Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Job 39

Introduction

Job, who was so wise in the knowledge of the divine ways, and rashly ready to measure himself with God, is still plied with questions, now drawn from the animate creation, about which, on account of its nearness to himself, it might be presumed that he would know something at least. He is questioned concerning the laws that govern gestation; the secret of the difference between wild and tame animals of the same genus; the strangely dissimilar affections of birds, which, in structure, are like; the martial fury that leads the horse, like man, to rejoice in the battle-field; the migratory instincts of rapacious birds; also concerning the widely extended law of creation that the life of one animal should be nourished by the death of another. Not one of the commonest questions which God asks can Job answer. “He finds that the nature with which he is acquainted as the herald of the creative and governing power of God is also the preacher of humility; and, exalted as God the Creator and Ruler of the natural world is above Job’s censure, so is he also as the author of his affliction.” — Delitzsch. Job, the instructor of Eloah, humbled to the dust, sees that the mystery of suffering is but one of the many mysteries of nature, and that he who cannot comprehend the natural world is a presumable fool for supposing that he can understand the laws that govern the spiritual world. The same flash of truth that discloses the meagerness of Job’s mind helps to make manifest the wickedness of his soul. The scheme is fast opening for the revealment of the deep truth that suffering is the path of glory, that via crucis, via lucis, “the way of the cross is the way of light.”

Verse 1

β. The questions thus far propounded must have profoundly impressed Job with a sense of his insignificance; another, and more important view of himself, he is now to take in the mirror of nature — a no less view than that of his consummate ignorance. His attention is again directed to the brute creation, and he is asked a few plain questions, perhaps in irony, concerning the laws that govern the gestation and birth of animals with which he must have been more or less familiar. These laws, he is made to feel, revolve in a sphere entirely independent of himself — the domain of divine forethought and arrangement; man can mark results, but knows not the secret principles which render the gestation of one animal longer, or its parturition less difficult, than that of another, Job 39:1-4.

1.Wild goats — The ibex, or rock-goat, (Hebrews, yaal, that is, climber,) was well known to the Jews, both in the Wilderness and in the Land of Promise. But, though familiar with the animal, they knew but little of its habits, owing to its extreme wariness and wildness.’ In Arabia Petraea the ibex is very common. It is generally found in small herds of eight or ten. (Tristram, Natural History.) Canst thou mark when, etc. — Rather, observest thou the travail of the hinds? “The question here,” as Bochartus well observes, “is not of idle and merely speculative knowledge, but of that knowledge which belongs to God only, by which he not only knows all things, but directs and governs them.” Or, its object may be, in a most humiliating manner, to remind Job that the parturition of the mountain hind takes place without his foresight, intervention, or control. Thus, most moderns.

Hinds — The female of the common stag. The reader is referred to Pliny’s Natural History, 8:32, for the views of the ancients on this whole subject.

 

Verse 3

3.Their sorrows — Used figuratively for the foetus. In like manner Arab poets call the human foetus “pangs.” Euripides uses exactly the same expression as that of the text, ριψαι ωδινα. “This purpose of nature is accomplished in them no less surely than in animals housed and watched with tenderness and care.” — Conant. Compare John 16:21.

 

Verse 4

4.Are in good liking Become strong.

With corn — Rather, in the wilderness.

Unto them — To their parents. A suggestive trait of the brute creation, that the offspring, when grown, is forever alienated from the parent as parent. The tender links that bind the child of a human being to its parent as long as life shall last, are unknown in the creation beneath us. The affection of the one race is eloquent and prophetic of immortality; the want of it in the other seems to indicate that this present life answers all the ends, and subserves all the purposes, of brute being.

 

Verse 5

γ. From animals who need no human care in the time of their extremity, the speaker now turns to creatures who despise man and rebel against all human interference. Various views (5-18) are presented of the same general truth; viz., the wondrous difference of dispositions which prevails among animals who, in other respects, bear to each other a resemblance more or less close. Job may first account for the difference between the wild and tame ass, Job 39:5-8.

