Isaiah 1:2-3 “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth!
For the Lord has spoken:
“I have nourished and brought up children,
And they have rebelled against Me;
The ox knows its owner
And the donkey its master’s crib;
But Israel does not know,
My people do not consider.”
The ox and the donkey have been used for service in jewish history for thousands of years and the Talmud (ancient jewish laws and customs) explicitly stated to not yoke these two animals together, for reasons that might seem obvious to some and yet to others that might not.
Beasts of Burden
Donkey’s are typically used to bear loads and have had quite a place of prominence in biblical history. For one, the Messiah, as He was about to ride into Jerusalem the week before His crucifixion, chose to ride on the back of a donkey.
Matthew 21:1-5 “Now when they drew near Jerusalem, and came to Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Loose them and bring them to Me. And if anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of them,’ and immediately he will send them.”
All this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying:
“Tell the daughter of Zion,
‘Behold, your King is coming to you,
Lowly, and sitting on a donkey,
A colt, the foal of a donkey.’ ”
This prophecy, given through the prophet Zechariah, had been issued nearly 500 years prior to the events that surrounded Jesus during palm Sunday.
The donkey has traditionally represented “lowliness”, a description that is apt considering the traditional role it has performed. Carrying burdens is not a position of honor but of service. Consider anyone who performs tasks of hard labor and you will see a man or woman who certainly earns their wages. The work of bearing burdens may not seem glorious but to the ones who can appreciate the value of hard work, it is certainly honorable.
The donkey is likewise the only other animal (other than the serpent), that was said to have talked.
Numbers 22:26-30 “Then the Angel of the Lord went further, and stood in a narrow place where there was no way to turn either to the right hand or to the left. And when the donkey saw the Angel of the Lord, she lay down under Balaam; so Balaam’s anger was aroused, and he struck the donkey with his staff. Then the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?” And Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you have abused me. I wish there were a sword in my hand, for now I would kill you!” So the donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey on which you have ridden, ever since I became yours, to this day? Was I ever disposed to do this to you?” And he said, “No.”
We witness from this brief but significant event the mind of a donkey. Given, the Lord gave the beast the ability to see the Angel guarding the way and the ability to speak, the interaction seemed a little too common for it to be brushed over. Instead of Balaam being absolutely shocked that his donkey was speaking to him, he just carried on a conversation like it was some ordinary occurrence. The donkey ultimately saved Balaam’s life and I’d imagine the donkey’s relationship changed with Balaam from that point on.
The term bullock is an old anglo-saxon reference for a young bull but has also been substituted as a reference for an exuberant young man. I would have liked to have been referred to as ‘exuberant’ as a young man, instead of foolish, brash, hard headed, or any of the other not so flattering terms used for me when I was young.
Young men have a lot of energy, testosterone, and not a lot of sense. With good training and consistent development, a young man can channel that energy into useful endeavors, it just takes some measure of self-control and guidance.
The Ox (like the young man), is useful for hard labor when yoked accordingly. Take a young bull and yoke it with an old bull and you help train the young one in the proper way to go about a task. The Ox isn’t traditionally fast but it is steady. It goes about its task, chewing its cud and typically leaving the crop alone while performing the duty at hand.
Reward the ox accordingly and it will continue its duty, faithfully for a long time.
1 Corinthians 9:9 “For it is written in the Law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Is it about oxen that God is concerned?”
What is it that keeps the donkey and the oxen from just rebelling and going their own way?
Knowing their master will grant them the corn or pasture to rest and graze in is what often keeps the animal going. If the master is cruel or the animal is starving, the resulting work becomes less productive and the animal harder to control. Deprive the animal of care and it may continue for a while but eventually the animal will give up and possibly die.
1 Corinthians 9:10-12 “Or does He say it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written, that he who plows should plow in hope, and he who threshes in hope should be partaker of his hope. If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it a great thing if we reap your material things? If others are partakers of this right over you, are we not even more?
Where does our hope rest? The work we do in God’s Kingdom will have its reward in faithful obedience.
Like the ox and donkey, we have a responsibility that our master has tasked us with in doing the work of His Kingdom, sharing the gospel is one aspect of that work.
If we went about doing our duty as believers and received no immediate reward, it would be difficult to endure. Eventually we would begin to grow discouraged and question the effectiveness of our task.
Questions such as “Why am I doing this? ” or wondering if certain responsibilities are really what the Lord has called us to?
These are questions that everyone who serves in the Kingdom of God have asked at one time or another. So what is it that keeps the missionary, evangelist, or the faithful believer going?
1 Corinthians 9:25 “And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.”
The imperishable crown of glory that will be set upon the heads of God’s faithful servants is an honor that is worth waiting for. What is this crown and why is it so significant?
Isaiah 28:5 “On that day the LORD of Hosts will be a crown of glory, a diadem of splendor to the remnant of His people,”
The splendor of God’s majesty is made manifest in the person of Jesus Christ. Our hope and glory rests fully in our Savior. Taking part in God’s Kingdom has value to His people.
We work for Him. We live for Him. He sustains us. He gives us life. He brings reward. He is faithful so that we be found faithful.
Do you know the Master?
He isn’t cruel, He expects nothing more than what you can give and He gives us everything to accomplish His work. He rewards His faithful now, and He has a reward that is to come. The ox and donkey are smart enough to know who their master is and they work faithfully because of that knowledge.
Can you see the value in what God has given you to do?
We must not forget what is important in life. We have so many things coming at us every day, it is so easy to take our eyes off of what is important and place them on what is not.
If you keep your eyes on the Master you will make a difference in God’s Kingdom and you will discover the satisfaction of completing the work He tasked you with.