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.
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. 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.