Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Job 39

Verse 1-2

Job 39:1-2. Knowest thou the time when the wild goats of the rock —

Which dwell in high and steep rocks, where no man can come; bring forth? Which they do with great difficulty, as is implied, Psalms 29:9, and observed by naturalists, and in which they have no help save from God only. “Vain man, who wouldest so fain pry into my secrets! Didst thou ever climb the rocks to see the wild goats bring forth? Or hast thou assisted at the hard labour of the hinds, and helped to ease them of their burdens?” Canst thou number the months that they fulfil, &c. — “Dost thou know the moment of their conception? Or keepest an account when they will be delivered?” — Patrick. The questions here, as Bochart argues, do not relate to a mere idle and speculative knowledge of the particular time when the wild goats bring forth, or the hinds calve, and the months they fulfil, (which by common observation might easily be found out,) but to the various circumstances thereof, and that divine and providential oversight and care by which God not only knows all things, but directs and governs them. For this reason, he supposes that the LXX interpreters render the clause, εφυλαξας δε ωδινας ελαφων, Hast thou observed, or guarded the bringing forth of the hinds? Without the custody of God, (as he argues,) who preserves with the utmost care whatever he has once created, this kind of wild goats must quickly fail, amidst the numberless dangers to which they are exposed, both from hunters and from savage beasts; not to mention how often the dams themselves bring their young into the utmost peril. To this he subjoins St. Chrysostom’s observation, namely, how properly the word εφυλαξας is here applied, because the wild goat being always on the flight, in fear and agony, continually leaping and prancing about; why does it not produce mere abortions, instead of bringing any of its young to maturity? No other reason can be assigned than the wonderful providence of God, in the preservation of the dams and their young. We have also an account, in Bochart, from Aristotle, Pliny, &c., of the pregnant hinds’ receiving great assistance in parturition from the herb seselis, to which they are directed by instinct, and the eating of which greatly forwards their delivery. To all which may be added what we read in Psalms 29:9, concerning thunder, or the voice of the Lord, which יחולל אילות, jecholel, aijaloth, (the very words in our text,) maketh the hinds to calve: that is, (as the same learned writer observes,) among the many wonderful effects of thunder this is one, that those wild beasts, which with difficulty bring forth their young at other times, upon the hearing of it are immediately delivered; the terror they are thereby thrown into being so great as to have a strong effect on those parts which have need to be relaxed. See Chappelow.

Verse 3

Job 39:3. They bow themselves — Being taught by a divine instinct to put themselves into such a posture as may be most fit for their safe and easy bringing forth. They bring forth their young ones — Hebrew, תפלחנה, tephallachnah, dissecant, discindunt, scilicet matricem, aut ventrem ad pullos edendos. — Buxdorf. They tear, or rend, themselves asunder to bring forth their young. The word is used, Proverbs 7:23, of a dart striking through and dividing the liver, and may here be considered as signifying, that the wild goats and hinds bring forth their young with as much pain as if a dart pierced them through. They cast out their sorrows — Partus suos, their births; LXX., ωδινας αυτων, the pains, or sorrows, of bringing forth; that is, their young ones and their sorrows together.

Verse 4

Job 39:4. Their young ones are in good liking — Notwithstanding their great weakness caused by their hard entrance into the world. They grow up with corn — As with corn; that is, as if they were fed with corn. They go forth and return not — Finding sufficient provisions abroad by the care of God’s providence.

Verse 5

Job 39:5. Who hath sent out the wild ass free? — Who hath given him this disposition, that he loves freedom, and hates that subjection which other creatures quietly endure. Compare Job 11:12; Hosea 8:9; in which, and other places of Scripture, the wild ass is described as delighting in the wilderness; perverse and obstinate in his behaviour; running with great swiftness whither his lust, hunger, thirst, or other desires draw him. Who hath loosed the bands of the wild ass? — That is, who keeps him from receiving the bands, and submitting to the service of man? Who hath made him so untractable and unmanageable? Which is the more strange because home-bred asses are so tame and tractable. The word ערוד, gnarod, here translated wild ass, is not the same with that used in the former clause, which is פרא, pere; and Rabbi Levi makes this difference between them, that the former means an animal found in the wilderness, which eateth herbs, and the latter, asinus agri vel sylvestris, the ass which frequents the cultivated grounds and woods, and is supported by their produce. Bochart, however, thinks they ought not to be distinguished, and that one and the same animal is meant in both places.

