Unless you are inclined to eat Oxtail Soup you probably haven’t considered the humble life of an ox in a long time, if ever. A century ago in our area I’m sure more people cared about the hard-working ox but today they are largely forgotten. We no longer need need the large, slow-moving, strong power of a yoke of oxen to plow ground or mill wheat. Thankfully for us (and maybe for the ox, too) the jobs the forgotten ox have been mechanized and now require much less work, time, and skill in order to perform them.
The life of an ox is interesting though if you are interested in facts that will have little practical purpose in the real word.
An ox is nothing more than an altered bovine male. The only thing that differentiates an ox and steer is the age they are when the alteration occurs. Steers are meant to grow fast in order to encourage marbling in their meat. The ox though is allowed to grow to full-size so they are fully developed for years of back-breaking work.
Another unusual fact about an ox is that they are “yoked” to their partner at a very young age. The farmer would pick two bull calves around the same age that he wants to work as oxen in the field. The then starts them in the process of getting used to being in the wooden yoke that would define their lives.
Starting in short occurrences the yoke would be left on for a longer and longer amount of time. Each time the calves would be put in the yoke on the same side and with the same partner. This encourages a bond between the animals that lasts their entire lives. There have even been cases of young oxen who were deemed unuseful for field work and were turned in with the regular beef herd. In these cases the two yoke-mates refused to stand on the other side of their partner. They were used to standing on the right and they were going to stay on the right, even if the yoke wasn’t forcing them to now.
The reason I bring all of this up is because of the words of the Lord Jesus Christ in Matthew 11. He says, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
The Lord is speaking about rest for the heavy laden and he brings up a yoke? A yoke is not an object of rest, it is an instrument of work. It’s whole purpose is to work! Yet there is a deep meaning here to those who claim the name of Christ: we are to be yoked with Christ in our burdens.
It is a proven fact that two oxen can pull more than twice as much weight as a single ox can. The encouragement and help from the other ox makes each of them work harder and do things they should not be able to do.
When we take the yoke of Christ we find we do more than we should be able to. He is there working alongside us and helping us bear the heavy burden we bear.