Bible Commentaries

Matthew Poole's English Annotations
on the Holy Bible

Job 39

Verse 1

JOB CHAPTER 39

Of the wild goats and hinds, Job 39:1-4; the wild ass, Job 39:5-8; the unicorn, Job 39:9-12; the peacock, stork, and ostrich, Job 39:13-18; the horse, Job 39:19-25; the hawk; the eagle, Job 39:26-30. These creatures, not fully known to Job, or governed by him, are sufficient to convince him that he is no fit judge of the counsels of God.

Knowest thou the time, that thou mayst then go to them, and afford them thy help in their hard work?

The wild goats of the rock; which dwell in high and steep rocks, where no man can come. See 1 Samuel 24:2 Psalms 104:18.

Bring forth; which they do with great difficulty, as is implied, Psalms 29:9, and noted by philosophers, wherein they have no assistance from men, but only from God.

When the hinds do calve; when God by his secret instinct directs them to a certain herb called seseli, which, as naturalists report, doth hasten and help forward their birth.

Verse 2

Dost thou exactly know when they did conceive, and when they will bring forth? which is more uncertain in these than in other creatures, because there fall out many accidents which cause them to bring forth before their time, as thunder, Psalms 29:9, and other like causes of sudden fear, which may be many and various in those desert places where they live.

Verse 3

They bow themselves; being taught by a Divine instinct to dispose themselves in such a posture as may be fittest for their safe and easy bringing forth.

They bring forth their young ones, to wit, with great pain, being almost torn or rent asunder with the birth, as the word signifies; or, without any of that help which tame beasts oft have.

Their sorrows, i.e. their young ones, and their sorrows together. Or, though (which particle is oft understood) they remit or put away their sorrows, i.e. though instead of cherishing and furthering their sorrows, which for their own ease and safety they should do, they foolishly hinder them, and so increase their own danger; yet by God’s good providence to them they are enabled to bring forth, as was now said.

Verse 4

Are in good liking; or, grow strong, or fat; notwithstanding their great weakness caused by their hard entrance into the world.

With corn; which they find and feed upon in the fields. Or, as with corn, i.e. as if they were fed with corn; the particle as being oft deficient, and to be supplied. Or, in the field, as this word in the Chaldee or Syriac dialect signifies.

Return not unto them; finding sufficient provisions abroad by the care and conduct of God’s providence.

Verse 5

Who hath sent out the wild ass free? who hath given him this disposition, that he loves freedom, and avoids and hates that subjection which other creatures quietly and contentedly endure?

Who hath loosed the bands of the wild ass? which is not to be understood privatively, as if God took off the bands which men had put upon him; but negatively, that he 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.

Verse 6

Who useth and loveth to dwell in desert lands, Jeremiah 2:24 Hosea 8:3,9.

The barren land; called barren, not simply, for then he must be starved there; but comparatively, unmanaged, and therefore in a great measure unfruitful land.

Verse 7

He scorneth; either,

1. He feareth them not when they pursue him, because he is swift, and can easily escape them. Or,

2. He values them not, nor any provisions or advantages which he may have from them, but prefers a vagrant and solitary life in the wilderness before them. Or,

3. He disdains to submit himself to them, and resolutely maintains his own freedom.

The multitude of the city: he mentions the city rather than the country, partly because there is the greatest multitude of people to pursue, and overtake, and subject him; and partly because there is the greatest plenty of all things to invite him; the fruits of the country being laid up in cities in greatest abundance.

Neither regardeth, Heb. heareth, i.e. obeyeth. Of the driver, Heb. of the taskmaster, or exactor of labour, i.e. 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 forced to do.

Verse 8

The range of the mountains; 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. Why so weak and harmless a creature as the wild ass should be untamable, when the most savage lions and tigers have been tamed, and how there comes to be so vast a difference between the tame and the wild ass, thou canst give no reason, but must refer it wholly to my good pleasure; to which also thou shouldst upon the same grounds refer all the various methods of my providence and dealings with thee, and with other men, and not so boldly censure what thou dost not understand.

