Sunday, November 21, 2010

Capital in Proverbs

There are many who think that there is a fixed wall of separation between faith and science in general and between the Scriptures and economic science in particular. Showing this dichotomy to be false is one of the great purposes of my book, Foundations of Economics. Because the Author of the Bible is also the maker of the created order, we should expect that there is no ultimate conflict between the special revelation constituted in Scripture and the general revelation we see manifest in creation.

I came across a simple case in point recently while reading in the book of Proverbs. Proverbs 14:4 reads,

Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean,
but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.

Plowing in Nivernais by Rosa Bonheur (1822-1899)
Bible commentator Matthew Henry says the following about this verse:

Where no oxen are there is nothing to be done at the ground, and then nothing to be had out of it; the crib [the manger] 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; but then not only the labour, but even the dung of the ox is wanted.
Charles Bridge has a slightly different take on this verse. In his A Commentary on Proverbs he explains
Oxen are used in husbandry (Deut. xxv.4. 1 Kings, xix.19.) Where, therefore, no oxen are, to till the ground, the crib is clean. (Amos iv. 6) Because, where is no labour, there can be no food wherewith to supply it. God works by means not by miracles. There must be good husbandry, in order to an abundant harvest. let the ox be put to his work, and much increase will be by his strength. (Ps. cxliv.14.)
Regardless of whose particular interpretation regarding the meaning of the clean manger (or crib) is correct, here is a case where the author of this practical manual for living reminds the reader that, in his agrarian setting, oxen are powerful means for producing abundant crops. Yesterday I explained the importance of capital for economic prosperity. In this case, the ox is a great capital good used to produce a great harvest, which was a chief source of livelihood in that day. Without the use of an oxen, on the other hand, the farmer's lack of output would leave him wanting.

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