A few days ago, I received a request to explain Proverbs 20:30 and thought it might be worthwhile to post my response here (edited and added to a bit). It’s a lesson we don’t pay enough attention to these days (perhaps because it seems harsh) and, sadly, we see the fruit of that neglect.
Thanks for your question. I can’t always guarantee such a quick reply, but you happened to catch me at my computer and in want of a break. So, good timing!
Proverbs 20:30 – “Blows that hurt cleanse away evil, as do stripes the inner depths of the heart.” (NKJV)
At the heart of this verse is the message that punishment for wickedness needs to be harsh or painful enough to make a difference in behavior. One translator—Martin Luther, I believe—translated the verse this way: “One must restrain evil with severe punishment, and with hard strokes which one feels.” While we certainly wouldn’t endorse every choice Martin Luther made in his translations, this one gives the correct sense. It is a statement about effective chastening.
A related New Testament verse is found at Hebrews 12:11 – “Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”
We see the fruit of ignoring the wisdom of this passage in our society. When criminals are “punished” in a way that does not truly “hurt”—such as being given a very light sentence for a terrible crime—rather than being influenced to change their ways, criminals are emboldened to continue and, in some cases, proceed to even greater offenses. While it isn’t a “silver bullet” solution to our society’s ills (not by a long shot), still there must be on the part of those who would commit crime a fear of the civil authorities and fear of the punishment that those authorities can apply if there is to be peace and order in society (cf. Romans 13:3-4). Authority unwilling to instill fear produces fearless criminals.
On a smaller scale (in size, not in importance) this proverb speaks to discipline in the home, as well. When a child is punished for, say, rebellion, in a way that does not “get his attention,” so to speak, he often decides, “Well, if that’s all that I earned then it was worth it!” While the principle shouldn’t push us to abuse (by any means!), it should remind us to make certain that our discipline causes a strong enough impression on a child’s mind so as to truly motivate him differently the next time the same temptation presents itself.
(I can attest that I certainly saw the fruit of not doing this in the public schools, where a system that has rejected the ability to bring meaningful punishment in many cases has seen itself bereft of being able to truly influence many of the “hard case” students it claims to be so dedicated to.)
I hope this makes sense! If you have any further question, please feel free and let me know.
Have a great day!