Verses 6-8

Job 39:6-8. Whose house I have made the wilderness — Which uses and loves to dwell in desert lands; and the barren land his dwellings — Called barren, not simply, for then he must be starved there, but comparatively uncultivated, and therefore, in a great measure, unfruitful. He scorneth — Hebrew, ישׂחק, jischak, he laugheth at the multitude of the city — He mentions the city, rather than the country, because there is the greatest multitude of people to pursue, overtake, and subject him. The meaning is, He fears them not when they pursue him, because he is swift and can easily escape them. Or, he values them not, nor any provisions which he might have from them, but prefers a vagrant, solitary life in the wilderness before any thing they can offer him. Or he disdains to submit himself to them, and resolutely maintains his own freedom. Neither regardeth he the crying of the driver — Hebrew, נגשׂ, noges, the task-master, or exacter of labour, that is, he will not be brought to receive his yoke, nor to do his drudgery, nor to answer to his cries or commands, as tame asses are compelled to do. The range of the mountains — יתור הרים, jethur harim, excellentissimum montium, what is most excellent in the mountains; or, as the word may signify, That which he searcheth out, or findeth in the mountains. He prefers that mean provision and hardship, with his freedom, before the fattest pastures with servitude.

Verse 9

Job 39:9. Will the unicorn be willing to serve thee — Canst thou tame him, and bring him into subjection to thy command? Or, abide by thy crib? — Will he suffer himself to be tied, or confined there all night, and kept for the work of the next day as the oxen are? Surely not. It is much disputed among the learned, whether this reem, which is the Hebrew name of the animal here spoken of, be the rhinoceros, or a certain kind of wild goat, called orix, or a kind of wild bull, which seems most probable, both from the description of it here and elsewhere in Scripture. Schultens inclines to this opinion, thinking it to be the Arabian buffalo of the bull species, but absolutely untameable, and which the Arabians frequently hunt. See the note on Numbers 23:22.

Verse 10-11

Job 39:10-11. Canst thou bind the unicorn in the furrow? — That is, in thy furrowed field, or to, or for the furrow? that is, to make furrows, or to plough, for which work cattle are usually bound together, that they may be directed by the husbandmen, and may make right furrows. Will he harrow the valleys — The low grounds; after thee? — Under thy conduct, following thee step by step? Wilt thou trust him — Namely, for the doing of these works; because his strength is great? — Because he is very able to do them. Wilt thou, by thy power, make him willing, or force him to put forth his strength in thy service? Wilt thou leave thy labour — Thy work of ploughing and harrowing; or the fruit of thy labour, namely, the fruits of the earth, procured by God’s blessing upon thy industry, to him? — Wilt thou leave them to him to be brought home into thy barns? as the next verse explains it.

Verse 13

Job 39:13. Gavest thou the goodly wings unto the peacocks? — The subject now changes from beasts to birds. There is no Hebrew in the text for gavest thou, and Bochart, who says of this verse, Vix ullus sit Scripturæ locus qui minus intelligatur, There is, perhaps, scarce any passage of Scripture which is less understood, “seems to have proved beyond dispute,” says Dr. Dodd, “that the word rendered peacocks,” רננים, renanim, “signifies ostriches, and the following description entirely agrees with that opinion. Mr. Heath renders the verse, The wing of the ostrich is triumphantly expanded, though the strong pinion be the portion of the stork and the falcon. Dr. Shaw renders the verse, The wing of the ostrich is quivering, or expanded, the very feathers and plumage of the stork; and he observes, that the warming the eggs in the dust, or sand, is by incubation. In commenting on these verses it may be observed, says the doctor, 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 as black as jet, while the rest of the feathers retain an exquisite whiteness. They are, as described Job 39:13, the very feathers and plumage of the stork; that is, they consist of such black and white feathers as the stork, called from thence πελαργος, 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 upon the lesser, 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.”

Verse 14-15

Job 39:14-15. Which leaveth her eggs in the earth — “The ostrich lays from thirty to fifty eggs. Ælian 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 it. In this manner she is said to lay, deposite, or trust, her eggs in the earth, and to warm them in the sand; and forget (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 beast may break them — Yet, notwithstanding the ample provision that is hereby made for a numerous offspring, scarce one quarter of these eggs are ever supposed to be hatched, and of those which are, no small share of the young ones may perish with hunger, from being left too early by their dams to shift for themselves.”

Verse 16

Job 39:16. She is hardened against her young ones — “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 does, it may be too late either to restore life to the one, or preserve the lives of the other. Agreeably to this account, the Arabs meet sometimes with whole nests of the 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 more often 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 to be hardened against her young ones as though they were not hers; her labour, in hatching, and attending them so far, being in vain, without fear, or the least concern of what becomes of them afterward. 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.”

