“He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.” Proverbs 6:32

Just the sound of the word “spirit” evokes something of the mysterious, mighty, and magical. Spirited discussions, school spirit, a spirited horse, and strength of spirit are expressions that communicate power, vivacity, unpredictability, and even a little bit of the untamable with a healthy helping of the redoubtable. There is a reason why God says He created man and he became a “living being” such that Solomon could also say, “The spirit of a man is the lamp of the LORD, searching all the inner depths of his heart” (Proverbs 20:27).

With the advent of sin, man’s spirited nature became deformed so now all men have a sin nature. Man’s spirit became unruly, unthankful, twisted, and craves to throw off any strictures God communicates to successfully curb innate selfishness and greed. The heart of a rebel lies just beneath the placid appearances of civility. Romans 1 adequately describes the bent of the natural man’s spirit when it is not ruled by fear of God, revealed truth, or spiritual virtue. Someone wisely once said that when man refuses to be ruled by the Ten Commandments of God he will have to be ruled by ten thousand commandments from men. Our “spirited nature” naturally leads to continued alienation from God, without direct intervention from God.

Solomon observed this and put pen to paper. A cursory reading of Proverbs 16, in light of the advice supplied by verse 32, yields some interesting observations. The “thinking” man is addressed in verses 1 through 3. A man plans, keeping his own counsel (verse 1). God cannot be fooled as He weighs the man’s “spirit” (verse 2). Then the lesson is given: “Commit your works to the LORD and your thoughts will be established” (verse 3).

In verse 9 the thread is rejoined: “A man’s heart plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.” Back in verse 5 the LORD explains the reason for His opposition, “Everyone proud in heart is an abomination to the LORD; though they join forces, none will go unpunished.” “Joining forces” is an allusion to “agreement by handshake” to confirm a matter. There is no strength against God because of sheer number; “man at his best is still man at best.”

Verse 18 is really the central theme to the chapter: “Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.” Proverbs 21:4 states, “A haughty look, a proud heart, and the plowing of the wicked [standards which govern wicked men] are sin.” This is why Solomon later says (Proverbs 16:25), “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” Unredeemed men are spirited fodder for Solomon’s further admonitions found in Proverbs 16:27ff: “An ungodly man digs up evil, and it is on his lips like a burning fire. A perverse man sows strife, and a whisperer separates the best of friends. A violent man entices his neighbor, and leads him in a way that is not good. He winks his eye to devise perverse things; he purses his lips and brings about evil.” Man without God is spirited in his pursuit of evil and spiritually dead to any effective pursuit after God (Romans 3:10–12).

King Solomon had plenty of experience adjudicating human nature—the human spirit. In Proverbs 16:10ff, he says, “Divination is on the lips of the king; his mouth must not transgress in judgment…Righteous lips are the delight of kings, and they love him who speaks what is right…How much better to get wisdom than gold! And to get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver. The highway of the upright is to depart from evil; he who keeps his way preserves his soul.”

The human nature and spirit continues to capture his attention in the rest of the chapter. Verse 22 reads, “Understanding is a wellspring of life to him who has it. But the correction of fools is folly.” Verse 26 keys in on the driving force of self and greed in the human spirit: “The person who labors, labors for himself, for his hungry mouth drives him on.” Ruling one’s spirit is difficult work, even more difficult than leading an army to victory. Verse 32 concludes, “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.” Who does not want to be greater than a conqueror, ruling in the toughest arena on earth?

To rule the spirit is the challenge of all men. The New Testament uses the words “self-control,” or temperance. Ruling one’s spirit is hard for both unsaved and saved. James 4:1ff challenges church age believers with these words: “Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain.”

Holy Spirit-enabled self-control operates like King David, Solomon’s father, said, “LORD, my heart is not haughty, nor my eyes lofty…Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with his mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, hope in the LORD from this time forth and forever” (Psalm 131). May God enable you to rule your spirit by submission to His will. Trust and obey.