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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary

Job 39

Verses 1-30


Job 39:13. “Gatest thou the goodly wings unto the peacock, or wings and feathers into the ostrich?” (MARGIN: “The feathers of the stork and ostrich.”) The whole verse very variously rendered. In the first member, instead of “the peacock,” the term רְנָנִים (renanim) is more correctly translated “ostriches,” being derived from רָנַן (ranan) to “sing, or utter a shrill sound,” and applied to the ostrich from its shrill nocturnal cry. SO BOCHART, SCHULTENS, GESENIUS, and others. Other reasons given for this translation:

(1) The authority of Jerome;
(2) The resemblance in the meaning of רְנָנִים and יַעֲנִים (ya’anim),—the latter being the ordinary name of the ostrich;

(3) The alacrity of the ostrich depending all on its wings;
(4) The ostrich otherwise not named. The ostrich is literally the “crying bird;” the Arabs being accustomed to name things rather from their character. So REISKE and FAUSSET. The word in the text first rendered “peacock,” by POMARIUS, and then hesitatingly adopted by PAGNINUS, MONTANUS, VATABLUS, MERCER, &C, and all modern versions: BOOTHROYD. נֶעֱלָסָה (ne’elasah) here rendered “goodly,” is rather the Niphal of the verb עָלַס (’alas) to “rejoice, exult,” as in chap Job 20:18; or, according to others, to make a vibrating noise. GESENIUS renders the word: “Moveth joyfully.” SCHULTENS: “Is full of exultation; is always moving.” According to MERCER, the word is rarely found in Scripture, but is cognate with עָלַץ (’alatz) or עָלַז (’alaz) to “exult, or triumph.” DRUSIUS, COCCETUS, and SCULTETUS render the clause: “The wing of the peacocks is joyful, or moves joyfully. VATABLUS: “Is full of joy and pleasure.” MERCER: “Does the wing of the peacock exult joyfully from thee?” PAGNINUS: “The peacock exults in its wings.” GROTIUS: “Canst thou give the exulting wings of the peacocks?” MUNSTER: “A wing to exult, or to be exulted in.” MONTANUS: “The wing of the exulting ones is joyful.” DODERLKIN: “She is one that exults with sounding wing”—supply, “does she fly by thy wisdom?” STICKEL: “The ostrich rejoices with fluttering wings.” HUFNAGEL: “Joyfully move the sounding feathers and wing.” MICHAELIS: “To the morning dawn the ostrich lifts its wings.” UMBREIT: “The wing of the ostrich [which] lifts itself joyfully.” HERDER: “A wing with joyous cry is uplifted yonder.” SCOTT and BOOTHROYD: “The wing of the ostrich is triumphantly expanded.” STOCK: “Is set to flutter.” GOOD and WEMYSS: “The wing of the ostrich tribe is for flapping.” PARKHURST: “Quivers, or flutters up and down.” ROSENMULLER: “Exults.” COLEMAN: “Flaps exultingly.” NOYES and FAUSSET: “Moveth joyfully.” LEE: “In the exulting wing of the ostrich [wilt thou put thy trust?]” BARNES: “The wing of the exulting fowls moves joyfully;” not their beauty, but their exulting, joyful, triumphant appearance being the object of attraction. FRY: “Is the flapped wing of the ostrich from thee.” CAREY: “The wing of the ostrich thrilleth joyously.” CONANT: “Waves exulting.” DE WETTE: “Swings joyfully.” ZOCKLER: “Flaps joyfully.” Of the ancient and earlier versions, the SEPTUAGINT has: “The wing of the rejoicing ones;” leaving נֶעֱלָסָח untranslated. The VULGATE: “The wing of the ostrich is extolled.” SYRIAC: “The wing of those that praise is lifted up.” ARABIC: “The wing of praise.” TARGUM: “The wing of the wild cock, which sings and exults.” SYMMACHUS: “The wing of exultation grows around.” AQUILA: “The wing of the praising ones folds up.” COVERDALE: “The ostrich, whose feathers are fairer,” &c. LUTHER; “The feathers of the peacock are finer,” &c. MARTIN (French): “Has thou given to the peacock that plumage which is so brilliant.” DIODATI (Italian): “The wings of the peacock, are they beautiful by thy doing?”

