our rebellious children to death? Lucky for many of us, our parents didn't observe that law.

Concept image of rebellious teenager behind bars (Image: Bigstock)

Ki Tetze

Regular Shabbat Readings

Read / Listen to these Portions

  • Ki Tetze (כי תצא | When you go forth)
  • Torah: Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19
  • Haftarah: Isaiah 54:1-10
  • Gospel: Matthew 24:29-42

Note: The regular readings are often interrupted with special readings on Jewish holidays, special Sabbaths, and Rosh Chodesh. Refer to the annual Torah Portion schedule for these special portions.

Portion Outline

  • Torah
    • Deuteronomy 21:10 | Female Captives
    • Deuteronomy 21:15 | The Right of the Firstborn
    • Deuteronomy 21:18 | Rebellious Children
    • Deuteronomy 21:22 | Miscellaneous Laws
    • Deuteronomy 22:13 | Laws concerning Sexual Relations
    • Deuteronomy 23:1 | Those Excluded from the Assembly
    • Deuteronomy 23:9 | Sanitary, Ritual, and Humanitarian Precepts
    • Deuteronomy 24:1 | Laws concerning Marriage and Divorce
    • Deuteronomy 24:5 | Miscellaneous Laws
    • Deuteronomy 25:5 | Levirate Marriage
    • Deuteronomy 25:11 | Various Commands
  • Prophets
    • Isaiah 54:1 | The Eternal Covenant of Peace

Portion Summary

Rabbi Meir said, There is a parable about this matter. To what can it be compared? It can be compared to two identical twin brothers. Both lived in a certain city. One was appointed king, and the other became a bandit. At the king's command they hanged the bandit. But everyone who saw him hanging there said, The king has been hung! Therefore the king issued a command and he was taken down. (b.Sanhedrin 46b)

Kids will be kids. That's true. But they don't have to be bad kids. "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right" (Ephesians 6:1), the Apostle Paul says. In the Bible, obeying one's parents is a big deal. So much so that a rebellious and disobedient son was supposed to be stoned to death.

If any man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father or his mother, and when they chastise him, he will not even listen to them ... (Deuteronomy 21:18)

Did the ancient Israelites really stone their rebellious children to death? The rabbis placed strict conditions and limitations on the scope and application of this law. The Talmud states, "There never has been a case of a 'stubborn and rebellious son' brought to trial and never will be" (b.Sanhedrin 71a).

Nevertheless, the law is a fair warning to all parents. Some parents look the other way when their children disobey and misbehave. The Torah wants us to realize that permissive parenting is not an option for the people of God. Many parents today tolerate disobedience and regard teenage rebellion as an ordinary part of growing up. It may be ordinary, but that does not make it permissible. The Didache says, "You shall not remove your hand from your son or from your daughter, but from their youth you shall teach them the fear of God" (Didache 4:9).

The book of Proverbs says that a man who does not discipline his son hates his son, but a man who loves his son disciplines him diligently. Discipline teaches a child wisdom, "but a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother" (Proverbs 29:15). Another proverb states that disciplining a child will not kill him, but warns that withholding discipline could both kill him and doom his soul to hell:

Do not hold back discipline from the child, although you strike him with the rod, he will not die. You shall strike him with the rod and rescue his soul from Sheol. (Proverbs 23:13-14)

Parents are responsible for bringing up their children in a godly manner. If we do not, our children will inevitably pay the consequences, whether in this world or in the world to come.

The commandment of stoning a rebellious teenager seems unreasonably harsh, but the story of David's sons illustrates that a parent who does not discipline a child is actually taking the child's life.

King David did not fulfill the responsibility of training his children. David loved his sons too much to properly discipline them while they were growing up, or so it seems. The Proverbs say, "He who withholds his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently" (Proverbs 13:24). As a result of permissive parenting, several of David's sons met tragic and grisly ends.

His son Amnon raped his step-sister Tamar. David did nothing about it. David's son Absalom (Tamar's brother) murdered Amnon as vengeance for the rape. David did not properly deal with Absalom's vigilante action. He merely exiled him temporarily. Absalom led a rebellion against David and was eventually speared by David's men. David's son Adonijah attempted to usurp the throne. Solomon had him struck down with the sword for his rebellion.

The Bible says that David never crossed his sons at any time. He never asked them, "Why have you done so?" (1 Kings 1:6). In other words, he never held them accountable for their behavior. Had David disciplined his sons when they were young, rebuking misbehavior and punishing disobedience, he might have saved their lives.

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