On the meaning of Proverbs 25:28

A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.

It seems I heard this verse quoted countless times in college and seminary. It was frequently mentioned in classes and chapel messages. The speakers and teachers did not interpret or explain the verse, but seemed to assume the meaning was evident. It is just another one of those blunt-force weapons of Proverbial counseling.

Maybe the meaning is evident, and I have just been missing it for lo these many years. Sometimes the Spirit works slowly, sometimes with mighty gusts. This past weekend I seemed to realize a meaning of it.

When a man has no self control, when he is quick to anger; he is a city without walls. In other words, he is ripe for the picking.

The woman with no control of her emotions is seen by her adversaries. The man quick to anger is recognized by his opponents. The shrewd enemy notes this character flaw and files it away for future use. You have no walls- at any time you can be attacked and conquered.

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You have one direction you would like to see the group go, your opponent has another one. There is a meeting to plan the future. Your opponent knows you have no walls. He waits, bides his time, and then casually drops the match in just the right spot. The only thing left for him to do is sit back and watch the fireworks. And then lead in the direction he wants to go. After all, who wants to follow a lunatic anywhere?

When you lack self control you are at the absolute mercy of your enemies. They can strike and defeat you whenever they please. If they are wise, they will do it when it best suits their interests. You think the absence of a wall does not matter. I have gone this long in safety. Who would want to attack me? Do not be deceived. Your lack of self control is seen by all. It will be taken advantage of at the convenience of your foes.

Now, this all seems like a very base interpretation of Proverbs 25:28. Surely Solomon would not be this Machiavellian. All this talk of enemies, opponents, foes… We are Christians surely such things are not true among us. Well, as a dread pirate once said…

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Are there better reasons to seek self-control than just the threat of being made a fool of? Certainly. But sometimes pride can work for a man’s ultimate good.

Proverbs 12:16: Anger and Prudent Parenting

Translations

KJV A fool’s wrath is presently known: but a prudent man covereth shame.
NKJV A fool’s wrath is known at once, But a prudent man covers shame.
ESV The vexation of a fool is known at once, but the prudent ignores an insult.
NRSV Fools show their anger at once, but the prudent ignore an insult.
NASB A fool’s anger is known at once, But a prudent man conceals dishonor.
NIV A fool shows his annoyance at once, but a prudent man overlooks an insult
NLT A fool is quick-tempered, but a wise person stays calm when insulted.
CEV Losing your temper is foolish; ignoring an insult is smart.

 

Commentators

 Clifford (OTL) Fools reveal their anger, that is, they take instant offence at events or words, but the wise conceal or ignore offenses that cause arguments. The wise refuse to lower themselves to the level of their attackers.
Ross (EBC) Those who are mature are able to handle criticism without responding instinctively and irrationally. The wise man does not give the enemy that satisfaction. It is not so much that the wise man represses anger or feelings but that he is more shrewd in dealing with it.
Fritsch (IB) The fool has no self-control. A wise man is calm in the face of shame when he is insulted.
Henry A fool is known by his anger (so some read it); not but that a wise man may be angry when there is just cause for it, but then he has his anger under check and direction, is lord of his anger, whereas a fool’s anger lords it over him. Those that are soon angry, that are quickly put into a flame by the least spark, have not that rule which they ought to have over their own spirits.
Horton (EB) A fool cannot hide his vexation, but must immediately blurt it out with the tongue. When he is angry he must utter it all at once, though a wise man would keep it back and still is, so concealing shame.

We read this verse in Proverbs last night during our family devotions. It was one I read more than once.

The seed of anger is a curious one. I read it more than once last night because upon reading it my wife and I both looked at one of our children whom we both immediately applied it to. But she comes by her temper honestly; she got it from her daddy. I see in her what I once was. Easily set off by the slightest provocation.

I wonder how much of the growth and death of anger is due to the youth and mellowing of age. Am I “better” at controlling my anger simply because I am older and more mature? Because I rationally realize there really is not much worth getting angry over? Or because the Spirit of God has been transforming my inner man? One reason to be thankful for children is that they try your patience in an abundance of new and unexpected ways. My children help me see the ways in which I have only outgrown anger and the ways in which I still struggle with it.

With this Proverb in mind, how does a parent root out the seed of anger in his child? There is certainly justification for an appeal to the irrationality of anger: it is presented in terms of foolishness and prudence. But reason can only go so far, especially when the passions rise up against it.

Parents must model prudent patience to their children. Children must see this Proverb in action. Do the failings, fightings, and outbursts of my children provoke me to instant anger? If so, I must subdue this passion by submitting to the correction of God and his word. I should seek the forgiveness of my children for being quick-tempered myself. When I respond to them in anger I am teaching them that anger is the proper response to trial. And only a fool believes that.