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Bible Commentaries
Job 39

The Pulpit CommentariesThe Pulpit Commentaries

Verses 1-30


Job 39:1-30

This chapter completes the survey of animate nature begun at Job 38:39. The habits and instincts of the wild goat, the wild ass, and wild cattle are first noticed (Job 38:1-12); then a transition is made to the most remarkable of birds, the ostrich (Job 38:13-18). Next, the horse is described, and, as it were, depicted, in a passage of extraordinary fire and brilliancy (Job 38:19-25). Finally, a return is made to remarkable birds, and the habits of the hawk and eagle obtain mention (Job 38:26-30). Throughout, the object is to show the infinite wisdom of God, and the utter incompetence of man to explain the mysteries of nature.

Job 39:1

Knowest thou the time when the wild goats of the rock bring forth? The wild goats of Western Asia are of two kinds, the Capra segagrus, and the Asiatic ibex, or Capra Sinaitica. The latter is probably the animal hero intended, which is called yael sela, "the wild goat of the rocks," and was known to the Assyrians as ya-e-li. It is an animal with large rough horns curving backwards, closely allied to the steinbock, or bouquetin, of the Swiss and Tyrolian Alps. It is very shy and wild, difficult of approach, and inhabiting only the most rocky and desolate tracts of Syria and Arabia. Representations of the animal, which was hunted by the Assyrian kings, are common upon the Ninevite monuments

Job 39:4

Their young ones are in good liking; i.e. healthy and strong (comp. Daniel 1:10). They grow up with corn; rather, they grow up out of doors, or in the open air. They go forth, and return not unto them. They quit their dams early, and "go forth" to provide for themselves—an indication of health and strength.

Job 39:5

Who hath sent out the wild ass free? or who hath loosed the bands of the wild ass? Two kinds of onager' or wild ass, seem to be intended—the one called pore' (פִרֶא), and the other 'arod (עָרוֹד). These correspond probably to the Asinus hemippus and the Asinus onager of modern naturalists, the former of which is still found in the deserts of Syria, Mesopotamia, and Northern Arabia, while the latter inhabits Western Asia from 48° N.lat. southward to Persia, Beloochistan, and Western India. Sir H. A. Layard describes the former, which he saw, as a "beautiful animal, in fleetness equalling the gazelle, very wild, and of a rich fawn colour, almost pink". The latter (Asinus onager) was seen by Sir R. K. Porter in Persia, and is described in very similar terms. The two, however, appear to be distinct species. Both animals are remarkable for extreme wildness; and all attempts to domesticate the young of either have hitherto failed.

Job 39:6

Whose house I have made the wilderness. The Mesopotamian regions inhabited by the Asinus hemippus are those vast stretches of rolling plain, treeless, producing a few aromatic shrubs and much wormwood, which intervene between the Sinjar mountain-range and the Babylonian alluvium. Here the wild ass was seen by Xenophon and the Ten Thousand, in company with ostriches, gazelles, and bustards (Xen; 'Anab.,' 1.5); and here Sir Austin Layard also made its acquaintance. The Asians onager frequents the deserts of Khorassan and Beloochistan, which are even more barren than the Mesepotamian. And the barren land his dwellings; rather, the salt land (see the Revised Version). The great desert of Khorassan is largely impregnated with salt, and in places encrusted with it. The wild ass licks salt with avidity.

Job 39:7

He scorneth the multitude of the city. Avoids, that is, the haunts of men, and is never seen near them. Neither regardeth he the crying of the driver. Nothing will induce the wild ass to submit to domestication.

Job 39:8

The range of the mountains is his pasture. By "mountains" we must here understand rocky ranges like the Sinjar and the mountains of Beloochistan, or again those of the Sinaitic peninsula. Wild asses do not frequent the regions which we commonly call mountainous. And he searcheth after every green thing; i.e. he seeks out the small patches of pasture which are to be found in such rocky regions.

Job 39:9

Will the unicorn be willing to serve thee, or abide by thy crib? This is an unfortunate translation, since there is no word etymologicallly correspondent to "unicorn" in the original. The word used is rem or reyrn; and the rem is distinctly said in Deuteronomy 33:17 to have "horns." All that is said of the rim in Scripture points to some species of wild cattle, and recent critics are almost universally agreed thus far at any rate. Assyrian investigation carries us a step further. It is found that the wild bull so often represented on the monuments as hunted by the Ninevite monarchs was known to the Assyrians by the name of rimu or rim. Careful examination of the sculptures has resulted in the identification of this animal with Bos primigenius, an extinct species, probably identical with the urus of the Romans, which Caesar saw in Gaul, and of which he has left a description. "These uri," he says, "are scarcely less than elephants in size, but in their nature, colour, and form are bulls. Great is their strength, and great their speed; nor do they spare man nor beast, when once they have caught sight of him. … Even when they are young, they cannot be habituated to man and made tractable. The size and shape of their horns are very different from those of our own oxen" ('De Bell. Gall.,' 6.28).

