Proverbs 26:17

ESV Whoever meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a passing dog by the ears.
NIV Like one who grabs a stray dog by the ears is someone who rushes into a quarrel not their own.
NASB Like one who takes a dog by the ears, So is one who passes by and meddles with strife not belonging to him.
CSB A person who is passing by and meddles in a quarrel that's not his is like one who grabs a dog by the ears.
NLT Interfering in someone else’s argument is as foolish as yanking a dog’s ears.
KJV He that passeth by, and meddleth with strife belonging not to him, is like one that taketh a dog by the ears.

What does Proverbs 26:17 mean?

It's unwise to get involved in someone else's dispute, without an important reason to do so. Solomon (Proverbs 25:1) compares unwise prying into an argument to grabbing a passing dog by the ears. In ancient Israel, dogs were aggressive, untamed scavengers and not friendly. No sensible person would deliberately provoke a wild dog. In the same way, a person with godly common sense (Proverbs 1:7) doesn't intrude into conflicts when they don't have to. The consequences can be unpleasant. A prior lesson warned against hastily testifying against others in court (Proverbs 25:8). That related to personal matters—how much more cautious should we be about other people's affairs?

An English-language proverb says, "don't start trouble and there won't be trouble." Like this verse, that adage suggests conflict is best avoided, not instigated. However, the point is not that participating in other people's disputes is always wrong. We might be asked to arbitrate a disagreement or provide eyewitness accounts of events. Intervening when someone is being grossly abused or attacked is also an honorable reason to step in. What's condemned is described by the English term "meddling," which means an inappropriate intrusion or interference into someone else's business. The Hebrew phrase includes a term referring to crossing a boundary, and another describing strife and controversy. A person shouldn't choose to "cross into conflict" when they can avoid it.

Other Scriptures note the importance of peacemaking (Romans 12:18; Proverbs 15:1), impartiality (James 2:9; Proverbs 17:26), and fairness (Proverbs 18:5, 13, 17). Stepping into a conflict might be necessary to protect the weak and innocent (Proverbs 22:22; 31:9), but we should always be cautious about how and when we do so.
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