“Where no oxen are, the manger is clean, but much revenue comes by the strength of the ox.” (Proverbs 14:4)
I am not a farmer. I do not have a manger. And I own exactly zero oxen. But I know this much about animals…They eat. And then they get rid of the waste from what they have eaten. And any time food and the...shall we say...“byproduct” of the food…are involved, you have a mess on your hands. Maintenance will be required. For every additional animal that takes up residence in your nice, weather-protected manger, you can expect to tack on some additional time of daily labor (of the back-stooping and smelly variety) if you want your oxen and other animals to remain in a healthy environment.
Now there’s the downside. The upside is that the productivity on your farm is about to increase greatly with the addition of that new ox. You have just purchased the tractor of the ancient world. The fields will be plowed efficiently, loads will be carried on this beast of burden that would be impossible for you to lift, and all this will enable a greater return and much revenue when it comes time for harvest.
The Proverbs are highly practical and capture the cause-and-effect relationships in everyday life. This proverb in particular engages our thoughts about investment - that of time, money, and energy. For every payoff, there is a cost. The economic maxim “There is no such thing as a free lunch” rings true. Now here’s the overall principle: Life will be less messy and less complicated with less oxen, but there will also be less to show for your work in the end. Our problems come in on 2 fronts.
- Some of us don’t have enough oxen. We tend to avoid work as much as we can and then still expect the same amenities we see in the lifestyles of the people around us. We want the revenue without the work.
- But some of us have too many oxen. We are obsessed with the amenities out there and the possibilities of productivity in all facets of our lives, so we invest in so many oxen that we are breaking our backs trying to keep up with all of it. We have overcomplicated our lives. And often God is who gets pushed out.
The beauty of this proverb is that it does not tell you exactly how many oxen you should have. It just describes the pros and cons of what to expect. You must take a look at the “complications” and “productivity” in your own life and see what to do with your manger.
To His Glory,