5.Wild ass . See note on Job 24:5. Two different Hebrew names are given for “wild ass,” the one, as some suppose, pointing to its swiftness, the other to its shyness, two marked traits of the animal. Layard says, “In fleetness they equal the gazelle; and to overtake them is a feat which only one or two of the most celebrated mares have been known to accomplish,” (i, 325.) “It is almost impossible to take them when full grown,” (iii, 270.) This agrees with the observation of Xenophon, that his horsemen could overtake them by no other means than by dividing themselves into relays, and succeeding one another in the chase.” — Anab., Job 1:5. The wild ass, which both Martial and Oppian call beautiful, so differs from the stupid tame ass, his congener, as to call forth the humiliating question concerning this wonderful distinction between members of the same species. None but God, who “loosed the bands,” gave freedom to this child of the desert. On the other hand, the ancient Egyptians “regarded the ass as unclean and impure, merely on account of the resemblance which they conceive it bears to Typho; and in consequence of this notion, those cakes which they offer with their sacrifices during the two months Pauni and Phaophi, have the impression of an ass, bound, stamped upon them.” — De Iside, etc., section 30. Wild ass, . Hitzig infers from the Aramaic colouring of this word that it stood for an Aramaic variety of the ass.

 

Verse 6

6.Barren land — Literally, salt waste. The deserts in the East are frequently incrusted with salt.

 

Verse 7

7.Multitude — Better, tumult.

 

Verse 8

8.Range of the mountains , rendered “range,” if a verbal noun may mean “that which is seen,” (on the mountain:) so Delitzsch and Umbreit. If a verb, it signifies, “He spies through the mountain,” as his pasturage. (Dillmann.) The celebrated naturalist Pallas observes that the wild ass is particularly fond of bare mountains. Thus closes a beautiful picture of the wondrous ranger of mountain and waste, who scorns the clamour of the city, and laughs at the driver with his long line of subject beasts. No wonder that the wild ass should stand as the type of sovereignty, and that kings, as Umbreit has shown, should not disdain to add his name to their own.

 

 

 

Verse 9

Second long strophe — JOB’S ATTENTION IS DIRECTED TO THE NONDESCRIPT AND UNTAMEABLE REEM, (WILD BULL,) AND TO THE OSTRICH, WITH HER STRANGE PROPERTIES OF STUPIDITY AND DEFICIENT AFFECTION, Job 39:9-18.

α. The reem, in its structure, resembles the ox — so much so as to be classed under the same genus; but no man can reduce him to the plough or harrow, or any servile office. Job, perhaps, can account for so trifling a matter as this, that so much latent power of this creature (“because his strength is great”) should forever remain unavailable for man’s use. Job 39:9-12.

9.The unicorn — The word , reem, occurs seven times in the Scriptures, and is invariably translated unicorn, or unicorns, in accordance with the Septuagint: Numbers 23:22; Deuteronomy 33:17; Job 39:9-10; Psalms 22:21; Psalms 29:6; Psalms 92:10; and Isaiah 34:7. Among commentators and naturalists some few (Luther, F.A.A. Meyer, Rosenmuller, and Schlottmann) imagine that by this creature the unicorn is intended, but the unicorn is now regarded by most naturalists as fabulous. Others (Jerome, Barnes, etc.) suppose that it is the rhinoceros. Others again (Delitzsch, Dillmann, Hitzig) conjecture that it is the oryx, (antelope leucoryx,) a species of gazelle, which Oppian describes as “wild and untamable,” and is found in Syria, Egypt, and the interior of Africa. and to the present day called r’im; while others, (Schultens, Ewald, Umbreit, Robinson,) fix upon the buffalo, a view which Dr. Wilson justly scouts, having seen the animal in the Huleh tamely yoked to the plough. (Lands of the Bible, 2:167.)

A careful examination of the passages above mentioned will, we think, show, first, that the reem could not have been a one-horned animal, for in Deuteronomy 33:17, the horns of the reem are made a ground of comparison; secondly, that the strength of the animal was in his horns, (Deuteronomy 33:17; Psalms 22:21; Psalms 92:10,) which excludes the oryx or antelope, which have but little strength in the horn, and have to depend for their defence on their agility; thirdly, that it must have been of the bovine rather than the cervine species, which appears from demands of the parallelisms both in Deuteronomy 33:17, His (Joseph’s) glory is like the firstling of his BULLOCK, And his horns are like the horns of a REEM: and in Psalms 29:6, He maketh them also to skip like a CALF, Lebanon and Sirion like a young REEM.

