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Bible Commentaries
Job 39

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

Verse 1

Knowest thou the time when the wild goats of the rock bring forth? or canst thou mark when the hinds do calve?

Even wild beasts, cut off from all care of man, are cared for by God at their seasons of greatest need. Their instinct comes direct from God, and guides them to help themselves in parturition-the very time when the herdsman is most anxious for herds.

Wild goats - ibex (Psalms 104:18; 1 Samuel 24:2).

Hinds - most timid and defenseless animals, yet cared for by God.

Verse 2

Canst thou number the months that they fulfil? or knowest thou the time when they bring forth?

They bring forth with ease, and do not need to reckon the months of pregnancy, as the shepherd does in the case of his flocks.

Verse 3

They bow themselves, they bring forth their young ones, they cast out their sorrows.

Bow themselves - in parturition: bend on their knees (1 Samuel 4:19).

Bring forth, [ paalach (H6398)] - literally, cause their young to cleave the womb and break forth. Sorrows - their young ones, the cause of their momentary pains.

Verse 4

Their young ones are in good liking, they grow up with corn; they go forth, and return not unto them.

Are in good liking - in good condition, grow up strong.

With corn - rather, in the field [ baar (H1250)], without man's care.

Return not - being able to provide for themselves.

Verse 5

Who hath sent out the wild ass free? or who hath loosed the bands of the wild ass?

Wild ass. Two different Hebrew words are here used for the same animal, the donkey of the woods [ pere'

(H6501)], and the wild donkey [ `aarowd (H6171)]. (Note, Job 6:5; Job 11:12; Job 24:5; Jeremiah 2:24.)

Loosed the bands - given its liberty to. Man can rob animals of freedom, but not, as God, give freedom, combined with subordination to fixed laws.

Verse 6

Whose house I have made the wilderness, and the barren land his dwellings.

Barren - literally, salt - i:e., unfruitful [ mªleechaah (H4420)]. (So "barrenness," Psalms 107:34, margin, saltness.)

Verse 7

He scorneth the multitude of the city, neither regardeth he the crying of the driver.

Multitude - rather, din: he sets it at defiance, being far away from it in the freedom of the wilderness.

Driver - who urges on the tame donkey to work. The wild donkey is the symbol of uncontrolled freedom in the East; even kings in Persia have, therefore, added its name to them.

Verse 8

The range of the mountains is his pasture, and he searcheth after every green thing.

The range, [ yªtuwr (H3491)] - literally, searching: 'that which it finds by searching is,' etc.

Verse 9

Will the unicorn be willing to serve thee, or abide by thy crib?

Unicorn. Pliny ('Natural History,' 8:21) mentions such an animal: its figure is found depicted in the ruins of Persepolis. The Hebrew [ reeym (H7214)] conveys the idea of loftiness and power (cf. Ramah; Indian, Ram; Latin, Roma). The rhinoceros was perhaps the original type of the unicorn. The Arab rim is a two-horned animal. Sometimes 'unicorn,' or reem, is a mere poetical symbol, or abstraction. But the buffalo is the animal referred to here, from the contrast to the tame ox used in plowing, etc. (Job 39:10; Job 39:12.) Many animals have become extinct where once they abounded. Thus the wild bison or urus, described by Caesar, is now only found in Lithuania, but was then spread over the whole of the north temperate climes, and Bashan, Lebanon, etc. Dr. Roth found remains of the lion, not in a fossil state, but waterworn, among the gravel at the Jordan, though it is now no longer there.

Crib - (Isaiah 1:3).

Abide - literally, pass the night [ luwn (H3885)].

Verse 10

Canst thou bind the unicorn with his band in the furrow? or will he harrow the valleys after thee? Canst thou bind the unicorn with his band in the furrow? or will he harrow the valleys after thee?

His band - fastened to the horns, as its chief strength lies in the head and shoulders.

After thee - obedient to thee; willing to follow, instead of being goaded on before thee.

Verse 11

Wilt thou trust him, because his strength is great? or wilt thou leave thy labour to him?

Thy labour - rustic work.

Verse 12

Wilt thou believe him, that he will bring home thy seed, and gather it into thy barn?

Believe - trust.

Seed - produce [ zera` (H2233)] (1 Samuel 8:15).

Into thy barn - rather, gather (the contents of) thy threshing floor [ goren (H1637)]: Maurer, the grain threshed on it.

Verse 13

Gavest thou the goodly wings unto the peacocks? or wings and feathers unto the ostrich?

