In Sunday School class last week – a husband answered my “what did you read in proverbs?” question by quoting his favorite. From the ESV (or possibly KJV, or NAS)

ESV Proverbs 14:4 Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean,
but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.

He loves this verse because he can quote it after making a mess in the house, and point out how strong he is.

To which a mother (unrelated) from across the room read the verse in her NIV (or possibly RSV) and read loudly:

NIV Proverbs 14:4 Where there are no oxen, the manger is empty,
but from the strength of an ox comes an abundant harvest.

She loves the verse because (I suspect) she can read is to her husband or kids and point how that people living in a house should be working! No work, no food. (essentially)

After looking at my Hebrew Bible, I wisely decided to try and answer the question this coming week – and doomed both sides to use the verse to their respective purpose until then. And maybe use some of this discussion as part of class.

Step 1: For me at least I looked at the Hebrew Bible in front of me:

???????? ????????? ??????? ????? ?????????????????? ???????? ???????

The word being argued (whether it’s “clean” or “empty” is ????? I initially thought it was the word BAR – the word for son. – completely threw me off – different word it just looks identical – this is why I love Hebrew lol.

Step 2) Check a lexicon: – Some of you may be really good at strongs numbers or use other online tools – great stuff – you’ll come up with something like:

491 ???? (Hebrew) (page 141) (Strong 1249)

† II. ???? adj. pure, clean, Jb 11:4, Psalm 24:4; ???? Pr 14:4; pl. cstr. ?????? Psalm 73:1; f. ?????? Psalm 19:9, Ct 6:9, 6:10; —1. pure, clear: ?? ??? pure in heart Psalm 24:4; ??? ??? Psalm 73:1; a pure damsel Ct 6:9, 6:10, man Jb 11:4, commands of God Psalm 19:9. 2. clean: ?????? ???? crib is clean Pr 14:4. 3. perh. adv. ???????????? kiss purely, of sincere homage Psalm 2:12 but cf. I. ????, p. 135.

Step 3: Check passages where the word is used – lexicons are at their best when they list passages and compare usage.

It does looks like a bunch of the times where this word is used it’s talking about some type of cleanness. BUT it’s confusing because the difference between BAR meaning “pure or clean” and SON, GRAIN, or LYE – is only a matter of tiny dots – most of which only in pretty late manuscripts – I’ll bring a txt on Sunday to show you. – I suspect the RSV/NIV follow an emendation of sorts. I’ll know more by Sunday.

Step 4: Check other translations.

The Septuagent (LXX – a Greek translation effort) was translated a long time ago – well before Christ – sometimes it does a great job at showing how the ancients interpreted Hebrew.

LXT Proverbs 14:4 ?? ?? ????? ???? ?????? ??????? ??

The LXX pretty clearly translates ???? as “clean”.

Step 5: Think about Hebrew Poetry – How does it make sense?

Hebrew poetry (huge simplification) is generally redundant. – (lots of examples) – Sometimes you have to read the second line in order to understand the first.

Where there are no oxen, there is no grain;

but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.(RSV)

I suspect that the RSV is interpreting the Proverb to be really parallel – which is a good impulse. Their translation is really pretty. – BUT, after looking at all the steps – I think we’d have to come down with the ESV, etc

Step 6: Check commentaries – usually just to make sure you didn’t miss anything:

4 An empty crib indicates that there are no oxen to feed, and hence one is free of the trouble of cleaning and caring for the animals, and expenses would be less. But this “advantage” is offset in v 4b: without the use of oxen, it is implied, the harvest will not be great. See Note 4.a.?*?? Concerning McKane’s interpretation, which is also possible, the crib may be full of grain because there are no oxen, but this may turn out ultimately to be a heavy price to pay because the use of oxen should lead to greater crops. The role of animals in agricultural work was all important, and it made the difference between meager and abundant harvests.

4.a. A pure/clean (so the interpretation of ?? = ??????? in ) crib is an empty crib. The meaning “grain” (so W. McKane, “a crib of grain”) is also possible. There is no need to adopt the conjectural emendation proposed in .

So, nothing really strong enough to deter either moms or dads, but i think these are pretty good steps to follow for difficult passages. So yeah – we’ll talk a lot more about this in Sunday School – I’m excited – we have some great discussion.


*? 4.a. A pure/clean (so the interpretation of ?? = ??????? in LXX) crib is an empty crib. The meaning “grain” (so W. McKane, “a crib of grain”) is also possible. There is no need to adopt the conjectural emendation proposed in BHS.

Murphy, R. E. (2002). Vol. 22: Word Biblical Commentary : Proverbs. Word Biblical Commentary (103). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.

, ed. K. Elliger and W. Rudolph (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelstiftung, 1977)

Murphy, R. E. (2002). Vol. 22: Word Biblical Commentary : Proverbs. Word Biblical Commentary (101). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.