The description (Job 39:9-12) depicts the wonted labour of the tame ox, and necessitates the taking this animal as a basis of comparison, as much as the preceding passage (Job 39:5-8) does the tame ass; and no less peremptorily requires a congener, which in this case must be bovine. Of the former existence of a monster answering all these conditions there are manifold evidences, though it is probable that the race has altogether perished. In the opinion of Dr. Tristram it once roamed freely through the forests of Palestine, and answered to the AVEROCHS of the old German, the URUS of Caesar, the BOS PRIMIGENIUS of naturalists. “We have evidence,” he says,” of the averochs in Germany down to the Christian era. The two horns of the reem (unicorn) are the ten thousands of Ephraim and the thousands of Manasseh, both growing out of ONE head, Joseph. Deuteronomy 33:17. This, then, entirely sets aside the fancy that the rhinoceros, which the Jews could scarcely have known, or any one-horned creature, is intended. The monuments of Assyria represent it among the wild animals chased by the compeers of Semiramis and Sennacherib.” — Nat. Hist. of Bible, p. 146. This learned naturalist thinks he has found bones of this extinct animal, (the primeval wild ox,) in a mass of bone breccia in the Lebanon, in the flooring of an ancient cave. See his Land of Israel, pp. 11, 12. Assuming, with Dr. Tristram and Prof. Owen, that the reem was probably one with the urus, it becomes doubly interesting to turn to the description of this animal by Caesar. He says, the urus “are of a size little inferior to the elephant: in appearance, colour, and figure they resemble the bull; their strength and velocity are great; and they spare neither man nor beast that come in their way. Even their young are intractable and untamable.” — De Bello Gall., 4:29.

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Recent philological discoveries tend to identify this animal, (the wild bull, bos primigenius, of the ancients,) with the reem of the Scriptures. It is now accepted by Assyrian scholars, such as Sayce, Norris, Rodwell, that the ideogram for wild bull was rim or rimu. Sir H. Rawlinson thus translates the thirty-fourth section of the inscription of Tiglath Pileser: “Under the auspices of Hercules, my guardian deity, four wild bulls, strong and fierce, in the desert,’ with my long arrows tipped with iron, and with heavy blows, I took their lives. Their skin and their horns I brought to my city of Ashur.” The inscription cited by Norris is: “Buchal rimi dan-nu-te,” etc. — “Four wild bulls strong and fine; their lives I cut off.” — Assyr. Dic., 1:81; likewise, ibid., Job 1:21. The above Assyrian inscription is taken from the broken obelisk of Assur-nat-sir-pal, and is interpreted, “Rimi’ sa pa-an’ in nir Lib-na-a-ni i-duk,” “Wild bulls which, opposite the land of the Hittites and at the foot of Lebanon, he killed.” “It appears nothing is wanting to show that the meaning of the Hebrew word reem is a wild bull, and that these animals existed in Palestine in historical times about 800 years before Christ.’ The reem is not unfrequently expressed on the monuments as am’si, i.e., ‘the horned reem;’ ‘si being used ideographically for karnu, ‘a horn,’ the Hebrew keren.” — W. Houghton.

These wild bulls were hunted in Palestine, as appears from the monuments. “The wild bull,” says Layard, “from its frequent representation in the bass-reliefs, appears to have been considered scarcely less formidable and noble game than the lion. The king is seen contending with it, and warriors pursue it on horseback and on foot. In the embroideries on the garments of the principal figures it is introduced in hunting scenes, and in groups which appear to have a mythic or symbolical meaning.” — Nineveh, 2:429. See, also, Rawlinson’s Ancient Mon., ii, pp. 513, 514.

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Verse 10

10.With his band in the furrow — Literally, on the furrow of his cord: the sense of which is, according to Furst, “Canst thou bind the reem so that his draw-line is upon the ridge?” the left rope being always on the ridge of the bed in making the furrow. The telem, , Arabic, tilem, here rendered furrow, was, according to the explanation of the Turkish Kamus, “the ditch-like crack which the iron of the ploughman tears in the field,” an explanation which Delitzsch approves; but this does not well accord with the use of the same word in Job 31:38, and Hosea 10:4. The pictorial representations on the monuments show that the ancient Egyptians bound their oxen to the plough by a cord fastened around the horns and tied to the yoke and the handle. See note on Job 1:14.

 

Verse 11

11.Because his strength is great — The greater wonder, then, that man cannot avail himself of this strength to do his work. Labour — Rather, in the sense of the fruit of one’s labour.

 

Verse 12

12.Thy barn — Better, threshing floor.

 

Verse 13

β. The ostrich, resembling the stork in her stilt-like structure, the colour of her feathers, and gregarious habits, widely differs from the stork in respect to care for her young, and yet, in one particular at least — that of fleetness — she ranks pre-eminently among creatures vastly wiser and more affectionate than she, Job 39:13-18.

