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Let Wisdom Guide Your Human Endeavors
Proverbs 14:4 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
4 Where there are no oxen, a manger of grain,
but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.
Where there are no oxen, a manger of grain: An alternative rendering for the second half of this line is, “the manger is clean.” The problem that we face with this rendering is that the Hebrew word (בַּר bar) is not found elsewhere with the meaning of “clean” even though lexically that is one of the options. The Hebrew word (בַּר bar) can mean “clean” in the sense of moral purity or cleanness instead than physical cleanliness. (Job 11:4; Psa. 2:12; 19:9; 24:4; 73:1) What Solomon meant was that if we have a manger of grain, that is a full manger; then, we have no ox; otherwise, the manger would be empty. In other words, if we have not invested in oxen, we will not have an abundant harvest. This is reinforced in line 2.
but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox: The Hebrew word (תְּבוּאָה tebuah) rendered crops means “product,” “revenue,” “income,” “increase,” “revenue,” “yield,” “yield may increase” as it relates to a harvest. The Hebrew word (כֹּחַ koach) rendered strength means “physical strength,” “power,” or “ability” in reference to the ox pulling a plow, which leads to an abundant harvest.
Solomon has given us an interesting, thought-provoking proverb that appears to deal with the necessity for us to consider the advantages and the disadvantages of taking on a certain task. Roland E. Murphy writes, “An empty crib [manger] indicates that there are no oxen to feed, and hence one is free of the trouble of cleaning and caring for the animals, and expenses would be less. But this ‘advantage’ is offset in v[erse] 4b: without the use of oxen, it is implied, the harvest will not be great.” In other words, as the Israelite farmer need to make the wise choice, so do we.
The choice is very simple, if we were to choose option “A,” on the surface, it would seem to be the preferred choice because we have less work, responsibilities, and obligations, as well as have fewer expenses. Yet, if we choose “B” we will have an abundant harvest. We can apply this principle to almost any choice in life, be it choosing a career, what to major in, or even if we should get a higher education, the type of home, or purchasing a car. If we are wise, we will weigh the advantages against the disadvantages, so as to determine if the undertaking is really worth the effort and expense.
Working can be difficult and unpleasant on the surface, yet the result is some kind of profit. A life of less expended effort may seem easier and better than one of effort and action. The plan that gives you more safety and security until the return of Jesus Christ may mean more effort and expenses, but also brings with it much increase. There will be a definite return for the activity in their good works for the wise one who expends himself as with “the strength of the ox,” to do the tasks that also align with the will of the Father.
 Roland E. Murphy, Proverbs, Volume 22 (Word Biblical Commentary | WBC), (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998), 14:4.