“Without oxen a stable stays clean, but you need a strong ox for a large harvest.”
Proverbs 14:4 (NLT)
For several weeks, my family and I have enjoyed watching a television show about the saga of a family who runs a horse ranch in western Canada. Every episode features horse stables, cattle herds and rodeo and cowboy life, all of which require long days of hard work taking care of the animals there on the ranch. Feeding, cleaning, and training horses and herding cattle is messy, really messy, but it is the livelihood of the characters on the show and they find it rewarding. To remove the horses and cattle from their lives would be devastating.
In Proverbs 14:4 Solomon uses agriculture to paint two pictures for us: the first one is a clean stable with no ox, and the second is an abundant crop with an ox. In Biblical times oxen were used to pull carts and plows and to tread corn and grain. These beasts of burden were vital to the operation of a farm. But, as you can imagine, they were messy. Feeding troughs and stalls need to be cleaned and filled with fresh hay daily. Animals don’t go to a restroom like people do. Their restroom is right where they are standing, so it can get smelly and dirty in a barn quickly. But, as Solomon points out, a barn without an ox doesn’t need cleaning, but it also produces no harvest.
This proverb can apply to the potential “messes” in our own lives. Is there a goal you want to pursue but are afraid that it will be too hard or too painful to achieve and would rather avoid the mess you might have to endure as you pursue that goal?
Oxen symbolize strength and hard labor. Are you willing to work for your particular goal? A harvest does not come on its own. It requires hard work, an idea that is mentioned several times in Proverbs.
“In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty.” Proverbs 14:23 (ESV)
“The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied.” Proverbs 13:4 (ESV)
“A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.” Proverbs 6:10-11 (ESV)
Hard work, despite the messes it can cause, can be rewarding. To get the harvest, you have to be willing to embrace the mess.