OXEN OF THE BIBLE
A leading characteristic of the Ox family is that they are submissive to authority, and easily driven. They do not follow their master’s call like sheep and goats; but to the word of command and to the goad they are obedient. This submission to authority they show among themselves. Among a herd of cows feeding, the strongest goes where she chooses, and the others stand aside. If a new cow comes to them, the others gather round, not to hurt her, but to try their strength with her. If she can push the strongest, she is obeyed by them all. If not, she tries her strength with them, one by one, finds her place, makes way for the stronger, and drives out of her path the weaker.
There is, however, no malice in their contests, which are purely trials of strength. The victors do not pursue the conquered. That they yield is sufficient. The animals are usually mild and gentle, innocent in a rough way, and, when young, very playful; “to skip like a calf” is an expressive scriptural phrase.
They have strong affection for one another, feeding always near together, even when they have a wide range of pasture; and, if several herds are in the same pasture, the cattle that live together and are acquainted stay together in the field. If a cow by chance is separated, she runs about, lowing, until she finds her friends. They are easily contented. With a moderate supply of food, and room for exercise, they eat until they are satisfied, and then lie down, models of tranquil enjoyment.
Cows are remarkable among animals for attachment to their young. If the calf is carried away in sight of its mother, the cow will leave home, friends, and food, and follow as long as she can walk. The abundance of the milk which they pour out for their offspring is, perhaps, a consequence and a manifestation of this maternal affection. Their milk is of so great a quantity that it affords the main supply of that kind of food for man.
Another important quality in cattle is their capacity for labor. Oxen are large and strong, and will move very heavy loads slowly. They are also patient of difficulties. A succession of
obstacles, as in rough plowing, which would exhaust the patience of a horse, and make him restive or unwilling to pull at all, have no such effect upon the ox; he will pull again and again at the word of command, the hundredth time just as patiently as the first.
We find an external parallel to these qualities in childhood,1 during the time when the love of acquiring knowledge is the ruling principle—that is, between the ages of seven and fourteen. At this period the feeling of dependence, which is a characteristic of infancy, is wearing away; but obedience is strong—obedience to command and to rules.
Children of this age are very much under control of the strongest will. A group of school children behave, when a new companion comes among them, just as the cattle do. They approach cautiously, the stronger ones more confidently, and, if they are rude, they soon engage him in trials of physical strength; if of better character, they test his skill and zeal for their favorite pursuits. He soon finds his place, and is respected and treated accordingly. Though fond of rough play, such children are usually guiltless of intentional harm; and their sympathy with those who are oppressed and in trouble is always ready. It is a rare child who is not willing to pour out his own stores generously to assist the weak, and to relieve those who are suffering.
(Arcana Coelestia #2179, 2180, 2566; Apocalypse Revealed)
Their good will also is patient and persevering. If it does not succeed in accomplishing its object in one way, it tries another and again another, working patiently as long as it has strength. The heavy loads of the mind are stores of facts and knowledge in the memory, which children carry easily, but only a little way—not yet being able to bring remote things together. These good qualities of childhood generally disappear in youth, and are succeeded by faculties less kindly, less patient, but of greater intellectual activity.
But as men advance in regeneration, knowing well their own difficulties in doing well, they may again become patient of the faults of others, patient too in overcoming their own natural habits of thought and misplaced facts, which, like stumps and stones, cumber the ground, and also in helping others to do the same, and to prepare their minds for better thoughts and uses.
The sincere friendliness of those who are trying together to live a good life in obedience to known truth, is rightly represented by a kind and patient ox. The affection for learning all the ways of useful life and work—an affection which is innocent and glad—is represented by a calf; and the love of encouraging such affections in others, by neighborly communication of the ways in which we enjoy living, is represented by a milk cow.1 The milk itself is the truth; the butter is the kindliness; the sugar the pleasantness; and the curd is the love of work in it. A mother who is a willing worker, patient, helpful, and contented, desires to train her child to similar helpfulness; she accordingly teaches the child what is useful and practicable, and with her teaching imparts also her kindliness, her love of work, and her pleasure in it. The child interested in learning the mother’s ways is spiritually a calf, and grows by the milk of the mother’s teaching. So, too, a person coming into a society engaged in useful work, or entering upon a new occupation, desires to know how to help; he needs friendly instruction, such as is represented by milk; his desire for it is spiritually a calf, which learns eagerly, and gambols with delight in his growing powers.