Job 39:10

Canst thou bind the unicorn with his band in the furrow? That is, "as thou bindest the ox?" Canst thou make him plough for thee? Or will he harrow the valleys after thee? Another common employment of oxen.

Job 39:11

Wilt thou trust him, because his strength is great? If a man could bind the urns to his plough or to his harrow, still he could not "trust" him. The huge brute would be sure to prove unmanageable, and would only cause damage to his owner. Or wilt thou leave thy labour to him? As thou leavest many labours to thy oxen, confiding in their docility.

Job 39:12

Wilt thou believe him—rather, Wilt thou confide in him (see the Revised Version)—that he will bring home thy seed, and gather it into thy barns? i.e. convey the harvest from the field to the homestead, that it may be safely lodged in thy barn. The "strength" of the urns (Job 39:11) would make all such labours light to him, but his savage nature would render it impossible to use him for them.

Job 39:13

Gavest thou the goodly wings unto the peacocks? rather, the wing of the ostrich (literally, of ostriches) is exultant; i.e. a thing that it glories in. The allusion is, perhaps, to the flapping of its wings by the ostrich, as it hurries over the ground, which is sore, thing like that of a cock before crowing or after beating an antagonist. Or wings and feathers unto the ostrich? This clause is very obscure, but may perhaps mean, Are her feathers and plumage kindly? (see the Revised Version); i.e. does she use them for the same kindly purpose as other birds—to warm her eggs, and forward the process of hatching them?

Job 39:14

Which leaveth her eggs in the earth, and warmeth them in dust. The best authorities tell us that in tropical countries ostriches, having scratched a hole in the sand, and deposited their eggs in it, cover the eggs over with a layer of sand, sometimes as much as a foot in thickness, and, leaving them during the daytime to be kept warm by the heat of the sun, only incubate at night. It is evidently this habit of the bird that is here alluded to. That in cooler countries ostriches do not do this is not to the point. The habit was known in Job's time, and was so noticeable as to characterize the bird to a large extent.

Job 39:15

And forgetteth that the foot may crush them, or that the wild beast may break them. Where the eggs are covered by a layer of sand a foot thick, this danger is not incurred. But when the eggs are numerous—and they are sometimes as many as thirty—they are apt to be very poorly covered, and the results follow which are described in the text.

Job 39:16

She is hardened against her young ones, as though they were not hers. This is a deduction from what has preceded, and discloses no new fact. Recent careful observation of the habits of the ostrich indicates that the parental instinct is not wanting, though it may be weaker than in most birds. Both the male and the female incubate at night, and, when the nest is approached by the hunter, the parent bird or birds will leave it, and try to draw him away from it by running on in front of him, or feigning to attack him, much as peewits do in our own country. Her labour is in vain without fear; or, though her labour is in vain, she is without fear (see the Revised Version); i.e. though she is often disappointed of her immediate hope of offspring, through her eggs being crushed and destroyed, yet she grows no wiser, she does not fear for the future.

Job 39:17

Because God hath deprived her of wisdom, neither hath he imparted to her understanding. There is an Arab proverb—"As stupid as an ostrich"—which the Arabs justify on five grounds:

(1) The ostrich, they say, will swallow iron, stones, leaden bullets, and other things, which injure and sometimes prove fatal to it.

(2) When hunted, it thrusts its head into a hush, and iron,nee that the hunter does not see it.

(3) It allows itself to be captured by transparent devices.

(4) It neglects its eggs.

(5) Its head is small, and contains but a small quantity of brains. To these grounds I may add that in the South-African ostrich-farms, the birds allow themselves to be confined within a certain space by a fence of sticks and string raised about a foot from the ground. They seem to think that they cannot step over it.

Job 39:18

What time she lifteth up herself on high, she scorneth the horse and his rider. The ostrich sometimes tries to elude pursuit by crouching and hiding behind hillocks or in hollows, making itself as little conspicuous as possible; but, when these attempts fail, and it starts off to run in the open, then it "lifts itself up" to its full elevation, beats the air with its wings, and scours along at a pace that no horse can equal. The Greeks with Xenophon, though well mounted, failed to catch a single ostrich ('Anab.,' 1.5. § 3).

Job 39:19

Hast thou given the horse strength? (comp. Psalms 147:10). Geburah means, however, more than "strength." It includes courage and all martial excellence. Hast thou clothed his neck with thunder? Many objections have been taken to this expression; and endeavours have been made to show that the word used (דַעְמָה) does not mean "thunder," but" a tremulous motion," "quivering muscles and a tossing mane," or else "scorn," "indignation." But as רַעַם always means "thunder" (Job 26:14; Job 39:25; Psalms 77:19 : Psalms 81:8; Psalms 145:7; Isaiah 29:6), it seems unlikely that רעמה means anything else. To the objection that the metaphor is "incongruous" (Professor Lee), it would appear to be enough to reply that one of our greatest prose-poets has seen in it peculiar fitness. So true every way'" says Carlyle, on the passage: "true eyesight and vision for all things; material things, not less than spiritual; "the horse—Hast thou clothed his neck with thunder?'".

