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Bible Commentaries
Job 39

Clarke's CommentaryClarke Commentary

Verse 1


Several animals described: the wild goats and hinds, 1-4.

The wild ass, 5-8.

The unicorn, 9-12.

The peacock and ostrich, 13-18.

The war-horse, 19-25.

The hawk, 26.

And the eagle and her brood, 27-30.


Verse Job 39:1. Knowest thou the time — To know time, c., only, was easy, and has nothing extraordinary in it but the meaning of these questions is, to know the circumstances, which have something peculiarly expressive of God's providence, and make the questions proper in this place. Pliny observes, that the hind with young is by instinct directed to a certain herb, named seselis, which facilitates the birth. Thunder, also, which looks like the more immediate hand of Providence, has the same effect. Psalms 29:9: "The VOICE of the Lord maketh the HINDS to CALVE." See Dr. YOUNG. What is called the wild goat, יעל yael, from עלה alah, to ascend, go or mount up, is generally understood to be the ibex or mountain goat, called yael, from the wonderful manner in which it mounts to the tops of the highest rocks. It is certain, says Johnston, there is no crag of the mountains so high, prominent or steep, but this animal will mount it in a number of leaps, provided only it be rough, and have protuberances large enough to receive its hoofs in leaping. This animal is indigenous to Arabia, is of amazing strength and agility, and considerably larger than the common goat. Its horns are very long, and often bend back over the whole body of the animal; and it is said to throw itself from the tops of rocks or towers, and light upon its horns, without receiving any damage. It goes five months with young.

When the hinds do calve? — The hind is the female of the stag, or cervus elaphus, and goes eight months with young. They live to thirty-five or forty years. Incredible longevity has been attributed to some stags. One was taken by Charles VI., in the forest of Senlis, about whose neck was a collar with this inscription, Caesar hoc mihi donavit, which led some to believe that this animal had lived from the days of some one of the twelve Caesars, emperors of Rome.

I have seen the following form of this inscription: -

Tempore quo Caesar Roma dominatus in alta

Aureolo jussit collum signare monili;

Ne depascentem quisquis me gramina laedat.

Caesaris heu! caussa periturae parcere vitae!

Which has been long public in the old English ballad strain, thus: -

"When Julius Caesar reigned king,

About my neck he put this ring;

That whosoever should me take

Would save my life for Caesar's sake."

Aristotle mentions the longevity of the stag, but thinks it fabulous.

Verse 3

Verse Job 39:3. They bow themselves — In order to bring forth their young ones.

They cast out their sorrows. — חבליהם chebleyhem; the placenta, afterbirth, or umbilical cord. So this word has been understood.

Verse 4

Verse Job 39:4. In good liking — After the fawns have sucked for some time, the dam leads them to the pastures, where they feed on different kinds of herbage; but not on corn, for they are not born before harvest-time in Arabia and Palestine, and the stag does not feed on corn, but on grass, moss, and the shoots of the fir, beech, and other trees: therefore the word bar, here translated corn, should be translated the open field or country. See Parkhurst. Their nurslings bound away. - Mr. Good. In a short time they become independent of the mother, leave her, and return no more. The spirit of the questions in these verses appears to be the following: - Understandest thou the cause of breeding of the mountain goats, &c.? Art thou acquainted with the course and progress of the parturition, and the manner in which the bones grow, and acquire solidity in the womb? See Mr. Good's observations.

Houbigant's version appears very correct: (Knowest thou) "how their young ones grow up, increase in the fields, and once departing, return to them no more?"

Verse 5

Verse Job 39:5. Who hath sent out the wild ass free? — פרא pere, which we translate wild ass, is the same as the ονος αγριος of the Greeks, and the onager of the Latins; which must not, says Buffon, be confounded with the zebra, for this is an animal of a different species from the ass. The wild ass is not striped like the zebra, nor so elegantly shaped. There are many of those animals in the deserts of Libya and Numidia: they are of a gray colour; and run so swiftly that no horse but the Arab barbs can overtake them. Wild asses are found in considerable numbers in East and South Tartary, in Persia, Syria, the islands of the Archipelago, and throughout Mauritania. They differ from tame asses only in their independence and liberty, and in their being stronger and more nimble: but in their shape they are the same. See on Job 6:5.

The bands of the wild ass? — ערוד arod, the brayer, the same animal, but called thus because of the frequent and peculiar noise he makes. But Mr. Good supposes this to be a different animal from the wild ass, (the jichta or equus hemionus,) which is distinguished by having solid hoofs, a uniform colour, no cross on the back, and the tail hairy only at the tip. The ears and tail resemble those of the zebra; the hoofs and body, those of the ass; and the limbs, those of the horse. It inhabits Arabia, China, Siberia, and Tartary, in glassy saline plains or salt wastes, as mentioned in the following verse.

Verse 6

Verse Job 39:6. Whose house — Habitation, or place of resort.

