God’s Little Instruction Book is taking us back to Proverbs today, but unlike the past two forays into the Nation of Proverbia, this verse isn’t a stand-alone saying with no necessary connection to its neighbors. It’s part of a larger admonition from Solomon to a person he calls “my son,” encouraging him to pursue wisdom and eschew evil. That’s right: it’s context time.
So, what verse does God’s Little Instruction Book have for us today? It’s none other than Proverbs 16:32, “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city.” And this is one verse where taking a bird’s-eye view of its context will not lend us any particular insight into its meaning. There do exist passages in Proverbs which are not simply successions of maxims and wise sayings, but chapter 16 is not one of them.
I’ve never been in a fistfight. One time I got into a tussle with my brother and shoved him into a pine bush (which I almost immediately regretted), but I’ve never thrown a real, honest-to-goodness, let’s-hurt-someone punch. David, on the other hand, has been in battles. He’s used a sling to kill lions and bears and a huge Philistine warrior; he’s picked up a sword and fought people who want to kill him. Dude wasn’t just a king and a musician, he was also a soldier. So, you know, psalms like Psalm 140 are a little foreign to me.
King David, the shepherd-poet-king, is practically synonymous with the Psalms, but apparently his son Solomon penned a few lyrics himself. Two of the psalms are attributed to him, Psalms 72 and 127. Psalm 72 discusses the responsibilities of kings to judge fairly and care for the needs of the poor, but Psalm 127 concerns subject matter that we non-kings may find a bit more relatable. Specifically, it’s about relying on God and having children.
What makes a good king? It’s a question that we, in the largely king-free modern world, rarely ask ourselves. And many, seeing feudalism and monarchy as outdated, would say that the only good ruler is a deposed ruler whose reign has been supplanted by a democratic system of government. Others would go further in their hatred of monarchy, saying with Denis Diderot that “Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.” As I’ve noted before, we as a whole are not so fond of kings.