“He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls” (Proverbs 25:28).
Yesterday, I looked at this proverb in the context of Proverbs “Road to Ruin”. In this post, we’ll focus on some of the details of the Proverb, especially in regard to city walls.
City walls mean virtually nothing today. Bombs, artillery, and tanks render them meaningless as far as having any military significance. In the Middle East in ancient times, it was different — you wouldn’t have a city without walls. If there were no walls, the city was completely indefensible. There was no such thing as artillery to smash through the walls. Siege engines (such as catapults) could do it, but there wasn’t motorised transport to bring them a great distance or to supply them with boulders to launch. If you had sound walls and enough men to defend them, you might not be invincible, but you were in pretty good shape. If you didn’t have walls, however, you might as well invite your enemies to march on in and do what they wanted.
Perhaps, in an Internet age, we might put it another way: “He that has no rule over his own spirit is like a man who goes to his Facebook profile and posts his birthdate and place, mother’s maiden name, employment details, address, telephone number, National Insurance number, all his banking log on details and passwords, and all his wife’s and children’s details as well. And then, he makes his profile visible to everyone, and goes to multiple blogs and posts links telling people that all his personal and banking details are available. A few days later, he wonders why there is no money left in his bank accounts.”
If you want to leave yourself vulnerable to all of your enemies, don’t rule your spirit. When you get upset, make sure to vent your feelings. When someone does something that angers you, make sure everyone knows about it. If you are excited about something, don’t bother to consider whether this is the appropriate time to let the whole world know. Make sure that your emotional highs are in the Alpine peaks and your emotional lows are in the deepest depths of the Mariana Trench, and make sure everyone knows about both in great detail. People who hate you will increase in hatred towards you, and store up the abundance of unguarded words that pour from your lips to use them against you. Even those who love you will be troubled by your behaviour at times, and you will find your relationships damaged.
The worst problem is that spiritual enemies that will wreak havoc in your life because your defences are down. It’s only a very small step from emotional depression to bitterness, from excessive rejoicing to pride, from anger to sinful wrath, and if we lack self-control, we just about always end up taking those very small steps into sin. And when we don’t rule our spirit, it is very difficult, having taken that small step down into sin, to take that big step up out of it.
When I read this proverb, I think of the description of Jerusalem in the first chapter of Nehemiah, and Nehemiah’s sorrow in response to the news. He was deeply distressed, for the city was in ruins, the wall broken down. The enemies could do what they wanted. If I don’t rule my spirit, I’m like the Jerusalem of Nehemiah 1.
Other thoughts on walled cities in the ancient Middle East:
- A wall not only helped in resisting enemies, it deterred many attacks. Lots of enemies wouldn’t even bother with a well-protected city — they would move on to a softer target. If you had a wall, you could save your arrows for the really tough enemies. Without a wall, you might have to use up your defensive abilities against the weaker enemies and be even more vulnerable to the strong ones.
- On a very dark night (with no electric street lighting), you couldn’t go too far astray if you got lost — you were going to run into that wall before you ran into the clutches of the enemy. A wall, as well as keeping enemies at bay, could at times be a protection against your own straying.
- It protected your children from straying too far. A wall around the city was an extra protection for your family.
- It meant if your livestock escaped, they weren’t going to wander too much before they came up against a barrier. A wall protected your financial well-being as well.
- A wall was a protection against treason. Anyone who went outside the wall when there were enemies in the area would immediately be under scrutiny as to what they were doing there, and how they managed to be on friendly enough terms with the enemy to be allowed to pass safely. It meant the likelihood of betrayal by your neighbour was much lower, and it also meant you were less likely to be tempted to treason yourself.
If I don’t rule my spirit, I make myself, my family, and my church vulnerable in many ways. I give all of my enemies many opportunities, I expose everyone I care about to many dangers, and I greatly increase the danger that I will betray myself.
We decide for ourselves. We either control our feelings, or we stir them up and let them rule us. One path leads to ruin and destruction — in the other, there is safety.
Update: Part Three