Job 39:20

Canst thou make him afraid as a grasshopper? rather, Canst thou make him leap forward as a grasshopper? The bound with which a war-horse rushes to battle seems intended. The glory of his nostrils is terrible. When the war-horse snorts, men tremble (see Jeremiah 8:16, "The snorting of his horses was heard from Dan: the whole land trembled at the sound of the neighing of his strong ones").

Job 39:21

He paweth in the valley. Canon Cook appositely compares Virgil's "carat tellurem" ('Georg.,' 3:87, 88), and Professor Lee Pope's expression, that "ere they start a thousand steps are lost." The verb is in the plural, because a line of cavalry, all pawing and eager to be off, is intended to be represented. And rejoiceth in his strength. Nothing is more remarkable than the eagerness and joy which war-horses show when the battle approaches. They are generally more excited than their riders. He goeth on to meet the armed men; literally, he rusheth upon the weapons. Equally true in ancient and in modern warfare. The main use of cavalry is in the charge.

Job 39:22

He mocketh at fear, and is not affrighted; neither turneth he back from the sword. "The cavalry of modern times will rush undismayed upon the line of opposing bayonets" (Professor Lee). "We do not believe that a body of infantry ever existed that, with the bayonet alone, unsupported by fire, could have checked the determined charge of good horsemen".

Job 39:23

The quiver rattleth against him. In the Aasyrian sculptures the quiver of mounted archers is often hung at the side, instead of at the back. In this position it would rattle against the neck of the war-horse. The glittering spear and the shield would occasionally strike against his neck or his shoulders.

Job 39:24

He swalloweth the ground with fierceness and. rage. This is a common metaphor to denote the rapidity with which the horse covers the space that lies before him. Virgil has, "Corripiuut spatia" ('AEnid,' 5.316); Silius ltalions, "Campum volatu rapucre" (3.308); Shakespeare, "He seemed in running to devour the way." Arab poets have similar expressions (see Bochart, ' Hieroz.,' pt. 1. bk. 2. c. 8). Neither beiieveth he that it is the sound of the trumpet. (So Schultens, Canon Cook, and our Revisers.) But most recent critics prefer to render, "He standeth not still when the trumpet soundeth," and compare Virgil's "Stare loco nescit" ('Georg.,' 3.84).

Job 39:25

He saith among the trumpets, Ha, ha! literally, at the trumpet; i.e. at the sound of the trumpet. The utterance, "Ha, ha!" (heakh)' is an imitation of the horse's snort or neigh. And he smelleth the battle afar off. Not merely presages it, as Pliny Bye ("Equi praesagiunt pugnam, 'Hist. Nat,' 8.42), or perceives it. but seems to scent it. The open and quivering nostrils raise this idea. The thunder of the captains, and the shouting. On the great noise made by advancing armies in ancient times, see 2 Kings 7:6; Isaiah 5:28-30 : Jeremiah 8:16, etc.

Job 39:26

Doth the hawk fly (or, soar) by thy wisdom? The hawk's strength of wing is extraordinary, and one of the greatest of natural marvels. Can Job claim to have contrived it? Many as have been the attempts made, human ingenuity has not yet devised anything that can fly. And stretch her wings toward the south? Migrate, i.e; when winter approaches, to the warmer southern regions. Few things in nature are more remarkable than the instinct of migratory birds.

Job 39:27

Doth the eagle mount up at thy command? The enumeration of natural marvels ends with the eagle, the monarch of birds, as it began with the lion, the king of beasts (Job 38:39). The power of the eagle to "mount up," notwithstanding its great size and weight, is very surprising. The species intended in this place is probably the golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) or else the imperial eagle (Aquila heliaca), which arc both of them common in Syria and Mesopotamia. And make her nest on high? The nests of eagles are almost always built on lofty, generally on inaccessible, rocks. Aristotle says, Ποιοῦνται δεαὐτὰς (sc, τὰς νεοττίας), οὐκ ἐν πεδινοῖς τόποις ἀλλ ἐν ὑψηκοῖς μάλιστα μὲν καὶ ἐν πέτραις ἀποκρήμνοις (comp. Jeremiah 49:16).

Job 39:28

She dwelleth and abideth on the rook, upon the crag of the rook, and the strong place; literally, the tooth of the rock. The craggy summits of rocks bear a resemblance to the fangs of a tooth. Hence we have in France the Dent du Chat, and in Switzerland the Dent de Jaman and the Dent du Midi.

Job 39:29

From thence she seeketh the prey, and her eyes behold afar off. Aristotle gives this as a reason for the lofty flight of the eagle, Ὑψοῦ πέταται ὁπως ἐπὶ πλεῖστον τόπον καθορᾷ. The keen sight of the eagle is recognized by modern savants: "Aquila, genre d'oiseaux de proie … caracterise par un bec sans denlelure et droit a sa base jusquaupres de l'extremite, ou il se corbe beaucoup; par des pieds robustes armes d'ongles aigus et tranchants, par leur rue percante et leur grands envergure".

