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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Wisdom includes leveraging your efforts to accomplish much more than what one person can do. This proverb teaches the important lesson. God inspired King Solomon to write about economics, finance, and investments. God wants you to work smart to get ahead.

In his book of philosophy, he wrote, “If the iron be blunt, and he do not whet the edge, then must he put to more strength: but wisdom is profitable to direct” (Eccl 10:10). Wisdom includes working smart, like using a file to sharpen an axe, so you can cut down a tree faster than others, who foolishly continue to beat against the tree with a dull blade.

Adam Smith wrote, “The Wealth of Nations,” in 1776. Before then, little was understood about savings, investment, capital, means of production, income-producing assets, and distribution of labor. But Solomon had taught these things in 920 BC, or almost 3000 years before Adam Smith. Give God the glory! Love Scripture! Love Proverbs!

Oxen are large bovine animals God created for the service of man. Today, when domesticated, men generally call them cattle. Specifically, they are castrated bulls that have reached full maturity and strength. (Bulls do not submit well to handling, yokes, and plowing!) They may easily weigh one ton and have enormous strength for pulling.

A crib is a barred storage apparatus where corn and other grain products are kept for feeding cattle and other farm animals. From this usage men have adapted the word to mean the barred small bed for children, which has a similar appearance. A cattle crib is similar to the manger in which our Lord and Saviour was placed after birth (Luke 2:7).

If a farmer plows, cultivates, and harvests by hand, he only has the strength and endurance to work a very small section of ground. His family will barely survive, and he will never get ahead. The storage crib for corn or other produce will be clean – empty, because he and his family will have eaten most or all he could plant and harvest. Nations in the world today that still rely on manual labor are as poor as they were 4000 years ago.

But if a farmer can deny himself and save money to purchase an ox, he will have invested in the means of much greater production. The strong ox can pull a plow through the soil for many hours a day (I Kgs 19:19). Many acres can be cultivated. But that is not all!

The ox can also trample the raw grain to separate its components (Deut 25:4), and he can drive a grinding wheel (Judges 16:21). The ox can pull heavily loaded wagons to market (Num 7:3). The farmer now produces much more than he needs to eat and increases his wealth and farm. This great reversal of fortune came by saving and investing in an ox.

Saving and investing are pillars of a capitalistic and prosperous economy. To buy an ox, a farmer denies himself short-term pleasures to accumulate the needed funds: this is saving. Then he must spend those saved funds for an ox that eats much feed every day and is expensive to maintain: this is investing. Wisdom loves saving and investing.

By saving some of his own production, the farmer created capital; by investing it in better means of production, he has converted his capital to income-producing assets. Invested capital will bring wealth, which creates more capital and investment, which leads to even greater wealth. Much increase is by the strength of the ox! Thank you, Solomon!

Consider the wisdom of the proverb. Oxen eat a lot of corn and other feed, yet it is a farm without oxen that has nothing in the crib. Farms with oxen, though they eat much corn, have great increase in their net corn production. There is very much corn left over to sell and buy luxuries they never dreamed of when cultivating their land by hand. God created the means of production – the ox – that wisely used will produce far more than it consumes. Thank you, Lord. God also gave the wisdom to use the ox. Thank you, Lord.

Both the ox and the wisdom to use the ox come from God. In fact, even the knowledge of how to plant, harvest, and process various grains comes from Him (Is 28:23-29). Do you grasp this precious truth – even basic farming wisdom comes from God? It was not learned by trial and error (or the first generation would have died before they learned it).

Where do witty inventions come from? They are God’s blessing, and they result from wisdom (Pr 8:12). God puts exceptional abilities in the hearts of some men, and He stirs those men up to use their creative genius to make tools that men marvel about and use to leverage their efforts (Ex 31:1-6; 36:1-2; II Chr 26:15). Are you thankful to God for the labor-saving devices you use every day? He will judge unthankfulness (Rom 1:21-22).

Here is economic wisdom, and Solomon taught it 3000 years ago! But there are societies and nations that have not learned these simple lessons. They still rely on manual labor, do not understand saving, make no investments, and ignore the means of production that are available. They pick berries and nuts, hunt wild game, wear skins, and live in huts or tents. They have not changed in thousands of years. Are you thankful for wisdom?

The United States and other nations that love and use these principles of wisdom enjoy great wealth and prosperity. They enjoy luxuries and leisure more than any society in history. Men categorize the other nations not using Solomon’s wisdom as second world or third world countries based on their ignorance of these simple economic principles.

Once a man sees the profit of saving and investing in an ox, he becomes very conscious of other possibilities, so other witty inventions take place, which are a further blessing of God upon those who fear Him (Pr 8:12). They invent better plows, planters, pickers, threshing devices, and tractors! They invent chainsaws, combines, PTO’s, conveyors, washing machines, typewriters, vacuum cleaners, microwave ovens, and computers!

Would you like to be a lumberjack with an axe – or with a chainsaw? Would you like to slice meat in a deli with a knife or a meat slicer? Would you like to be an accountant with an abacus or a computer? Would you like to unload trucks with a forklift or by hand? Would you accept the assignment to build a car by hand or on an assembly line?

Summarize the lesson, and bless the Lord! The ox, the economic wisdom to use the ox, agricultural wisdom, and witty inventions are all from the Lord! Give God the glory!

Are you saving and investing as wisely as you should? Are you obeying this proverb in your life? Do you own any means of production? Do you have any income-producing assets? Are you accumulating funds – capital – to invest in such things? If you spend everything you earn, you are foolish. You need to learn from the ant (Pr 6:6-8; 30:25). You should pursue mutual funds, rental houses, equipment or tools that can make more than they cost, a business employing others, or other ways to leverage your own efforts.

Paul applied the rules of caring for oxen to ministers, so consider how the proverb addresses them (I Cor 9:6-14; I Tim 5:17-18). A church without a pastor will see little spiritual growth, for the God-given strength of the spiritual ox is missing. But where there is a laboring pastor, the church will benefit by this God-ordained means of increase. A hard-working minister can be very profitable – and this is his calling (I Tim 4:13-16). And the harder he works, the more he should be fed (I Tim 5:17-18).

Are you taking care of your ox – the watcher of your soul? Do you pray for him daily? If you take care of him and pray for him, he can help leverage your desire for God’s word.

Further, it is the spiritual duty of God’s saints to seek the purity of their churches, for spiritual and carnal blessings are by His favor (Psalm 144:9-15). Even the means of natural production, and certainly the means of spiritual production, are by His blessing. Strong and healthy oxen and garners full of food are both by divine mercy (Psalm 144:13-14). And it is a happy people indeed who have honored the Lord with holy lives to bring these great blessings! Happy is that people whose God is the LORD (Ps 144:15)!