What Is the Meaning of Proverbs 14:4?

By Jason Jackson

“What is the meaning of Proverbs 14:4? It seems to be out of place in the Bible.”

Before we address the text of Proverbs 14:4, we need consider this important point. Contrary to the opinions of many, the Bible was intended to instruct us in all areas of life. We do not find the concept of compartmentalizing one’s life into secular and religious realms. God has provided the principles for righteous living in all things (1 Peter 1:3).

That important point noted, let us examine the passage at hand.

Proverbs is an interesting book on the surface, but it is not just another collection of ancient sayings. It is, rather, a collection of inspired truths in memorable and vivid forms.

Proverbs covers a wide range of topics. There are proverbs concerning wealth, wisdom, friends, family, work, and worldliness. For a helpful, comprehensive topical index of Proverbs, consult The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, volume five, or Derek Kidner’s commentary on Proverbs in the Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries series.

Here is the text of Proverbs 14:4:

“Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of oxen.”

Have you ever heard someone say, “There are pros and cons to everything”? We make decisions by weighing the advantages and disadvantages of a thing.

When it comes to owning oxen, there are disadvangates. They eat a lot. They can be expensive and time-consuming to keep. If you don’t have any oxen, you can save a lot of time and expense. Consider having a “clean manger” [Note: The Hebrew term translated “manger” ’ebus means a “feeding-trough.” (The New Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius Hebrew-English Lexicon, p. 7.)].

On the other hand, oxen are the tools for an abundant harvest. Their cost and inconvenience does not compare with their productivity.

Solomon is not simply giving a lesson in agriculture. Here are two principles:

  1. get the right tools for the job you need to do, and
  2. the cost of the right tool is worth it.

This is true for both material and spiritual work.

How many times has money been wasted by trying to “cut corners”? It is important to be wise in one’s work and financial matters.

Christians can reap an “abundant harvest” by using tools of a spiritual nature. Good books, study materials, and evangelism aids are invaluable. Build yourself a library of tools. Don’t buy just anything. Get recommendations. The job is to learn, love, and live the Bible. Good tools will pay great dividends.