"He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city"
The word for anger is the word for nostril and connotes the flaring of the nostril in anger. It came to mean an emotional response to a situation: thus anger. The Hebraic concept was that one could tell quickly whether someone was angry by the flaring of the nostril. Anger always has an expression on one’s face. We live in a day and age that suggest that it is not possible to personally control our public response to something wrong or opposite of what we wanted. The Bible, however, states clearly that all temperaments and all people would be wise to rule over their internal reactions to the point that they can control their anger.
This proverb says that this person is better than one who is very muscular and better than one who is a great general or warrior.
One must be the king of oneself before one can truly expect to become a king in life. He does not detail how to do this in this passage. But let me suggest that Scripture gives a number of ways to gain control over your emotional reaction. First, be aware that you must. Second, begin a daily plan to memorize Scripture and repeat it constantly through the day. Third, confess as sin when you are angry because personal gain or personal advantage has been blocked. Fourth, remind yourself regularly that God is sovereign and he can change your plans -- you are not the complete master of your own fate. Fifth, remember that other people are selfish and want what they want first; they do not usually have it in for you.
The picture here is of a land with a strong and good king who will not let the criminals have run over the kingdom. Anger is a criminal element in the soul (most of the time). It is the rebellious, proud, and omnipotent way that anger behaves that requires it to be ruled over by a more powerful king: wisdom. It is a sad man or woman who cannot hold back their anger when that is what is needed. This type of person will not reach their full potential. This type of person will never feel that others appreciate or understand them.
This particular picture also suggests that emotional control is a better and more rewarding situation than having political power and physical prowess. When someone disappoints you or blocks you or hurts you, can you control the urges that naturally come up.
Slow to anger also suggests that the person who is extolled is one who does not just hold back or repress their anger; they are slow to come to a position of anger. They do not see each situation from only their own point of view. They do not always have to win or see it done their way.
We must rule our spirit, our inner man, just the same way as one would rule a spirited horse or a country – with strength, appropriateness, and warmth but with a firm hand.