Job 39:30

Her young ones also suck up blood. It has been asserted that this is not the case, since they are fed on carrion (Merx). But, as eagles are known to seize fawns, hares, lambs, and other small animals, and transport them to their eyries, their young must certainly be nourished, in part, on the flesh of animals newly killed. And where the slain are, there is she (comp. Deuteronomy 21:18; Matthew 24:28; Luke 17:37). Eagles, or at any rate birds "more resembling eagles than vultures," are commonly represented on the Assyrian monuments, especially in battle-scenes, where they either feed on the dead bodies of the slain, or tear out their entrails, or sometimes carry up aloft the decapitated head of some unfortunate soldier.


Job 39:1-30

Jehovah to Job: the first answer-the examination: 6. Concerning certain wild animals.


1. The creatures intended. It is generally agreed that these are the steinbock, or ibex, and the stag. The former, inhabiting exclusively the more rocky and desolate parts of the country, possesses fore legs considerably shorter than its hinder, which enable it to ascend with more facility than to descend, and lead it, when pursued, to attempt to gain the summits of the mountains. In accordance with this peculiarity, it is interesting to note that Jehovah describes the animals as "rock-climbers."

2. The circumstance alluded to. This is not so much the secrecy of their gestation as the ease and facility with which they bring forth. "They bow themselves, they bring forth their young ones, they cast out their sorrows," i.e. those things which cause their labour-pains, viz. their offspring; and these young animals thus easily born, though not without pain, "are in good liking," i.e. grow up lusty and strong, not by feeding upon corn, as the Authorized Version seems to imply, but in the open country, away from their dams, whom they early forsake, going forth and not returning unto them.

3. The question thereanent. Jehovah asks Job if he knows the time when these mountain goats, or rock-climbers, bear, or can number the months that the hinds fulfil Clearly not designed to test the amount or accuracy of Job's information concerning natural history, this interrogation seems as little meant to affirm that everything connected with the pregnancy of these creatures was a mystery. Its intention rather is to emphasize the fact that the whole process of conception and parturition is carded on with such admirable regularity, ease, and success, as to suggest the thought that it must be owing to the wise guidance and watchful care of some presiding mind. "Well" asks Jehovah, "whose is it? Is it thine, O Job? or is it not rather mine?"

II. THE WILD ASS (Verses 5-8.)

1. Its swiftness of foot. This characteristic is alluded to in the name pere. Consul Wetstein (quoted by Delitzsch) describes the wild ass as a dirty yellow creature with a white belly, single-hoofed and long-eared, its hornless head somewhat resembling that of a gazelle, though much larger, and its hair having the dryness of the hair of the deer. Like the wild ox, a large soft-eyed creature, horned and double-hoofed, it is remarkable for its swift running, which enables it to out-distance the fleetest rider.

2. Its love of freedom. This feature is referred to in the second name, 'arod, which denotes its shyness and untamableness, and is further represented by depicting it an scorning the tumult of the city, i.e. as fleeing from the haunts of men, and regarding not the crying of the driver, i.e. refusing to be subjected to the yoke, as scouring the desert in its boundless independence, and finding for itself a home in the barren land or salt places, i.e. uncultivated and uncultivable regions.

3. Its means of support. The wild ass licks the natron of the desert, as "all wild animals that feed on plants have a partiality for licking salt" (Delitzsch); and in quest of herbage it roams to the uttermost limit of the mountains, "sniffing after every green thing"

4. Its possession of a Master. This thought is suggested by Jehovah's interrogations. "The wild ass loves liberty; but who made him free? Who loosed his bands? Who sent him forth to scour the plain and range the hills? Was it thou, O Job? or was it I? The wild ass scorns the yoke of the driver; but who inspired him with this indomitable instinct? Who taught him to lick the salt and crop the herb? Are not these my doings, O my censurer? Canst thou bind this ass that I have loosed? Canst thou set a yoke upon him as I do? Art thou able to give him food as I am, or to build for him a stall as I have done in the vast steppe? It is clear, then, that thou art not the master of a wild ass, much less of a world,"

III. THE UNICORN. (Verses 9-12.)

1. The name of the animal explained. The rem, which our translators have erroneously supposed to be a one-horned beast, was undoubtedly two-horned—a wild, fierce, untamable brute, "resembling an ox as a wild ass resembles an ass" (Gesenius). Regarded by some commentators as the buffalo (Schultens, De Wette, Umbreit, Gesenius), though this animal "only came from India to Western Asia and Europe at a more recent date," and is besides "tamable" (Delitzsch), it is more probably to be identified with the Bos primigenius Tristram affirms that the rem was the urns of Caesar, the aueroch, of which "the nearest extant representative is the bison, which still lingers in the forests of Lithuania and the Caucasus" (Cox).

2. The strength of the animal described. This, with inimitable irony, Jehovah depicts by asking Job if he thought he could master this prodigious brute—first drive him home like a peaceful ox to be shut up and fed within the narrow precincts of a stall, then take him out, as a farmer now does his horses, or then did his oxen, and yoke him to his wains or carts, setting him to plough his fields or draw home his harvest-sheaves.

IV. THE OSTRICH. (Verses 13-18.)

1. The description of the bird. In this are noted three points:

(1) Its want of parental affection. "The wing of the ostrich [female] exulteth," i.e. vibrates briskly; "is she pious, wing and feather?"—the allusion being to the pious bird, the stork, which the ostrich resembles in its stilt-like structure, the beauty of its plumage, the quivering of its wings, and the gregarious habit of its life, but from which it differs in its lack of maternal affection. Depositing her eggs in the sand, where the foot of any passer-by may crush them, or they may fall a prey to jackals, wild cats, and other animals, although she does not entirely abandon the work of hatching them to the sun or her male companion, but also really incubates herself, at least during the night, yet, so easily is she startled from her nest, and so readily induced to forsake it, that she may be truthfully described as "hardened against her young ones, as though they were not hers," and as being quite indifferent to the fact that her labour is without result. In consequence of this peculiarity, the hen ostrich is called by the Arabs "the wicked bird."

(2) Its remarkably defective intelligence. This is emphasized as the cause of the above-described unnatural behaviour of the bird. "God hath deprived her of wisdom, neither hath he imparted to her understanding;' and yet that the above-described are not the only stupidities of which the creature is guilty may be reasonably inferred from the circumstance that the foolishness of the ostrich is quite proverbial throughout the East, as the Arab proverb indicates, "More stupid than an ostrich"

(3) Its power of speedy flight. This also is certified by an Arab proverb, "Swifter than an ostrich," and is here poetically set forth with much beauty. Starting from her nest in alarm, and lifting up herself on high, i.e. as the language probably imports, flapping the air with her wings, "she scorneth the horse and his rider," leaving them behind her with perfect ease.

2. The reason of its introduction. Job's attention appears to be directed to the ostrich to suggest the thought that here, too, in the world of birds, there are mysteries and seeming anomalies which he cannot understand. Why should the ostrich be so differently constituted from the stork? Why should it be devoid of intelligence and parental affection, while excelling most birds in speed of foot and beauty of wing? When Job can answer that, he will have a title to challenge God for making enigmas in human life, and dark problems in the moral history of earth.

V. THE WAR-HORSE. (Verses 19-25.)

1. The poetical representation. The oldest description of the war-horse, it is also the most beautiful, the most brilliant, the most impressive that has in any language been penned. As Carlyle says, "Such a living likeness has never since been drawn," "It deserves the praise of majestic simplicity, which is the first feature of classic superiority" (Delitzsch). Ancient authors supply occasional touches which remind one of the language here employed (vide Exposition). In respect of fulness and accuracy of details, the present sketch stands unrivalled. So intensely vivid is the picturing, that the splendid beast appears to the imagination as a living, breathing reality, a richly caparisoned steed, a perfect model of physical strength and beauty, curveting and caracoling in the very exuberance of its animal spirits, pawing the ground in its impatience, snorting through its dilated nostrils, sniffing the battle from afar, bounding as with conscious exultation when the trumpet soundeth, at every blast thereof making known by a joyous neigh, as if it cried, "Ha, ha!" the fierceness of its lust for battle, advancing without a fear to meet an armed host, dashing in among the glancing spears, and shaking from its sides the rattling quiver.

2. The Divine meaning. It is easy enough to find sermonic uses for this piece of brilliant word-painting about the war-horse, as e.g. to derive from it lessons of courage in confronting difficulties, and enthusiasm in defying opposition; but the first question needing answer is—For what specific object is it here introduced? and this was obviously to impress the mind of Job with a sense of his (and also man's) weakness in comparison with God. Whence had such a noble creature as this war-horse sprung 9 Job had not produced its resistless strength, its heroic beauty, its visible terror, its indomitable courage, its fierce enthusiasm? Nay, what could Job or any other man do as against such a powerful animal? Well, if Job cannot contend with the war-horse, how unreasonable it must be to suppose that he can strive with him whose handiwork the war-horse is!

VI. THE HAWK. (Verse 26.)

1. Its power of flight. The name netz denotes "the soaring one," the high-flyer, and "includes, besides the hawk proper, all raptorial birds" (Cox), "which, even including the shortest-winged, have great powers of flight, are remarkably enterprising, live to a great age, are migratory, or followers upon birds of passage" (Kitto's 'Cyclopaedia,' art. "Netz"). "The rapidity with which the hawk and many other birds fly is probably not less than at the rate of a hundred and fifty miles an hour" (Robinson). The adaptation of a bird's wing for flying is a singular instance of the Creator's skill.

2. Its instinct of migration. Moved by a secret impulse, not received from or understood by man, the hawk stretches her wing, and seeks a sunny clime at every approach of winter. This also a striking evidence of creative intelligence.

VII. THE EAGLE. (Verses 27-30.)

1. Its lofty flight. The king of birds, which closes the Divine picture-gallery of animals, as the king of quadrupeds opened it, "soareth aloft," its great strength of body and breadth of wing giving it power to sustain itself at a high elevation in the air.