Verse 9

It is much disputed among the learned, but is not needful to be known by others, whether there be or ever was such a creature as we call the unicorn; or whether this reem, which is the Hebrew name of it, be the rhinoceros, as some would have it; or a certain kind of wild goat, called oryx, which is very tall, and strong, and untractable; or one of that kind of wild oxen or bulls called uri; which may seem most probable, both from the description of this creature here and elsewhere in Scripture, which exactly agrees with its description given by other authors; and from the description of his work in this place, which must in all reason be agreeable to creatures of that general kind; and from the conjunction of this creature with bullocks in Scripture, Deuteronomy 33:17; and especially Isaiah 34:6,7, where having put lambs, and goats, and rams together, Job 39:6, as creatures of the same or very like sort, he mentions bullocks, and bulls, and reems, Job 39:7, as belonging to the same general sort of creatures. But this I shall not positively determine here. He that would know more, may see what the reverend and learned Mr. Caryl hath upon this text out of Boetius and others, and my Latin Synopsis on Numbers 23:22.

Be willing to serve thee; canst thou tame him, and bring him into subjection to thy command?

Abide by thy crib; will he suffer himself to be tied or confined there all night, and to be reserved to the work of the next day, as the oxen do? Surely no. And if thou canst not rule such a creature as this, much less art thou able to govern the world, or to teach me how to govern it, which thou presumest to do.

Verse 10

In the furrow, i.e. in thy furrowed field, by a metonymy. Or, to or for (as the prefix beth is oft used, as Genesis 11:4 Leviticus 16:22 Job 24:5)

the furrow, i.e. to make furrows, or to plough; for which work cattle use to be bound together, that they may be directed by the husbandman, and may make right furrows.

The valleys, to wit, the low grounds, which are most proper for and most employed in the work of ploughing.

After thee; under thy conduct, following thee step by step.

Verse 11

Wilt thou trust him, to wit, for the doing of these works, because he is very able for thy work? And wilt thou by thy power make him willing, or force him, to put forth and spend his strength in thy service?

Thy labour; either,

1. Thy work of ploughing and harrowing. Or rather,

2. The fruit of thy labour, or the goods gotten by thy labour, as this word is oft used, as Deuteronomy 28:33 Job 20:18 Psalms 78:46 128:2 John 4:38, to wit, the fruits of the earth procured by God’s blessing upon thy industry.

To him; to be brought home by him into thy barns, as the next verse explains it.

Verse 12

Will bring home thy seed, Heb. will return thy seed; either,

1. By ploughing and harrowing thy land so well that it shall make a good return to thee for thy seed. Or rather,

2. By bringing into thy barn, as it follows, thy seed, i.e. the product of thy seed, or thy sheaves of corn, as this word is used, Haggai 2:19.

Verse 13

Gavest thou: the style of this book is very concise, and some verb is manifestly wanting to supply the sense; and this seems to be fitly understood out of Job 39:19, where it is expressed. The goodly; or, triumphant; that wherein it triumpheth or prideth itself. Wings, or feathers; Heb. wing or feather. The peacock’s beauty lies in its tail; which may well enough be comprehended under this name, as it is confessed that the Latin word ala, which properly signifies a wing, is used by Martial and Claudian to express the peacock’s tail.

The peacocks; or, as some render it, to the ostrich, whose wings are much more great and goodly than those of the peacock. And for the other word in the next clause, which is rendered

ostrich, they translate it another way; for that the Hebrew word hasidah doth not signify an ostrich, seems plain from the mention and description of that bird, Psalms 104:17 Jeremiah 8:7 Lamentations 4:3 Zechariah 5:9, which doth not at all agree to the ostrich. And forasmuch as the following verses do evidently speak of the ostrich, and it is absurd to discourse of a bird which had not been so much as named, and consequently the name of it must be found in this verse, and there is no other word in this verse which bids so fair for it, it may seem probable that this word is not to be rendered the peacock, (though it be so taken by most,) but the ostrich. Nor is it likely that both the peacock and the ostrich should be crowded together into one verse, especially when all the following characters belong only to the latter of them. Add to this, that it is confessed, even by the Hebrew writers themselves, that there is a great uncertainty in the signification of the names of birds and beasts; and therefore it is not strange if many interpreters were mistaken in the signification of this word. Or

