Proverbs 14:4
Where no oxen are, the crib is clean: but much increase is by the strength of the ox.
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(4) Where no oxen are, the crib is clean . . .—A proverb which may be taken in various ways. Some have seen in it an exhortation to kindness towards animals in consideration of their great usefulness. Others, that labour has its disagreeable aspect, but also brings its reward, whether material prosperity (“much increase”) or a more enduring reward. (Comp. Galatians 6:9.)

Proverbs 14:4. Where no oxen are, the crib is clean — The crib and stable may be easily kept clean where there are few or no oxen: but there is so much advantage arising from tilling the ground, that it is better to have a litter with plenty of oxen, than to have great neatness without them. Some think this is spoken of those who boast much of constant neatness about their houses, &c., which, at the same time, shows they carry on but little business. For where there is much business done, and many persons coming and going, there will necessarily be oftentimes less cleanliness and neatness. This verse, however, may be considered as containing an admonition for the man without doors, (as the first admonished the woman within,) that he should not neglect his husbandry, of which it is well known oxen were the principal instruments, being not only employed in ploughing the ground, and carrying home the crop, but also in treading out the corn.

14:1 A woman who has no fear of God, who is wilful and wasteful, and indulges her ease, will as certainly ruin her family, as if she plucked her house down. 2. Here are grace and sin in their true colours. Those that despise God's precepts and promises, despise God and all his power and mercy. 3. Pride grows from that root of bitterness which is in the heart. The root must be plucked up, or we cannot conquer this branch. The prudent words of wise men get them out of difficulties. 4. There can be no advantage without something which, though of little moment, will affright the indolent. 5. A conscientious witness will not dare to represent anything otherwise than according to his knowledge. 6. A scorner treats Divine things with contempt. He that feels his ignorance and unworthiness will search the Scriptures in a humble spirit. 7. We discover a wicked man if there is no savour of piety in his discourse. 8. We are travellers, whose concern is, not to spy out wonders, but to get to their journey's end; to understand the rules we are to walk by, also the ends we are to walk toward. The bad man cheats himself, and goes on in his mistake. 9. Foolish and profane men consider sin a mere trifle, to be made light of rather than mourned over. Fools mock at the sin-offering; but those that make light of sin, make light of Christ. 10. We do not know what stings of conscience, or consuming passions, torment the prosperous sinner. Nor does the world know the peace of mind a serious Christian enjoys, even in poverty and sickness. 11. Sin ruins many great families; whilst righteousness often raises and strengthens even mean families. 12. The ways of carelessness, of worldliness, and of sensuality, seem right to those that walk in them; but self-deceivers prove self-destroyers. See the vanity of carnal mirth. 14. Of all sinners backsliders will have the most terror when they reflect on their own ways. 15. Eager readiness to believe what others say, has ever proved mischievous. The whole world was thus ruined at first. The man who is spiritually wise, depends on the Saviour alone for acceptance. He is watchful against the enemies of his salvation, by taking heed to God's word. 16. Holy fear guards against every thing unholy. 17. An angry man is to be pitied as well as blamed; but the revengeful is more hateful.i. e., Labor has its rough, unpleasant side, yet it ends in profit. So also, the life of contemplation may seem purer, "cleaner "than that of action. The outer business of the world brings its cares and disturbances, but also "much increase." There will be a sure reward of that activity in good works for him who goes, as with "the strength of the ox," to the task to which God calls him. 4. crib is clean—empty; so "cleanness of teeth" denotes want of food (compare Am 4:6). Men get the proper fruit of their doings (Ga 6:7). The crib is clean; the barn or stable is empty of food for cattle, and much more for man, whose food is more scarce and dear. In the same sense cleanness of teeth is put for famine, Amos 4:6.

By the strength of the ox; by their labours, or by diligence in husbandry, which then was principally managed by oxen.

Where no oxen are the crib is clean,.... Or "empty" (z), so Jarchi and Aben Ezra. Oxen were used in Judea in several parts of husbandry; in ploughing the land, bringing home the corn, and in threshing or treading it out, Deuteronomy 22:10. Now where these are not, or not used, where husbandry is neglected, there is no straw in the crib for beasts, and much less food for men; or rather, no corn or "wheat" (a) on the "threshingfloor" (b), or in the barn, granary, or storehouse; for so the same word is rendered, Jeremiah 50:26; and in this manner it is interpreted by Gersom here, as also by Kimchi (c): the word translated "clean" is used for "wheat", Amos 8:5. By supplying the negative particle, the whole may be rendered thus; "where no oxen are, the threshingfloor", "granary", or storehouse, "is without wheat"; or there is no wheat "on the floor", or "in the barn", &c. the note of Jarchi on the text is,

"where there are no scholars of the wise men, there is no instruction in the constitutions.''

