"Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox."
This proverb uses the farming practices of the people in Israel's day to teach us a lesson. An ox needs to be taken care of. He needs food and water every day. He needs his stall cleaned. If he becomes sick, he needs treatment. His hooves need a trim every so often. This is a lot of work. Every day of the year the ox needs your care and attention. All the work may lead one to consider getting rid of the ox. Sell him or eat him. No more work filling his manger with food. No more mucking out his stall. Maybe without him around you can relax and have some fun. But before you sell the ox consider the last part of the proverb. The ox is used to plow your field. You need him to get the fields ready for planting. No one could plow as good as an ox. His hard work in spring would greatly improve your chances of a large harvest in the fall. In the fall the ox would be used to thresh the grain as well. So without the ox, your harvest would suffer and poverty would come upon you quickly. Wisdom realizes that all the hard and unpleasant work of taking care of the ox is worth it in the end.
So how can we apply this now, in our time? I don't know anybody here in our country that plows with an ox and most people don't even live on a farm. I believe this proverb's lesson is similar to our modern proverb, "No pain no gain." In our jobs this is the case. We need to work hard to make a profit. We need to do the unpleasant jobs in order for the business to succeed. We have to sacrifice. The easy way is not the way to success and good results. This truth can be seen in the home. Without children, our homes are cleaner and quieter. Without children we may have more money in the bank. But without the hard and sometimes unpleasant work of raising kids, we will never know the great joys of having children. Children are really worth the time and work we put into them. This principle is also seen in the ministries of the church. They all involve difficult, continual, and costly work in order for there to be a great harvest. Missionaries often work for years before there are any conversions. Elders have to work hard at teaching, rebuking, and shepherding for there to be godly growth in the lives of the church members. I am sure you can see how this proverb can apply to many other areas of life.
God's wisdom teaches us to toil and labour in the tasks that He has given to us. When we do, God will bless the work of our hands. Avoiding hard work or being lazy is the way of fools.
2 Thessalonians 3:10b-12, "If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living."
1 Corinthians 15:58, "Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain."