Beasts of burden, or working animals that assist mankind, are often thought of as horses, oxen, donkeys (asses), and mules. In the Bible times, horses were generally associated with war, either pulling chariots or carrying warriors. The ass (donkey) and the mule are the main transportation animals in the Bible, while the oxen were revered for strength, dependability for the most difficult tasks. The traits or characteristics of each contain valuable lessons.
The ass is the biblical name for the donkey, a distant relative of the horse. The high, perhaps even haughty, spirit of the horse probably signifies pride and human nature and a willingness to go to battle, while the smaller less attractive ass signifies humility. Jesus entered proud Jerusalem “riding on a colt the foal of an ass.” The ass is sometimes referred to as the poor man’s horse. Some of the traits that differentiate the ass from the horse are:
The ass is smaller and sturdier.
Pound for pound, the ass is stronger than the horse.
The ass is much more sure-footed than the horse.
Requires less and poorer quality food than a horse. (No regal fare required)
The ass carries a permanent cross on its back. (Different colored hair)
The oxen are a type of God’s servants. Unlike other animals, where oxen are offered as a sacrifice, it was not one or several oxes, but two oxen that are offered. The profitability of the oxen as servants is explained in Proverbs 14:4, “Where no oxen are, the crib is clean; but much increase is by the strength of the ox.”
Our responsibilities towards the servants (ministry) are defined in I Corinthians 9:9-11, “For it is written in the law of Moses, thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for the oxen? Or saith He it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be a partaker of his hope. If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things?” Following are some natural traits of the oxen:
Oxen need to be broken, becoming yoke easy.
Until they are broken, the oxen find the yoke restrictive. Chafing at the yoke causes tiring and lathering.
Oxen can pull with their horns, but it is uncomfortable and they cannot pull as much as with a yoke.
The broken oxen will bow down their head to allow the yoke to be placed on their necks.
One ox alone can pull seven times its own weight.
Two oxen yoked together can pull seventeen times their combined weight.
The oxen start a heavy load with their feet braced (anchored) and they use their neck muscles to pull.
The oxen pull their very best when they are anchored on their knees with their mouths in the dirt (praying and living for others).
Oxen never balk.
Oxen are not showy or flashy.
Oxen are slow and steady.
Oxen are best for removing stumps and boulders, and the breaking of ground — for turning a wilderness into good soil.
Oxen are most useful when they will work on either side of the yoke.
Oxen want to be together even when out of the yoke.
The split hoof of the ox increases its traction where the footing is poor.
Compared to the oxen, the horse is spirited, more attractive, and much faster. Meekness in a human has been compared to a broken horse. Some natural traits of the horse are:
A horse must be tamed and broken to be of use to its master.
Horses require regular work to retain their discipline.
A workhorse is most useful after the ground has been broken.
Usefulness in a horse is dependent upon communication between the master and the team.
Horses must learn to work together as a team.
The master knows the best place for each horse in a team — willingness to fit in and have abilities put to best use.
The haughty, proud and regal horse can be turned into a faithful servant and beast of burden just as our haughty and proud human nature can be brought down and made meek through the workings of the Holy
Spirit — proof of the power of God. (King Nebchadnezzar in Daniel 4)