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Gone to the Dogs

Gone to the Dogs

Wisdom in avoiding a dog’s breakfast of folly

Proverbs 26:11-12

11 As a dog returns to his own vomit,
So a fool repeats his folly.

12 Do you see a man wise in his own eyes?
There is more hope for a fool than for him.

Proverbs 26:17

17 He who passes by and meddles in a quarrel not his own
Is like one who takes a dog by the ears.


Before “Ukrainegate,” “Russiagate,” and even “Watergate” there was “Beaglegate.” When it comes to real or imagined political scandals, American presidents are a gift that keeps on giving to a media hungry for headlines and a public that delights in outrage.  

“Beaglegate” refers to April 27, 1964, the fateful day that President Lyndon B. Johnson picked up his 10-month-old beagle pups by the ears just to "hear them yelp.” The moment was captured for the ages by an AP photographer, and when a reporter on the scene asked Johnson why he said “To make him bark! It’s good for him. If you follow dogs, you like to hear them yelp.”  

The next morning, a nation that was only now beginning to recover from the assassination of President John F. Kennedy the previous November, found itself staring at their newspapers in startled wonder at the most powerful man in the world, the 36th president, apparently abusing his pets. 

President Johnson, an avid ourdoorsman, may have considered beagle ear-tugging a normal thing for hunters who used barking dogs to chase game, but his vague explanation and the quick-triggered photographer had created the first crisis of his presidency.

All that day, the president’s long-suffering staff worked to do damage control, while the bewildered and increasingly exasperated chief executive shouted impotently at his aides. The incident reached crescendo on the International stage, as a frustrated Johnson heard from incensed world leaders, while at home his political opponents sought ways to hamstring him on his agenda. 

“Beaglegate,” even cast a shadow on Johnson’s signature piece of legislation: the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Thankfully, attempts to make political hay off the ear-grabbing president and his yelping beagles, were unsuccessful, and the act passed with bi-partisan support.    

In later years, while out of office and in political exile, former President Johnson grew his hair long and worked on his memoirs. In 1970, he recorded an odd but touching album of reminiscences titled “Dogs Have Always Been My Friends.” It seemed he would never get over the effects of “Beaglegate,” and he was “dog tired” of hearing about it.

As the son of a king, and father to another, King Solomon knew a thing or two about the harshness of political life. He also knew that it was a “dog eat dog” world for king and commoner alike, and many proverbs contain references or wise lessons that concern the nature of dogs—and people who pull their ears. In Proverbs chapter 26, the dogs have their day, beginning with verse 11: 

11 As a dog returns to his own vomit,
So a fool repeats his folly.–Proverbs 26:11

I suppose I should have included a word of warning before asking you to read that. Some of you are doubtless enjoying a nice breakfast or an afternoon snack and the vivid image that this proverb evokes does not mix well with English muffins. However, how can people say that the Bible is boring when it includes verses such as these? Solomon certainly knew how to capture a young person’s imagination!

Throughout history, dogs have been part of human culture. Dogs are loyal and brave, chasing burglars, the family cat, or a tennis ball with a winning attitude. They are often preferred over human companions, for as Mark Twain writes that, “If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and man.” Or in the words of Groucho Marx:

“Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read.”–Groucho Marx 

However, a dog is far from a sanitary creature. Rover gets into the trash, eats scraps off the floor, out of the litter box, and dead things that he finds in the yard. When something does not agree with his normally cast-iron stomach, he will wretch and “barf” it up onto the living room carpet. (Why does it always have to be on the carpet—and usually five minutes before company arrives?)

Here is where today’s proverb comes in. Solomon is aware of all of the endearing canine characteristics above, but takes an ancient, more jaundiced view of man’s best friend. In the culture of the Ancient Near East, dogs were not pampered as they are in the affluent west today. Dogs were scavengers, the dregs of the animal kingdom, and creatures to be pitied and reviled. 

Even the phrase “going to the dogs” might be traced back to biblical origins, with a command forbidding eating carrion meat: 

31 “And you shall be holy men to Me: you shall not eat meat torn by beasts in the field; you shall throw it to the dogs.–Exodus 22:31

Now there is a bit of theology upon which all denominations would agree. 

