What Good Is a Clean Stable?
“Where no oxen are, the crib is clean: but much increase is
by the strength of the ox.” --Prov. 14:4
The Bible recognizes that there is no perfection in this world,
and very often there is a tradeoff as we go through this world.
A clean barn is desirable, but not at the expense of the work of
You Have to Shovel
If you want to enjoy the use and blessing of an ox, you will have
to shovel some manure. The best Christians have things wrong
with them. Even the Apostle Paul said, “When I would do good,
evil is present with me.” (Romans 7:21)
God gives gifts according to His purpose. (I Cor. 12:6ff). Every
gift has a downside. God called David to be a man of war, to
kill Philistines and to consolidate the nation of Israel. David
was very good at it; but it made him unqualified to build the
temple at Jerusalem (1Chron. 28:3,4).
Squeamish People May Do Great Harm
The man with one talent hid it in the ground because he was
afraid he would get into trouble for not using the talent to
perfection (Matt. 25). Many people fritter way their whole
lives, wishing for perfection, doing nothing for fear of messing
up their clean stable. Every great man who ever lived, in the
church or in the state, had people who carped and complained
because he was not perfect enough to suit their tastes.
Your author has taught school all his life, and has lived long
enough to see how many students have turned out. I have
learned that it is usually, with rare exceptions, impossible
to tell what a person is truly made of by observing him in
grade school, or high school. Some students cause trouble
and are hard to teach, because they have confidence in their
opinions and desires.
Those who teach them must be prepared to shovel a lot, but
the strength of the ox is there and will accomplish much in
God's kingdom. On the other hand, some students may
cause no trouble because they lack confidence and simply
desire to please.
The same is true in Christian ministers.
Strong men often have glaring faults that may embarrass
those who do not like to get their hand dirty. Sometimes
faithful ministers who preach the word and labor tirelessly
in the kingdom of God are slandered because they do not
come up to some perfectionistic standard.
Some people seem to delight in nosing around until they
find something that offends their overly sensitive noses,
and then rejoice as if they had discovered something new
in the world. Such people would have been terribly
uncomfortable around men like Luther, Calvin, or Knox.
Israel put the blood on the doorposts of their homes--it
must have made a mess of their doors.
Does this mean that we approve of manure? By no means.
It simply means that we are realists, and recognize that no
men are perfect; that all have faults and failures. It also
means that we recognize that we can obtain a clean barn
in only two ways: by getting rid of the oxen and getting
nothing done; or by doing a lot of shoveling.
It is unfortunate that some modern translations miss the
point of this verse. The word “clean” does not mean “empty”
in any other place that it is used in the Bible. In Job. 11:4
it stands for doctrine that is “clean” or pure in God's sight;
in Psalm 73:1 it is used for a “clean” heart; In Ps. 19:8 it
says that the commandments of the Lord are “pure”: the
loved one of Song of Solomon 6:9 is “choice.” In this place
to say the “manger is empty” is to take a secondary meaning,
and to miss the main teaching of the verse.
On this verse the great expositor Matthew Henry says,
“Where no oxen are, to till the ground and tread out the corn,
the crib is empty, is clean; there is no straw for the cattle,
and consequently no bread for the service of man. The
crib indeed is clean from dung, which pleases the neat
and nice, that cannot endure husbandry because there is so
much dirty work in it, and therefore will sell their oxen to
keep the crib clean.”
The Pharisees could not tell a gnat from a camel, or a mote
from a two-by-four. It is no fun to have a gnat in your throat,
but a wise man knows it is not a camel. A mote in the eye
may feel like a two-by-four, unless you have had a two-by-
four in your eye; then you might know the difference. The
Pharisees had no judgment, no valid rule of measure to
distinguish between great and little things. What was worse,
they thought God was as trivial as they were. You can
almost hear them say, “Well, sin is sin,” leaving the
impression that they had a more finely tuned sense of sin
than lesser mortals. They did not understand when Jesus
said for them to pay more attention to the “weightier” matters
of the law (Matt. 23:23).
It is true that men before God are either justified in Christ or
are yet in their sins and rebellion. But a child of God does
not sin as an unbeliever does (Deut. 32:5), and even the
sins of unbelievers are not all equal. Sins are not all equal
in God's eyes, and must not be esteemed so in ours, for wise
men must discern between gnats and camels. As the
Westminster Larger Catechism says,
“Q. 150. Are all transgressions of the law of God
equally heinous in themselves, an in the sight of
God? A All transgressions of the law of God are
not equally heinous; but some sins in themselves,
and by reason of several aggravations, are more
heinous in the sight of God than others.”
The Scripture evidences are John 19:11; Ez. 8:6,13,15;
1John 5:16; Ps. 78:17, 32, 56; Luke 12:47; I Sam. 2:25;
Heb. 2:2,8; Heb. 10:29; Matt. 12:81 and many others.
The effect of equalizing all sins, is not to make us abhor small
sins; but causes us to trivialize great ones. We strain at gnats,
and swallow camels.
Pastor C. W. Powell
Trinity Covenant Church (R.C.U.S.)
6050 Del Paz Drive
Colorado Springs, CO 80918