The barren land — מלחה melechah, the salt land, or salt places, as in the margin. See above.

Verse 7

Verse Job 39:7. He scorneth the multitude — He is so swift that he cannot be run or hunted down. See the description in Job 39:5.

Verse 8

Verse Job 39:8. The range of the mountains — The mountains and desert places are his peculiar places of pasture; and he lives on any thing that is green, or any kind of vegetable production.

Verse 9

Verse Job 39:9. Will the unicorn be willing to serve thee? — The "fine elegant animal like a horse, with one long rich curled horn growing out of his forehead," commonly called the unicorn, must be given up as fabulous. The heralds must claim him as their own; place him in their armorial bearings as they please, to indicate the unreal actions, fictitious virtues, and unfought martial exploits of mispraised men. It is not to the honour of the royal arms of Great Britain that this fabulous animal should be one of their supporters.

The animal in question, called רים reim, is undoubtedly the rhinoceros, who has the latter name from the horn that grows on his nose. The rhinoceros is known by the name of reim in Arabia to the present day. He is allowed to be a savage animal, showing nothing of the intellect of the elephant. His horn enables him to combat the latter with great success; for, by putting his nose under the elephant's belly, he can rip him up. His skin is like armour, and so very hard as to resist sabres, javelins, lances, and even musket-balls; the only penetrable parts being the belly, the eyes, and about the ears.

Or abide by thy crib? — These and several of the following expressions are intended to point out his savage, untameable nature.

Verse 10

Verse Job 39:10. Canst thou bind the unicorn - in the furrow? — He will not plough, nor draw in the yoke with another? nor canst thou use him singly, to harrow the ground.

Verse 12

Verse Job 39:12. That he will bring home thy seed — Thou canst make no domestic nor agricultural use of him.

Verse 13

Verse Job 39:13. The goodly wings unto the peacocks? — I believe peacocks are not intended here; and the Hebrew word רננים renanim should be translated ostriches; and the term חסידה chasidah, which we translate ostrich, should be, as it is elsewhere translated, stork; and perhaps the word נצה notsah, rendered here feathers, should be translated hawk, or pelican.

The Vulgate has, Penna struthionis similis est pennis herodii et accipitris; "the feather of the ostrich is like to that of the stork and the hawk." The Chaldee has, "The wing of the wild cock, who crows and claps his wings, is like to the wing of the stork and the hawk." The Septuagint, not knowing what to make of these different terms, have left them all untranslated, so as to make a sentence without sense. Mr. Good has come nearest both to the original and to the meaning, by translating thus: -

"The wing of the ostrich tribe is for flapping;

But of the stork and falcon for flight."

Though the wings of the ostrich, says he, cannot raise it from the ground, yet by the motion here alluded to, by a perpetual vibration, or flapping - by perpetually catching or drinking in the wind, (as the term נעלסה neelasah implies, which we render goodly,) they give it a rapidity of running beyond that possessed by any other animal in the world. Adanson informs us, that when he was at the factory in Padore, he was in possession of two tame ostriches; and to try their strength, says he, "I made a full-grown negro mount the smallest, and two others the largest. This burden did not seem at all disproportioned to their strength. At first they went a pretty high trot; and, when they were heated a little, they expanded their wings, as if it were to catch the wind, and they moved with such fleetness as to seem to be off the ground. And I am satisfied that those ostriches would have distanced the fleetest race-horses that were ever bred in England."

As to נצה notsah, here translated falcon, Mr. Good observes, that the term [Arabian] naz is used generally by the Arabian writers to signify both falcon and hawk; and there can be little doubt that such is the real meaning of the Hebrew word; and that it imports various species of the falcon family, as jer-falcon, gos-hawk, and sparrow-hawk.

"The argument drawn from natural history advances from quadrupeds to birds; and of birds, those only are selected for description which are most common to the country in which the scene lies, and at the same time are most singular in their properties. Thus the ostrich is admirably contrasted with the stork and the eagle, as affording us an instance of a winged animal totally incapable of flight, but endued with an unrivalled rapidity of running, compared with birds whose flight is proverbially fleet, powerful, and persevering. Let man, in the pride of his wisdom, explain or arraign this difference of construction.

"Again, the ostrich is peculiarly opposed to the stork and to some species of the eagle in another sense, and a sense adverted to in the verses immediately ensuing; for the ostrich is well known to take little or no care of its eggs, or of its young, while the stork ever has been, and ever deserves to be, held in proverbial repute for its parental tenderness. The Hebrew word חסידה chasidah, imports kindness or affection; and our own term stork, if derived from the Greek στοργη, storge, as some pretend, has the same original meaning." - GOOD'S JOB.

Verse 14

Verse Job 39:14. Which leaveth her eggs in the earth — This want of parental affection in the ostrich is almost universally acknowledged. Mr. Jackson, in his Account of Morocco, observes: "The ostrich, having laid her eggs, goes away, forgetting or forsaking them: and if some other ostrich discover them, she hatches them as if they were her own, forgetting probably whether they are or are not; so deficient is the recollection of this bird." This illustrates Job 39:15: "And forgetteth that the foot may crush them, or that the wild beast may break them." The poet seems well acquainted with every part of the subject on which he writes; and facts incontestable confirm all he says. For farther illustration, see the account from Dr. Shaw at the end of the chapter. Job 39:30.

Verse 16

Verse Job 39:16. She is hardened against her young — See before, and the extracts from Dr. Shaw at the end of the chapter. Job 39:30. She neglects her little ones, which are often found half starved, straggling, and moaning about, like so many deserted orphans, for their mother.

Verse 17

Verse Job 39:17. God hath deprived her of wisdom — Of this foolishness we have an account from the ancients; and here follow two instances:

"1. It covers its head in the reeds, and thinks itself all out of sight because itself cannot see. So Claudian: -

____________ 'Stat lumine clauso

Ridendum revoluta caput: creditque latere

Quad non ipsa videt.'

"2. They who hunt them draw the skin of an ostrich's neck on one hand, which proves a sufficient lure to take them with the other. They have so little brain that Heliogabalus had six hundred heads for his supper. Here we may observe, that our judicious as well as sublime author just touches the great points of distinction in each creature, and then hastens to another. A description is exact when you cannot add but what is common to another thing; nor withdraw, but something peculiarly belonging to the thing described. A likeness is lost in too much description, as a meaning is often in too much illustration." - Dr. YOUNG.

Verse 18

Verse Job 39:18. She lifteth up herselfWhen she raiseth up herself to run away. Proofs of the fleetness of this bird have already been given. It neither flies nor runs distinctly, but has a motion composed of both; and, using its wings as sails, makes great speed. So Claudian: -

Vasta velut Libyae venantum vocibus ales

Cum premitur, calidas cursu transmittit arenas,

Inque modum veli sinuatis flamine pennis

Pulverulenta volat.

"Xenophon says, Cyrus had horses that could overtake the goat and the wild ass; but none that could reach this creature. A thousand golden ducats, or a hundred camels, was the stated price of a horse that could equal their speed." - Dr. YOUNG.

Verse 19

Verse Job 39:19. Hast thou given the horse strength? — Before I proceed to any observations, I shall give Mr. Good's version of this, perhaps inimitable, description: -

Ver. Job 39:19. Hast thou bestowed on the horse mettle?

Hast thou clothed his neck with the thunder flash?

Ver. Job 39:20. Hast thou given him to launch forth as an arrow?

Terrible is the pomp of his nostrils.

Ver. Job 39:21. He paweth in the valley, and exulteth.

Boldly he advanceth against the clashing host:

Ver. Job 39:22. He mocketh at fear, and trembleth not:

Nor turneth he back from the sword.

Ver. Job 39:23. Against him rattleth the quiver,

The glittering spear, and the shield:

Ver. Job 39:24. With rage and fury he devoureth the ground;

And is impatient when the trumpet soundeth.

Ver. Job 39:25. He exclaimeth among the trumpets, Aha!

And scenteth the battle afar off,

The thunder of the chieftains, and the shouting.

In the year 1713, a letter was sent to the GUARDIAN, which makes No. 86 of that work, containing a critique on this description, compared with similar descriptions of Homer and Virgil. I shall give the substance of it here:-

The great Creator, who accommodated himself to those to whom he vouchsafed to speak, hath put into the mouths of his prophets such sublime sentiments and exalted language as must abash the pride and wisdom of man. In the book of Job, the most ancient poem in the world, we have such paintings and descriptions as I have spoken of in great variety. I shall at present make some remarks on the celebrated description of the horse, in that holy book; and compare it with those drawn by Homer and Virgil.

Homer hath the following similitude of a horse twice over in the Iliad, which Virgil hath copied from him; at least he hath deviated less from Homer than Mr. Dryden hath from him: -

Ὡς δ' ὁτε τις στατος ἱππος, ακοστησας επι φατνη,

Δεσμον απορῥηξας θειει πεδιοιο κροαινων,

Ειωθως λουεσθαι εΰρῥειος ποταμοιο,

Κυδιοων· ὑψου δε καρη εχει, αμοι δε χαιται

Ωμοις αΐσσονται· ὁ δ' αγλαΐῃφι πεποιθως

Ῥιμφα ἑ γουνα φερει μετα τ' ηθεα και νομον ἱππων.

HOM. Il. lib. vi., ver. 506; and lib. xv., ver. 263.

Freed from his keepers, thus with broken reins

The wanton courser prances o'er the plains,

Or in the pride of youth o'erleaps the mound,

And snuffs the female in forbidden ground;

Or seeks his watering in the well-known flood,

To quench his thirst, and cool his fiery blood;

He swims luxuriant in the liquid plain,

And o'er his shoulders flows his waving mane;

He neighs, he snorts, he bears his head on high;

Before his ample chest the frothy waters fly.

Virgil's description is much fuller than the foregoing, which, as I said, is only a simile; whereas Virgil professes to treat of the nature of the horse: -

______ Tum, si qua sonum procul arma dedere,

Stare loco nescit: micat auribus, et tremit artus

Collectumque premens volvit sub naribus ignem:

Densa juba, et dextro jactata recumbit in armo.

At duplex agitur per lumbos spina, cavatque

Tellurem, et solido graviter sonat ungula cornu.

VIRG. Georg. lib. iii., ver. 83.

Which is thus admirably translated: -

The fiery courser, when he hears from far

The sprightly trumpets, and the shouts of war,

Pricks up his ears; and, trembling with delight,

Shifts pace, and paws, and hopes the promised fight.

On his right shoulder his thick mane reclined,

Ruffles at speed, and dances in the wind.

His horny hoofs are jetty black and round;

His chin is double: starting with a bound,

He turns the turf, and shakes the solid ground.

Fire from his eyes, clouds from his nostrils flow;

He bears his rider headlong on the foe.

Now follows that in the Book of Job, which, under all the disadvantages of having been written in a language little understood, of being expressed in phrases peculiar to a part of the world whose manner of thinking and speaking seems to us very uncouth; and, above all, of appearing in a prose translation; is nevertheless so transcendently above the heathen descriptions, that hereby we may perceive how faint and languid the images are which are formed by human authors, when compared with those which are figured, as it were, just as they appear in the eye of the Creator. God, speaking to Job, asks him: -

[To do our translators as much justice as possible, and to help the critic, I shall throw it in the hemistich form, in which it appears in the Hebrew, and in which all Hebrew poetry is written.]

Ver. Job 39:19. Hast thou given to the HORSE strength?

Hast thou clothed his neck with thunder?

Ver. Job 39:20. Canst thou make him afraid as a grasshopper?

The glory of his nostrils is terrible!

Ver. Job 39:21. He paweth in the valley, and rejoiceth in strength:

He goeth on to meet the armed men.

Ver. Job 39:22. He mocketh at fear, and is not affrighted:

Neither turneth he back from the sword.

Ver. Job 39:23. Against him rattleth the quiver,

The glittering spear and the shield.

Ver. Job 39:24. He swalloweth the ground with rage and fierceness:

Nor doth he believe that it is the sound of the


Ver. Job 39:25. He saith among the trumpets, Heach!

And from afar he scenteth the battle,

The thunder of the captains, and the shouting.

Here are all the great and sprightly images that thought can form of this generous beast, expressed in such force and vigour of style as would have given the great wits of antiquity new laws for the sublime, had they been acquainted with these writings.

I cannot but particularly observe that whereas the classical poets chiefly endeavour to paint the outward figure, lineaments, and motions, the sacred poet makes all the beauties to flow from an inward principle in the creature he describes; and thereby gives great spirit and vivacity to his description. The following phrases and circumstances are singularly remarkable: -

Ver. Job 39:19. Hast thou clothed his neck with thunder?

Homer and Virgil mention nothing about the neck of the horse but his mane. The sacred author, by the bold figure of thunder, not only expresses the shaking of that remarkable beauty in the horse, and the flakes of hair, which naturally suggest the idea of lightning; but likewise the violent agitation and force of the neck, which in the oriental tongues had been flatly expressed by a metaphor less bold than this.

Ver. Job 39:20. Canst thou make him afraid as a grasshopper?

There is a twofold beauty in this expression, which not only marks the courage of this beast, by asking if he can be scared; but likewise raises a noble image of his swiftness, by insinuating that, if he could be frightened, he would bound away with the nimbleness of a grasshopper.

The glory of his nostrils is terrible.] This is more strong and concise than that of Virgil, which yet is the noblest line that was ever written without inspiration: -

Collectumque premens volvit sub naribus ignem.

And in his nostrils rolls collected fire.

GEOR. iii., ver. 85.

Ver. Job 39:21. He rejoiceth in his strength.

Ver. Job 39:22. He mocketh at fear.

Ver. Job 39:24. Neither believeth he that it is the sound of the


Ver. Job 39:25. He saith among the trumpets, Ha! ha!

These are signs of courage, as I said before, flowing from an inward principle. There is a peculiar beauty in his not believing it is the sound of the trumpet: that is, he cannot believe it for joy; but when he is sure of it, and is among the trumpets, he saith, Ha! ha! He neighs, he rejoices.

