Punishment and reproof are interesting things. They are necessary in a society for that society not to become completely godless. Without it the wicked will overwhelm everyone else. But from what we learn in today's proverb - there are two ways of receiving discipline and correction. One will stop irreligious men from their godless behavior - but will not change them at all. The other way of receiving correction and discipline is that one that will bless us. It will not just stop outward actions - it will yield to us in ward understanding and knowledge that will help us address our heart issues. In the end, only the second of these two ways to receive correction and discipline will bring about lasting change from God.
The first man, the scoffer, is a fool who delights in his ungodly thoughts and ways. Often men and women like this are at least verbal bullies, if not physical ones as well. The scoffer seeks to trash his enemies - and those who hold to views different than his own. He is especially a bully when it comes to the topic of religion and God. An example of a scoffer in today's world is Bill Mahr. His programs usually include one conservation or Christian whom he does his best to bash and run over rough-shod. He bullies them with half truths and with red herring arguments. Bill Mahr is not interested in truth - or even in truthful debate. He is only interested in airing his own views. Talking to such a man does little or no good. The passage here says that a scoffer needs to be struck to get through to him. Now, in the case of a verbal scoffer, this should not be done - but in the case of a bully things are different. The only way to deal with him is to confront him - and if necessary show him you will stand up to him.
There is a problem though with this - and it is the difference between what the government is to do, and what the church should be doing. The government is to strike scoffers - especially those who scoff at the law. They are to be confronted and punished for scoffing at the law of the land. To chase a rabbit for a moment, this is what should be done with the Occupy Wall Street protestors who are breaking the law. They should be punished to the full extent of the law when they do. The more we let them alone and not confront their disregard for the law - the worse it will eventually be when we do. A bully - whether verbal, physical, or political - MUST be confronted. But . . . the problem is that all that will happen is that the scoffer will be stopped - and the naive will become more shrewd. The scoffer will be stopped in his tracks - and made aware that such scoffing comes with a price. The naive who watch this will become more shrewd in how they live their lives. They see that it will cost them to act or speak this way - and therefore they will not do so outwardly. The shrewdness mentioned here is a shrewdness to avoid consequences - and it will help a society maintain basic order. That being said though, it will not "transform" a society into a better one. That requires a work in the heart. It will require something more than just shrewd living. It requires wise, godly, understanding and knowledge.
Here is where the work of God, His Spirit, and His Word come into play. When we come to Christ we leave our basic foolishness and begin to walk in understanding. We grasp in that wonderful redemptive moment that there is more to life than just what we are currently wanting - there is God and His will. His will is always best. The wise man is one who does not need to be struck - just reproved. Words alone will do the job for him. He hears godly reproof - and honestly at times - even the ungodly kind. He hears and listens - then takes to heart what has been said. He is called a man of understanding, which means that he has taken the time to think and to ponder more than just his own throughts and desires. When he hears he learns and gains knowledge. This kind of knowledge helps him to deal with situations wisely - and without need for bullying with words or in any other way. The state may be able to keep the peace by dealing with scoffers and helping others to make more shrewd choices, but to bring about real change in a man's heart requires a work of God. This work will bring peace to more than just an outward situation - it will bring peace to a man's heart. And that peace will spread and last for more than just as long as it takes the police to leave. This peace is internal and will last for entire generational cycles. It is a peace and stability not based on the strength and numbers of law enforcement present on the street, but based in what rules in our hearts.