Is There an OX in Your Stable?
Today I am going to admit that many times when I read a verse that makes reference to a time and place that I can’t relate, I skim right past the verse’s intended meaning. Today was no different. As I was searching for today’s topic, I saw the word “oxen” and in my mind I said “blah, blah, blah this doesn’t apply” but then I stopped myself and realized that this pattern of behavior was no longer serving me. Therefore, today I am going to challenge myself to write about said oxen.
The verse I that I am referring to is Proverbs 14: Verse 4 – “Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of oxen.”
What’s fascinating, and somewhat controversial to non-believers, is that since the Bible was written, it has been translated into over 2000 different languages and there are more than 40 different versions written in English. The popular King James version was written in 1611, while more modern versions of the Bible include simplified English for people like me. In addition to all the translations, there are all the different interpretations by biblical scholars, preachers and individual. In some cases, a reader will use their own bias to interpret a verse in hopes that it will support a position or belief that they currently hold. The point I am attempting to make is that not every verse has a black and white meaning and the interpretation is not always precise. So as I attempt to uncover the meaning of Proverbs 14:4, please keep that in mind.
When I began to consider the meaning of this verse, to be honest I had NO idea, none. The second half of the verse made sense and so I focused in on that and decided the meaning was that strong, hard work will create an abundant harvest. (life, wealth, etc.) We are to work like the ox. Still not satisfied with my thinking, I consulted Google. What an incredible tool, right? Anyway, Google quickly took me to the Christian Courier, a group created in 1965 whose main objective is to “help average Americans become more knowledgeable about God’s word”. Perfect! I’m average and they know my language, simplicity! After reading their explanation of the verse, I realized that I badly missed the mark! To illustrate this, I decided to share their interpretation in its entirety. (good stuff)
“What is the meaning of Proverbs 14:4? It seems to be out of place in the Bible.”
Before we address the text of Proverbs 14:4, we need consider this important point. Contrary to the opinions of many, the Bible was intended to instruct us in all areas of life. We do not find the concept of compartmentalizing one’s life into secular and religious realms. God has provided the principles for righteous living in all things (1 Peter 1:3).
That important point noted, let us examine the passage at hand.
Proverbs is an interesting book on the surface, but it is not just another collection of ancient sayings. It is, rather, a collection of inspired truths in memorable and vivid forms.
Proverbs covers a wide range of topics. There are proverbs concerning wealth, wisdom, friends, family, work, and worldliness. For a helpful, comprehensive topical index of Proverbs, consult The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, volume five, or Derek Kidner’s commentary on Proverbs in the Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries series.
Here is the text of Proverbs 14:4:
“Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of oxen.”
Have you ever heard someone say, “There are pros and cons to everything”? We make decisions by weighing the advantages and disadvantages of a thing.
When it comes to owning oxen, there are disadvantages. They eat a lot. They can be expensive and time-consuming to keep. If you don’t have any oxen, you can save a lot of time and expense. Consider having a “clean manger” [Note: The Hebrew term translated “manger” ’ebus means a “feeding-trough.” (The New Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius Hebrew-English Lexicon, p. 7.)].
On the other hand, oxen are the tools for an abundant harvest. Their cost and inconvenience does not compare with their productivity.
Solomon is not simply giving a lesson in agriculture.
Here are two principles:
- get the right tools for the job you need to do, and
- the cost of the right tool is worth it.
This is true for both material and spiritual work.
How many times has money been wasted by trying to “cut corners”? It is important to be wise in one’s work and financial matters
Okay, so what I learned today is that reading the Bible is much less about reading than it is understanding AND Living. If I had just continued to skim past this verse, like I had done many times before, I would never have received its gift of wisdom. I also learned that if I’m are having a tough time understanding a particular verse, it may be wise for me to consult one of the many OTHER versions. For example, today when I first read verse 4 in the NIV version, it read: Where there are no oxen, the manger is empty, but from the strength of an ox come abundant harvests. Yet when I consulted two other sources on the internet, they used the KJV of the Bible and the verse read “Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of oxen.” Notice that even though the verses are similar, the second verse introduces us to more information to use in our interpretation. In the KJV version we also learn that the manger is clean, this simple addition really adds to the meaning and quite frankly, to the discrepancies among those doing the interpreting. (see extra credit below)
Having an ox in your stable is no different than having the right tool in your tool box. If you are a writer, you need a pen. If you are a carpenter you need a hammer. If you are a guitarist, you need a guitar (note to my musician friends. I said “A” guitar, not numerous guitars 🙂 ).
So I’ll ask you. Do you have an ox in your stable? If not, why?
Have a great day!
PS: extra credit, Read the post below for another expert interpretation of this same verse. If you are like me, you’ll find it interesting that their interpretation is a little bit different. See, it’s not black and white. That’s why it is important that when you embark on the path to “living” the Bible, you do your best to understand it first;)
Here it is…
In this fallen world, problems are present even when things are moving forward and productivity is increasing. That is the message of today’s passage. During biblical times, the ancient Israelites placed great value on oxen. The book of Leviticus indicates their importance to the sacrificial system, and passages such as Deuteronomy 25:4 tell us that these animals were a key part of agricultural production. The second half of Proverbs 14:4 confirms this. The strength of an ox brings many crops. More plowing and harvesting can be accomplished, increasing the yield of the field and the growth of a household’s wealth. However, this growth comes at a price. An ox must be fed and watered. It must be housed in a shed during storms. It leaves waste that must be cleaned up. In other words, for all the benefit that an ox provides, this animal brings with it much cost and mess.
So, as the first half of Proverbs 14:4 reveals, the only way to have a clean manger is to not have many oxen. And yet, if one ox can bring so much productivity, many oxen will bring even more. Essentially, this proverb reminds us that if we want to advance, if we want to grow our wealth or anything else, there will be some untidiness about it. It will require responsibility in taking care of all our possessions. Things may get messy at times. Somewhat paradoxically, a big mess can be desirable, not because it is in itself something to seek but because it may indicate the presence of healthy productivity.