Verse 17

Job 39:17. Because God hath deprived her of wisdom — The want of natural affection to her young is not the only reproach due to the ostrich. “She is likewise inconsiderate and foolish in her private capacity, particularly in her 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 even iron.” “When I was at Oran,” proceeds Dr. Shaw, “I saw one of these birds swallow, without any seeming uneasiness or inconvenience, several leaden bullets, as they were thrown upon the floor, scorching hot from the mould.” A second instance of her folly is, that, to secure herself, she will thrust her head into the shrubs, though her body which is of a great height, be exposed. As a third instance, it is said that she is sometimes taken by a stratagem of the sportsman, who clothes himself with the skin of an ostrich, putting his right hand into the skin of the neck, and moving it in the same manner as the ostrich does its own neck, and with his left hand strowing some seed from a bag that hangs down; by this means he entices the bird, and throws it into the valleys. A fourth is, the leaving her eggs, as has been just mentioned. A fifth instance is taken from the shape of its body, having a little head, and scarce any brain: hence historians tell us, that the Emperor Heliogabalus, to gratify his luxurious taste, together with other delicacies, such as the combs of cocks, the tongues of pheasants and nightingales, the eggs of partridges, the heads of parrots and peacocks, the brains of thrushes, had likewise served up to him, at one entertainment, the heads of six hundred ostriches for the sake of the brains; because, being so very small, a less number would not have been sufficient to make a dish. See Chappelow.

Verse 18

Job 39:18. What time she lifteth up herself on high — Or, as Dr. Shaw more properly renders this clause, When she raiseth herself up to run away, namely, from her pursuers. For which purpose she stretches out her neck and legs, both which are very tall, lifts up her head and body, and spreads her wings; she scorneth the horse and his rider — She despiseth them on account of her greater swiftness; for though she cannot fly, because of her great bulk, yet by the aid of her wings she runs so fast, that horsemen cannot overtake her. Xenophon says, Cyrus’s horsemen, who were able to run down wild asses and wild goats, could never take ostriches. See Bochart. “When these birds are surprised,” says Dr. Shaw, “by persons coming suddenly upon them, while 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. They afford them an opportunity only of admiring at a distance their extraordinary agility, and the stateliness, likewise, of their motions, the richness of their plumage, and the great propriety there was of ascribing to them 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, while their feet, no less assisting in conveying them out of sight, are no less insensible of fatigue.” We have mentioned their great bulk, as unfitting them for flying, and shall here observe, from the Encyclop. Brit., that the “ostrich is, without doubt, the largest of all birds, being nearly eight feet in length, and, when standing upright, from six to eight feet in height. We are told, in the Gentleman’s Magazine, (vol. 20. page 356,) that two ostriches were shown in London in the year 1750, the male of which was ten feet in height, and weighed 3 cwt. and 1 qr. But, though usually seven feet high from the top of the head to the ground, from the back it is only four, so that the head and neck are above three feet long. One of the wings, without the feathers, is a foot and a half; and being stretched out with the feathers is three feet.”

Verses 19-25

Job 39:19-25. Hast thou given the horse strength? — Hebrew, גבורה, geburah, his fortitude, the courage and generous confidence for which the horse is highly commended. The reader will observe, that all the great and sprightly images which thought can form of this noble animal are expressed in this paragraph with such force and vigour of style as (to use the words of an elegant writer) “would have given the great wits of antiquity new laws for the sublime, had they been acquainted with these writings.” It is true, in the third book of Virgil’s Georgics, we find a fine description of a horse, chiefly copied from Homer, of which Dryden has given us the following admirable translation:

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 place, 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 chine 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.

But, if the reader will compare with this the present passage, he will find that, “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 strange to us; and, above all, of appearing in a prose translation, it is so transcendently above the heathen description, that hereby we may perceive how faint and languid the images are which are formed by mortal authors, when compared with that which is figured, as it were, just as it appears in the eye of the Creator. He will observe in particular, 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.” Hast thou clothed his neck with thunder? — A strong metaphor to denote force and terror. “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.” Canst thou make him afraid as a grasshopper? — Which is easily affrighted, and chased away by the least noise of a man. But, as the verb רעשׁ, ragnash, here used, signifies to prance or move briskly, as well as to fear and tremble, many prefer rendering the clause, Hast thou made him to move like a grasshopper? or, rather, like a locust, n as ארבה, arbeh, is generally translated. Thus S. Jarchi and Bochart, An feciti ut moveretur sicut locusta? Is it to be ascribed to thee that the horse hath such particular motions, leaping and prancing as the locusts do? Hence the saying, common among the Arabians, The horse acts the locust. The expression contains a two-fold beauty, as it not only marks the courage of this animal, by asking if he can be affrighted, but likewise raises a noble image of his swiftness, intimating that, if that were possible, he would bound away, with the nimbleness of the locust or grasshopper. The glory of his nostrils is terrible — Hebrew, הוד נחרו אימה, hod nachro eimah, literally, The majesty, or magnificence, of his snorting is terror. Thus Jeremiah 8:16, The snorting of his horses was heard, the whole land trembled at the sound of the neighing of his strong ones. “This is more strong and concise than that of Virgil, which yet is the noblest line which was ever written without inspiration:

Collectumque premens, volvit sub naribus ignem.