2. Its inaccessible eyrie. Mounting upwards, "she buildeth her nest in the height, upon the crag or tooth of the rock" and fastness, and there, by reason of its remoteness, "she dwelleth and abideth" securely.

3. Its keen vision. From the cliff's edge she can scan the depths below, looking far across the plain in search of food for herself and young ones (cf. Job 28:7, Job 28:21).

4. Its sanguinary appetite. "Her young ones also suck up blood; and where the slain are, there is she." In the East eagles follow armies in order to feed upon the corpses of the slain (cf. Matthew 24:28).


1. That he can best describe the creatures who knows all about them, because he made them.

2. That every creature on the face of the earth has its peculiar nature, instincts, habitat, by Divine appointment.

3. That wherever God assigns dwelling to a creature, there also he provides means of subsistence.

4. That a large portion of the world's beauty consists in the variety of animal-life which it supports.

5. That the study of zoology is fitted to convey important lessons concerning the power, wisdom, goodness, and sovereignty of God.


Job 39:1-30

The creatures not dependent upon man.

We truly know that of man it is written, "Thou hast put all things under his feet;" and "We see not yet all things put under him." The creatures over whom dominion was given to man are not wholly submissive. And man must learn his littleness in presence of the great creatures of God whom he fails to subdue. "The wild goats" and "the hinds" and "the wild ass," "the unicorn," even "the ostrich," "the horse" and the birds of the air, "the hawk" and "the eagle," are all alike independent of man. They have neither their beauty nor their strength, their flight nor their instinct, from him. With all his knowledge, his skill, his inventiveness, his cunning, still the creatures are independent of him, though he is not independent of them. They can do without him, but not he without them. It is another step in the course of the humiliation through which the Lord is leading Job. Man may sling with the stone, or shoot with the arrow, or entrap with his skill, or train and conquer by his superior wisdom, yet is he miserably impotent in their presence. And most certainly they derive neither their life nor any of their powers from him. Shall vain man, then, contend with the Creator of all? Shall he whose are all things find him to whom none belong entering the lists with him? Shall he contend? shall he instruct? shall he reprove? and answer? Nay, verily. His place is tire dust, and to the dust God will humble him; and in doing so, he brings man into the presence of his many and beautiful and powerful creatures, and shows him how independent they are of him. This is the teaching of the entire chapter. Humility, therefore, is due—



III. BECAUSE IN MANY OF THEIR POWERS THEY EXCEED THE MIGHT OF MAN, who cannot give them their speed, their strength, or their great beauty. How little is man amidst the wonders of the Divine hands! and how truly wise is be who, in presence of the divinely wrought creatures, bows down confessing, "How wonderful are all thy works, O Lord!"—R.G.


Job 39:5-8

The wild ass.

The special characteristic of the wild ass is said to be untractability. While no animal is more tame than the poor, ill-treated donkey of the London street, no animal is more essentially untamable than the Syrian ass of the desert. It is said that though one of these creatures bad been captured when young and kept for three years in confinement, it remained "as untractable as when it was first caught, biting and kicking furiously at every one who approached it." It is the type of the untamable.

I. GOD RULES OVER THE WILDEST CREATURES. When we look at the wild ass we see a creature that is quite beyond the range of man's dominion. The "lord of creation" has no authority here. His dominion ceases at the border of the wilderness. His will is scorned by the free animals of the desert. Yet they are under the rule of God, who has implanted in them their instincts; they live only according to the laws of the nature that he has made. Men break from God's laws in self-will and thus they fall into sin. Untractable as the wild ass is to man, it is absolutely obedient to the will of God, like the sea that obeys the laws of waves and tides.

II. GOD IS THE AUTHOR OF LIBERTY. The very wildness of the creature is a gift of God. He has given it its high spirits, its fleet running, its love of the wilderness. God does not keep his creatures like cowed and tamed beasts in a menagerie. He aires them a wide field, and he permits them to enjoy a large freedom. To beings of spiritual nature he also gives liberty, and that of a higher order. Men are set free from external constraints. God treats us not as slaves, but as children. Further, God gives the highest liberty—liberty of soul. He sets men free from the chains of ignorance and the crushing burden of sin. In his glorious grace he deals most liberally with his children. Not like the despot who fears a whisper of the word "liberty," God grieves over the self-made slavery of souls, and sends his gospel for the very purpose of giving "liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound" (Isaiah 61:1). Surely liberty is a prize to be eagerly sought and jealously guarded in government, in thought, and in spiritual life. Dryden writes—

"The love of liberty with life is given,
And life itself th' inferior gift of Heaven."