His docility is elegantly painted in his being unmoved at the rattling quiver, the glittering spear, and the shield, Job 39:23, and is well imitated by Oppian, - who undoubtedly read Job, as Virgil did, - in his Poem on Hunting: -

Πως μεν γαρ τε μαχαισιν αρηΐος εκλυεν ἱππος

Ηχον εγερσιμοθον δολιχων πολεμηΐον αυλων;

Η πως αντα δεδορκεν ασκαρδαμυκτοισιν οπωπαις

Αιζηοισι λοχον πεπυκασμενον ὁπλιτησι;

Και χαλκον σελαγευντα, και αστραπτοντα σιδηρον;

Και μαθεν ευτε μενειν χρειω, ποτε δ' αυτις αρουειν.

OPPIAN CYNEGET, lib. i., ver. 206.

Now firm the managed war-horse keeps his ground,

Nor breaks his order though the trumpet sound!

With fearless eye the glittering host surveys,

And glares directly at the helmet's blaze.

The master's word, the laws of war, he knows;

And when to stop, and when to charge the foes.

He swalloweth the ground, Job 39:24, is an expression for prodigious swiftness in use among the Arabians, Job's countrymen, to the present day. The Latins have something like it: -

Latumque fuga consumere campum.


In flight the extended champaign to consume.

Carpere prata fuga.

VIRG. GEORG. III., Ver. 142.

In flight to crop the meads.

__________Campumque volatu

Cum rapuere, pedum vestigia quaeras.

When, in their fight, the champaign they have snatch'd,

No track is left behind.

It is indeed the boldest and noblest of images for swiftness; nor have I met with any thing that comes so near it as Mr. Pope's, in Windsor Forest: -

Th' impatient courser pants in every vein,

And pawing, seems to beat the distant plain;

Hills, vales, and floods, appear already cross'd;

And ere he starts, a thousand steps are lost.

He smelleth the battle afar off, and what follows about the shouting, is a circumstance expressed with great spirit by Lucan: -

So when the ring with joyful shouts resounds,

With rage and pride th' imprison'd courser bounds;

He frets, he foams, he rends his idle rein,

Springs o'er the fence, and headlong seeks the plain.

This judicious and excellent critique has left me little to say on this sublime description of the horse: I shall add some cursory notes only. In Job 39:19 we have the singular image, clothed his neck with thunder. How thunder and the horse's neck can be well assimilated to each other, I confess I cannot see. The author of the preceding critique seems to think that the principal part of the allusion belongs to the shaking of this remarkable beauty (the mane) in a horse; and the flakes of hair, which naturally suggest the idea of lightning. I am satisfied that the floating mane is here meant. The original is רעמה ramah, which Bochart and other learned men translate as above. How much the mane of a horse shaking and waving in the wind adds to his beauty and stateliness, every one is sensible; and the Greek and Latin poets, in their description of the horse, take notice of it. Thus Homer: -

______Αμφι δε χαιται

Ωμοις αΐσσονται.

ILIAD vi., ver. 509.

"His mane dishevell'd o'er his shoulders flies."

And Virgil: -

Luduntque per colla, per armos.

AEN. xi., ver. 497.

The verb רעם raam signifies to toss, to agitate; and may very properly be applied to the mane, for reasons obvious to all. Virgil has seized this characteristic in his fine line, Georg. iii. ver. 86:-

Densa juba, et dextro jactata recumbit in armo.

"His toss'd thick mane on his right shoulder falls."

Naturally, the horse is one of the most timid of animals; and this may be at once accounted for from his small quantity of brain. Perhaps there is no animal of his size that has so little. He acquires courage only from discipline; for naturally he starts with terror and affright at any sudden noise. It requires much discipline to bring him to hear the noise of drums and trumpets, and especially to bear a pair of kettle drums placed on each side his neck, and beaten there, with the most alarming variety of sounds. Query, Does the sacred text allude to any thing of this kind? I have been led to form this thought from the following circumstance. In some ancient MSS. of the Shah Nameh, a most eminent heroic poem, by the poet Ferdoosy, the Homer of India, in my own collection, adorned with paintings, representing regal interviews, animals, battles, c., there appear in some places representations of elephants, horses, and camels, with a pair of drums, something like our kettle drums, hanging on each side of the animal's neck, and beaten, by a person on the saddle, with two plectrums or drumsticks the neck itself being literally clothed with the drums and the housings on which they are fixed. Who is it then that has framed the disposition of such a timid animal, that by proper discipline it can bear those thundering sounds, which at first would have scared it to the uttermost of distraction? The capacity to receive discipline and instruction is as great a display of the wisdom of God as the formation of the bodies of the largest, smallest, or most complex animals is of his power. I leave this observation without laying any stress upon it. On such difficult subjects conjecture has a lawful range.

Verse 21

Verse Job 39:21. He paweth in the valley — רעם yachperu, "they dig in the valley," i.e., in his violent galloping, in every pitch of his body, he scoops up sods out of the earth. Virgil has seized this idea also, in his cavat tellurem; "he scoops out the ground." See before.

Verse 25

Verse Job 39:25. He saith among the trumpets, Ha, ha — The original is peculiarly emphatical: האח Heach! a strong, partly nasal, partly guttural sound, exactly resembling the first note which the horse emits in neighing. The strong, guttural sounds in this hemistich are exceedingly expressive: האח ומרחוק יריח מלחמה Heach! umerachok yariach milchamah; "Heach, for from afar he scenteth the battle."

The reader will perceive that Mr. Good has given a very different meaning to Job 39:20 from that in the present text, Canst thou make him afraid as a grasshopper? by translating the Hebrew thus: -

"Hast thou given him to launch forth as an arrow?"

The word ארבה arbeh, which we translate locust or grasshopper, and which he derives from רבה rabah, the א aleph being merely formative, he says, "may as well mean an arrow as it does in Job 16:13, רביו rabbaiv, 'His arrows fly around me.'" The verb רעש raash in the word התועישנו hatharishennu, "Canst thou make him afraid?' he contends, "signifies to tremble, quiver, rush, launch, dart forth; and, taken in this sense, it seems to unite the two ideas of rapidity and coruscation." This is the principal alteration which this learned man has made in the text.

I shall conclude on this subject by giving Coverdale's translation: Hast thou geven the horse his strength, or lerned him how to bow down his neck with feare; that he letteth himself be dryven forth like a greshopper, where as the stout neyenge that he maketh is fearfull? He breaketh the grounde with the hoffes of his fete chearfully in his strength, and runneth to mete the harnest men. He layeth aside all feare, his stomach is not abated, neither starteth he aback for eny swerde. Though the qyvers rattle upon him, though the speare and shilde glistre: yet russheth he in fearsley, and beateth upon the grounde. He feareth not the noise of the trompettes, but as soone as he heareth the shawmes blowe, Tush (sayeth he) for he smelleth the batell afarre of, the noyse, the captaynes, and the shoutinge. This is wonderfully nervous, and at the same time accurate.

Verse 26

Verse Job 39:26. Doth the hawk fly by thy wisdom — The hawk is called נץ nets, from its swiftness in darting down upon its prey; hence its Latin name, nisus, which is almost the same as the Hebrew. It may very probably mean the falcon, observes Dr. Shaw. The flight of a strong falcon is wonderfully swift. A falcon belonging to the Duke of Cleves flew out of Westphalia into Prussia in one day; and in the county of Norfolk, a hawk has made a flight at a woodcock of near thirty miles in an hour. Thuanus says, "A hawk flew from London to Paris in one night." It was owing to its swiftness that the Egyptians in their hieroglyphics made it the emblem of the wind.

Stretch her wings toward the south? — Most of the falcon tribe pass their spring and summer in cold climates; and wing their way toward warmer regions on the approach of winter. This is what is here meant by stretching her wings toward the south. Is it through thy teaching that this or any other bird of passage knows the precise time for taking flight, and the direction in which she is to go in order to come to a warmer climate? There is much of the wisdom and providence of God to be seen in the migration of birds of passage. This has been remarked before. There is a beautiful passage in Jeremiah, Jeremiah 8:7, on the same subject: "The stork in the heavens knoweth her appointed times; and the turtle, and the crane, and the swallow, observe the time of their coming: but my people know not the judgment of the Lord."

Verse 27

Verse Job 39:27. Doth the eagle mount up — The eagle is said to be of so acute a sight, that when she is so high in the air that men cannot see her, she can discern a small fish in the water! See on Job 39:29.

Verse 28

Verse Job 39:28. Upon the crag of the rock — שן סלע shen sela, the tooth of the rock, i.e., some projecting part, whither adventurous man himself dares not follow her.

And the strong place. — ומצודה umetsudah. Mr. Good translates this word ravine, and joins it to Job 39:29, thus: "And thence espieth the ravine: her eyes trace the prey afar off."

Verse 29

Verse Job 39:29. Her eyes behold afar off. — The eagle was proverbial for her strong and clear sight. So Horace, lib. i., sat. iii., ver. 25: -

Cum tua pervideas oculis mala lippus inunctis,

Cur in amicorum vitas tam cernis acutum,

Quam aut aquila, aut serpens Epidaurius?

"For wherefore while you carelessly pass by

Your own worst vices with unheeding eye,

Why so sharp-sighted in another's fame,

Strong as an eagle's ken, or dragon's beam?"


So AElian, lib. i., cap. 42. And Homer, Iliad xvii., calls the eagle οξυτατον ὑπουρανιων πετεηνων, "The most quick-sighted of all fowls under heaven."

Verse 30

Verse Job 39:30. Her young ones also suck up blood — The eagle does not feed her young with carrion, but with prey newly slain, so that they may suck up blood.

Where the slain are, there is she. — These words are quoted by our Lord. "Wheresoever the carcass is, there will the eagles be gathered together," Matthew 24:28. It is likely, however, that this was a proverbial mode of expression; and our Lord adapts it to the circumstances of the Jewish people, who were about to fall a prey to the Romans. See the notes there.