13.Peacocks . The Hebrew signifies “cryings,” “wailings,” and should, as Bochartus has shown, be rendered “ostriches,” the cry of which is a prolonged wail, said to be as loud as that of a lion. “The female ostriches,” says Consul Wetzstein, “are called renanim,’ not from the whirring of their wings when flapped about, but from their piercing, screeching cry.” Job has before alluded to this peculiarity of the ostrich in Job 30:29, (see note,) where the word for ostrich is , a howl, a cry; though others (Gesenius) make the root to signify “greed,” “voraciousness,” which as properly expresses another equally marked characteristic. This camel-bird, as the Persians, the Greeks, (Στρουθοκαμηλος,) and the Romans, (struthiocamelus,) call it on account of its camel-like neck, still inhabits the great Syrian desert; some are found in the Hauran, “and a few,” says Burckhardt, “are taken almost every year, even within two days’ journey of Damascus.’ The people of Aleppo sometimes bring home ostriches which they had killed at the distance of two or three days eastward.” The feathers, to which special allusion is made in the text, have always, on account of their surpassing beauty, been held in great value. The male has black feathers, with white ends, except the tail feathers, which are wholly white. But the feathers of the female are spotted grey. See BURCKHARDT, Notes on the Bedouins, i, p.217. The feathers of the stork, on the other hand, are pure white, except the greater coverts, scapulars, and quill feathers, which are black. For some unknown reason the ostrich was held sacred by the ancient Assyrian, as is shown by its being frequently introduced on Babylonian and Assyrian cylinders, accompanied by the emblematical flower. It was also found as an ornament on the robes of figures in the most ancient edifice at Nimroud. — LAYARD, Nineveh, etc., 2:437. An ostrich feather was a symbol of the goddess of truth or justice. See note on Job 31:6, and Wilkinson, Ancient Egypt, v, p. 216. The abrupt introduction of renanim, “the wailing ones,” (ostrich,) is happily illustrated by Herder: “The ostrich, on its first rising to the view, is sketched with an expression of eagerness and exultation. Such is the feeling of surprise, and wonder, too, that the name is at first forgotten, and it presents itself to the sight as a winged giant, exulting in the race, and shouting for joy. What is stupid forgetfulness in the bird appears as the wisdom of the Creator, by which be has kindly adapted it to its shy and timid life in the desert.” — Hebrews Poet., 1:102.

The goodly wings unto the peacocks — Of this difficult verse Schultens cites nineteen explanations; his own, the twentieth, is now substantially accepted by Arnheim, Umbreit, Hengstenberg, Hitzig, Cook, (Speaker’s Com.,) etc., as follows: —

The wing of the ostrich waveth joyously,*

Is it the wing and feathers of the stork?

In other words, “hath she the fond wing and plumage of the stork?” The Septuagint gave up the passage in despair, simply refraining the more difficult Hebrew words, without any attempt at explanation. Their version is, Πτερυξ τερπομενων νεελασσα, εαν συλλαβη ασιδα και νεσσα, literally, “a wing of delighted ones is Neelassa, (Hebrews, ,) if she conceives [comprehends] Asis and Nessa.” Jerome’s, though more intelligible, is quite as insipid: “The wing of the ostrich is like the wings of the falcon and the hawk.” Among moderns, Ewald, Hirtzel, Delitzsch, etc., accord to , stork, its radical meaning of pious, a name the stork bore on account of her affectionate solicitude for her young; and, making the word a predicate, read the second clause, “Is she pious, wing and feather?” Wordsworth understands the meaning to be, “The wing of the ostrich exults gloriously; she makes a great display of her flaunting plumage; but does she use her wings for purposes of natural affection for her offspring? No.” Whichever of the two readings, that of Schultens, or that of Ewald, is adopted, the sense is not materially altered. The grammatical reasons given by Hitzig are quite decisive for the former.

[* Homer says similarly of the cranes, which in some marked respects resemble the storks, “They fly here and there, rejoicing in their wings.” — Iliad, 2:462.] This chapter has thus far traced resemblances, marks of connotation, which bring the species together under the genus, and has pointed out differences of disposition or mode of life, and has impliedly asked Job to account for them, both for the difference between the wild and tame ass. and between the reem and his tame congener, the ox; and now between the stork and the ostrich, which are so like and yet so unlike. While the ostrich, as we have before seen, in plumage and general make presents considerable resemblance to the stork, the contrast in disposition is perhaps greater than that between any other two species of birds. The one is affectionate; builds “her house” in the fir-trees, (Psalms 104:17;) and displays remarkable intelligence and a self-sacrificing devotion to her young that is almost without parallel among birds. These traits have everywhere been noted.

