Proverbs 14:4

A Clean Crib or the Strength of the Ox


1. This proverb is a bit different from most of the others in recent chapters.

2. There is no contrast between the wise man and the fool or the righteous man and the wicked.

3. Rather, this proverb teaches a lesson through an illustration that would have been very familiar to most of Solomon’s readers…

4. The illustration might not be quite so familiar to us today, and it might require a bit more thinking… but once you see the illustration, the light goes on… and its truth is undeniable.

5. This proverb illustrates a principle that has countless applications.

a. For you young people wondering whether going to college is worth it or not…

b. For the factory worker who prefers to take the easy, shortcut way to do the job—here’s something to think about.

c. For the factory owner who wants his factory to be productive.

d. For the Sunday school teacher who really wants to see fruit from his or her ministry—here is a valuable principle.

e. For the commander in Chief of the armed forces…

f. For the homemaker… the construction worker… the student… the engineer… here is a principle that will transform your work, your success, your finances, and perhaps your whole career!

4a Where no oxen are, the crib is clean…

1. The farmer who doesn’t use oxen to plow his fields has some immediate advantages:

a. He doesn’t have to clean up the messy stall every day!

b. He doesn’t have to shovel manure; that’s no fun!

c. Nor does he have to feed the oxen every day.

d. He doesn’t have to carry piles of hay out to the barn twice a day.

2. In fact this farmer might look at the farmer next door and even laugh at him!

a. Look at that fool shoveling manure!

b. Look at that fool carrying hay out to the barn!

c. My life is so much easier… my barn so much cleaner…

d. That poor fool next door sure goes to a lot of trouble on those dumb animals…

e. Those oxen are more work than anything else!

f. If only my neighbor were as smart as I am… he would see how much extra work he has to do to keep those animals.

3. In the short run, the farmer who chooses NOT to use oxen has a point.

a. He DOES have less work to do.

b. His stalls are cleaner.

c. The farmer next door DOES have extra chores to do.

4. But this is precisely this man’s problem. He is looking at the situation from a very narrow perspective… he doesn’t see the whole picture. He only sees the immediate.

a. The farmer who chooses NOT to use oxen is looking only at the “immediate”… and has no vision for the future.

b. Kids often think like this. They have no vision for the future.

c. Kids often do not see WHY they have to do this or that. What good does it do right NOW?

d. In a sense, the farmer who chooses NOT to use oxen thinks like Esau. Esau wanted his porridge right now… and was not interested in tomorrow or the future. His only concern was for me, myself, and I… right now! Nothing matters but the immediate.

e. This proverb teaches the folly of that kind of an attitude.

f. If our focus is on “me, myself, and I and right now”—it will affect our decisions. It will affect our future. It will affect our success.

5. The farmer in the first part of this proverb chose the easy route… for the immediate.

a. He chose not to use any oxen.

b. He didn’t want to do the dirty work associated with having oxen. (Cleaning; shoveling manure; feeding; etc.)

c. And in the immediate, he DID have it easier than his neighbor.

d. But Solomon is going to demonstrate how FOOLISH this man’s narrow perspective really is.

e. Perhaps some of us here have been a bit narrow in our perspective… and maybe the Lord will make a personal application of this principle.

4b But much increase is by the strength of the ox.

1. On the other hand is the farmer next door who DOES use oxen in his fields for plowing.

2. This man uses oxen to plow his fields… which means that this man has at least three immediate DISADVANTAGES.

a. There was the initial investment in purchasing the oxen. There was a big cost up front… which his neighbor didn’t have to pay!

b. Then there are the ongoing expenses of feeding the oxen.

c. And there is also the extra maintenance work of cleaning the stalls.

3. Those disadvantages notwithstanding, Solomon emphasizes here the STRENGTH of the ox.

a. Oxen are expensive. And they eat a lot. And they can make a mess too.

b. That’s all the farmer in the first part of this proverb saw—the expense, the dirty work, and the mess.

c. But the farmer in the second part of the proverb sees something BEYOND that.

d. He sees the STRENGTH of the ox.

e. This farmer sees the potential in the ox.

f. He sees the benefit of using an ox.

g. He sees the increased productivity from the ox.

h. This farmer observed that his neighbor is able to cultivate one acre by hand and reap a one acre harvest, he could cultivate 10 acres with oxen—and reap 10 acres worth of harvest!

i. And not only is this farmer able to plow 10 times the acreage, each acre is greatly increased by the oxen. The farmer who uses oxen has to shovel manure—but that manure also greatly increases his productivity!

j. The farmer who takes the easy route and sold his oxen because they were too much work and who didn’t want to get his hands dirty shoveling manure, looses out all around!

k. He ends up with far less acreage plowed—and what little he does get plowed is not nearly as productive as the acreage next door that is fertilized organically!

