Chapter 14: Beneath the Surface

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

      A "manger" (see also the "stalled" or "fatted/fed" calf in 15:17) is a feeding trough. In the ancient world, mangers were found on the context of a house and would be called a "domestic stable." While most animals in a family's flocks and herds grazed in the fields, the ox was an essential "tool" – ancient "machinery" – to the farmer who owned him. Consequently, he would be kept in the house. A good farmer would take good care of his tools, and thus the manger.
      I think it was into a such a manger within a home in Bethlehem – most assuredly Joseph's ancestral home of the Davidic line – that Mary placed baby Jesus that first Christmas night. At Khirbet el-Maqatir in the West Bank of Israel, about 15 miles north of Bethlehem, I have excavated such a domestic stable in a house from New Testament times;