21 The Ox that Gores

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If an ox gore a man or a woman, that they die: then the ox shall be surely stoned, and his flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall be quit. Exodus xxi. 28.

IT is said by the apostle Paul, in a passage that is well known to the readers of the Sacred Scriptures, that all scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works, but on reading a passage such as that which forms our present text, a person who knows nothing but the literal sense of the Holy Word will naturally ask,–What manner of instruction in righteousness, what manner of doctrine, correction, or growth in every good work, can possibly come from such a declaration as this concerning an ox goring a man, or any of the laws connected with it? And, it is true enough, that if we were to regard these divine laws simply in relation to their outward application, this portion of the Word of God might well be classed amongst those which might have had some relation to the Jews and their dispensation, but whose value must now have entirely passed away. Yet, we should not be much edified in our view of the Word of God by considering it in the light we have just mentioned, because the whole Israelitish dispensation was a shadow of good things to come; and, consequently, to say of any part of the Book of God, that it belongs to the Israelitish dispensation, and has nothing to do with us, is entirely to ignore the very purpose for which the Israelitish dispensation existed. Every part of the law was to be a pattern of the true, the Israel of old, of the Israel now; the Jerusalem of old, of the Jerusalem that is from above. Consequently, this argument alike with that which teaches that all divine inspiration must be for eternal and spiritual uses–this argument equally shows us, that, however the man of the letter only, may fail in seeing how this part of the Word of God is for instruction in doctrine, in righteousness, in reproof, and in thoroughly furnishing the man of God unto all good works, it yet has its deep and glorious wisdom for those who are aware that Gods words enclose eternal and spiritual thoughts and are everywhere spirit and life.

Indeed, we shall easily be prepared to enter upon the solution of the divine lessons before us, if we bear in mind, that the ox, like the sheep, the lamb, the horse, and a variety of other animals, is brought before us in the Word of God, with exceeding frequency. They are all symbols of important principles in the human mind.

Without bearing this in mind, what should we be able to make of the 20th verse of the 32nd chapter of Isaiah, Blessed are ye that sow beside all waters, that send forth thither the feet of the ox and the ass? For what possible connection could there be between a person simply sending his ox or his ass to be watered at the river, and his becoming the object of divine blessing? Yet so the Word of God reads, Blessed are ye that sow beside all waters, that send forth thither the feet of the ox and the ass. But if we bear in mind the great law which we have so often dwelt upon, that everything in the world around, corresponds to some principle in the world within, according to the peculiar character of each, we shall then be easily able to observe that there are some especially beautiful lessons connected with the ox. For the ox has in all ages represented to the thoughtful mind the disposition of plodding, patient industry. That animal is the very expression of patient, plodding, steady purpose, and therefore, when it is said, Blessed are ye that sow beside all waters, that send forth thither the feet of the ox, we can readily discern a divine lesson, when we think not of earthly waters, but of heavenly–the sacred streams of the Word of God–and think of a person going there with that disposition in him which is like the ox. The man who is patient, and has a constant observance of duty, and who goes to the Word of God to be enlightened in that duty, by means of its sacred lessons, will, undoubtedly, be blessed. He has, then, not only a disposition to obey, but an enlightened mind. A man who has not been instructed in the principles of divine truth, may have this ox-like disposition, but, in ignorance, he may be misled. He may be drawn away by a deceiver, be made the creature of a tyrant, or a false principle. But blessed are they who send their ox to the waters;–who go with the intention of learning from the Word of God what is right, and then doing it.

Remembering this symbol of the ox, you will find again and again the same divine image presented to us in the Word, as, for instance, in the 2nd verse of the 4th chapter of Malachi, Unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of Righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall, that is to say, they who fear the Lord, shall have the desire born again in the soul by regeneration, that subsequently, becomes an ox, but begins by being a tender, innocent, careful impulse to plod on in the way of duty, and go forth as calves of the stall. Again, in the sublime representation in Rev. iv. 7, which describes the affections of the highest angels, under the representation of the FOUR LIVING ONES, that were in the midst of the throne, the throne being the symbol of heaven, filled with the spirit of the Lord himself. The living ones in the midst of the throne represent the best angels, those who are all alive with the spirit of love. It is said the first beast was like a lion, to represent the loving courage of those who supremely love the Lord; And the second beast was like a calf, to represent the tender spirit of steady obedience these blessed ones have:–bold as a lion to think what is right, gentle se a calf in the path of duty. They are also said to have the face of a man, indicative of their intelligence, and, fourthly, to be like a flying eagle, descriptive of their power of soaring into the holiest things. These celestial dualities of those who are perfected in loving the Lord above all things, and their neighbor as themselves, are thus presented in their quadruple perfections. You will find from the symbolic character of the ox, that, there was instituted amongst the Israelites a daily sacrifice of an ox, to teach us, that, it is this same spirit plodding devotion to duty, of careful, loving attention to every little requirement which duty demands, which forms the life of the true Christian. For life is not made up of certain grand crises, of a few great things, but of innumerable little things, and he who is attentive, from right principles, to little things, leads the truly heavenly life. The good man begins his duty in the morning by asking divine help to do right, he plods on throughout the day, attending to the duties of his calling in the spirit of our Lords teaching, when He says, He that is faithful in that which is least, is faithful also in much. This law is often overlooked by those who hope to reach the kingdom of heaven, but who expect to do it by some great demonstration, as Naaman expected to be cured by some striking display. When the prophet told him to go and wash in Jordan seven times, he said, I thought he would have required me to do some great thing. He supposed the dignity of the prophet, and his own dignity as captain of the hosts of Syria required this. But not so, nor is it ever so. Just as mountains are made up of stones, end the ocean is made up of drops of water, so is a virtuous life made up of little duties.