But much better is the mystical sense, thus; that where there are no ministers of the Gospel, there is no food for souls. Oxen are an emblem of faithful and laborious ministers. The ox was one of the emblems in the cherubim, which design Gospel ministers; the names by which oxen are called agree with them. Here are two words used of them in the text; the one comes from a root which signifies to "teach", "lead", "guide", and "govern"; and the same word for "oxen" signifies "teachers", "leaders", "guides", and "governors"; names which most properly belong to ministers of the word: the other word comes from a root which signifies to "see", to "look"; because these creatures are sharp sighted. Ministers are seers, overseers, and as John's living creatures in Revelation 4:6; one of which was an ox, were full of eyes, within, and before, and behind. So ministers of the word had need to have good sight, to look into the Scriptures, and search them; to look to themselves and to their flock, and to look out to discover enemies, and danger by them; and to look into their own experience, and into things both past and to come. There is a likeness in ministers to these creatures, as to the nature of them; they are clean, creatures, as such should be that minister in holy things; and chew the cud, as such should revolve in their minds and constantly meditate upon divine things; and, like them, are patient and quiet under the yoke; and are not only strong to labour, but very laborious in the word and doctrine; submit to the yoke, draw the plough of the Gospel; bring home souls to Christ, to his church, and to heaven; and tread out the corn, the mysteries of grace, out of the sacred writings. Now where there are no such laborious and diligent ministers of the word, as there are none in the apostate church of Rome, there is no spiritual food for the souls of men; but a famine of the word, and men perish for lack of knowledge;

but much increase is by the strength of the ox; as there is a large increase of the fruits of the earth, through the tillage of it by proper instruments; as by the strong and laborious ox, whose strength is employed in ploughing the ground (d) and treading the corn; which is put for all means of husbandry, where that is used or not: so through the unwearied labours of Gospel ministers, the blessing of God attending them, there is much spiritual food; see Proverbs 13:23. There is an increase of converts, a harvest of souls is brought in; and an increase of gifts and of grace, and of spiritual light and knowledge, and plenty of provisions; which spiritual increase, through the ministry of the word, is owing to God, 1 Corinthians 3:6.

(z) "vacuum", V. L. Munster, Pagninus, Mercerus, Gejerus, Amama; so the Syriac version. (a) "Triticum", Baynus. (b) "area", Gussetius, p. 14. Michaelis, Schultens. (c) Sepher Shorash. rad & R. Joseph Kimchi in Abendana in loc. (d) "Fortis arat valido rusticus arva bove", Tibullus, l. 2. Eleg. 2. v. 14.

Where no {d} oxen are, the crib is clean: but much increase is by the strength of the ox.

(d) By the ox is meant labour, and by the crib the barn, meaning, without labour there is no profit.

4. the crib is clean] and therefore the labour of cleansing and replenishing it is avoided; but the fruit of such labour is lost also. This is what we ourselves understand by a “proverb,” a salient example of a general law. See Introd. ch. II. p. 16.

Verse 4. - Where no oxen (cattle) are, the crib is clean. This does not mean, as some take it, that labour has its rough, disagreeable side, yet in the end brings profit; but rather that without bullocks to labour in the fields, or cows to supply milk - that is, without toil and industry, and necessary instruments - the crib is empty, there is nothing to put in the granary, there are no beasts to fatten. The means must be adapted to the end. Much increase is by the strength of the ox. This, again, is not an exhortation to kindness towards animals, which makes no antithesis to the first clause; but it is parallel with Proverbs 12:11, and means that where agricultural works are diligently carried on (the "ploughing ox" being taken as the type of industry), large returns are secured. Septuagint, "Where fruits are plentiful the strength of the ox is manifest." Proverbs 14:4The switch and the preserving, Proverbs 14:3, may have given occasion to the collector, amid the store of proverbs before him, now to present the agricultural figure:

Without oxen the crib is empty;

But rich increase is by the strength of the plough-ox.

This is a commendation of the breeding of cattle, but standing here certainly not merely as useful knowledge, but as an admonition to the treatment in a careful, gentle manner, and with thankful recompense of the ox (Proverbs 12:10), which God has subjected to man to help him in his labour, and more generally, in so far as one seeks to gain an object, to the considerate adoption of the right means for gaining it. אלפים (from אלף, to cling to) are the cattle giving themselves willingly to the service of men (poet. equivalent to בּקרים). שׁור (תּור, Arab. thwr), Ved. sthûras, is the Aryan-Semitic name of the plough-ox. The noun אבוּס ( equals אבוּס like אטוּן, אמוּן) denotes the fodder-trough, from אבס, to feed, and thus perhaps as to its root-meaning related to φάτνη (πάτνη), and may thus also designate the receptacle for grain where the corn for the provender or feeding of the cattle is preserved - מאבוּס, Jeremiah 50:26, at least has this wider signification of the granary; but there exists no reason to depart here from the nearest signification of the word: if a husbandman is not thoughtful about the care and support of the cattle by which he is assisted in his labour, then the crib is empty - he has nothing to heap up; he needs not only fodder, but has also nothing. בּר (in pause בּר), clean (synon. נקי, cf. at Proverbs 11:26), corresponds with our baar [bare] equals bloss [nudus]. Its derivation is obscure. The בּ, 4b, is that of the mediating cause: by the strength of the plough-ox there is a fulness of grain gathered into the barn (תּבוּאות, from בּוא, to gather in, anything gathered in). רב־ is the inverted בּר. Striking if also accidental is the frequency of the א and ב in Proverbs 14:4. This is continued in Proverbs 14:5, where the collector gives two proverbs, the first of which commences with a word beginning with א, and the second with one beginning with ב:

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