The Romans followed the Hebrew in calling her the pious bird, avis pia. Pliny (book Job 10:31) informs us that in Thessaly it was a capital crime for any one to kill a stork. See, also, Aristotle, (Anim. Job 9:13,) and AElian, (Anim. Job 3:23.) Both the ancient Egyptians and the Greeks made the stork the symbol of love to children. The former looked upon her with a reverence only inferior to that which they paid to the mystical ibis. Instances are on record in which the stork, in cases of danger, such as of fire, unable to remove her young, has remained and shared their fate. See Encyc Brit., 16:799, eighth edition. On the other hand, the ostrich, whom the Arabs call an impious bird, displays traits the reverse of these, which the sacred writer proceeds to give at large.

In illustration of the phrase, “the wing waveth joyously,” the observation of Dr. Shaw upon an ostrich, taken and tamed, may be cited: “In the heat of the day, particularly, it would strut along the sunny side of the house with great majesty. It would be perpetually fanning and priding itself with its quivering, expanded wings, and seem, at every turn, to admire and be in love with its shadow. Even at other times, whether walking about or resting itself upon the ground, the wings would continue these fanning, vibratory motions, as if they were designed to mitigate and assuage that extraordinary heat wherewith their bodies seem to be naturally affected.” — Travels in Barbary, sec. ed., p. 454.

Wings’ feathers — “On the Darwin or Lucretian theory, her poor flapper, which she uses so much, ought to have become a warm, well-feathered pinion ages ago.” — T. Lewis.

 

Verse 14

14.Which , nay: used in the sense of the Latin immo, as in Job 22:2. For instances of similar cases, see Noldius, Concord. Partic., 369, 370.

Leaveth her eggs in the earth — Livingstone’s description of the ostrich forcibly illustrates the text. “The ostrich begins to lay her eggs before she has fixed on a spot for a nest, which is only a hollow a few inches deep in the sand, and about a yard in diameter. Solitary eggs, named by the Bechuanas ‘lesetla,’ are thus found lying forsaken all over the country, and become a prey to the jackal. She seems averse to risking a spot for a nest, and often lays her eggs in that of another ostrich, so that as many as forty-five have been found in one nest.’ Both mate and female assist in the incubations; but the numbers of females being always greatest, it is probable that cases occur in which the females have entire charge.” — LIVINGSTONE, Travels in South Africa. The Arabs call the female bird Umm thelathin, (mother of thirty,) from the number of eggs, as a rule, she is supposed to lay.

 

Verse 15

15.Forgetteth that the foot may crush them — “Several eggs lie out of the nest, and are thought to be intended as food for the first of the newly-hatched brood till the rest come out and enable the whole to start in quest of food.” — Ibid., p. 172. “Among the very few polygamous birds,” says Barren. “that are found in the state of nature, the ostrich is one. The male, distinguished by its glossy black feathers from the dusky gray female, is generally seen with two or three, and frequently as many as five, of the latter. These females lay their eggs in one nest, to the number of ten or twelve each, which they hatch altogether, the male taking his turn, sitting on them among the rest. Between sixty and seventy eggs have been found in one nest, and if incubation has begun, a few are most commonly lying round the sides of the hole, having been thrown out by the birds, on finding the nest to contain more than it could conveniently hold.” — Travels in Southern Africa, p. 170.

 

Verse 16

16.She is hardened against her young ones — More correctly, she deals hardly with her young. Dr. Tristram remarks: “Though I did not myself see the eggs scattered on the surface, yet all my Arab friends assured me that it is the invariable habit of the bird so to place many of them; and that far more are laid than are ever incubated. It is from this habit, most probably, that the want of parental instinct is laid to the charge of the ostrich. At the same time, when surprised by man with the young, before they are able to run, the parent bird scuds off and leaves its offspring to its fate.” — Natural History, p. 238. “On the least noise or trivial occasion,” says Dr. Shaw, “she forsakes her eggs or her young ones, to which, perhaps, she never returns.” The little ones are often to be met, “no bigger than well-grown pullets, half starved, straggling and moaning about, like so many distressed orphans, for their mother.” — Travels in Barbary, p. 452. The ostrich was proverbial for its cruelty. (Lamentations 4:3.)

Without fear — She feels no distress (literally, “fear”) at the view that her labour is in vain. “If the ostrich observes that its nest is discovered, it tramples upon its own eggs and makes its nest elsewhere.” — LICHTENSTEIN in Delitzsch. That she is not possessed of proper solicitude is given as an indirect reason why her labour is to so little purpose; thus anticipating the more comprehensive reason given in the following verse.

