“He that passeth by, and meddleth with strife belonging not to him, is like one that taketh a dog by the ears” (Proverbs 26:17).
Very few of us would be brave enough to pick up a dog by its ears, but somehow we are not afraid to meddle in the affairs of others. Sooner or later we are going to get bitten and come off the worse for doing so. Solomon, and the rest of Scripture, offers us practical advice about getting involved in matters that do not concern us. The scene here is like a dogfight, therefore only a fool would put his hand in to separate the dogs. The image is not just of someone meddling in the conflict, but of someone who adopts the anger of the strivers as his own. He does not intervene to bring peace; he intervenes with the same wrath as the participants. He sees a dogfight, and he gets down on all-fours and begins snarling and biting along with them.
Meddling – what it is
The Hebrew word at the root of this means to become passionately involved in something. The basic meaning refers to a person who arrogantly supposes that he or she has the right to interfere in quarrels that do not concern them. The verse makes it clear that the meddler is a passer-by rather than a witness or participant in the problem. Though not part of the Bible, the apocrypha in Ecclesiasticus 11:9 offers us the thinking behind Solomon’s words, “Strive not in a matter which doth not concern thee”, or in other words, “Do not be a busybody.” Those who follow Christ must avoid strife. “The servant of the Lord must not strive” (2 Timothy 2:24).
Meddling – the results
Dogs were not pets but considered to be vermin (jackels) in Israel, so to take one by the ears would be extremely foolish. Without doubt it would turn and bite the person trying to do so. Therefore the meddler exposes himself to danger, because the people involved in the dispute, who are already inflamed, might rent their fury on him.
Once we are embroiled in a problem that is not ours, it is not easy to free ourselves from it unscathed. This is especially true when we do not know the reasons for the argument or which of the parties is in the right. We will suffer spiritually, mentally and possibly physically if we meddle in other people’s business. King Jehoshaphat took upon himself to involve himself in a battle that was not his and nearly lost his life for it (1 Kings 22). Just like him, we think that we are acting as peacemakers and have the wisdom to bring the warring parties into unity, but we have to be very sure that God has called us to get involved in the dispute. In Luke 12:13-14 a man tried to get Jesus involved in a family quarrel. “And one of the company said unto him, Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me. And he said unto him, Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you?” We see that the Lord followed Solomon’s advice here, and we do well to follow it too to avoid unnecessary strife.
The meddler thinks he has the solution to other peoples’ problems, but usually causes more harm than good. In fact meddling is a sign of foolishness rather than wisdom. “It is an honour for a man to cease from strife: but every fool will be meddling” (Proverbs 20:3). If we meddle, then the reward might be shame. “Go not forth hastily to strive, lest thou know not what to do in the end thereof, when thy neighbour hath put thee to shame” (Proverbs 25:8). Those who meddle will not get a medal for their efforts.
Unfortunately we all have a tendency to give our “tuppence worth” because as Christians we feel that it is our solemn duty. The Bible cautions us against this though. “But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters. Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf” (1 Peter 4:15-16). Instead, as Paul strongly states, we should “study to be quiet, and to do [our] own business” (1 Thessalonians 4:11).
“It is best simply to keep out of arguments that are none of your business. If you must become involved, try to wait until the arguers have stopped fighting and cooled off a bit. Then maybe you can help them mend their differences and relationship” (Life Application Study Bible). Sometimes, no matter how good our intentions, we cannot help people but have to leave them to the Lord. We are wasting our time and resources if we do. “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you” (Matthew 7:6).