Give us this day our daily bread, is the Christians prayer. Strength is given us daily. It is daily bread that the Christian needs. It is daily duty that he has to perform. Though the distance between the state in which he is today, and the state in which he will be when he enters the golden palace of his God is great; yet that distance will be accomplished step by step. All that he is required to do is to shun the evil of today, and do the good of today for the love of the Lord, and the love of his neighbor, and in that way everything that the Christian is called upon to do will be accomplished in the Lords good time. A step at a time. He that is faithful in that which is least, is faithful also in much. The spiritual ox is this persevering steady disposition. The brazen sea, which stood in the courtyard of the temple, and in which everyone that entered into the tabernacle had first to wash, was placed upon twelve statues of oxen, to teach the same great lesson, that, all purifications of heaven are to be connected with the daily duties of a plodding life. We must not ask ourselves what extraordinary things can we perform; but just as an ox goes round step by step in doing its daily work, so we must do our Lords will in the duties of our vocation, and while we are doing this from love to the Lord, and charity to our neighbor, our purification will go on.

He who forsakes his daily duty and substitutes for it something else that he supposes will do equally well, or be more beneficial, will find that all his pretended righteousness will fail him at last. The brazen sea of heaven is always on the twelve oxen.

But here the ox is not spoken of approvingly. It is not the ox on which the brazen sea rested, or that was offered up as a burnt offering to the Most High which is brought before us here; but it is an ox that gores a man or a woman, and of which it is said, that it shall be stoned, and the owner shall then be quit.

Every object, both in nature and in the Word, is capable of being used in a good sense or in a bad one. Whatever it represents in a good sense, in the bad one it represents the opposite.

The ox that gores a man or a woman, represents the perverse disposition of an obstinate mind, that offends against what is manly, or what is connected with the affection of truth. The horn with which it gores is representative of the power of such a principle, and hence, the ox thus coming and suddenly destroying a man or a woman, reminds us of that awful, terrible description which is given in Psalm xxii., of the bitterness of our Lords last temptation, when he says, Many bulls have compassed me: strong bulls of Bashan beset me round.

The spirits that compassed him about and gaped upon him, were infernals who were in the perpetual disposition of obstinately doing evil. They mere therefore called bulls of Bashan. The ox in this bad sense, represents the disposition of doing evil,–an obstinate, perverse heart. When such a disposition starts up in the soul and injures what is true or good, it is represented as goring a man or a woman; such an animal was to be stoned, and then the owner would be quit. When it is said that such a, state of heart as is offensive against truth, has done serious injury to the soul, and it is discovered that such injury has been perpetrated from the willful purpose of an unregenerate affection, it shall be stoned. That is to say, the Word shall condemn it, the Divine Truths of the Word shall be brought forward so as to guard the soul against its efforts, and then there will be no further harm. The first law respecting the oxen, represents the state of one who has not been previously instructed in what is good, in whom the will is still unregenerate, and who is, therefore, wild, wayward, and inconsiderate. When Divine Truth is brought forward, and the soul is shewn that such and such acts are contrary to the commands of heaven, it comes at once into a higher and better state, and there is no further harm done. Our Lord speaks of such when he says, If ye were blind ye would have no sin. They are instructed; the ox is put to death,–that is, their disposition is utterly rejected, and the man is quit.

But the Divine Word goes on to say that if he were wont to push in times past, and if its owner had been cautioned, and he has not taken the means by which it should be prevented from endangering any one, he, also, should be put to death. Because this represents the disposition of one who sins against instruction and warning given in days gone by. Such a one has allowed evil to come into reiterated rebellion and contumacy against the Most High. Divine Truth has explained to him how wrong his conduct is, but he has not guarded against it. In such case, not only is he found to be guilty of outward evil, but of inward persistent sin, and he perishes in spiritual death. Not only the outside of the cup and platter are wrong, but the inside also; he sins, not only in the sight of man, but in the sight of God; therefore, it is said that he, too, should be put to death.