 

Verse 17

17.Because God hath deprived, etc. — Rather, For God made her forgetful of wisdom, (hhokmah,) and gave her no share in understanding, (binah.) The Arabs have a proverb, “Foolish as the ostrich,” which might suffice for the illustration of the verse. Bochartus, however, cites five instances of stupidity. One may be given from Livingstone: “The ostrich is generally seen quietly feeding on some spot where no one can approach him without being seen by his wary eye. As the wagon moves along far to the windward, he thinks it is intended to circumvent him, so he rushes up a mile or so from the leeward, and so near to the front oxen that one sometimes gets a shot at the silly bird. When he begins to run, all the game in sight follow his example. I have seen this folly taken advantage of when he was feeding quietly in a valley open at both ends. A number of men would commence running, as if to cut off his retreat from the end through which the wind came; and although he had the whole country, hundreds of miles, before him by going to the other end, on he madly rushed to get past the men, and so was speared. He never swerves from the course he once adopts, but only increases his speed.” — South Africa, p. 171. See also Tristram, Nat. His., p. 238, and Wetzstein in Delitzsch, ii, pp. 341, 342. The difference thus suggested between the ostrich and animals pre-eminent in understanding must at the same time have impressed upon Job one of the many mysteries of the world of instinct; a world which Hume declares to be “inexplicable by all the disquisitions of human understanding.”

 

Verse 18

18.Lifteth up herself — Others read, lasheth herself, justifying the rendering by the feeble reason that her wings seem a lash to impel herself forward. Such “lashing of wing” would but faintly repeat the grander conception of Job 39:13, of “waving the wing joyously.” It is now generally accepted, that the ostrich runs more swiftly than any other animal. Hence the Arab proverb, “swifter than an ostrich.” Dr. Livingstone calculates the speed of the ostrich at twenty-six miles an hour, and its stride, when bounding at full speed, Tristram says is from twenty-two to twenty-eight feet. Xenophon furnishes a fine illustration of the Authorized Version, “But no one ever caught the ostrich, for in her flight she kept constantly drawing on the pursuer, now running on foot, and again lifting herself up with her wings spread out, as though she had hoisted sails.” Anabasis, Job 1:3. In keeping with nature’s law of compensation, the swiftness of this bird compensates for its stupidity.

The horse and his rider — This casual mention of the horse and his rider prepares us, rhetorically, for the ensuing description of the war horse, “the only one, in this series, which refers to a tamed animal.” — Zockler.

 

Verse 19

Third long strophe — FURTHER ILLUSTRATIONS FROM THE BRUTE CREATION, OF THE WONDROUS WORKING OF GOD. THE MAJESTIC HORSE DISPLAYS A TASTE FOR WAR; THE HAWK, LED BY UNERRING INSTINCT, MIGRATES TO DISTANT LANDS; WHILE THE KING OF BIRDS DEVOTES HIS KEENNESS OF VISION TO SEEKING CARRION FOR HIS PREY, Job 39:19-30.

α. The allusion to the horse in the preceding description of the ostrich (camel-bird) leads to a magnificent description of a noble animal useful to man everywhere, even on his fields of blood. Job is asked whether it was he who endowed it with its noblest qualities, Job 39:19-25.

19.Thunder — The rendering by Gesenius and others of “terror” — “terror-striking mane,” and by Ewald and Zockler of “quivering mane,” is not so justifiable and vastly more prosaic than that of “thunder.” This masterly touch — clothing the neck with thunder — by the very indefiniteness of the image gives to the description a recognised element of sublimity. The monuments of antiquity abound with pictorial representations of the war-horse, in every age the pride of the East. Next to man, the most important agent on the battlefield, he was prized too highly to be made a beast of draught. For descriptions of the horse by Homer and Virgil, see Dr. Clarke.

 

Verse 20

20.Make him afraid — Make him bound or spring, like the locust. Comp. Joel 2:4. It is a common saying among the Arabs, that “the horse acts the locust,” i.e., he leaps from place to place like the locust. The head of the latter so much resembles that of the horse that the Italians call him cavaletta, little horse.

Nostrils — Literally, snorting. Compare Jeremiah 8:16.