IN the preceding notes I have referred to Dr. Shaw's account of the ostrich as the most accurate and authentic yet published. With the following description I am sure every intelligent reader will be pleased.

"In commenting therefore upon these texts it may be observed, that when the ostrich is full grown, the neck, particularly of the male, which before was almost naked, is now very beautifully covered with red feathers. The plumage likewise upon the shoulders, the back, and some parts of the wings, from being hitherto of a dark grayish colour, becomes now as black as jet, whilst the rest of the feathers retain an exquisite whiteness. They are, as described Job 39:13, the very feathers and plumage of the stork, i.e., they consist of such black and white feathers as the stork, called from thence chasidah, is known to have. But the belly, the thighs, and the breast, do not partake of this covering, being usually naked, and when touched are of the same warmth as the flesh of quadrupeds.

"Under the joint of the great pinion, and sometimes under the less, there is a strong pointed excrescence like a cock's spur, with which it is said to prick and stimulate itself, and thereby acquire fresh strength and vigour whenever it is pursued. But nature seems rather to have intended that, in order to prevent the suffocating effects of too great a plethora, a loss of blood should be consequent thereupon, especially as the ostrich appears to be of a hot constitution, with lungs always confined, and consequently liable to be preter-naturally inflamed upon these occasions.

"When these birds are surprised by coming suddenly upon them whilst they are feeding in some valley, or behind some rocky or sandy eminence in the deserts, they will not stay to be curiously viewed and examined. Neither are the Arabs ever dexterous enough to overtake them, even when they are mounted upon their jinse, or horses, as they are called, of family. They, when they raise themselves up for flight, (Job 39:18,) laugh at the horse and his rider. They afford him an opportunity only of admiring at a distance the extraordinary agility and the stateliness of their motions, the richness of their plumage, and the great propriety there was of ascribing to them (Job 30:13) an expanded quivering wing. Nothing, certainly, can be more beautiful and entertaining than such a sight! The wings, by their repeated though unwearied vibrations, equally serving them for sails and oars; whilst their feet, no less assisting in conveying them out of sight, are in no degree sensible of fatigue.

"By the repeated accounts which I often had from my conductors, as well as from Arabs of different places, I have been informed that the ostrich lays from thirty to fifty eggs. AElian mentions more than eighty, but I never heard of so large a number. The first egg is deposited in the centre; the rest are placed as conveniently as possible round about it. In this manner it is said to lay-deposit or thrust (Job 39:14) - her eggs in THE EARTH, and to warm them in the sand, and forgetteth, as they are not placed, like those of some other birds, upon trees or in the clefts of rocks, c., that the foot of the traveller may crush them, or that the wild beasts may break them.

"Yet notwithstanding the ample provision which is hereby made for a numerous offspring, scarce one quarter of these eggs are ever supposed to be hatched and of those that are, no small share of the young ones may perish with hunger, from being left too early by their dams to shift for themselves. For in these the most barren and desolate recesses of the Sahara, where the ostrich chooses to make her nest, it would not be enough to lay eggs and hatch them, unless some proper food was near at hand, and already prepared for their nourishment. And accordingly we are not to consider this large collection of eggs as if they were all intended for a brood; they are, the greatest part of them, reserved for food, which the dam breaks and disposes of according to the number and the cravings of her young ones.

"But yet, for all this, a very little share of that στοργη, or natural affection, which so strongly exerts itself in most other creatures, is observable in the ostrich. For, upon the least distant noise or trivial occasion, she forsakes her eggs, or her young ones, to which perhaps she never returns, or if she do, it may be too late either to restore life to the one, or to preserve the lives of the other. Agreeably to this account, the Arabs meet sometimes with whole nests of these eggs undisturbed; some of which are sweet and good, others are addle and corrupted, others again have their young ones of different growths, according to the time it may be presumed they have been forsaken by the dam. They oftener meet a few of the little ones, no bigger than well-grown pullets, half starved, straggling, and moaning about, like so many distressed orphans, for their mother. And in this manner the ostrich may be said (Job 39:16) to be hardened against her young ones, as though they were not hers; her labour in hatching and attending them so far being vain without fear, or the least concern of what becomes of them afterwards. This want of affection is also recorded, Lamentations 4:3: The daughter of my people, says the prophet, is cruel, like the ostriches in the wilderness.

"Neither is this the only reproach that may be due to the ostrich; she is likewise inconsiderate and foolish in her private capacity; particularly in the choice of food, which is frequently highly detrimental and pernicious to her; for she swallows every thing greedily and indiscriminately, whether it be pieces of rags, leather, wood, stone, or iron. When I was at Oram, I saw one off these birds swallow, without any seeming uneasiness or inconvenience, several leaden bullets, as they were thrown upon the floor, scorching hot from the mould, the inner coats of the aesophapus and stomach being probably better stocked with glands and juices than in other animals with shorter necks. They are particularly fond of their own excrement, which they greedily eat up as soon as it is voided. No less fond are they of the dung of hens and other poultry. It seems as if their optic as well as olfactory nerves were less adequate and conducive to their safety and preservation than in other creatures. The Divine providence in this, no less than in other respects, (Job 39:17,) having deprived them of wisdom, neither hath it imparted to them understanding.

