“Where no oxen are, the crib is clean: but much increase is by the strength of the ox” (Proverbs 14:4).
There are a couple of ways you could take the first half of today’s proverb. Some see it as referring to the crib (the grain storage area) being empty, because you don’t have any harvest and any grain. This then teaches the importance of oxen. Others see it as referring to the manger and the place where cattle live and eat being clean, so if you want a clean stall and barn, don’t have oxen — but then you miss out on their value. This second view seems to fit the evidence better, and I’ll work on that assumption.
So, today’s proverb is about oxen. Oxen are messy. They need a lot of food. Sometimes you have to go out in bad weather to take care of them. They really are quite inconvenient in many ways. On the other hand, in the days before tractors, oxen were used to plough the fields. You could plant a bigger crop if you have oxen. You could load the harvest on a wagon or cart, and the oxen would pull it back to the barn, so you can bring in a bigger harvest. In a time of need, or for a special occasion, you could butcher an ox and have abundant meat. There is a lot of value in oxen.
A farmer, then, should A) be thankful to God for his messy and inconvenient oxen B) take proper care of them and C) focus more attention on the “much increase” (probably a reference to abundant harvest) than on the “minor inconveniences” which oxen bring.
Someone once asked if God’s primary concern was for oxen (I Corinthians 9:9-10). Just as the command in the law to let oxen feed while working had application beyond oxen, I would suggest this proverb is intended to be applied further as well.
I think this proverb is about husbands. “Oh, yes, I’ve always said my husband is a big, dumb ox.” No, no, no. 🙂 But in most cases, ladies, your husband is messier than you are. He is stronger, but he also breaks things. He’s often not as refined as you are, or as sensitive, or as considerate as he might be. He’s not necessarily very good at housekeeping, and beyond that, he’s clueless about the way you run things. He’s probably going to track mud into the house at times that you never would — it’s just the kind of thing men do. He’ll wash his greasy hands in your kitchen sink, and wipe them on your good towel. Husbands are just, well, so very MALE, and that’s not always so convenient from a woman’s perspective. You know the kind of thing I’m talking about better than I do, because I’m one of them. They really do “mess things up” — but much increase is by the strength of a husband.
God made him to protect you, provide for you, and care for you. If you have children, God gave a wonderful “increase” to you by his strength. He is, indeed, male, and with that comes many blessings. He can help stabilise you when you are emotional, comfort you when you grieve, and go through life with you. Husbands may be “messy” in a lot of ways, but their strength brings much increase. Be thankful for the big ox ;), and care for him.
The proverb is about wives, as well. They can “mess up” your life, too. Your wife wants to spend time with you just when you have something else you really wanted to do. She might get emotional at just the wrong times. She might want to shift furniture around the house for no reason at all when any logical person could see that anyone can always find a place to sit without any trouble at all. She will want to spend money on silly things you would never ever buy, and she’s likely to start talking to you just when you are about 3/4 asleep (for purposes of this post we’ll ignore the fact that you probably should have listened to her earlier if you wanted to go to sleep early tonight :)).
Yet, God gives much increase through your wife. Companionship, intimacy, support, encouragement, these are some of the blessings we have in our wives. You don’t need me to list all the reasons you have to be thankful for her, you already know. The Scriptures say, “Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favour of the LORD” (Proverbs 18:22). Be thankful for her, and care for her.
The proverb is about children, too. They are expensive little critters, and they mess up the house. They track in dirt, and yell and bang things, and misbehave, and bleed all over the floor when they get hurt, and complicate holiday plans, and in general those tiny little things re-arrange your neat and orderly life into mess and disorder as much as they can. In fact, they are worse than oxen, because even if their mess doesn’t (always) smell as bad, most of it is in the house instead of in the stall.
Try as I might, though, I can’t figure out which of my kids I want to “return to sender”. They bring joy and love, and as they get older they bring strength and companionship. My sons are outside right now staking a tree that was damaged by the remains of Hurricane Katia yesterday. My daughters have prepared dinner untold times when my wife had to help me with something, or was ill. They all help with housework, and in the ministry. Some of them even pass on links to my blog! Sure, they make a mess sometimes, but much increase comes from children. Care for them, and be thankful for them.
Pastors are a pain, no doubt, but they bring you the Word of God. Employers can really mess things up for you, but they pay your wage. Employees do lots of things that make your business run less smoothly — but it wouldn’t run at all without them.
I always say, on my job, that if we could just get rid of all our clients so we don’t have to help them with their needs, we could have the time to make some really good computer software. Pastors always say, “Ministry would be easy, if you didn’t have to deal with people.”
Most of the blessings in our lives come with a little bit of a mess. We can cry, complain, and whinge about the mess. Alternatively, we can focus on the “much increase” that comes with it, care for that which God has given us, and be thankful. Most of us are smart enough that if we lived on a farm, we’d take the oxen and deal with the mess. For some reason, we tend to not be quite so “smart” about being thankful for some of the other “oxen” in our lives.
Of course, our problem isn’t intelligence, it’s an ungrateful heart, rebellion against God, maligning God by dishonouring His gifts to us, and a lot of other sins as well. So what will we do? Give thanks for literal and figurative oxen, or keep on complaining?