 

Verse 21

21.He paweth — The subject of this verb, which is in the plural, is uncertain, and is supposed by Cocceius, Ewald, and Zockler to be “the riders,” who “explore” in the valley; for this is the meaning they attach to the verb. Hitzig thinks that the word , “to paw,” originally read , “gather together,” and that the middle letter has been corrupted into a , and renders the phrase, “they form in troops in the plain, and it [the horse] rejoiceth in its strength.” The prime meaning of the verb hhaphar is “to dig,” as in Job 3:21; Job 11:18, (on the latter of which see note,) and to represent the well-known action of a high-spirited charger, impatient of delay, is a much stronger word than our word “paweth.” The classics embody the figure before us in more laboured descriptions, and more polished periods; but they all fail of the sublime heights to which the sacred writer, teaching of commonest subjects, rises without effort. Thus writes Apollonius, born 253, B.C.: —

As a war-horse, impatient for the battle,

Neighing, beats the ground with his hoofs.

Σκαρθμωκρουει πεδον. Also Virgil, (Georgic 3:88,): —

Cavat que Tellurem, et solido graviter sonat ungula cornu,

And earth around Rings to his solid hoof, that wears the ground.

AElian says of the war-horse, “When he hears the sounding of the reins and the clattering of the bits, and sees the breast-plates and the forehead-pieces, he neighs, and, leaping, makes the ground to ring with his hoofs.”

Valley — Mentioned because cavalry are unsuited for fighting among the hills.

Armed men — Oppian in like manner remarks of the war-horse, that he has the courage to meet the armed men, οπλοις. In modern times, however, a solid phalanx of infantry is quite equal to any onset of cavalry, illustrations of which are afforded by the battles of the Pyramids and Waterloo. The Israelites, it is to be remembered, conquered Palestine on foot. They were a nation of infantry. In this respect they resembled the early Egyptians, who do not appear to have possessed any cavalry before the eighteenth dynasty; (see Rawlinson’s Herodotus, ii, pp.152, 299,) and thus differed from other surrounding nations, such as the Ishmaelite, whose horse has always been his pride and his defence; and from the Canaanite, who was famous for his horses and his chariots. The horsemen formed a no less important part of the Assyrian army than the charioteers. “Horsemen are seen in the most ancient sculptures in Nimroud, and disciplined bodies of cavalry were represented in the bass-reliefs of Kouyunjik.” — Layard. In the times of Solomon the horse appears as a right arm of Israelitish defence. 1 Kings 10:28; 2 Chronicles 1:16-17; 2 Chronicles 9:28. Mohammed had evidently read this description before writing the One Hundredth Sura of the Koran, which is entitled, “The war-horses which run swiftly.” It commences: “By the war-horses which run swiftly to the battle, with a panting noise; and by those which strike fire by dashing their hoofs against the stones; and by those which make a sudden incursion on the enemy early in the morning, which make the dust fly under their rapid feet; which pass through the hostile troops; — verily, man is ungrateful unto the Lord; and he is witness thereof.”

 

Verse 23

23.The quiver — Used metaphorically for its contents — the arrows.

The glittering spear — Literally, the flame of a spear.

Shield — Hebrews, kidhon. More properly “javelin,” or “spear.” See note Job 41:29. Arrows and gleaming spears hurtle against him, and he turns not back.

 

Verse 24

24.He swalloweth the ground , swalloweth, from which , “bulrush” is derived, because of its sucking, or “swallowing,” the water. See note, Job 8:11. The Arab, in common with the Eastern and classic poets, to the present day, applies the metaphor of the text to the horse. In like manner Shakspeare: —

And starting so,

He seemed in running to devour the way.

Henry IV., Sec. Part.

Believeth he — Furst, Hitzig, and others would read, , standeth he still. The reading of the text, believeth, is equally well supported, (Schlottmann, Conant, and Dillmann,) and is much more forcible. He cannot trust (believe) his ears, so joyous is the trumpet blast. AEschylus says of the war-horse: “Impatiently he awaits the call of the trumpet.” — Septem., etc., 394. Compare Job 9:16; Job 39:12.

 

Verse 25

25.He saith among the trumpets — At every blast, (literally, “trumpet,”) he saith, Aha!

Smelleth the battle — A like instinct is attributed to the horse in Pliny — “He presages the battle.” Layard, in his “New Discoveries,” (p. 330,) says: “Although docile as a lamb, and requiring no other guide than the halter, when the Arab mare hears the war-cry of the tribe, and sees the quivering spear of her rider, her eyes glitter with fire, her blood-red nostrils open wide, her neck is nobly arched, and her tail and mane are raised and spread out to the wind. The Bedawin proverb says, that a highbred mare, when at full speed, should hide her rider between her neck and her tail.”