Gavest thou the goodly wings unto the peacocks? or wings and feathers unto the ostrich? - rather, 'the wing of the ostrich hen (literally, of cries: the crying-bird [ rªnaaniym (H7443)]; as the Arab name for it means song: referring to its night-cries; Job 30:29; Micah 1:8) vibrates joyously. Is it not like the quill and feathers of the pious bird'-the stork? [ chªciydaah (H2624)]. (Umbreit.) Rather, 'Is it like (surely not) the pious bird?' The vibrating, quivering wing, serving for sail and oar at once, is characteristic of the ostrich in full course. Its white and black feathers in the wing and tail are like the stork's. But, unlike that bird, the symbol of parental love in the East, it, with seeming want of natural (pious) affection, deserts its young. Both birds are poetically called by descriptive instead of their usual appellative names. The peacock came originally from the East Indies, and was imported into Palestine long subsequently. It is mentioned among the rarities imported from far by Solomon (1 Kings 10:22): whence it seems unlikely, though not impossible, that the bird was known to Job, in Ur, at so early a date.

Moreover, the tail, rather than the wings, would have been specified if the peacock had been meant here, the former being its chief feature of beauty.

Verse 14

Which leaveth her eggs in the earth, and warmeth them in dust,

Nay (unlike the stork) she leaveth etc. Hence, called by the Arabs the impious bird. However, the fact is, she lays her eggs with great care about a foot beneath the surface, and hatches them as other birds do; but in hot countries the eggs do not need so constant incubation; she therefore often leaves them during the day: moreover, the outer eggs intended for food, she feeds her young with (Cuvier, 'Animal Kingdom,' 8: 432); these eggs, lying separate in the sand exposed to the sun, gave rise to the idea of her altogether leaving them. God describes her as she seems to man: implying, though she may seem foolishly to neglect her young, yet really she is guided by a sure instinct from God, as much as animals of instincts widely different.

Verse 15

And forgetteth that the foot may crush them, or that the wild beast may break them.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 16

She is hardened against her young ones, as though they were not hers: her labour is in vain without fear;

On a slight noise often she forsakes her eggs, and returns not, as if she were 'hardened toward her young.'

Her labour - in producing eggs, is in vain, (yet) she has no disquietude (about her young): unlike other birds, who, Her labour - in producing eggs, is in vain, (yet) she has no disquietude (about her young): unlike other birds, who, if one egg and another are taken away, will go on laying until their full number is made up.

Verse 17

Because God hath deprived her of wisdom, neither hath he imparted to her understanding.

Wisdom - such as God gives to other animals, and to man (Job 35:11). The Arab proverb is, 'Foolish as an ostrich.' Yet her very seeming want of wisdom is not without wise design of God, though man cannot see it: just as in the trials of the godly, which seem so unreasonable to Job, there lies hid a wise design.

Verse 18

What time she lifteth up herself on high, she scorneth the horse and his rider.

Not withstanding her deficiences, she has distinguishing, excellences.

Lifteth ... herself - for running: she cannot mount in the air. Gesenius translates [ tamriy' (H4754), from maaraa' (H4754), akin to the Arabic], lashes herself up to her course by flapping her wings. The old versions, the Septuagint and Vulgate, favour the English version, and the parallel "scorneth" answers to her proudly "lifting up herself" [from ruwm (H7311), to raise one's self].

Verse 19

Hast thou given the horse strength? hast thou clothed his neck with thunder?

The allusion to "the horse" (Job 39:18) suggests the description of him. Arab poets delight in praising the horse; yet it is not mentioned in the possessions of Job, (Job 1:1-22; Job 42:1-17.) It seems to have been at the time chiefly used for war rather than 'domestic purposes.'

Thunder, [ ra`maah (H7483)] - poetically for 'he with arched neck inspires fear as thunder does.' Translate 'majesty' (Umbreit). Rather, 'the trembling, quivering mane,' answering to the 'vibrating wing' of the ostrich, (note, Job 13:1-28.) (Maurer.) Mane in Greek [fobee] also, is from a root meaning fear [ fobos (G5401)]. The English version is more sublime.

Verse 20

Canst thou make him afraid as a grasshopper? the glory of his nostrils is terrible.

Make ... afraid - rather, 'canst thou (as I do) make him spring as the locust [ raa`ash (H7493) unites the meaning of tremble and spring up (Umbreit)]. So in Joel 2:4 the comparison is between locusts and war horses. The heads of the two are so like that the Italians call the locusts cavaletta, 'little horse.'