And in his nostrils rolls collected fire.

He paweth in the valley — Hebrew, he diggeth; through courage and wantonness, he cannot stand still, but is continually beating, and, as it were, digging up the earth with his feet. And rejoiceth — Glories, manifests great pride and complacency; in his strength. He goeth on to meet the armed men — He goes on with great readiness and undaunted courage to meet the weapons that oppose him. He mocketh at fear — At all instruments and objects of terror: he despises what other creatures dread; neither turneth he back from the sword — Or, because of the sword, or, for fear of the sword, as מפני חרב, mippenee chereb, often signifies. The quiver rattleth against him — The quiver is here put for the arrows contained in it, which, being shot against the horse and rider, make a rattling noise. He swalloweth the ground with rage — He is so full of rage and fury that he not only champs his bridle, but is ready to tear and devour the very ground on which he goes. Or rather, his eagerness to start, and his rage for the fight, are such that he, as it were, devoureth the intermediate space, and can scarcely wait for the signal for the battle, because of his impatience. Neither believeth he, &c. — He is so pleased with the approach of the battle, and the sound of the trumpet calling to engage in it, that he can scarcely believe, for gladness, that the trumpet hath sounded. Or, the words may be interpreted, He cannot stand still when the trumpet soundeth: his rider can hardly restrain or keep him still, through his eagerness to run to the fight. He saith among the trumpets, Ha, ha! — An expression of joy and alacrity, declared by his proud neighings. He smelleth the battle afar off — He perceiveth, and has a kind of instinctive sense of the battle at some distance, either of place or time; the thunder of the captains — The loud and joyful clamour begun by the commanders, and continued by the soldiers, when they are ready to join battle, and when, with terrific shouts, they are marching to the attack. All these expressions, “He rejoiceth in his strength — He mocketh at fear — Neither believeth he that it is the sound of the trumpet — He saith among the trumpets, Ha! ha! — are signs of courage, flowing, as was said before, from an inward principle. His docility is elegantly painted in his being unmoved at the rattling quiver, the glittering spear: and the shield. He swalloweth the ground, is an expression of prodigious swiftness, in use among the Arabians, Job’s countrymen, at this day: it is the boldest and noblest of images for swiftness. The Latins have something like it; but it is not easy to find any thing that comes so near it as Pope’s lines in his 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.”

See Guardian, No. 86, and Lowth’s Prelectiones 34.

Verse 26

Job 39:26. Doth the hawk fly by thy wisdom? — So strongly, constantly, unweariedly, and swiftly. Thuanus mentions a hawk which flew from London to Paris in a night; and it was on account of the remarkable swiftness of the hawk that the Egyptians made it their hieroglyphic for the wind; and stretch her wings toward the south — The addition of this clause implies, that these birds are fond of warmth, or that they are birds of passage, which, at the approach of winter, fly into warmer countries, as being impatient of cold. The birds of the air are proofs of the wonderful providence of God, as well as the beasts of the earth, and God here instances in two eminent ones.

Verse 27-28

Job 39:27-28. Doth the eagle mount up at thy command? — Fly directly upward till she be out of thy sight, which no other bird can do; and make her nest on high — In the highest and inaccessible rocks: compare Jeremiah 49:16; Obadiah 1:4. She dwelleth upon the crag of the rock — Which she doth partly for the security of herself and her young; and partly that she may thence have the better prospect to discern her prey, as it follows.

Verse 29-30

Job 39:29-30. Her eyes behold afar off — Dr. Young observes, that “the eagle is said to be of so acute a sight that, when she is so high in the air that man cannot see her, she can discern the smallest fish in the water.” The author of this book accurately understood the nature of the creatures he describes, and seems to have been as great a naturalist as a poet. Her young ones also suck up blood — Either the blood of the prey which the eagle hath brought to her nest for them, or of that which themselves catch and kill, being betimes inured to this work by their dams. And where the slain are, there is she — Where any dead carcasses are, she in an instant flies thither with admirable celerity, spying them from those vast heights from which she looks down upon the earth. And though there are some eagles which do not feed upon carcasses, yet the generality of them, it appears do feed on them.

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Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Job 39". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rbc/job-39.html. 1857.