The rendering of the second member of the verse (אִם אֶבְרָה הֲסִידָה וְנֹצָה im ebhrah hasidhah ve-nolsah) equally various. According to GESENIUS, אֶבְרָה (ebhrah) from the unused Root אָבַר (abhar), probably “to be strong, able to mount aloft;” a pinion or strong feather: distinguished from כָּנָף (canaph) a wing, and נָצָה (natsah) a common feather. PISCATOR, and some earlier interpreters, make the word, which is elsewhere a “feather,” to be here an “ostrich.” The SEPTUAGINT leaves the words נצה and הסידה untranslated. The VULGATE has: “[the wing of the ostrich is extolled] like the wing of the heron and the hawk;” reading נצה as if נֵץ or נֵצָה SYRIAC and ARABIC: “It flies, and comes, and builds its nest.” COPTIC: “If the stork and ostrich could comprehend it;” which seems to be as destitute of meaning as the Septuagint itself. COVERDALE: “[Fairer] than the wings of the sparrow-hawk.” LUTHER: “Than the wings and feathers of the stork.” MARTIN (French): “Or to the ostrich [gavest thou] the wings and the feathers? “DIODATI (Italian): “Has the ostrich its feathers and plumage from thee?” MERCER, VATABLUS, and PAGNINUS: “Is the wing of the stork and its feathers so?” i.e., is it joyful or a cause of pleasure? or, has the stork such a wing and plumage? or, is it from thee? MUNSTER: “Or hast thou given wings and plumage to the stork? “SCULTETUS: “Or the wing of the stork and ostrich?” GROTLUS, PISCATOR, JUNIUS, and TREMELLIUS: “Or feathers to the stork and ostrich?” COCCEIUS: “Or if you wish a larger wing, that of the stork and ostrich.” CASTALIO, including the preceding member: “Which are more noble, the wing of the ostrich, or the feathers and plumage of the stork?” So OSIANDER: “Are the wings of the ostrich more elegant than the wing and feather of the stork?” TIGURINE version: “The wing of the ostrich bears the palm, if you compare with it the wing or feather of the stork.” BOCHART: “[The wing of the ostrich exults]; verily the wing of the stork and the feathers;” i.e., which are verily a wing and plumage as is in the stork; or, the wings, I say, of the stork? כ being understood as in Genesis 19:9; the ostrich being not so much a bird as a beast; whence the Arab proverb: “The ostrich is neither bird nor camel;” and its name among the Persians, the camel-bird, as resembling a camel in its neck, height and walk, and a bird in its bill and feathers. SIMON: “Does it resemble the tail and feathers of the stork?” SCHULTENS: “Is its wing and plumage an affectionate one?” with allusion to the stork. HUFNAGEL and MICHAELIS: “The ostrich flies like the stork and the hawk.” DODERLEIN: “With the feathers of the stork and the hawk.” STOCK: “Hath her affection taken wings and flown away?” PARKHURSIS “But is it the wing of the stork and it: plumage?” STICKEL: “Is it the stork-like, affectionate, pinions and feathers?” EWALD: “Is it a pious pinion and plumage?” אִם being interrogative. DE WETTE: “Is his wing also affectionate, and his plumage?” SCOTT: “Is it the pinion and feathers of the stork?”—not like the stork, providing for the security of its young. UMBREIT: “Is it not like the quill and feathers of the pious bird the stork?”—is it like the pious bird? surely not. NOYES: “But is it with loving pinion and feathers?” CAREY: “Is the feather and plumage that of the stork?” BARNES: “Has it the wing and plumage of the stork?”—flying without being endowed with the wings of the stork, and contrasted in its habits with those of that bird. BOOTHROYD: “Her pinions and feathers as those of the stork.” COLEMAN: “Truly they have goodly pinions and plumage.” FRY: “Or is the swollen pinion and plumage from thee?” LEE: “Or are her choice feathers and head-plumage from thee?” GOOD and WEMYSS: “But the wings of the stork and the falcon are for flight.” ROSENMULLER: “Truly its wing and plumage is like that of the stork.” ZOCKLER: “Though, is it a pious pinion and plumage?”


Continuation of the questioning. Job now pointed to the animal creation; the passage from inanimate to animated nature having been made at the 39th verse of the previous chapter, instead of the beginning of this. Specimens or representatives of the various great classes of animals adduced—first beasts, then birds, then the inhabitants of the water, or of both land and water. The animals referred to mostly those of the wild class, or in a wild state, rather than domestic or domesticated ones. Exhibited for the most part in their native character as coming from the hand of their Creator. The animals selected distinguished for some special property, habit, or instinct, as indicative of the Creator’s power in making, and His Providence in caring for them. The object of the references to reprove and humble Job, by reminding him of the greatness, majesty, sovereignty, power, wisdom, and goodness of Him whose providential dealings he had been tempted to arraign. Many things in connection with the lower animals mysterious and incomprehensible to man; why not in connection with man himself? The manifestation of Divine power in the animal creation, as well as of Divine wisdom and goodness in providing for, sustaining, preserving, and governing the various tribes of living creatures, a sufficient argument to silence all objections and murmurs as to the justice of His providential dealings.

The appeal here made by Jehovah to animated nature an indication of man’s duty, as far as he has opportunity, to observe and make himself acquainted with the structure and habits of the lower animals. The visible, and especially the animal creation, moreover, to be observed and studied as works of God, and as expressive of His attributes and perfections, both as its Creator and Governor. Man always and everywhere surrounded with memorials and lessons of God’s character and providence. The works of nature, both animate and inanimate, intended by their Creator to be so observed and studied by men, that He may derive praise, and they both pleasure and profit. The language of an eminent philosopher (Sedgwick) as true of natural history as of the Newtonian philosophy: “A study affecting our moral powers and capabilities; teaches us to see the finger of God in all things, animate and inanimate, and gives us an exalted conception of His attributes, placing before us the clearest proofs of their reality; and so prepares, or ought to prepare, the mind for the reception of that higher illumination which brings the rebellious faculties into obedience to the Divine will.” Constant reference in Scripture to the animal creation as illustrative of God’s character and man’s duty. Nature, or creation—God’s own Book—ever open to our view. “Go to the ant, thou sluggard;” “Consider the ravens;” “Behold the lilies of the field,”—recorded specimens of Divine teaching.