 

Verse 26

β. Now that the splendid digression, setting before us the war-horse, is at an end, the thread of the subject is again taken up, and a new illustration given of diversities springing from similarities; a simple subject, which Job has failed to elucidate. The hawk and the eagle are marvellously alike in their structure, (both belong to the Falconidae,) and yet the one is distinguished by a migratory instinct, while the other easily sits at the head of the bird creation, marked by wondrous powers of flight and no less wondrous vision, which, instead of leading it, as is the case with the hawk, on long and unknown journeys, serves rather for spying out an ignominious prey. 26-30.

“From that which is here intimated, (to wit, that other animals must sacrifice their life in order to satisfy the bloodthirsty brood of an eagle,) do we not see that the suffering of a single creature might, in God’s plan, be designed to benefit other creatures of God?” — Victor Andrea.

26.The hawk — God next adduces the strange instinct which, “intelligent of seasons,” leads to the migration of birds. The hawk is instanced, perhaps because he was esteemed sacred by some ancient nations. The hawk migrates southward during the latter part of September, “not in groups,” says Dr. Thomson, (i, 506,) “as do cranes, geese, and storks; but keeps passing for days in straggling lines, like scattered ranks of a routed army. Here and there, as far as eye can reach, they come, flying every one apart, but all going steadily to the south.” Of the law that enables —

These aery caravans, high over seas

Flying, and over lands,

To steer their annual voyage, borne on winds,

back to the very spot that gave them birth, may we not say, with Hooker, comprehensively and grandly, “See we not plainly that obedience of creatures to the law of nature is the stay of the whole world?” The world of instinct, quite as much as that of reason, is emblazoned within and without with marks of divine thought and wisdom. The ways of reason do not so much elude the grasp of the human mind as do those of instinct. The superior, superhuman thought by which a confessedly inferior world is imbued and animated, is sublimely declaratory of a God. For instance, the mathematical (hexagonal) figure in which the bee works, displaying outgoings of mind to which man has so slowly attained, no less than the stately, undeviating flight of the hawk, points upward to a divine mind — to an intelligence which is not from the animals themselves, but which is a necessity that has been laid upon them by a higher intelligence. The world of instinct proves to be “an inner design, and omnipresent reason in things,” and “in its proper spirit, it is an uninterrupted divine service, a thoughtful, intelligent glorification of that inexhaustible wisdom which reveals itself in nature.” — Fichte. Job may be tacitly reminded of his own appeal to the brute creation. See Job 12:7, with note.

The wondrous instinct of the hawk evidently led to its being held sacred throughout the land of Egypt. In various combinations the figure of the bird served for the function of Egyptian hieroglyphics. See BUNSEN, Egypt’s Place, etc., 1:507, 517. It was sacred to Horus, (the Egyptian Apollo,) whose priests, according to AElian, (Hist. of Anim., Job 10:14,) were called hieracobosci, or hawk-feeders, since it was their office to take care of the sacred hawks.

 

 

 

Verse 27

27.The eagle — Comp. Obadiah 1:4. The climax is reached in the eagle, king of birds, (compare the lion, king of beasts, with which the description commences, Job 38:39,) which, notwithstanding its home “is in the teeth of the rock,” delights in blood. Another marvellous feature of instinct is thus presented, that he who flies so high should stoop so low, so that “wheresoever the carcass is, there will the eagles be gathered together.”

Matthew 24:28. Tristram observes that eagles will not kill their prey, if they can find it ready slain to their hand.

Her nest his nest. The gender is the same throughout the description.

 

Verse 28

28.Crag of the rock — Literally, tooth of the rock.

 

Verse 29

29.Her eyes behold afar — Homer accords to the eagle the keenest vision of all birds. (Iliad, 17:674.) Similarly, Horace, “sharp-sighted as an eagle.” — Satire I, 3:27. The Arabs have a proverb, “More quick sighted than the eagle,” and they say, hyperbolically, that she can see a carcass at the distance of forty parasangs, or about one hundred and fifty miles.

 

Verse 30

30.Where the slain are — Both the eagle and lion will feed ignominiously on a body found dead, as Winer abundantly shows. (Rwb., Job 1:21.) Burckhardt, describing the warfare of the Bedawin, says that while the battle rages, and horsemen or camel-riders contend in single combat or mix in general fight, flying or pursuing, the Beni Atye, (a considerable tribe of Arabs,) frequently utter, with a loud voice, the following verses: —

You birds with the bald heads, you rakham and hadazy,

If you desire human flesh, be present on the day of combat.

The rakham and hadazy are birds of prey, the former an eagle, the latter a falcon. — Bedouins, 2:362.

 

 

 

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Job 39". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/job-39.html. 1874-1909.