"Those parts of the Sahara which these birds chiefly frequent are destitute of all manner of food and herbage, except it be some few tufts of coarse grass, or else a few other solitary plants of the laureola, apocynum, and some other kinds; each of which is equally destitute of nourishment; and, in the psalmist's phrase, (Psalms 129:6,) even withereth afore it groweth up. Yet these herbs, notwithstanding their dryness, and want of moisture in their temperature, will sometimes have both their leaves and their stalks studded all over with a great variety of land snails, which may afford them some little refreshment. It is very probable, likewise, that they may sometimes seize upon lizards, serpents, together with insects and reptiles of various kinds. Yet still, considering the great voracity and size of this camel-bird, it is wonderful, not only how the little ones, after they are weaned from the provisions I have mentioned, should be brought up and nourished, but even how those of fuller growth and much better qualified to look out for themselves, are able to subsist.

"Their organs of digestion, and particularly the gizzards, which, by their strong friction, will wear away iron itself, show them indeed to be granivorous; but yet they have scarce ever an opportunity to exercise them in this way, unless when they chance to stray, which is very seldom, towards those parts of the country which are sown and cultivated, For these, as they are much frequented by the Arabs at the several seasons of grazing, ploughing, and gathering in the harvest; so they are little visited by as indeed they would be an improper abode for this shy, timorous bird; φιλερημος, a lover of the deserts. This last circumstance in the behaviour of the ostrich is frequently alluded to in the Holy Scriptures; particularly Isaiah 13:21; Isaiah 34:13; Isaiah 43:20; Jeremiah 50:39; where the word, יענה yaanah, instead of being rendered the ostrich, as it is rightly put in the margin, is called the owl; a word used likewise instead of yaanah or the ostrich, Leviticus 11:16, and Deuteronomy 14:15.

"Whilst I was abroad, I had several opportunities of amusing myself with the actions and behaviour of the ostrich. It was very diverting to observe with what dexterity and equipoise of body it would play and frisk about on all occasions. In the heat of the day, particularly it would strut along the sunny side of the house with great majesty. It would be perpetually fanning and priding itself with its quivering expanded wings; and seem at every turn to admire and be in love with its shadow. Even at other times whether walking about or resting itself upon the ground, the wings would continue these fanning vibrating motions, as if they were designed to mitigate and assuage that extraordinary heat wherewith their bodies seem to be naturally affected.

"Notwithstanding these birds appear tame and tractable to such persons of the family as were more known and familiar to them, yet they were often very rude and fierce to strangers, especially the poorer sort, whom they would not only endeavour to push down by running furiously upon them; but would not cease to peck at them violently with their bills, and to strike them with their feet; whereby they were frequently very mischievous. For the inward claw, or hoof rather as we may call it, of this avis bisulca, being exceedingly strong pointed and angular, I once saw an unfortunate person who had his belly ripped open by one of these strokes. Whilst they are engaged in these combats and assaults, they sometimes make a fierce, angry, and hissing noise with their throats inflated, and their mouths open; at other times, when less resistance is made they have a chuckling or cackling voice, as in the poultry kind; and thereby seem to rejoice and laugh as it were at the timorousness of their adversary. But during the lonesome part of the night, as if their organs of voice had then attained a quite different tone, they often made a very doleful and hideous noise; which would be sometimes like the roaring of a lion; at other times it would bear a near resemblance to the hoarser voices of other quadrupeds, particularly of the bull and the ox. I have often heard them groan, as if they were in the greatest agonies; an action beautifully alluded to by the Prophet Micah, Micah 1:8, where it is said, I will make a mourning like the yaanah or ostrich. Yaanah, therefore, and רננים renanim, the names by which the ostrich is known in the Holy Scriptures, may very properly be deduced from ענה anah, and רנן ranan, words which the lexicographi explain by exclamare or clamare fortiter; for the noise made by the ostrich being loud and sonorous, exclamare or clamare fortiter may, with propriety enough, be attributed to it, especially as those words do not seem to denote any certain or determined mode of voice or sound peculiar to any one particular species of animals, but such as may be applicable to them all, to birds as well as to quadrupeds and other creatures."

Shaw's Travels, p. 541, edit. 4to. 1757.

The subjects in this chapter have been so various and important, that I have been obliged to extend the notes and observations to an unusual length; and yet much is left unnoticed which I wished to have inserted. I have made the best selection I could, and must request those readers who wish for more information to consult zoological writers.

Bibliographical Information
Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Job 39". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/acc/job-39.html. 1832.
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