The reference here made to the various animals, such as to indicate the pleasure and satisfaction with which the Almighty contemplates the visible works of His hand. In accordance with the Mosaic narrative, “God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). “The Lord shall rejoice in His works” (Psalms 104:31). A sufficient reason why man should rejoice in them. The better a man is acquainted with God’s works in general, and with the animal creation in particular, the greater the pleasure he will derive from them. After the lion and the raven, Job is pointed to—

1. The Wild Goat or Ibex. Job 39:1.—“Knowest thou the time when the wild goats of the rock bring forth?” The wild goat, probably the animal known among naturalists as the Ibex—the Bedin of the Arabs—a bold and powerful animal, armed with two huge sweeping horns, curving over its back and often three feet long. Inhabits the most elevated summits of the highest mountain ranges in the whole eastern continent. Stands two feet six or eight inches in height, and is extremely active and vigorous. Vigilant and wary, it only descends during the night to pasture in the woods, repairing again at sunrise to the bleak mountain summits. “Its chase very arduous; the animal leading its pursuer, unless he can steal upon it unawares with his rifle, a dangerous track over steep and rugged mountain pinnacles, along the brink of precipices, and over fearful chasms; and when at last, hard pressed, often turning upon its foe with impetuous rapidity, and hurling him down the steep rocks.” Its favourite haunts in Europe the Alps, the Apennines, the Pyrenees, and the Tyrolese mountains. Doubtful whether it or the Paseng of the Caucasus and of Persia (the Capra Ægagra of Cuvier), is the original stock of our domestic goat. The wild goat referred to as being so far beyond man’s power to manage it, or even become familiarly acquainted with its habits. The “knowledge” intended probably not simply that of mere acquaintance, but of care. “Knowest thou,” &c., so as to attend to, watch over, &c. Certain animals so constituted that man may both become easily and thoroughly acquainted with them and their habits, and be able to attend to their wants and aid them in their emergencies. The case with others the reverse. The shepherd knows the time when his ewes are to lamb: but who knows “the time when the wild goats of the rock bring forth?” Hence, observe—

(1) A proof of the Creator’s care over the animal creation. With no human eye to observe the wild goats, and no shepherd’s hand to aid them, God’s eye marks and His hand helps them in their greatest difficulties.

(2) A lesson of humility and modesty. Man ignorant of the time when the wild goats of the rock bring forth; how then shall he be able to fathom the designs and understand the reasons of God in His providential dealings? What presumption for a creature of so limited knowledge, even of the humbler works of God, to question the wisdom and justice of His moral government!

(3.) A comfort for God’s tried people. Even the wild goats of the rock have their time of parturition assigned them by their Creator. That time known, marked, and attended to by Him. How much more everything connected with His intelligent offspring, and most of all with those who love and fear Him! If God so watches over and cares for the wild goat, will He not much more watch over and care for you?

2. The Hind, or Female Slag or Antelope. Job 39:1-4.—“Canst thou mark (or watch) when the hinds do calve? Canst thou number the months that they fulfil (knowing the period of their gestation, and waiting like the shepherd in regard to his ewes, till they bring forth their fawns)? or knowest thou the time when they bring forth? They how themselves (or go down on their knees in their labour), they bring forth their young ones, they cast out their sorrows (put forth their young which occasion their pains). Their young ones are in good liking (sleek and in good condition); they grow up with corn (or, in the desert or open country); they go forth (to obtain food for themselves), and return not again unto them (viz., to the hinds, their mothers).” The animal more especially alluded to doubtless the gazelle, or Arabian antelope. Formerly numerous in Syria and Arabia. Seen in large herds, bounding over the plain with amazing fleetness. Resemble the stags in the lightness of their figure and the swiftness of their course. In Africa, the usual prey of the lion and the panther. Remarkable for their timidity, as well as for their elegance and beauty; especially for the soft expression of their large, dark, lustrous eyes. The hind or female referred to is, like the ibex, an animal beyond human care and attention, but observed and provided for by its Creator. The providence of God noted in not only delivering the mother in her pangs, but in caring for her offspring. Without either man or mother to attend to its wants, the young fawn, under the care of its Creator, grows up sleek and well-conditioned. Observe—

(1.) The tenderness of the Creator’s care. Indicated by the special reference to the animal’s labour—the time of its maternal “sorrows.” Its labour said to be naturally with difficulty and pain. The animal, however, said to be taught by the instinct given to it, to employ an herb called Siselis in order to facilitate the birth.

(2.) Comfort to suffering believers. The Creator not indifferent to the pangs of the hind. Will He be indifferent to the sorrows and pains of His intelligent creatures, made after His own image, and especially of His own redeemed and adopted children? If He attends to the labour of the irrational creatures, and marks the time when it takes place, is anything connected with His own children beyond his observation and regard?

(3.) Humbling, that while the Creator makes the sufferings of such creatures the object of his care, man should occasion them in the prosecution of his sport. Touching picture, drawn by the greatest of uninspired poets, of a dying stag shot by the hunter:—

“The wretched animal heav’d forth such groans
That their discharge did stretch his leathern coat
Almost to bursting; and the big round tears
Coursed one another down his innocent nose
In piteous chase.”

3. The Wild Ass. Job 39:5-8.—“Who hath sent out the wild ass free (unrestrained to roam at large)? or who hath loosed the bands of the wild ass (a different name in the original text from the former; that employed more in Palestine, this in Chaldea; both indicative of a rapid flight; the latter, perhaps, also of the animal’s noise in braying)? Whose house I have made the wilderness, and the barren land (Marg., ‘salt places’) his dwellings (or haunts). He scorneth the multitude (or din) of the city, neither regardeth he the crying of the driver (or officer compelling to public service—the animal enjoying his liberty in the desert, and defying all attempts to subdue and domesticate him). The range of the mountains is his pasture (or ‘he searches or roams the mountains as his pasture’), and he searcheth out every green thing (as rare in the desert, his proper habitation).” The wild ass, an animal met with in great numbers in Arabia Petræa. According to the Arabs, perfectly untamable. In fleetness equal to the gazelle; to overtake it a feat which only one or two of the most celebrated mares have been known to accomplish. Its food the saltest plants of the desert. In the East, the symbol of uncontrolled freedom. Its name assumed by Persian kings. The wild independence of Ishmael and his descendants (the Bedouin Arabs) indicated by the same figure: “He will be a wild (Heb., wild ass) man” (Genesis 16:12). A picture also of the wayward and self-willed (ch Job 11:12; Jeremiah 2:24; Hosea 8:9). The wild ass here selected by the Almighty on account of its natural freedom from restraint and its wild enjoyment of its desert haunts. Referred to in order to show—

(1) The Creator’s sovereignly, in not only making some species of animals naturally wild and others tame, but making a similar difference in the same species.

(2) The Almighty’s power over animated nature.

(3) His universally extended providence. The wild ass, though beyond man’s power to overtake or capture, yet only one of the innumerable objects of Jehovah’s care. Its freedom and wildness given by Him. Its abode in the wilderness appointed by Him. The salt plants of the desert given by Him for its support. Hence observe—

(1) Man himself entirely in the Almighty’s hands.

(2) Jehovah’s right to dispose of His creatures as He sees good. The potter has power over the clay to make out of the same mass vessels of various kinds and for various purposes (Jeremiah 18:6; Romans 9:21)

(3) Man, unable to give law to the wild ass, how much less to His Maker?—(Henry).

(4) God, who has the wild ass entirely under His control, can easily subdue the wildest and most wayward human spirit.
(5) Variety a characteristic in the Creator’s works. Wildness and independence given by Him to the wild ass. The Almighty tied to no uniform type.

(6) Man’s true liberty, not that of the wild ass,—an unrestrained independence; but to be under willing, intelligent and loving subjection to his Maker’s laws. The liberty of a child of God not to be “without law to God, but under the law to Christ” (1 Corinthians 9:21). The true liberty that with which Christ makes his people free (Galatians 5:1). His yoke easy, and his burden light (Matthew 11:30).

4. The Unicorn. Job 39:9-12.—“Will the unicorn be willing to serve thee, or abide by thy crib (or, spend the night at thy stall, like an ox or other domesticanimal)? Canst thou bind the unicorn with his band in the furrow (guide him with a rope or rein in ploughing thy field)? or will he harrow the valleys (or low grounds, especially suited for tillage) after thee (after thy direction and following thy steps like the quiet ox,—the husbandman going before the harrow, though behind the plough)? Wilt thou trust him (have confidence in him as an animal helpful in the labour of the fields) because his strength is great? or wilt thou leave thy labour to him (thy grain, the fruit of thy labour,—to watch it by night while remaining on the threshing floor)? Wilt thou believe him that he will bring home thy seed (or grain, from the field after being reaped or threshed, like an ox yoked in the waggon), and gather it into thy barn (or granary)?”

The animal here intended apparently one of the ox kind, probably the wild ox or oryx (aurochs),—the urus of the ancients, “generally but erroneously considered as the wild stock of our horned cattle.” A savage animal that has now taken refuge in the great marshy forests of Lithunia, the Krapacs, and the Caucasus; but which formerly inhabited all the temperate parts of Europe. The largest quadruped proper to Europe—(Cuvier). The animal subdued with difficulty. Extremely powerful: hence the reference in the text. Probably the “strong bulls of Bashan” (Psalms 22:12). Once roamed freely in the forests of Palestine. Large herds of them still in the region beyond Jordan. Often mentioned by Arabian poets. Its two horns include a space of ten feet from tip to tip. The animal thought, however, by some to be a species of antelope with two horns, formerly abundant in Egypt and the south-west of Asia; described by Aristotle as one-horned, and appearing on the Egyptian monuments sometimes with one and sometimes with two horns. By others, the unicorn, or reem, thought to be the rhinocerus, one species of which—the rhinoceros of India—has only one horn. This well-known animal also one of enormous strength, being scarcely less in size than the elephant. That of India, sluggish in his movements, and wandering through his native plains with a heavy step. At certain times very dangerous, impetuously attacking every animal that attracts his notice. The African rhinocerus has a double horn, the principal one rising about nine or ten inches above the nose, and inclining backwards; the other immediately behind it, a short thick one. The Hebrew name (reem) generally translated in our English Bible the “unicorn,” or one-horned. The animal, however, apparently spoken of as having two horns (Numbers 23:8; Deuteronomy 33:17; Psalms 22:21.) Frequently mentioned in Scripture as distinguished for its strength. The reem of the Arabs an animal with two horns. The name apparently significant of its loftiness and power. The unicorn of heraldry long thought a merely fabulous animal. Its existence, however, now contended for by some, who allege ancient and modern eye-witnesses of it. Its figure—a head like a horse, cloven feet, the tail of a boar, and one horn in the forehead. The representation of such an animal found among the ruins of Perscpolis.

The animal referred to in the text as one of huge strength, but beyond the power of man to render it serviceable to him in the works of the field. Fitted by its physical structure and great strength, to be employed like the ox or ass in agricultural pursuits; but, from its intractable disposition, not to be subjugated by man for that purpose. The reference intended by the Almighty to remind Job of his own littleness and the power of his Creator. Observe—

(1) A lesson of humility and modesty for man. If unable to bind and bring into his service an animal like the reem, how should he be able to contend with his Maker? If unable to rule a mere creature, how unfit to question the dealings of his Creator!

(2) The effect of sin. The animals originally designed to serve man. Dominion over them given him by the Creator (Genesis 1:26; Genesis 1:28; Psalms 8:6). That dominion forfeited by the Fall.

(3) The Divine sovereignty. Some animals apparently such as by nature to be more useful and serviceable to man than others. God’s reasons for endowing the animals with their various properties unknown to us. Mysteries in creation; no wonder if we find similar mysteries in providence.

5. The Ostrich. Job 39:13-18.—“Gavest thou the goodly wings unto the peacocks? or wings and feathers unto the ostrich? (Marg., ‘the feathers of the stork and ostrich?’ Or the whole verse may read thus: ‘The wing of the ostriches moveth gaily: but is it the wing and feathers of the stork?”—a bird remarkable for maternal affection, of which the ostrich appears to be so deficient). Which (or because, since) she leaveth (or, deposits) her eggs in the ground, and forgetteth that the foot may crush them, or that the wild beast may break them (in the exposed place where she lays them). She is hardened (or acts hardly) against her young ones, as though they were not hers (or, ‘for those which are not her own’): her labour (in preparing her nest, and sitting on her eggs) is in vain, without fear (she being without solicitude for the preservation of her young). Because God hath deprived her (or, ‘made her forgetful’) of wisdom (the prudence necessary for preserving her young), neither hath he imparted unto her understanding (such, or so much as he has implanted in the animals in general, usually called instinct). What time she lifteth up (or rouseth) herself on high (erecting her head and body as well as her wings, the latter being used to aid her in running rather than flying), she scorneth the horse and his rider (when pursuing her in the chase).”

The ostrich referred to as an animal generally regarded as deficient in natural forethought, especially in reference to the perservation of her young (Lamentations 4:3), while endowed with extraordinary speed, so as to be able to secure her own safety by flight. One of the two known species (the struthio camelus) abounds in the sandy deserts of Arabia and Africa. This the ostrich mentioned here and elsewhere in the Bible. Attains the height of eight feet. So swift that no animal is able to overtake it. The wings white and black, not unlike those of the stork; furnished with the well-known loose and flexible, elegant and slender-stemmed feathers; and sufficiently long to increase the animal’s speed in running, serving both for sail and oar. Being found in hot countries, the ostrich is content to lay its eggs, from thirty to fifty at a time, each weighing nearly three pounds, about a foot below the surface in the sand. Outside the tropics, however, she is said to brood over her eggs with great care, and courageously to defend her young. From the animal’s known neglect of her young in Arabia, it is designated by the Arabs the “impious bird,” as in contrast with the stork, which is called the “pious” one. Said to hatch her eggs only for a time, and to leave them frequently during the day at the least noise, going to a great distance and sometimes never returning to them. Plays and frisks about on all occasions, “moving her wings gaily,” and would be always fanning and hiding herself with them. Her eggs left exposed to the view of the traveller and the foot of the wild beasts that frequent the desert. Often addled before she returns from her long absence in search for food. Sometimes, during her absence, found sitting on the eggs of another bird. Its sense of taste so obtuse that it swallows rags, leather, &c., and even pebbles and pieces of metal. The bird proverbially stupid. “More foolish than an ostrich,” an Arab proverb. Its speed calculated by Dr. Livingstone to be about twenty-six miles an hour. The stride of one in the Sahara found to be from twenty-two to twenty-eight feet.

The “peacock” probably not intended in the verse. The word so rendered, quite different from that in 1 Kings 10:22. Literally, denotes “singing ones,” and probably given to characterize the ostrich, distinguished for its cries. The peacock distinguished not so much for the beauty of its wings as of its tail. Originally brought from India. First known in Palestine and Arabia in the time of Solomon, who imported it into his kingdom. Introduced into Europe by Alexander the Great. Its magnificent plumage, most splendid in a wild state, like the flowers of the field,—indicative of the Creator’s pleasure in the beautiful, and of the beauty residing in Himself. In the peacock, the beauty apparently not accompanied with other excellencies.

From the whole section, observe—

(1) God’s providential care of His creatures. Provides for the young of the ostrich even when the care and affection of the parent fail.

(2) His sovereignty in the endowments of His creatures. Instinctive care for the preservation of offspring strong in the animals in general; weak in the ostrich. “Wisdom and understanding”—whether in the lower form as in the brute creation, or in the higher, as in man—the gift of God. Its degrees in both cases according to His own pleasure. The ostrich endowed with remarkable speed, but with little sense. The stork, with much humbler plumage, yet gifted with much greater natural affection. An example related of two which had built their nest on the roof of a house in Delft, a town of Holland, and which, when the house was on fire, first endeavoured to carry off all their young, and when unable to do this, kept flapping their wings over them as if to cool the air; and at last, as the flames drew nearer, sat down over the nest to die with them.

(3) The various endowments of animals designed for man’s instruction. Intended to teach man both concerning God and himself. Some of those endowments designed for man’s imitation; others the reverse. The stork an example to parents in regard to their children; the ostrich a warning. Indifference and neglect in regard to those committed to our care monstrous even in irrational creatures: much more so in man. Like the “labour” of the ostrich, that of parents and teachers often “in vain,” from the want of “fear” and solicitude for the preservation of those for whom they have laboured. “Those most likely to lose their labour who have least fear of losing it.” While men sleep, the enemy sows his tares. Such solicitude especially needful in the case of children leaving the parental roof. Watchful care always necessary to guard the young against the influence of evil company, and the dangers incident from an ungodly world. Prayerful solicitude constantly required on behalf of those for whose spiritual benefit we have laboured, and in whom have appeared the beginnings of grace. Early grace watched over by God, but not therefore the less to be watched over by man.

