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Bible Commentaries
Job 39

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Verses 1-4

The Mountain Goats and the Deer

God confronts Job in this section with the giving birth of young by the mountain goats and the deer. Can Job say at what time the mountain goats give birth (Job 39:1)? These animals live on rocks inaccessible to man, which they climb with the greatest ease. In an inimitable way they jump from one rock to another. How can a human being know when a mountain goat gives birth? That event escapes his perception. The same goes for the timorous deer, who stays as far away as possible from people and predators.

Job must also answer the question if he can “count the months they fulfill” (Job 39:2). And can he also say something about “the time they give birth”? He is incapable of either of them, for he cannot follow them. They move beyond his reach. But God knows exactly. He works it: “The voice of the Lord makes the deer to calve” (Psalms 29:9), where we can think of thunderstorms hastening the birth.

God has implanted in these animals how they get their young (Job 39:3). They adopt an outward attitude (“they kneel down”), getting rid of their labor pains, making it easier for them to eject their young. Inside there are contractions that drive the young out. This all happens outside the field of vision of man, but under the watchful eye of God. He has provided the animals with what they need to give birth to a young.

Once the young is born, God continues to take care of it (Job 39:4). He gives the young what they need to become strong. The open field is their natural habitat. There they grow up. When they are independent and no longer need the care of their mother, they leave their mother forever and go their own way. They all do that without human help. Once they are independent, God continues to take care of them.

If God takes care of these animals and their young like that, won’t He take care of His children? If we have no control over our children who go their own way, He will continue to take care of them.

Verses 5-8

The Wild Donkey and the Swift Donkey

The next question from God is about “the wild donkey” and “the swift donkey” (Job 39:5). Does Job know why he lives so freely? That he wanders around without bonds, untied? Who gave this creature this nature with a desire for freedom and the strength to maintain that freedom? God did. He has ensured that this animal has remained out of the hands of men and lives untamed. If it fell into the hands of men, it would be tamed (James 3:7).

In addition to ensuring the freedom of this animal, God also provides an environment in which he feels at home (Job 39:6). The wilderness fits his nature, where the wild donkey is at home (Jeremiah 2:24). The salt land provide enough salty food for the animal’s needs.

The free, untied donkey laughs at the tame donkey that is in the city amid the noise (Job 39:7). The wild donkey is free of that. He is in the wild and there enjoys the peace and quiet. The tame donkey is a slave and must carry loads (Numbers 22:30). He must listen to the commands of the slave-driver and is hurried by him. The wild donkey has nothing to do with this. He does not hear that voice, for he is not caught.

He is at liberty in the mountains, where his pasture is (Job 39:8). There he searches for food. If there is anything green, he eats it with great contentment, without braying (Job 6:5). It is a new proof of God’s greatness that He has also made such an animal that acts according to the nature He has given him.

Verses 9-12

The Wild Ox

The next animal God asks Job about is “the wild ox” (Job 39:9), an enormously strong animal. This animal is mentioned several times as a symbol of strength (Numbers 23:22; Numbers 24:8; Deuteronomy 33:17). God asks Job if that animal would want to serve him and if he could keep it as a pet. Job knows that this is impossible, because the wild ox is too strong to tame him. If he would let the animal spend the night in his manger next to the tame oxen, he would cause great devastation in his night lodging, because he would not let himself be tied up or locked up.

The great strength of the wild ox makes him excellently suited to tie him with a rope before the plough in order to draw furrows over his land (Job 39:10). God asks if Job would be able to do this. There is some irony in this question. Besides ploughing, the wild ox can of course also pull the harrow. But what he can do when it comes to his strength, he doesn’t want to do. His whole nature rebels against it. That’s why Job cannot rely on him, no matter how great his strength is (Job 39:11). He cannot let him do any work. He does not have to rely on the strength of the wild ox to bring his seed from the field to his barns and thresh it (Job 39:12).

