Where there are no oxen, the manger is empty, but from the strength of an ox comes an abundant harvest. Proverbs 14:4 (NIV)
I have a theory that most of the things we complain about really are things we should be thankful for. It’s all a matter of perspective. This scripture verse is a case in point.
The key to understanding the wisdom in this verse is the meaning of the word “manger.” Traditionally it has been viewed as the stall in which the ox lives and the common reference is to the challenge of keeping the stall clean when it’s inhabited by a strong ox. And that is definitely part of the price to be paid for an abundant harvest.
But the actual meaning of the word “manger” is more specifically the “feeding trough” from which the ox eats. Now this introduces an economic factor into the equation that makes this verse sound investment advice.
Here’s the bottom line, owning an ox is expensive. It’s costly in terms of the time and attention it takes to clean up after the ox. And more importantly it’s expensive keeping the feeding trough full. Feeding an ox costs a lot of money. But, the sheer productivity provided by a strong ox more than makes up for the expense in time and money.
It is a case where the return on investment makes it a very lucrative deal. The ratio of the profit gained relative to the money invested is huge. As a farmer, you would be a fool not to have a strong ox or two and feed them very well. It is just sound economic advice. Why complain about the expense of feeding an ox when in the end the ox is producing a harvest so abundant that it is easily feeding itself and countless other mouths to boot.
Most complaining stems from an inability to see that big picture. It is easy to get side tracked by the negatives and neglect to see the positive outcomes as a result.
When I was a teenager my father owned an eighteen foot runabout boat. It was his pride and joy. It was white and had a large outboard motor on it. We lived in western Minnesota and nearly every weekend during the summer the family would pile into the car and trailer that boat to a nearby lake.
My job each week, before the next weekend, was to thoroughly clean out the boat and then wash and wax it. I hated that job, procrastinated doing it, and grumbled and complained about it. On more than one occasion I made it clear to my father that I wished he had never purchased that boat.
But then the weekend would come and we would be out camping on a beach somewhere and I would be having a blast water skiing, lo and behold I’d forget all about the hard work of maintaining the boat. The return on investment on that brightly polished white ox made it all worthwhile.
Stop for a moment and ask yourself. “What have I been complaining about?” Let me ask – is it like an ox – something you really should be thankful for?
The oxen in our lives are the things and relationships that provide us with abundance. They give us enjoyment and meet felt needs. And hopefully they also are a source of fulfillment, meaning and purpose in life. While they require a significant investment of time and money they are more than worth it.
The ox can be a job, school or a hobby, even a possession. It can also be a relationship with a spouse, a child, a parent and/or a friend. (Disclaimer – do not refer to a loved one as an ox – I am talking figure of speech here and not literally. You know what I mean.)
Regardless, it is wise to think twice before complaining about the hardship and expense of maintaining your ox. Instead invest your time and attention in nurturing and maintaining it, because in its welfare you will find your own welfare. (Proverbs 27:23-27).
So stop complaining and feed the ox.
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