One of my favourite Proverbs of late is 14:4,"Where no oxen are, the manger is clean, But much revenue comes by the strength of the ox."
This proverb speaks to me of basic life principles of choice and risking to gain. Life is a series of choices. Even when we think we are not making a choice, we are. We're choosing to stay where we are. The challenge of this proverb is that a well-calculated risk is worthwhile to take. It doesn't say you have to risk. Have a clean manger if you want to; it's your choice. But consider the alternative: the power of extra revenue. Three of the big areas of risk in life are changing jobs, getting (and staying) married, and having children.
Changing jobs involves risk. I find it interesting seeing how some people stay at the same job for decades, and others change often. There are benefits to both. But the lesson of this proverb is that what looks complicated or like extra work, might in the end be worth the extra effort. As Barnes' Notes on the Bible says, "Labor has its rough, unpleasant side, yet it ends in profit." Are you too worried about mussing the manger? Are you complaining about or suffering from lack of revenue, but unwilling to risk dirtying the oxen's stall?
Marriage involves risk. It, too, is a choice. God does not force us into marriage. But the ox parable holds true there, too. Yes, marriage comes with extra duties and responsibilities. But it comes with extra joys, too. There are singles that I meet who are full of fears about marriage or require extraordinary accomplishments of any eligible suitor. We want a perfectly compatible, well-groomed, well-established partner. Perhaps we just need a bit more of a taste of the "revenue" of a godly marriage, to be reminded of the good it brings. Marriage is a risk worth taking, in the will of God.
Having children involves risk. In North American culture, more and more couples are choosing childlessness. What used to be a couple's worst nightmare (consider how Biblical couples struggled with barrenness) is now considered a viable option. They're afraid of getting the manger dirty or having to pay for shots for baby oxen. In a sense, couples do have a choice as to whether or not to have children. But much joy comes from the arrival of a child.
On Wednesday and Thursday morning, my sister might have told you that she, too, would never have any more children. (Labour is called labour for a reason, I learned.) But you should see my sister's home now, four days later. You should watch the way the love and joy has multiplied in their home by the arrival of the little person below last week. Yes, she was a lot of work. Yes, she will be a lot of work. Yes, it's quite possible that she's screaming right now. But the unique joy of parenthood is the "much revenue" of the addition of their sweet daughter.
The direct application of Proverbs is 14:4, of course, is to work, but I believe that many other secondary principles can be drawn from this verse as well. It is a good challenge to those of us who are reticent to make changes, to expand, or to try new things: Where are we trading revenue for a tidy manger? Yes, it's your choice whether you want oxen, but a little hay never hurt anyone.