Mules Or Men Psalm 32:9

Be ye not ... as the mule.—Psa_32:9.

I wonder why we are told not to be as the mule. I think it would be a very good thing if some of us were a little more like him. For he has many splendid qualities. He is very patient and has an almost endless supply of courage and endurance. He carries heavy burdens and never complains. And he is an exceedingly useful animal too. He is sure-footed, and can walk with safety where a horse would stumble and fall, so he is employed to carry burdens on the rough and dangerous mountain tracks where no horse could venture.

Then why are we told not to be as the mule? Well, I think you can guess. You know that sometimes men are compared to animals. When we speak of somebody who is very brave we often say, “He is as bold as a lion.” If we want to let people know that someone is easily frightened we say, “She is as timid as a hare.” And if we are talking about a man who is crafty we say, “He is as cunning as a fox.” But if we wish to tell people that someone is very obstinate, that he likes his own way and won’t give it up for anybody else, then we say, “He is as stubborn as a mule.”

Yes, that is just the worst of Mr. Mule, and it is the one thing that spoils his usefulness. If he makes up his mind to take one road, you will find it almost impossible to persuade him to take another. If he gets into the habit of doing a thing a certain way there is almost no inducing him to do it any other way. And so he has to be held in by bit and bridle and whip so that he may be forced to do what he doesn’t want to do.

Now there are some boys and girls, and some men and women, too, who are very like mules. They like their own way and their own opinion, and hardly anything will make them change. And so they have to be held in with bit and bridle and whip; they have to be threatened and driven and punished in order to make them do what other people want.

I remember once hearing a story about a horse which was very obstinate. Of course a horse isn’t a mule, but if you look at the text you will see they are coupled here, and a horse can be very obstinate too when he chooses.

This horse belonged to a man who lived in the south of Scotland. He was a very fine animal and ran well, but he had just one fault. On a certain road there was a point which he would not pass. I don’t know whether he had once got a bad fright there, or had been ill-treated at that spot by a former owner, but when he came to that place he invariably stopped dead and refused to budge.

You may imagine this was very inconvenient for the owner of the horse. He tried bribing the animal with lumps of sugar; he tried pulling him; he tried punishing him; but nothing was of any avail. In the end he had to avoid that particular road. He had almost made up his mind to sell the animal when he bethought him of a friend who was very fond of horses and knew a lot about them. He told him of his difficulty, and the friend said, “Give me the beast for a day. I’ll' undertake to cure him.”

And what do you think, he did? Well, he mounted the horse and rode him straight up that road to the spot he always refused to pass. Of course the animal stopped dead as usual. The man allowed him to stop and made no effort to get him past the place. He just sat still and waited.

After about two hours the horse got a little tired of his game and thought he would like to proceed. Then came the rider’s chance. “No,” he said, “no, you don’t! You’ve chosen to stop here, and stop you shall.” So he held him in tight and kept him there for six hours. Then when the beast was thoroughly sick of it he let him go. The horse never wanted to stop at that place again!

Sometimes the only way to bridle obstinate people is to let them have a free rein, to let them have their own way and suffer for it, to oblige them to go on having it when they are sick of it and would willingly give it up.

But don’t forget that it is to save you from the consequences of your own willfulness, to save you from hurting yourself that your father and mother put on the bridle. They don’t like doing it any more than you like wearing it, but they do it for your good. So remember first, that if the bridle irks you it is there for your good.

But there is a better way than that; it is the way of doing without the bridle altogether. And how can we do that? By giving in of our own accord, by obeying willingly. And that is the only obedience that is worth having. For the obedience that is dragged out of us by bit and bridle and whip, while our hearts are rebellious and disobedient, isn’t worth anything. The question is—Do we prefer to obey willingly or do we like to be forced to obey? Do we wish to be mules or men?

And what can make us want to obey, what can make us ready to give in? There is only one thing, and that is love. If we love enough we shall forget to think about ourselves and our own wishes and want only to please and serve those we love.

Just one word more. God has His bit and bridle too. And sometimes He has to use it. Rather than let us hurt ourselves He puts the bit of disappointment and hindrance in our mouth; rather than let us lose ourselves in wrong and foolish paths He holds us back with the bridle of pain or sorrow.

But God doesn’t like to use the bit and the bridle any more than our parents do. It hurts Him more than it hurts us. And He never meant that it should be necessary. God gave us hearts to love Him and reasons to guide us aright, and the best way of all is not to need the bridle. The best plan is to choose the right way while our hearts are fresh and unsoiled, and to serve Him with a loving and willing obedience.