6. The Horse. Job 39:19-25.—“Hast thou given the horse strength (or courage, or rather both combined)? Hast thou clothed his neck with thunder (with the terror of his neighings; or, ‘with lofty quivering mane’—the indistinctness of the figure heightening its sublimity)? Canst, thou make him afraid as a grasshopper (or, ‘bound like a locust’)? The glory of his nostrils (or neighings) is terrible (or, ‘a terror’—more especially to the Hebrews, little acquainted with war-horses, Jeremiah 8:16). He paweth in the valley (or ‘plain’—usually selected for the battle-field where cavalry were to be employed); and rejoiceth in his strength. He goeth on to meet the armed men (or, ‘boldly he advanced against the weapons’). He mocketh at fear (what would cause fear in others), and is not affrighted (by all the terrors of the battle-field); neither turneth he back from the [face or presence of] of the sword. The quiver (or its contents, the arrows) rattleth against (or upon) him: the glittering spear and the shield (or, ‘the flash of the spear and the lance’). He swalloweth the ground with fierceness and rage (in his impetuous eagerness for the fight): neither believeth he that it is the sound of the trumpet (or, ‘standeth still when there is the sound of the trumpet’). He saith among (or at the blast of) the trumpets, Ha, ha: and he smelleth the battle afar off—the thunder of the captains (animating the hosts to the fight), and the shouting” (of the warriors).

The reference to the horse apparently suggested by the mention made at the close of the preceding paragraph, of “the horse and his rider.” The war-horse here especially referred to. The description acknowledged to be unequalled anywhere for sublimity. Sufficient in itself to place the writer among the first of poets. The war-horse referred to as an example of courage and noble bearing. The reference intended to impress Job with the majesty of Him whose creature this noble and courageous animal is.

The horse exhibited in the text as the noblest specimen among inferior animals. Those of Arabia and Egypt especially famous. The horse believed to exist in Arabia, the home of the patriarch, in a finer condition than in any other country. Still the chief treasure of the Bedawin Arab. Formerly many of them in a wild state in the Arabian deserts; only caught in pits, and then subjugated through hunger and fatigue. Believed by the Arabs to be endowed with a nature superior to that of other animals, and to be next to man himself. At first employed by fallen man chiefly in war, yoked to a chariot in which the warrior stood. The carliest mention of them in connection with the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt (Exodus 14:6-9). Probably employed in Egypt and elsewhere on state occasions (Genesis 41:43). Used also early in the chase, apparently intended in Job 39:18. Among Egyptian monuments, only one of a horse and its rider, and that comparatively recent. Horses mentioned among the valuable possessions of Solomon brought up by him from Egypt. Among the ancient Assyrians used indiscriminately for war and hunting. Israel spoken of by Jehovah as His “goodly horse in the battle;” as endowed by Him with strength and courage, and employed for the conquest of heathen adversaries (Zechariah 10:3). The horse, as distinguished for its beauty as well as its strength and courage, employed as a simile for the Church of Christ under the figure of a beautiful woman (Song of Solomon 1:9). Elsewhere noticed in Scripture for his strength and eagerness for the battle (Psalms 147:10; Jeremiah 8:6), Yet a vain thing for safety (Psalms 33:17).

From the description of the war-horse observe—

(1) The example of the Almighty in contemplating and admiring the works of His hand. God represented as rejoicing in His works, whether the feathers of the ostrich or the spirit of the war-horse, the intelligence of a seraph or the piety of a man. A refined pleasure in contemplating and admiring the works of God; a Divine pleasure in contemplating them as such. God’s example to be imitated by His intelligent children.

(2) An example exhibited in the war-horse, of courage and fearlessness in the discharge of duty and in the service of our Divine Master (See again Zechariah 10:3; Song of Solomon 1:9). The courage and impetuosity of the war-horse too often imitated in a contrary direction (Jeremiah 8:6). Man capable of being employed as Satan’s war-horse as well as Jesus Christ’s. The latter his glory and felicity; the former his disgrace and ruin.

(3) The war-horse, in some respects, a faint reflection of his Maker’s excellence. “Who would set the briars and thorns against Me in battle?” (Isaiah 27:4). All creature excellence only a shadow of the infinite and uncreated excellence of the Creator. All endowments and excellencies found in the creature intended to lead the thoughts to the Creator as the source and sum of all excellence.

