Trading in the Clean Stall for an Abundant Harvest
Where there are no oxen, the stall is clean,
but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.
Do you value things that are clean, ordered, stable, and reliable? I would dare say that most people would say that they do. Even those of us who aren’t necessarily the neatest people do find a certain comfort when things are nice and neat and in their place. It’s not just for aesthetic purposes that one would want things clean and in order. Time can be saved, and more can be accomplished when things are in their designated place. Knowing where things are and having them ordered also can lend a great deal of comfort and security to daily living. When you keep things ordered, you can prevent some problems from even arising, like regularly replacing the oil in your car can (hopefully) prevent bigger problems down the road. Cleanliness has many benefits.
But there is a point at which cleanliness can go too far.
This is where Proverbs 14:4 begins: “Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean.” This is obviously true. Oxen, like all animals, create a certain amount of filth and disorder in their existence. Even if they are well-behaved cleaner-than-normal oxen, they and the place that they are housed will still need to be maintained and clean. If no oxen are housed in a stall, then it becomes very easy to keep it clean. If cleanliness were of utmost importance in life, then it would follow that oxen should always be kept out of stalls or stables.
But the second part of the proverb makes the contrasting point: “but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.” There is only so much a farmer on his own can till, and plant, and harvest. This is why, in those times, farmers kept oxen, so that they could plow more ground, so that they could harvest more. With the strength of oxen, they would be able to earn much more than without. The additional value the ox brings to the farmer outweighs the inconvenience of an un-pristine stall.
If we were to modernize this proverb, perhaps we could say something like this: Where there is no tractor, there is no need for repairs, but abundant crops come by the strength of a tractor.
Think about it, something like a tractor comes with its own problems. You have to buy fuel, you have to spend money to maintain it, you have to have a place to store it, you need to spend money to insure it, etc. One might look at the list of things that come with keeping a tractor, and say, “it’s better when there is no tractor, because then there are no responsibilities.” But, the benefits a tractor provides can easily pay for the inconveniences many times over.
While this proverb is about harvests and oxen, the wisdom reaches far beyond farming economics. The wisdom behind this proverb is about rightly placing values and priorities on good things. It is good to have a clean stable, but it is better to have an abundant harvest, and in order to have that abundant harvest, you must be willing to part with your pristine ox-less stall. If you wrongly place too much value on the cleanliness of a stall, you’ll be missing out on the abundant harvest you could be experiencing.
The applications, when you ponder it for a while, begin to lay themselves out:
- If you never allow yourself to love, you’ll never experience a broken heart, but without love you’ll miss out on all the wonderful things relationships provide.
- If you never venture out of your comfort zone, you’ll never be embarrassed, but you also will never grow and experience the fullness and richness of life.
- If you always cling to what you believe is safe, you might maintain the life you have now for a while, but you miss out on the blessings God may have waiting for those who live by faith.
- If a church never welcomes sinners into their midst, they may not have to deal with certain problems and baggage those people bring, but they’ll miss out on the command of God to seek and save the lost, and they’ll miss out on the blessings of having those people in their midst.
- If you never try to mend bridges with someone you’re estranged from, you will avoid a difficult conversation, but you’ll abandon any possibility of reconciliation.
Some things, like abundant harvests, are worth pursuing, even if it means dealing with a less-than-clean stall. Do not allow the temptation of a clean stall keep you from pursuing what is better. Wisdom bids you to consider your ways.
Are you keeping yourself from an abundant harvest because you’re unwilling to give up your clean stall?