Proverbs 17:14

ESV The beginning of strife is like letting out water, so quit before the quarrel breaks out.
NIV Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam; so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out.
NASB The beginning of strife is like letting out water, So abandon the quarrel before it breaks out.
CSB To start a conflict is to release a flood; stop the dispute before it breaks out.
NLT Starting a quarrel is like opening a floodgate, so stop before a dispute breaks out.
KJV The beginning of strife is as when one letteth out water: therefore leave off contention, before it be meddled with.

What does Proverbs 17:14 mean?

Translation between languages often involves rendering figures of speech. In this case, the Hebrew phrasing is unclear. Various translations share a theme: that instigating a conflict is somehow like releasing of water, possibly in the context of a flood. The root words used imply ideas like bursting or breaking free. For this reason, many interpreters suggest the image of breaching a dam, letting the flood roar out. Such commentators note that earthen dams and levees are prone to failure when allowed to leak. The small hole allows for erosion that leads to total collapse.

In that sense, the early moments of a disagreement are the ideal time to make peace. Letting an argument fester can lead to greater problems. Once the breach happens, the situation is out of control and destruction is inevitable. Jesus understood how quickly a quarrel can escalate. He counseled: "Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison" (Matthew 5:25).

Solomon knew perfectly well how a stream starts and flows downstream. He constructed large pools near Bethlehem that flowed to Jerusalem by an aqueduct. He writes in Ecclesiastes 2:6: "I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees." Nehemiah 2:14 alludes to the King's Pool, and tour guides still point out reservoirs south of Bethlehem. Speaking of avoiding feuds, Paul noted it is wise to cool one's anger before sunset (Ephesians 4:26).
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