(4) Mystery connected with all God’s works. The horse, the noblest of God’s irrational creatures, yet here admired by his Maker as displaying his excellence in what cannot but be regarded as, in many respects, Satan’s work. The battle-field, usually the theatre of evil passions, and the delight of the enemy of God and man. Sin, the origin of all strife and warfare; yet war and battle not always sinful. Sometimes man’s duty, and commanded by God. In some respects, the battle is the Lord’s. The Lord of hosts mustereth the hosts for the battle. Nebuchadnezzar God’s servant in his war against Tyre (Ezekiel 29:17-20. War employed by God as His own terrible instrument in His government of the world. God’s glory in overruling man’s sin and Satan’s malice to his own praise and the welfare of the universe. Napoleon and his battles, God’s scourge for the benefit of Europe and the world. Yet on the field of Waterloo, “those terrible grey horses” a terror to him who had been the terror of the nations. “I have created the waster to destroy.” A prospective use in many of God’s creatures. The creature “made subject to vanity” through Adam’s fall. The time to come when the creature, groaning and travailing in pain until now through man’s sin, “shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Romans 8:20-22). The day hastening on, when the noble horse shall find other employment than rushing with its rider into the din of the battle, and careering among garments rolled in blood. The promise in connection with Christ’s kingdom to be fulfilled: “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” “He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth; he breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder; he burneth the chariot in the fire.” (Isaiah 2:4; Psalms 46:9). The last inspired mention of the war-horse, and perhaps the last use of him as such, made in connection with “the battle of the great day of God Almighty,” in the place “called in the Hebrew tongue Amageddon;” and with the symbolical appearance of the Faithful and True witness upon a white horse, clothed in a vesture dipped in blood, in righteousness judging and making war as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and followed by the armies of heaven; these also “upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean” (Revelation 16:14-16; Revelation 19:11-14; Revelation 19:18-21.

7. The Hawk. Job 39:26.—“Doth the hawk fly by thy wisdom, and stretch her wings towards the south?” The reference to birds of prey and those feeding on carrion probably suggested by the battle-field mentioned in the previous section. The hawk, or falcon, selected as a specimen and representative of the feathered tribe, from the rapidity of its flight, and perhaps also from its being migratory in its habits. Birds of the hawk order (accipitres), placed by naturalists highest in the list, including not only hawks and falcons, but eagles and vultures. Are among birds what the lion and other carnivorous animals are among quadrupeds. Known by their talons and hooked beaks, by which they seize and devour other birds and even the weaker quadrupeds and reptiles. Plumage dense and quills strong, giving them great power on the wing, and enabling them to pursue or pounce at once upon their prey. Perhaps the name in the text one of a generic kind, including all such birds of prey. Falcons, with naturalists, the second and by far the most numerous division of those predaceous birds that pursue their prey in the daytime. The greater number prey on living animals. The falcon proper, the most courageous bird in proportion to its size.—Two things in the text referred to as indicative of the wisdom of God in relation to the hawk:—

First: Its Flight—“Doth the hawk fly by thy wisdom?” The hawk mentioned by Homer as the swiftest of birds. The rapidity with which the hawk and many other birds occasionally fly, probably not less than at the rate of 150 miles an hour. A falcon escaping from Fontainbleau, in France, found to have reached Malta, 1350 miles distant, after twenty-four hours. The common falcon formerly employed in hunting, chiefly from its rapid flight. Builds her nest in the most elevated and inaccessible cliffs, whence she darts down with rapid wing upon her prey, descried at a distance. An inhabitant of northern latitudes, whence her flight towards the South.

Second: Its Migration.—“Stretcheth her wings towards the south,”—as if for a warmer climate. Many animals, unfit to provide against the vicissitude of the seasons by varying the quantity or colour of their dress, enabled by the providence of God to protect themselves by shifting their quarters, so as to live throughout the whole year in a temperature suited to their constitution, and at the same time to obtain an abundant supply of food. The migration of birds an object of observation from an early period. “The stork in the heavens knoweth her appointed times; and the turtle, and the crane, and the swallow observe the time of their coming” (Jeremiah 8:7). Birds of passage not confined to any particular order or tribe; nor distinguished by similarity in habits or kind of food. Some birds stationary in one district, migratory in another.


(1) The wisdom of God in adapting birds for flight. The general form of the body of birds, one best calculated for gliding with the last resistance through the air. Everything in its structure contrived to give it lightness. The horny materials of the feathers formed into hollow cylinders, exceedingly strong when compared with their weight. A similar shape given to the cylindrical bones, which are fashioned into tubes, with dense but thin sides; most of the other bones likewise made hollow, but containing only air. The neck exceedingly long and flexible, to enable the bird in flying exactly to balance itself, by bringing the centre of gravity precisely to the proper point. The feathers of the bird a marvellous contrivance. Made to consist of three parts—the quill, the shaft, and the vane. A mould made for every feather, “in what may be called a feather manufactory.” This manufactory not merely in action once during the life of the bird, but at every time of moulting—generally once a year. The feather remarkable for its strength as well as its lightness. The vane of the feather so disposed that the impulse of the air occurs first where the feather does not yield. The wing adapted for flight by its striking the air below it with a certain force, and so causing a reaction of the air upwards exactly equal to it, the bird rising or sinking as the force of the stroke is greater or less than its weight. The wings also employed by the bird in steering its course, as the rower turns his boat by using only his right or left oar. The tail made to act as a supplementary organ for the same purpose. The tail, however—in addition to its serving as the rudder of a ship,—by expanding and offering a considerable surface to the air, fulfils some of the offices of a third wing, and serves also to poise the body of the bird.

(2) The wisdom and goodness of God in the migration of birds. An admirable instance of the Creator’s care, that birds are endowed with an instinct which enables them to know where and when to direct their flight, so as to find a more genial climate during the colder season in their native home.

