On the last Sunday in July, John spoke on the subject ‘How clean is your crib?’, using Proverbs 14:4 TNIV as a launch: “Where there are no oxen, the manger is empty, but from the strength of an ox come abundant harvests.”

The work of the oxen is synonymous with increase and opportunity, but there is a contrast because if the crib is clean, there is presumably no increase. It might look tidy and clean, but if there is no fruit and multiplication in the church, there will be no growth. We have to accept, though, that increase comes with disruption and (at times) dirt! John 15 speaks of our fruitfulness (as a result of our connection to Chris) bringing glory to God and oxen give us insight into how we can live well for God.

The ox played an important part in Jewish life. The ox was used for drawing wagons, for carrying burdens (1 Chron 12:40 TNIV), for ploughing, for treading the corn, for sacrifice and for food. Numbers 7:3-5 TNIV and 1 Sam 6:7 TNIV give examples of the ox in Old Testament narratives. Ploughing was perhaps the most important task carried out by oxen. Without ploughing, there could be no sowing and without sowing, there could be no harvest, but ploughing is hard, physical work which requires commitment and endurance (the sluggard doesn’t plough, Proverbs reminds us, and therefore has to go begging at harvest time!) Jesus reminded His disciples “No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62 TNIV) We have to be committed to God and plough a straight furrow (a phrase taken nowadays to indicate honesty and integrity and reliability of character, all characteristics of God’s chosen people).

Jer 4:3 TNIV
and Hosea 10:11-14 TNIV give further spiritual parallels about ploughing. We are required to break up the unploughed land and do what is right. Prov 14:12 TNIV reminds us “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.” If we plough wickedness and sow iniquity, we will reap destruction. Righteousness exalts a nation (Prov 14:34 TNIV) and we need to persevere in breaking up the unploughed land in our own hearts and in our area if we are to live well for God.

Oxen were also used in sacrifices as burnt offerings and peace offerings. Paul exhorts us to present our bodies to God as living sacrifices (Rom 12:1-2 TNIV) and 2 Sam 4:18-25 TNIV reminds us that sacrifices cost us something. We need to understand that God requires us to give Him total control of our whole lives. Sacrifice is a necessary part of our Christian experience – not something we always enjoy, but something which reaps great rewards! (and the oxen had its own reward for its work in ploughing, since it was not to be muzzled – see Deut 25:4 TNIV, 1 Cor 9:9 TNIV).

If we want to see increase in the church, there is a lot we can learn from the ox. Its characteristics – tenacity, perseverance and service – need to be ours too. Then we can bear burdens and be fit for God’s service.