The farmers do not benefit from the wild ox, but God wants him in His creation. This useless powerhouse was created by God to show His power. Just as the wild ox does not make his power available to man, so God’s power is not available to man at his command. If Job has no control over such creatures as the wild donkey and the wild ox to make them subservient to himself, how unsuitable is he then to rule the world or judge God’s actions.

Verses 13-18

The Ostrich

Another animal that God presents to Job is the ostrich (Job 39:13). God does not question Job about this animal, but He describes it. Although God does not ask questions, the description may raise the question of why God created the ostrich. It is the largest bird living today. Weighing up to one hundred and fifty kilograms, the ostrich is unable to fly. With her impressive height of up to two and a half meters, she also has difficulty hiding. While the stork [“love” can also be translated with “a stork”] has pinion and plumage with which it can fly long distances as a migratory bird, the ostrich has only rough haired, blunt wings. But that’s not what she’s concerned about. God has adapted her well to her lifestyle.

With the wings she has, she can’t fly, but she can joyfully flap her wings. Other birds can also use their feathers to flap their wings. They can also fly with them, but the ostrich can only make noise with them. The fact that of the other birds the stork is called by name is not for nothing, but indicates a contrast made by God Himself. We read of the stork: “Even the stork in the sky Knows her seasons” (Jeremiah 8:7). God gives birds a certain knowledge or He withholds it from birds. The latter is the case with the ostrich (Job 39:17).

Job 39:14 begins with “for”, which indicates a contrast with the foregoing, the other birds that can lift themselves up from the earth with their wings. The ostrich only runs over the earth. She goes through life without worrying about anything and also without any sense of responsibility for her young. This is evidenced by the lack of care for her eggs. Other birds sit on it to breed, but also to protect the eggs. The ostrich is easy to lure away from her nest.

She forgets – God speaks here of the animals as if they were humans – that the eggs are unsafe that way. This is a gross lack of parental affection. There is no care for the offspring. She doesn’t care that anyone can step on the eggs with his foot (Job 39:15). It can also happen that the animals of the field trample them.

It does not mean that she has forgotten the place where she left her eggs. That turns out when the eggs hatch and she has the young. The way she deals with her young connects to the lack of parental feelings she already showed with the eggs she laid. “She treats her young cruelly, as if [they] were not hers” (Job 39:16; cf. Lamentations 4:3). She does not worry about what will become of her young.

It will be clear that there are important, warning lessons for the education in the ostrich’s behavior. This is not the place to go into that further. However, we would advise the reader to look for it in this section and ask the Lord to help him or her not to behave toward his or her children as the ostrich does toward her young.

The ostrich’s indifference and cruelty is because God “has made her forget wisdom, And has not given her a share of understanding” (Job 39:17). God has not given her the wisdom and a share of understanding He has given to other animals. He is free in what He does and does not give to animals. There is a wise intent behind this action. The fact that we do not always understand it does not change the wisdom of God. It should make us realize that God acts according to His will, without us always seeing the reason or getting the explanation.

God has not given the ostrich wisdom, but He has given it the ability to run very fast. She does not use her wings and feathers to protect her young, but to flee as soon as she sees danger. At a time of danger, “she lifts herself on high”, that is, she stands, and makes a run that even a horse cannot keep up with (Job 39:18). The strength of her legs is enormous. Her top speed is at seventy kilometers per hour. She laughs at the horse and whoever rides it.

The lesson is that God, if He wants to, makes creatures who are stupid and make a strange impression on us, who pretend to be crazy. Here we see a bird that can’t fly. Although the animal has wings, it can run faster than a horse. Job could not understand what God was doing in his life. God tells him that the created world is sometimes just as difficult to explain. The ostrich is a stupid animal, yet God takes care of her, as He takes care of her young that she has forgotten or against whom she is being hard on. The question has not been asked, but is locked up in it: Is Job able to explain the deviant behavior of this animal?

Verses 19-25

The Horse

God continues with the horse about which He again pronounces Himself in question form to Job. The horse here is the warhorse. It is the only animal of all the animals God mentions that is in the service of man and is used by him. The aforementioned wild animals that proudly enjoy their freedom and strength are beyond the control of Job. But even a creature tamed by man can exhibit a frightening behavior from which we can get excited. The warhorse is such a creature. Characteristic is his fearlessness. Without any fear, he runs towards the enemy.