(3) The hawk, as well as other migratory birds, an example to men in relation to God their Saviour. “The stork, &c., know the time of their coming: but my people know not the judgment of the Lord” (Jeremiah 8:7). Christ provided by the love of God, as the sinner’s shelter from the certain storm of Divine wrath against sin. Men invited to dwell in Him as “in a peaceable habitation, and in sure dwellings, and in quiet resting-places; when it shall hail, coming down on the forest” (Isaiah 32:2; Isaiah 32:18). The Saviour’s complaint that sinners “know not the time of their merciful visitation.” “O, Jerusalem! how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, but ye would not” (Luke 19:41-44; Matthew 23:37).

8. The Eagle. Job 39:27-30.—“Doth the eagle mount up at thy command, and make her nest on high. She dwelleth and abideth on the rock, upon the crag of the rock, and the strong place (or mountain-castle). From thence she seeketh her prey, and her eyes behold afar off. Her young ones suck up blood, and where the slain are, there is she.” The eagle a species of the same order of birds as the hawk (accipitres), and belonging to the falcon genus. The largest of the genus, and the most powerful of all the birds of prey. Probably intended, however, to include vultures as well, especially the bearded or eagle-vulture (Gypaetus), which, rather than the eagle, feed on carrion. The bearded or eagle-vulture, though differing both in head and body from the eagle, yet resembling it in its robust form and general habits, except that it feeds on dead flesh, which the eagle rarely does. Equals, or exceeds, the largest eagle in size, and is found throughout the great mountain chains of the Old World. Apparently referred to in Micah 1:16; as its head and neck are entirely destitute of feathers, which those of the proper eagle are not. The eagle referred to in the text on account of—

(1) Its lofty flight. “Doth the eagle mount up,” &c. Its great bodily power and ample wing fit the bird for a lofty and majestic flight. The eagle-vulture about four feet from the beak to the tip of the tail, and from nine to ten feet in the extent of its wings. The peculiarity of the eagle, to fly directly upward till out of sight. Its flight referred to by the prophet: “They shall mount up with wings as eagles” (Isaiah 40:31). Hence also said to have an eye fitted to gaze upon the sun.

(2) Its inaccessible abode. “She maketh her nest on high,” &c. The eagle, and the eagle-vulture, both select the most inaccessible pinnacles as the site of their eyrie.

(3) Its acute vision. “Her eyes behold afar off.” The sight of the eagle, as of birds of prey in general, remarkably acute. Such birds endowed with the power of pushing out and drawing in the lenses of the eye, as the object is more or less distant, so as to discern from its lofty abode the prey far beneath it, and to see it no less distinctly as it descends.

(4) Their appetite for flesh and blood. “Her young ones also suck up blood,” &c. The greater number of the falcon class of birds, to which the eagle belongs, feed on living prey, while the eagle-vulture, like birds of the vulture genus, also feeds on carrion. Hence the battle-field the great attraction for the latter. Eagles said only to drink blood. The young ones trained to this in the nest, to which the parent-bird brings the prey.

Observe from the section—

(1) The wisdom of the Creator in respect to birds and beasts of prey. Exhibited—(i.) in providing that one class of animals prey upon another. According to the present constitution of nature, no other system could long exist except that which operated as a check on animal production, and preserved a balance of power between all creatures. (ii.) In providing by means of such animals for the removal of dead bodies left on the surface of the earth. Vultures, and even eagles, among birds and wolves, jackals, and hyænas, among quadrupeds, employed by the Creator as the earth’s scavengers—in removing its offal, and especially the carcases of animals, which would otherwise tend to corrupt the air with pestilential exhalations, and unfit parts of the earth for the abode of the living.

(2) The eagle viewed as an emblem. May be regarded as an emblem—(i.) Of God Himself, in His tender care of and attention to the wants of His creatures. “Her young ones suck up blood.” “As the eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them in her wings; so the Lord alone did lead him’ (Deuteronomy 32:11-12). (ii.) Of believers. (a) In their upward ascent. “They shall mount up with wings as eagles.” Believers’ journey a heavenward one. Believers not to have their affection set on things on the earth, but to “seek those things that are above, where Christ sitteth” (Colossians 3:1-2). The unregenerate burrow in the earth, as moles and worms; believers mount upwards, as with eagles’ wings. The disposition to do so, from their new spiritual and Divine nature; their ability, imparted by the Holy Spirit in connection with their waiting upon God (Isaiah 40:31). (b) In their lofty and safe abode. “They shall dwell on high; their place of defence is the munitions of rocks” (Isaiah 33:16). Their dwelling in God Himself, the Rock of Ages. Their abode, the secret place of the Most High, under the shadow of the Almighty. Jehovah Himself their refuge and fortress. Their safe shelter, the Rock that is higher than they (Psalms 91:1-2; Psalms 61:2-3). (c) In their spiritual vision. Believers enabled to “see afar off” (2 Peter 1:9). Once blind, but now see. Their eyes anointed with Christ’s eye-salve (Revelation 3:17). Believers behold, as in a glass. the glory of the Lord. Behold the glory of Jesus, as that of the Only Begotten of the Father (2 Corinthians 3:18; John 1:14). Endure, as seeing Him who is invisible. See promised glory afar off. Look at the things that are unseen and eternal (Hebrews 11:13; Hebrews 11:27; 2 Corinthians 4:18). Behold, by the eye of faith, the King in His beauty, and the land that is very far off (Isaiah 33:17). (d) In their feeding, by faith, on the flesh and blood of the Lamb that was slain for them. “Whoso eateth My flesh, and drinketh My blood, hath eternal life; he that eateth My flesh, and drinketh My blood, dwelleth in Me, and I in him. The bread that I will give is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (John 6:51; John 6:54; John 6:56).

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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Job 39". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.