"Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox."
I don't know if I can call this my favorite verse in the Old Testament, but I do feel safe in calling this my favorite proverb. The first time I remember seeing this verse, I did not have any idea what it meant. It seemed a bit odd to me. Then, I got it. Ever since that day, this is a verse that I think about on a nearly daily basis.
Think about it. If you own a field and rely on the work of oxen to make money, there are certain things you have to know you will face. One thing you know is that you will have a messy manger. Oxen smell. Oxen do not clean up after themselves. Oxen make a mess.
So, suppose one day the landowner goes to the manger and he's had it! "I can't do this anymore", he says to himself. He is tired of the stench, the feeding, and the work of constantly trying to keep things clean. So, he concludes he would be better off without the oxen. So, suppose he sells them. Then what?
Well, he gets a clean manger. The place starts to smell better. His life gets a bit easier. Fewer demands, fewer chores, and certainly less smell. For a season, life is just fine.
Then, he needs to make money. He must work the fields. Oxen may leave the manger dirty, but their strength sure comes in handy when you need them.
And so, the proverb wisely says, "Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox."
The principal is clear. There are things in life that are messy, but they are worth it because of the value they bring to our lives. Over the next few days, we will look at applications from this simple proverb.
1. The Manger of Marriage
Being married is a blessing. I tell people all the time that I love being married. By God's grace, I married my best friend nearly 22 years ago. Our marriage is imperfect, but it is good -- really good. I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world. Yet, sometimes the manger of marriage gets dirty. Sometimes there are bumps in the road, differences of opinion, and frustration. When you get married you are no longer able to simply make decisions for you. You have to compromise, communicate, and deal with conflict.
Some might conclude that life would be cleaner without the oxen of marriage. After all, if you never get married, you can always spend money how YOU want. You can go out to eat any night and always go to the restaurant YOU choose. If you are tired? You just go to sleep. You do not have to stay up and talk out any problems. You do not have to pick up after anyone and you can always watch whatever show YOU desire.
Yes, indeed. If you choose to not get involved with anyone, the manger of your life will stay a bit cleaner. Your home may smell better (or worse!), but either way, cleaning or not cleaning is YOUR choice.
But, oh...much good comes from being married to the right person. I have the joy of knowing that as long as the Lord allows my wife and me to live that we will be together. I have the thrill of her being the first person I see each morning and last person I talk to each evening. Sometimes the manger gets messy, but much good comes from the blessing of being married to my best friend.
So, if you are married, stay with it. Stay faithful and work through the hard times. Yes, there are days the manger is filthy. Yet, what joy to be married to the one the Lord has brought you. You could have chosen to keep people at a distance and never let anyone close enough to you to be your mate. You could have spared yourself some pain and some heartache, but think of what you would have missed.
So, say with the landowner that cleaning the manger is worth it. After all, abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.
Two quick words of clarification:
1) Men, even if you mean it well, please do not try to recite this devotional to your wife if in doing so you fear you will refer to her as your oxen. It won't go well. Just tell her you love her and call it good.
2) It is not God's will for every person to get married. I realize there are some that desire to be married and the Lord has not made that happen as of yet. I also know their are others whom the Lord has a plan other than marriage for them. Be faithful to the Lord and trust Him to work out the details. Whether God's plan is for you to one day be married or to stay single, as long as you are living for Christ, you have all you need. Married or single, though, the principle is the same. You can keep people at arms-length and see to it that no one gets too close. It will save you some pain, but there will come a day you will need the blessing of close friends and family. Even if you may have to deal with the messy manger, love your friends and family anyway. So remember, although relationships can certainly be difficult, the joy of loving people and having them care for you is a rich blessing indeed.
The mess is worth the blessing!
Part 2 on Tuesday, May 1 -- The Manger of Parenting