“The ox is in the ditch”! Therefore, duty’s demands are abruptly dismissed. No one can argue with the “law of the ox in the ditch”, can they? But where is that law? The Sabbath law is defined in Exodus 20:8-11: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it” (cp. Exodus 23:12-13; Deuteronomy 5:12-14).
There is no “ox in the ditch” exemption in any of those passages. Where then is it? It’s not there! The appeal isn’t an argument of rights — of law; it’s a plea for mercy. Mercy was the point of Jesus in Luke 14:1-5 when He said, “Now it happened, as he went into the house of one of the rulers of the Pharisees to eat bread on the Sabbath, that they watched Him closely. And behold, there was a certain man before Him who had dropsy. And Jesus, answering, spoke to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?’ But they kept silent. And He took him and healed him, and let him go. Then he answered them, saying, ‘Which of you, having a donkey or an ox that has fallen into a pit, will not immediately pull him out on the Sabbath day?’ And they could not answer Him regarding these things”.
The Jew had no “right” to get the ox out of the ditch on the Sabbath day. He plainly violated the law. Mercy and compassion pardoned the violation because of the circumstance. That it was a breach of law isn’t ignored. Maybe we should think of this before we make our “ox in the ditch” appeal. We plead guilty to the sin and ask for mercy.
“The ox is in the ditch”! Ah yes, and how did he get there? That makes a difference. The appeal assumes an accident — something not anticipated. This surely can’t be used to justify deliberate plans which prevent doing our duty.
“I couldn’t be in the assembly because my ox was in the ditch”. He had a headache, was groggy-headed, felt terrible, and was in bed all Sunday morning. Sounds sick? He was — after staying up binge-watching a show until 3:30 in the morning. Another brother got “caught on the road” and couldn’t “get to the evening assembly”. He didn’t mention he planned a picnic and a 200-mile sightseeing tour Sunday afternoon. I think I see tracks where the ox was pushed into the ditch! At what point will you take your service to God seriously?
“My ox is in the ditch! I’m so busy I just can’t attend Bible studies and do spiritual work like I should”. And he isn’t lying. His candle is burning at both ends — he doesn’t have time for anything else. He has two jobs, PTA, FFA, 4-H, Little League, hunting/fishing, and a busy social schedule. No time is left, but it’s no accident. Those commitments were all planned. That ox didn’t stumble into the ditch — he had help.
“I’ll have to cut my giving — my ox is in the ditch. I can hardly pay my bills”. True! New car, TV, house, boat, etc., takes all the money. It seems the Lord should’ve been considered first; nevertheless, whose name is at the bottom of those credit applications? I doubt the ox signed a single one of them! Someone asked for every payment. The ox was pushed into the ditch.
And how long should the ox stay in the ditch? Is this every Sabbath’s plea? That makes a difference. We may foolishly put our ox in the ditch, but we should promptly get him out. A brother or sister explains that their job has interfered with their duty — ox in the ditch. They don’t mention that this is the ordinary demands of their job and it’ll be this way their whole working life. Brother or sister, pull the ox out! Brethren, our plans must be to do what’s right — to be dependable in performing our duty. Interruptions should be temporary and unavoidable. Worse than a failure to measure up is planning to fail. Where’s your ox?