Proverbs 14:4

Where there are no oxen, the manger is empty, but from the strength of an ox come abundant harvests.

I've been reading proverbs lately, but I haven't been able to understand this verse! What is the context that this applies to? Is there some kind of metaphor? I can understand the second clause "from the strength of an ox come abundant harvests". This part seems somewhat easily understood. But for the first part, why would you not want oxen in the first place?


I usually take proverbs to be straightforward about earthly affairs. They often fall under the theme of Ecclesiastes:

A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God (Ecclesiastes 2:24)

This proverb might be a word of wisdom to farmers, touching on laziness or reluctance to work in the grime of hard labor. A framer might not like working hard with oxen because of the mess they make in the barn. They would prefer the manger to be’ empty’ as indicating ‘cleanliness’ (or’ empty’ could signify poverty). I lean to the cleanliness aspect of the barn resulting in poverty from the lack of harvest.

Accordingly, not only having to feed oxen and getting dirty oneself, but all the dung and waste that they would have had to clean up. However, to really accept the work that we have been assigned by the ‘sweat of out brow’ and the kindness that God provisioned in man’s use of stronger animals, man can reap a good harvest.

A farmer, who just wants a tidy place to relax in, will have nothing but poverty.

  • Thanks, it might be easier if I read these together with Ecclesiastes. – Ci3 Jun 27 '12 at 5:46

The simple meaning is to take care of your tools and work animals, because you'll regret it when they are not there.


A proverb uses equal and opposite idealism to get its point across. If no work is being done, then you have no fruits from labor. If much work is being done, then you have much fruits from labor. This was not to suggest that no work should be done. The oxen was used in those days as a worker, and the manger being empty was showing what results from no work being done. Proverbs 14:4 overall could be literally suggesting to the people of those days to purchase an oxen to enjoy in abundant harvests. Or allegorically, start getting to work if you want abundant harvests, else wise your food storage will be empty.


Horses represent warfighting strength; oxen represent productivity strength. God's Word is a deep ocean and seldom does a Proverb have one simple application. While they speak of earthly affairs, they also speak of spiritual affairs. We benefit from understanding them either way (or both ways). Oxen are submissive animals used for their great physical strength. One thing that helped me with this verse was to simply ask myself, "What does an ox represent? Specifically, what is it that an ox does?" The answer to me is, "An ox does HARD WORK". So the Proverb is saying (on one hand) that "without hard work, the feeding trough is empty, but an abundance of sustenance comes from hard work." It also says (on the other hand) that "without a submissive attitude and diligent, HARD WORK (at studying Scripture, for example) we are spiritually famished, but diligent effort with a submissive spirit yields an abundance of spiritual growth (or production, if you will).

While reading through the Proverbs, I frequently find that one verse will teach me something new and different every time I revisit it. For example, what I stated above is what I learned this time through. When I read it again--say in 1 month--I will likely see it another way.


I agree with Jas with the exception that I want to point out that Proverbs 14:4 applies not only to ministers but all those who labor. People make mistakes and cause problems but its through people that work is accomplished. Every employee requires the labor of an employer. The "perfect" employee will never work for you because you are not the "perfect" employer and vice versa. God doesn't disregard people because they make messes, mistakes or sin. He does "fire" people but it is a severe punishment for pride and rejecting correction.

Jas 5:4 Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth.

Pro 29:1 He, that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.


God's way of saying, "Dung" Happens. Even though we might have to, and it's never fun to clean up the poop, it's worth it in the long run because of how much good can come from the ox. Much like how God uses adversary in our lives to produce a good outcome in the end.

Anyhow, that's my take on it. Blessings


Considering that at one time the ox was a farmer's "tractor", the gist of Prov 14:4 is: If you're doing nothing productive, you won't have any mistakes (or mess) to clean up.

The stall will get dirty when you're active, involved and productive. A nice clean stall simply meant someone wasn't doing anything.

  • "A clean desk is a sign of someone who doesn't do anything" or as Albert Einstein once said, "If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?" – The Freemason Sep 11 '14 at 18:19

Back in the day, an ox was very important to a farmer. Maybe the only way to harvest. This reminds me of Luke 10:2 niv

He told them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.

A church needs people that will bring others otherwise it will not grow.

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