4. The principle:

a. With a little extra investment of money and work—he could in the long run—be MUCH BETTER OFF!

b. The benefits of the strength of the ox by far outweigh the extra expense and work.

c. By doing a few extra unpleasant chores (manure duty!)—he reaps a huge benefit.

d. Kids—in this illustration, doing your homework and studying for tests might seem like shoveling manure (you’ve got better things to do, right?)—but in the long run, there is a great benefit from it!

5. A meaningful project always requires a little extra investment of time, energy, money, and care… but the end product is WORTH every bit of it!

a. That’s a great lesson to learn—and one that has application in absolutely EVERY field of endeavor.

b. This principle is as valuable to the housewife and to the president of the USA.

6. Applications for today…

a. There are some young people who think that going to college is a waste of time… because they know a friend who got a job at Raytheon without going to college… and now he’s got his own car!
• But over time, the one who stayed in school will likely advance much more rapidly at Raytheon!

b. There are homemakers today who think that making a pie from scratch is a waste of time. You can buy one much cheaper…
• Maybe you can buy a Tabletalk cherry pie cheaper than you can make one, but there’s nothing like a homemade cherry pie!
• The benefit by far outweighs the extra effort!

c. There are factory owners who don’t want to buy the newer more efficient equipment… because they don’t want the extra burden of debt…
• So they take the easy way, and use the old fashioned equipment.
• This machinery was good enough for my father when he ran the company…it’s good enough for me.
• The extra upfront investment in new equipment—and even the burden of a loan to purchase it might seem like shoveling manure…
• But, if the new machines can produce 10 times as many widgets per hour, it is worth every penny invested!

d. There are young people today who think that it’s not worth paying all that money for college, when they could be living a lot better right now by going to work and not spending all those thousands of dollars on tuition.
• They would rather keep that money for themselves right now.
• But take the time to compare the “earning power” over the long haul.
• The time and effort invested in college might enable you be much better off than if you chose not to invest 4+ years at the university.

e. The small business owner who doesn’t want to spend money on advertising…
• But his competition might discover that there is strength in advertising…
• Investing money up front to advertise and let your products be known may pay off by 10 times the sales!

f. The US military operates by this principle.
• The new soldier might liken boot camp to shoveling manure—but over time he will see the benefit of it.
• The Pentagon spends millions of dollars on equipment, planes, research, training programs, education, and technology…
• Some men might complain about those expenses… (and some complain about the expense)—but when they go to war and are 10 times as efficient and effective as the enemy—we ALL benefit.

g. The CEO who slashes the budget for research and development because he sees it as a waste of time…
• Yet the company who spends the research money up front and discovers a new medical breakthrough, a more efficient engine, or a better mousetrap—could leave their competition in the dust!

h. The man who chops wood—and takes the time to sharpen his ax.
• The guy next door who chops wood for the same amount of time but doesn’t take the time to stop and sharpen his ax may work just as long and hard, but will not be as productive.
• He may view stopping to sharpen the ax as a waste of time… but the benefits greatly aid productivity.

i. The computer user who invests a little extra time to read the manual and learns a much more efficient way to use his software.

7. In every area of life—the strength of the ox is by FAR worth the extra expense and effort required to maintain the ox.

a. This is especially so in our spiritual lives.

b. There was no LAW that required farmers to use oxen. It was his choice.

c. In our spiritual lives, there is no LAW that requires believers to go to prayer meeting or Sunday school.
• Like caring for an ox, there is extra effort involved in caring for our spiritual lives.
• Getting up earlier for Sunday school; gobbling down supper in a hurry or even eating late in order to make it to prayer meeting.
• But think about the benefits and the spiritual STRENGTH available to those who take advantage of it.
• Evening mid-week fellowship 52 weeks a year! 52 practical lessons from proverbs for ourselves and our kids… priceless!
• Sunday school—52 hour long classes a year—on all sorts of subjects… think of the strength that results from the extra discernment…
• Like the farmer who doesn’t want to shovel manure—life would be a bit more comfortable for self RIGHT NOW… in the immediate if we could sleep later on Sundays… or lie on the couch Wednesday nights…
• But the long term spiritual benefit by far outweighs the extra investment in time and effort.
• Think of the eternal benefits: a WELL DONE from the Lord…