Nostrils - snorting furiously.

Verse 21

He paweth in the valley, and rejoiceth in his strength: he goeth on to meet the armed men.

Valley - where the battle is joined.

Goeth on - goeth forth (Numbers 1:3; Numbers 21:23.)

Verse 22

He mocketh at fear, and is not affrighted; neither turneth he back from the sword.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 23

The quiver rattleth against him, the glittering spear and the shield. Quiver - for the arrows, which they contain, and which are directed "against him."

Glittering spear - literally, glittering of the spear, like 'lightning of the spear' (Habakkuk 3:11).

Shield - rather, lance [ kidown (H3591)].

Verse 24

He swalloweth the ground with fierceness and rage: neither believeth he that it is the sound of the trumpet.

Swalloweth - fretting with impatience, he draws the ground toward him with his hoof, as if he would swallow it. The parallelism shows this to be the sense: not, as Maurer, 'scours over it.'

Neither believeth - for joy. Rather, 'he will not stand still [ ya'ªmiyn (H539), from 'aameen (H543), to be firm] when the note of the trumpet' (soundeth).

Verse 25

He saith among the trumpets, Ha, ha; and he smelleth the battle afar off, the thunder of the captains, and the shouting.

Saith - poetically applied to his mettlesome neighing, whereby he shows his love of the battle.

Smelleth - snuffeth: discerneth (margin, Isaiah 11:3).

Thunder - thundering voice.

Verse 26

Doth the hawk fly by thy wisdom, and stretch her wings toward the south?

The instinct by which some birds migrate to warmer climates before winter. Rapid flying peculiarly characterizes The instinct by which some birds migrate to warmer climates before winter. Rapid flying peculiarly characterizes the whole hawk genus.

Verse 27

Doth the eagle mount up at thy command, and make her nest on high?

Eagle - it flies highest of all birds: thence called the bird of heaven.

Verse 28

She dwelleth and abideth on the rock, upon the crag of the rock, and the strong place.

Abideth - securely (Psalms 91:1); it occupies the same abode mostly for life.

Crag - literally, tooth [ shen (H8127)] (margin, 1 Samuel 14:5).

Strong place - citadel, fastness.

Verse 29

From thence she seeketh the prey, and her eyes behold afar off.

Seeketh - is on the look out for.

Behold - the eagle descries its prey at an astonishing distance by sight rather than smell.

Verse 30

Her young ones also suck up blood: and where the slain are, there is she. Her young ones also suck up blood: and where the slain are, there is she.

Quoted partly by Jesus Christ (Matthew 24:28). The food of young eagles is the blood of victims brought by the parent, when they are still too feeble to devour flesh.

Slain - as the vulture chiefly feeds on carcasses, it is included probably in the genus eagle.


(1) The instincts of the various beasts and birds lead them intuitively and unerringly to adopt the means best fitted for their sustenance and preservation. This instinct is the direct gift of God, and proves how consummately wise and considerate in the case of even His humbler creatures, God is. Shall we, then, harbour the thought for a moment that He who so providentially cares for birds and beasts can possibly be capable, as Job in affliction surmised, of harshness and injustice toward the noblest of His earthly creatures, man? (see Matthew 6:26.)

(2) Even those animals which seem to the superficial observer to be wanting in some of those beautiful instincts which characterize the majority (as, for instance, the ostrich was thought foolishly to neglect her young, Job 39:13-17) are really guided by instincts as appropriate for their particular wants and modes of life, after their kind, as other animals whose instincts impress us with their divine origination more palpably. The want of some particular instinct in one animal, which might seem to us objectionable, is really the result of omniscient counsel; and we can see in animals deficient in one respect some counterbalancing excellency. So in the trials of the godly, which seemed so unaccountable to Job as to form an objection against the wisdom and goodness of God, there lies underneath an all-wise design: a temporary and inconsiderable evil, in a sin-tainted world of imperfection, is permitted, and overruled to a solid and everlasting good to the child of God, and that for the glory of God, which is the final end of all God's doings.

(3) Cheerful submission to God's will, under the conviction of God's perfect wisdom and goodness, which cooperate for the believer's good even in the darkest dispensation, is the grand lesson to be learned from this address of God to Job. If man cannot even explain, much less bestow on the lower animals the instincts so happily varied to meet their several needs for their support and preservation, how preposterous and presumptuous it is for man, because he cannot see the reasons of God's afflictive dealings with him, to call in question His justice and goodness!

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Job 39". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/job-39.html. 1871-8.
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