When a society has little regard for spiritual life, and is engaged in doing, not what will minister to the lasting good of its members and the community, but what is expressively called “having a good time,” that is, in obtaining the greatest present pleasure, the desire to be initiated into its knowledge and enjoyments is also represented by a calf, but in a perverted sense. This was the desire of the Israelites, who, while Moses was receiving the Law for them from Jehovah, impatient at the slow fulfillment of the Divine promises, gathered riotously in heathen sports and feasts about a golden calf, which represented the affection which they chose to serve.1 It was said of the Lord representatively, by the prophet Isaiah, “Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil and choose the good”; and by butter is meant the kindness and goodness which the Lord in His boyhood would perceive in the instructions of the Word, and by honey the natural pleasantness of learning from it. By this the Lord learned to distinguish good from evil. (Arcana Coelestia #2184; Apocalypse Revealed #2420.)
Burnt offerings of calves, bullocks, and heifers were frequent among the ceremonies of the Jewish Church; and by them were represented the continual perception and acknowledgment by spiritual men that the good things representedby these animals are in the Lord, and from Him alone in man. (Apocalypse Revealed #242.)
The Lord received such things in Divine purity and fullness from His Divinity into His Humanity; and by such reception His Humanity was perfected. In the history of Abraham we have, in the spiritual sense, an account of the growth and spiritual progress of the Lord in His childhood and youth. And therefore it was that when the angels appeared to Abraham, by which was represented the Lord’s interior perception of the Divinity within Him, Abraham presented to them butter and milk and the calf which he had dressed; and in that prophetic act was foretold by the Lord the growth in His own Humanity of natural goodness and truth and the affection for them.
In comparing the ox family with sheep and goats, it is worthy of notice that, as they feed naturally, the kine prefer the ranker grasses of the valleys and over hillsides, but the sheep and goats climb the mountains, preferring the sweeter though scantier grasses of their less accessible nooks and slopes. These correspond to truths concerning a state of spiritual elevation, or nearness to the Lord; and the coarser food to truth of good natural life.
All these animals naturally have horns and divided hoofs, and chew the cud; and because of their divided hoofs and ruminating habit they were by the Levitical Law clean for food and fit for sacrifices. Their horns represent the truth by which good loves defend themselves, and which they desire others to obey. They are truths of experience which grow from their own life, and which they are ready to maintain as fixed and certain.
Hoofs are of similar material, formed to take hold of the ground and support the animal as it stands, walks, or runs. They represent the hold we have from our own experience upon facts and natural truth. If we desire to do good to another, we must be sure of our footing as we approach; there must be common facts and natural principles which we can stand upon; if these fail, we are brought to a stand; or if we have been hurt by them, or are morbidly sensitive to them, we advance lamely.
A solid hoof, as of a horse or ass, desires only to know what it is sound and right; this it strikes with a blow and bounds on. A divided hoof is itself more tender; it presses more lightly and carefully, and feels each step in two ways, considering not only whether its ground is true, but whether it is good also. This is characteristic of the steps of the good loves represented by sheep, goats, and kine.
The rumination of these animals represents the meditation of such affections upon truth learned, for the sake of giving it. Merely to eat and swallow is to understand and receive; further rumination is from love for good life. Because the natural good will which oxen represent may be turned either to good or to evil,
Swedenborg calls them animals of a “mediate kind,” and speaks of seeing them in the World of Spirits, but not in Heaven, nor in Hell. ( Apocalypse Explained #1200.)
Author: JOHN WORCESTER 1875