What does this Proverb mean? The jarring image of a scrawny mutt, scavenging in the city dump, consuming offal only to expectorate and consume it again is an image of the recidivistic sinner returning again and again to his sinful habits, never learning or knowing the freedom of repentance.  

Taking a cue from Solomon, Puritan Thomas Brooks writes that, "Repentance is the vomit of the soul.” There is truth in this, for when, through the blessed work of the Holy Spirit, you are convicted of your sin and do lay them before Christ in sweet confession, you will know the refreshment of repentance. 

To honestly lay a guilt-wrenched heart before Him can result in a sensation that truly feels as if your body has been freed of a toxic meal or choking morsel. However, as  commentator Bruce Waltke reveals:

The incorrigible nature of fools causes them to repeat their bizarre, repulsive, and dangerous behavior.–Bruce Waltke, “Proverbs” 

It is this dangerous behavior that quickens the Apostle Peter’s hand as he writes his second epistle to the struggling church:

20 For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. 21 For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. 22 But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: “A dog returns to his own vomit,” and, “a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire.”–II Peter 2:20-22

Are there particular sins that you find yourself continually struggling against? Every believer is different, and so the devil and your own rebel heart work hand-in-hand to tailor-make temptations to sins that will ensnare you and lead you away. Once refreshed from identifying and repenting of them, you can find yourself digging in the garbage once more, or as Peter says, wallowing in the mud like a pig. John Calvin riffs on this in his commentary:

The Gospel is…a [fountain] which cleanses all our uncleanness, but there are many swine, who immediately after washing, roll themselves again in the mud.–Calvin

If Solomon and Saint Peter have grossed you out enough, the wise king provides hope in the next proverb:

12 Do you see a man wise in his own eyes?
There is more hope for a fool than for him.–Proverbs 26:12

These two verses are connected in order to complete a thought. A man “wise in his own eyes” is a worse than a fool, he is a “confirmed fool.”

In his ministry in Athens, the Apostle Paul’s activity in the market (the agora) would have been immediately recognized by the Greeks as employing the dialectic method of Greek philosopher Socrates. However, unlike Socrates who said that, “true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing,” Paul presented God as the God who knows: 

26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, 28 for “‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “‘For we are indeed his offspring.–Acts 17:26-29

Relying on Christ for His righteousness, Paul takes Socrates’ thought to an entirely new level: 

16 Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion.–Romans 12:16

Here then is the hope that Solomon is sharing with you in this proverb: to be truly wise is not to rely on your own wisdom, but “the wisdom of God.” Can you do this? You tell yourself that God is in control, but then you are daily tempted to try and yank the wheel in your own desired direction. Letting go of this impulse can be extremely difficult, but the reward you will get is the hope produced by faith that your Heavenly Father is working all things for good.

Solomon gives you a simple test of this in verse 17:

17 He who passes by and meddles in a quarrel not his own
Is like one who takes a dog by the ears.–Proverbs 26:17

This proverb compares butting in to someone else’s argument to that of grabbing a dog by the ears. This assumes you are not a beagle-bothering President of the United States, of course. The image is of that of getting between two fighting dogs. You may grab a dog’s ears but the moment you let go, you are going to be bitten. 

Are you tempted to insinuate yourself into the arguments of others? Do you share “harmless” gossip that only fuels a fire? What about our online conversations? To go on social media these days is to scroll your timeline and see outrage after outrage—and the desire is all to great to join the fray. 

In the end, do these actions do any good? More than likely you will be bitten by an angry friend hurt by slander, or feel your blood pressure spike in another pointless political argument.

Do you have sins that you return to time and again? Allow Christ to fill you, and through repentance ask God to prune those withered vines from your life, for as Jesus says:

1 “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.–John 15:1-4



The Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay and this Saturday Deep is written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:

The weekly study guides, which include the Monday–Friday devotionals plus related questions for discussion or meditation, are available for download here:

Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.

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