III. GOD INTENDS US TO USE OUR LIBERTY IN OBEDIENCE. We must combine the two previous thoughts to see how the wild ass is provided for by God. It follows tire laws of its nature, and so obeys God absolutely, albeit unconsciously, while it enjoys the largest liberty. Thus it cannot be said to abuse its liberty, but only to use it. Roaming over the desert on its swift feet, it espies the green oasis and revels in the fresh pasturage. God expects us to use our liberty in obedience to his will. He does not poor food into our mouths; we must seek it. He does not force iris grace upon us; we have to follow the method he has laid down, and turn to him in faith. But in doing this we are to use the utmost freedom of thought, and to be absolutely independent of the constraints of man on our religion, while we ask for help to be free from the bondage of evil, in obedience to the will of God.—W.F.A.

Job 39:11

Trusting in mere strength.

This chapter of natural history carries us on from one graphic picture to another, in which we see the glorious strength and freedom of God's creatures, altogether outside the domain of man's rule. Now we are to look at the urus. In bodily form he is very like the docile ox; yet how different in habit and temper! Will he serve us, lodge in our stall, plough our field and drag our harrow like his homely cousin, the drudge of the farm? Yet he is immensely strong. We cannot trust mere strength.

I. PHYSICAL STRENGTH IS NOT THE GREATEST GIFT OF NATURE. There is energy in nature. But before we can use it we must apply mind to nature. A Samson may do good work in hard, rough times, but he cannot be the Redeemer of man. The worship of muscle has grown to enormous proportions in this age of athletics. Good as it is to be in health and to be strong, and natural as the reaction is from extreme. ascetic views, our modern glorying in health and strength does not touch what is highest in man, and it may lead to a neglect of this. It may humble the idolizer of strength for him to consider how enormously his greatest power is outdone by that of the urus. At best he is creeping up far behind one of the most senseless of animals.

II. STRENGTH IS FRUITLESS UNLESS IT IS TURNED TO USEFUL SERVICE. The urus may be stronger than the domestic ox, yet he wastes his powers in blundering about in the wilderness. He cannot be put to any good service, because he will not be controlled. There are men of great power who flitter away their energies aimlessly and fruitlessly, because their minds and wills have never been subdued and bent into some worthy service. They have ability, but they do nothing effectively. It is as important to train the will as it is to cultivate the faculties. The most useful service of God and man is not always performed by those who have the greatest gifts. The disposition to serve will enable the less gifted to do more in life than their brilliant companions who will not stoop to wear the yoke.

III. STRENGTH CAN ONLY BE OF SERVICE WHEN IT IS WISELY DIRECTED. The urus is wild, senseless, untamable, and not susceptible to educative influences; therefore he cannot use his strength for profitable work. Human strength needs Divine guidance. So long as the soul is wild and self-willed, the powers of mind and body cannot be spent fruitfully. The humble ox looks a less noble beast than the wild and daring bison, with his shaggy mane, his flashing eye, his powerful neck, his thunderous charge; yet the former is useful because it is obedient. The first lesson we have to learn in life is to obey; this, too, is the last lesson. As the ox looks to its master, we have to look to our Master; and when we follow his guidance, whether our strength be great or small, it will not be fruitless.—W.F.A.

Job 39:13-18

The careless ostrich.

Each creature has its own distinctive features determined for it by the wisdom and conferred on it by the power of God. Some of these features are not attractive, nor what we should have selected if we had had the ordering of creation. They are the more significant on this account, because they show us the more clearly that nature is not ordered according to our thought, and yet the whole description shows that it is ordered well, and for a grand total result of life far beyond anything we could have imagined. Now, we have the special characteristics of the ostrich sketched with a master-hand in view of these considerations.

I. EXCELLENCES. Here is no caricature, exaggerating eccentricities. Though what look like the defects of the ostrich are to be referred to, its goodly wings are first mentioned. Let us see merit wherever we can. In giving blame, let us not condemn wholesale. Although all may not be as we should wish, let us generously acknowledge that all is not bad. It is better to admire the good in the world than to be only on the look out for the evil. We shall be more helpful friends if we rejoice to lay hold of what is admirable in others, and seek this first, instead of pouncing upon the ugly faults, like vultures who have eyes for nothing but carrion.

II. DEFECTS. The ostrich is not perfect, according to man's idea of perfection. There are defects in nature, and these defects are not ignored in the natural theology of "Job;" It is wiser to admit them frankly than to gloss them over. Although they may not be the principal characteristics, they startle us by their very existence, The ostrich appears to be lacking in maternal care; it is a foolish creature, leaving its eggs without imagining the danger they are in of being trampled on by the wild animals of the desert. God is leading nature on to perfection, but it is not yet perfect. The law of nature, like that of man, is progress, not stationary completeness.

III. COMPENSATIONS. Things are not so bad with the ostrich as they appear to us at first sight. Although the ostrich-eggs are left in the sand, they do not perish as the eggs of most birds under ordinary circumstances would do. Beneath the tropical heat of the sun they can be deserted during the day, the bird returning to sit on them at night. Thus by the wonderful balancing of influences in nature the careless maternity of the ostrich does not seriously endanger its offspring. If God has not given the bird wisdom, it does not need it. So long as we keep to the lines that God has laid down, we shall see that most defects have ample compensation in other directions. The culpable carelessness is that which goes against the laws of God; the fatal folly is that which departs from his ways. This carelessness and this folly are not found in the ostrich; they are only seen in man.—W.F.A.