Where does the horse’s strength, with which he plunges into battle, come from (Job 39:19)? Did Job give it to him? No, God has equipped the horse like this. And who clothed his neck with a mane? Did Job? No, not Job, but God. The neck is connected with will-power. The will-power of the horse is adorned with a robe of manes. It gives the running horse an impressive appearance.

His neck with manes also has a symbolic meaning. The neck is in many Scriptures a picture of one’s own will (Deuteronomy 31:27; 2 Kings 17:14; Nehemiah 9:16; Job 15:26; Jeremiah 7:26). The covering with long hair or a veil speaks of a higher authority being recognized (Genesis 24:65; Numbers 6:5; 1 Corinthians 11:15). God created the horse in such a way that he does not use his strength for himself, but puts it at the service of his master.

In addition to running, the horse can leap over obstacles (Job 39:20). He does so like a grasshopper. He also looks like a locust (Revelation 9:7; cf. Joel 2:4). Locusts are also sometimes called ‘little horses’. When the horse plunges into battle, he lets hear a snort that is full of majesty and spreads horror around him.

Before the horse rushes forward, he scrapes his paws in the valley, as it were to drop off and then shoot out of the starting blocks (Job 39:21). He enjoys storming into the battleground. It knows its strength and despises the enemy. So “he goes out to meet the weapons”, without fear of them, because he trusts in his strength and is therefore certain of victory.

He does not know fear, he laughs at it and is not dismayed (Job 39:22). The clatter of weapons doesn’t upset him, it doesn’t upset him or confuse him. There is no turning back because the enemy has drawn the sword. Fearless the horse rushes on, sword or no sword. With true contempt for death, he goes towards the sword.

While he is running, the quiver of arrows hanging at his body rattles against him (Job 39:23). Other weapons it carries also rattle as he gallops forward. When he is at full speed, he is as if he is devouring the earth, so fast the legs go back and forth. We do speak of ‘devouring kilometers’ when we travel a long distance. While galloping, the horse trembles and roars (Job 39:24). Like an arrow he took off when the trumpet sounded. It was unstoppable.

Every time the horse hears the sound of the trumpet, it responds with an excitement (Job 39:25). It feels that it is about to take part in a battle. There is nothing more beautiful for a war horse. It scents the battle from afar and it hears the thunder of the enemy’s captains and the cries of the enemy armies. It doesn’t matter. It only stimulates the horse more to get into battle.

Verses 26-30

The Hawk and the Eagle

The last two animals that God asks Job about are birds of prey: the hawk and the eagle. God points out to Job the miracle of the hawk’s migrating instinct. Did Job give this bird the instinct to spread its wings and soar to the south at a certain time (Job 39:26)? The migratory instinct is still today a miracle that man looks at with amazement. The navigation of migratory birds is astonishing. They know exactly where to go and what route to follow. Who other than God has given the migratory birds this insight and equipped them with such a navigation system?

For the eagle – or probably better: vulture – the same applies. The astonishing thing about the eagle is not a migratory instinct, but its ability to rise to great heights and make a nest on high (Job 39:27). Does Job command the eagle to fly high up and make a nest there? He lives and spends the night at that height inaccessible to man (Job 39:28). No one can reach him there or disturb him. His dwelling on the tip of a rock offers the security of a fortress.

For his food supply he can rely on his phenomenal eyesight (Job 39:29). As soon as he sees prey from his place in the distance, he flies towards it like a thunderbolt. With the prey in his beak, he returns to his nest. There he gives his prey to his young who suck up its blood (Job 39:30). His food also consists of “the slain”, i.e. animals that are so badly injured that they no longer have the strength to bring themselves to safety. They may also be people who have been so badly injured in war that they are dying on the battlefield. The eagle awaits the moment when it can feast on them.

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Job 39". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/job-39.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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