He who passes by and meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a passing dog by the ears.
What stood out to me about this proverb is the extreme visual of an angry, snarling dog. Other versions describe the dog’s temperament more fully as a ‘mad dog’, ‘passing dog’, or ‘stray dog’, while another says ‘strange dog’, all of them suggesting that this animal is NOT a domesticated pet and likely not to be friendly.
Matthew Henry, in his commentary, refers to the dog as a snarling ‘Cur’ or Mongrel dog. A variety of such dogs was eventually domesticated and breed for driving cattle and treeing animals on the hunt. They are a larger, stronger, fiercer dog than a sheep dog with smooth, short hair and slightly floppy ears. A variety of mongrel dog from the Middle East is called the “Canaan dog”; it was a pariah dog, or outcast and scavenger. With a strong survival instinct this dog is known to be quick to react, wary of strangers, and alert to any disturbance.
The implication of the proverb is that the one who jumps into other people’s quarrels will be in some way injured, just as one who jumps on the head of a stray dog can expect to be injured. Dave L Bland said, ‘those who get involved in quarrels that are none of their business provoke retaliation and will suffer injury.’ And Michael A Zigarelli even said that ‘to grab one by the ears risked mortal danger.’ Though, if one is of sufficient authority or with sufficient wisdom, it can be good to help people resolve issues or come to peace. In the same way that there are professionals for wrangling stray dogs so some people are more qualified than others to act as mediator.
Hopefully, by keeping out of issues we don’t have business getting involved in will lead to our own protection and the uninterrupted resolution of the problem. Thomas M Thompson remarked that ‘Often it seems noble and virtuous to intervene in someone else’s quarrel. But unless you have specific authority to do so, God’s Word says your involvement is folly.’ Looking back to Proverbs 25:8, we are told not to strive in our own cause. And so it would seem all the more wise to be wary of striving for the cause of others when we are not immediately involved.