Cattle. Are animals which are kept and bred in order to harvest something from them for food or clothing. (Sheep for wool, cows for milk and meat.)
If we think of cattle as a group of cows, we must adjust our thinking when we read the Bible. The word cattle is usually a general reference to livestock (Gen. 30:32; 31:10). What we think of as cattle, the Bible calls oxen. A wild ox– a massive, untamable beast– is also mentioned (Job 39:9-10). The KJV calls it a unicorn.
The Bible also uses many specific terms to refer to cattle: kine, for instance, the plural of cow, and beeves, the plural of beef. But then as now, a male was a bull, a female was a cow, and their offspring was a calf. Until she bore a calf, a young female was known as a heifer; the young male was a bullock.
Some oxen were raised for sacrifice or prime quality meat. Rather than running with the herd, they were fed in a small enclosure. Fatling, fatted calf, fed beasts, stalled ox, fattened cattle and yearling described such well-cared-for animals. One translation even refers to buffalo (2 Sam. 6:13), (NEB), when fatling seems to be the obvious reference. A similar term, firstling, refers to the first offspring of any livestock. All firstborn males belonged to the Lord (Gen. 4:4; Ex. 13:12).
Oxen were hollow-horned, divided-hoof, cud-chewing animals considered “clean” by the Jews. They needed considerable food and space because of their large size, so a person who kept many cattle was rich indeed. The pastures and grain country of Bashan, located east of the Jordan River and south of amascus, were ideal places to raise oxen.
Scripture speaks of oxen as a measure of wealth (Job 42:12), beasts of burden (1 Chr. 12:40), draft animals (Deut. 22:10), meat (Gen. 18:7), and sacrificial offerings (2 Sam. 6:13).
Bulls (as opposed to work oxen) were allowed a large measure of freedom. Strong, fearsome beasts, they were often used as symbols. The BRONZE SEA in the Temple rested on the backs of 12 brass oxen-perhaps to show that Israel’s strength was dedicated to the Lord (1 Kin. 7:23). Anyone who has trembled at a bully can identify with King David’s frustration with his enemies, whom he compared to the “strong bulls of Bashan” (Ps. 22:12).
The Old Testament showed concern for the humane treatment of oxen (Deut. 22:4) and provided legal recourse for a person wounded by an ox (Ex. 21:28-36).
While in Egypt, the Hebrews were surrounded by bull worshipers. After the Exodus, they began to despair of Moses and his invisible God. So Aaron melted down their jewelry to make a visible idol, a golden calf. The people were punished severely for this idolatry, but some of their descendants fell into the same sin (Exodus 32; 1 Kin. 12:18).