Job 39:19-25

The war-horse.

This magnificent picture of the horse shows him to us as he is about to rush into battle. Whilst asses, oxen, and camels were employed for peaceable work on the farm and as beasts of burden, the horse was almost confined to war. He was rarely used excepting to dash with the charioteer into the thick of the fight. In the poet's picture he is scenting the battle from afar. Let us look at his striking features.

I. STRENGTH. There are two kinds of strength—mere brute strength of muscle, and the strength that is vitalized by nervous and mental influences. The urus is an instance of the former. In simple contractility of muscle he may exceed the horse. But the strength of the horse is nervous strength. It cannot well be measured, for it is continually fluctuating. It varies in degree according to the extent to which the sensitive animal is excited. We meet with the two kinds of strength in men, and especially in women. When the mind fires the body, unheard-of feats are performed. In moments of heroism naturally feeble people seem to have the strength of a giant. God gives strength through spiritual influences.

II. COURAGE. We may be surprised to meet with this characteristic in a description of the horse. Is he not a timid creature, shying at any unusual object by the wayside? This is true when he is dull and subdued. But our picture shows him to us as the war-horse rushing in to battle. Then he is brave as a lion. His courage is not the dull indifference to danger that is a trait of stupidity, but the fiery courage of intense excitement. It is difficult to be brave in cold blood. It is not easy to face the troubles and dangers of life without some inspiring influence. The Spirit of God in him makes the most timid brave.

III. ENTHUSIASM. The life of the picture is its enthusiasm. The horse is impatient for the rage of the battle, excited by the distant sound of it to a strong desire to rush into it. That is the spirit which will give him strength and courage to go right into the midst of the danger. Nothing succeeds like enthusiasm. Nothing is so beautiful, so inspiriting, so full of life and hope. It needs guidance or it may plunge into disaster; it is not enough without the direction of wisdom. But wisdom is vain without enthusiasm. In the Christian life men are uplifted and borne onward when they are reached by a wave of enthusiasm. Christ inspires the "enthusiasm of humanity," because he first inspires an enthusiasm for himself. Now, the first essential in a worthy enthusiasm is the perception of a worthy object. The horse scents the battle, and the horse knows its master. We see the great battle of sin and misery, and we have a glorious Captain of salvation. The need of the world calls us to the fight; the presence of our Lord gives us strength and courage, and ensures the victory.—W.F.A.

Job 39:26-30

The hawk and the eagle.

I. NATURE'S INDEPENDENCE OF MAN. This is the leading lesson of the whole chapter, impressed upon us by means of a series of most graphic illustrations; and it reaches its climax at the concluding paragraph, in which the high-flying birds of prey, the hawk and the eagle, are described. These above all other creatures are independent of man. Denizens of the air, they soar far above his reach. No human hand could give that might of pinion, that keenness of vision, that rush of life, which we see in the two birds—the one the terror of all small creatures, the other the dangerous foe of the young of larger animals. But nature throughout is quite beyond the skill and power of man. By the intelligence God has given us we may employ many of the great natural forces, and subdue fierce and powerful animals. But this is a small thing compared with the thought that planned and the energy that wrought in the making of those creatures. Surpassing us in many enviable qualities, the kings of the wilderness teach us our littleness in the presence of the wonderful Creator.

II. THE TRIUMPH OF MOVEMENT. Birds illustrate this most conspicuously. Cleaving the air with swift, strong strokes, rising and falling at will, floating like atmospheric fishes, darting hither and thither with the speed of an express train, birds are the very opposite of creatures that spend a merely vegetative existence. Their lively energy is seen in dazzling movements. Now, the movements of nature are typical of those that take place in spiritual regions. Stagnation is death. It is not enough to have been set right once for all. The bird will droop and fail if it is always moping on the perch. Souls must be in movement, seeking fresh enterprises, pressing on to new fields of service, or at least diligently pursuing the line of duty. Souls want wings. We can only live our fullest life when we rise. It is not easy to soar into the higher regions. The hawk mounts in a spiral. We cannot reach the altitude of spiritual experience at a bound; and we too may have to work our way up laboriously. But rise we must, if we would not fail in our Christian calling.

III. THE VICTORY OF VISION. The eyes of the hawk and the eagle are proverbial for strength and keenness. These birds can see their prey from afar. They would perish if they were blind, nay, even if they became dim-sighted. Souls must have eyes, strung to gaze at the light, keen to detect what is valuable. We blunder through the world in spiritual blindness, seeing neither the glory of God nor the best blessings he has given us. With clipped wings and hooded eyes, how can we enter into the large heritage that God has provided for us? Our souls need a purging of their vision from the sin that blinds and maims. Then regenerated by the Spirit of God, they have before them a glory of sight and life that leave the struggling attempts of hawk and eagle far beneath.—W.F.A.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Job 39". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tpc/job-39.html. 1897.
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