The next law is that of the ox whose owner has been warned but which has warned, it is said, a son or a daughter, According to the same Judgment, it is said, it shall be done unto him. By the ox injuring a son or a daughter, or a man-servant or maid-servant, is represented a similar evil disposition, but which goes against laws and principles, that are not of so interior a character as those which have been mentioned.

There are sins unto death and sins not ante death. There may have been serious injury, yet the injury is not so great but that it may be repaired, and expiation made. In such case the owner shall pay whatever money (silver) is put upon him. In the lighter instances he shall pay thirty shekels of silver, and then he shall be ransomed, to teach us this great truth, that in every case of disobedience, even though it be in ignorance, there is no possibility of being brought into the order of heaven, but by means of that instruction represented by the thirty shekels of silver. If a person has gone wrong he must have truth brought, he must be made intelligent in what is right, and obeying that instruction in his daily life and habits, there can be restoration made. He shall give whatsoever is laid upon him. In all these laws, the sublime truth is taught, that there is no means whatever of avoiding bringing the soul into true order if we would go to heaven. Some of the most injurious fallacies that affect the human race at present, are associated with the idea of a death-bed repentance, as if the new man could be formed from mere wishing. These divine laws solemnly assure us that this cannot be done, that a man if he has fallen into disobedience against the will of God, and offended against the divine laws, must make expiation and restitution. He must by repentance do whatever Divine Truth tells him to do. When we apply common-sense to the consideration of our eternal condition, we must see that it cannot be otherwise. To enter heaven, we must become heavenly.

The Lord Jesus Christ came to give us power to do good, by infusing his Holy Spirit into us. By His being divinely righteous, we may become righteous. Their righteousness is of me saith the Lord. But we must work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Every man is condemned not for the sin which transpired in some past age, but for the sin which transpired in some past age, but for the sin that now rankles in his heart, and makes him disobedient. Every man is saved, not by having attributed to him the righteousness which is not his, and is utterly foreign to his own character, but by receiving that righteousness which is imparted to him by the Lord, giving him purity of heart, and therefore a love for all that is pure;–giving him humility of spirit, and therefore a preparation for the kingdom of humility;–giving him heaven while he lives, and therefore preparing him for heaven when he dies. It is this truth then which is taught when it is said, that if an ox has done harm, the man who owns him must be prepared to do whatever is laid upon him.

Each man must repent for himself, himself come into a disposition of order. He must slay the offending ox? and give an ox for an ox, along with the thirty shekels of silver. For a disobedient spirit he must give an obedient one, for ignorance he must give intelligence. For inward truth is heavenly silver, and fullness of this is represented by the number thirty–the number three and its combinations always being the symbol of what is full, and complete, and perfect, in relation to truth.

Then it is said in the case of a man who has opened a pit, or has dug a pit and not covered it, and his neighbors ox or ass has fallen therein, the owner of the pit shall make it good, and give silver unto the owner of them, and the dead beast shall be his. By making a pit, in the spiritual sense is represented conceiving a false doctrine–a snare–a something which tends to make man false; and whenever a person endeavors in this way to betray his neighbor into wrong–to ensnare him in what is false and vicious, whatever the harm is, he will have to make it good, or he will never enter heaven. He must shun honestly all the ways of hypocrisy and evil; turn absolutely in life to the very opposite course to that which he has been accustomed to–hating all the snares that he has ever made to seduce others from goodness, or there is no preparation for heaven, no forgiveness, no acceptance by the Lord, When the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive.–Ezek. xviii. 27.

The case of an ox having killed another, and being sold for money (silver), which has to be divided between the owners, is one that implies a disposition carried to an extreme, so as to destroy another equally valuable. This must be parted with, and a true proportion obtained: the silver must be divided between them.

Lastly, five oxen must be given for a stolen ox, and four sheep for a stolen sheep.–Exod. xxii. 1.

In other words more efforts must be made to come back from a state of disorder into the order of heaven–more efforts for every ace of disobedience by means of which a man wanders away from Gods commands, than would have been necessary to stand in his original condition. It is not true that the greater the sinner, the greater the saint. Sin blunts the perceptions of the soul, dulls the affections, and weakens the powers of virtue. There is no case of exception. We must be born again. We must attend to the divine admonition, Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees ye shall in NO CASE enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Why call ye me Lord, Lord, He says, and do not the things which I say? It is by doing that our nature is fixed.

If, unhappily, we have been disposed not only to have no inclination for what is good ourselves, but to steal from our neighbor, or indispose him to be obedient, then, when Divine Truth opens upon our souls, we muse honestly and truly determine to lend a new life, to cease to do evil, to learn to do well. Now it will cost us great effort, great earnestness–much more trouble than it would have done. We must pay five oxen for an ox. We have strayed far away from what we might have been. We must travel every foot back.

But what of that, we shall have the Savior for our Guide, Defender and Friend, and Heaven for our Home. Arise, let us go hence.

Author: Jonathan Bayley — From Egypt to Canaan (1869)