wings and feathers unto the ostrich: or, or the wings or feathers of the stork (or, or) the ostrich. Or, didst thou give (which may be repeated out of the former branch)

the wings and feathers to the stork? Or, verily (the particle im being oft used as a note of confirmation, as Psalms 59:16 63:7 Proverbs 3:34 23:18) it hath

wings and feathers like those of a stork; for so indeed they are, black and white like them. And this may be noted as a great and a remarkable work of God, that it should really have wings and feathers as other birds have, and particularly the stork, who comes nearest to it in bulk and colour, although otherwise, by its vast bulk, it might seem to be a beast rather than a bird, as it is also called by Aristotle, and Pliny, and others.

Verse 14

Which, i.e. which ostrich; whose property this is noted to be by naturalists. Or, but; for this unnatural quality is opposed to the goodliness of her wings or feathers.

In the earth; in the place where she lays them; where she leaves them, either,

1. From care, lest she should crush and break them, if her vast body should sit upon them; or rather,

2. From forgetfulness, or carelessness, or unnaturalness, or folly; to which it is manifestly ascribed in the following verses.

Warmeth them in the dust; either,

1. Covering them with sand, that they may be warmed and hatched by that, together with the heat of the sun. But this is judged a fabulous report; for the Arabians, amongst whom this bird is most frequent and best known, affirm that such eggs do quickly perish and putrefy. Or rather,

2. Exposing them to the heat of the sun, which being excessive in those hot countries, doth and must needs quickly destroy or spoil them. And the ostrich is said to warm them, because her leaving them there is not only the occasion, but im some sort the cause, of the sun’s warming them.

Verse 15

The feet, to wit, of wild beasts as it follows passing that way.

Verse 16

She is hardened; or, he, i.e. God, hardens her; or, she hardeneth herself. Against her young ones, i.e. against her eggs, which he calls her

young ones emphatically, to aggravate her fault and folly in destroying those eggs, which, if not neglected, would have been young ones.

As though they were not hers; as if they were laid by some other bird. Or, that they may not be to her, i.e. that they may be utterly lost and destroyed; or as if it were her design to destroy their very being.

Her labour, to wit, in laying her egg’s, is wholly lost. In vain

without fear: this may be added as a further aggravation. She doth this, not because she is compelled to forsake her eggs for fear of men or beasts, but merely ont of an unnatural carelessness. Or, she is without fear, or for want of fear, to wit, of a provident fear and care about them.

Verse 17

Because God hath not implanted in her that natural instinct, and providence, and affection, which he hath put into other birds and beasts towards their young. And yet no man presumes to reproach me for making this difference in my creatures. And as little reason hast thou to blame me for afflicting thee, when others not so bad as thou for the present go unpunished; because I have no less authority over thee than over them, and can dispose of all my creatures according to my good pleasure. The great folly of this bird is noted by Arabic writers, who best know her, and that not only for this property of forsaking her own eggs, but also for other things, as that she eats any thing which is offered to her, as iron, stones, glass, hot coals, &c., whereas other birds and beasts have so much sagacity, as to reject improper and unwholesome things; that being pursued by the hunter, she thinks herself safe and unseen by hiding her head in the sand; for which, and other such qualities, it is a proverb among the Arabians, More foolish than an ostrich.

Verse 18

She lifteth up herself on high, to flee from her pursuer; to which end she lifteth up her head and body, and spreads her wings.

She scorneth the horse and his rider she despiseth them in regard of her greater swiftness; for though she cannot fly because of her great bulk, being said to be as big as a new-born camel, yet by the aid of her wings she runs so fast that horsemen cannot reach her, as both Greek and other authors have noted.

Verse 19

Strength; either strength of body; or rather, courage and generous confidence, for which the horse is highly commended.

With thunder, i.e. with snorting and neighing; in the making of which nereid the neck, in regard of the throat, which is within it, and a part of it, is a principal instrument; which noise may not unfitly be called thunder, because of the great vehemency and rage wherewith it is attended, and the great terror which it causeth, especially in war and battle, of which see Jeremiah 8:16; and compare 1 Samuel 12:17,18, where this very term of thundering is ascribed to a far lower and less terrible noise. Nor is this, as some allege, an improper speech, because this thunder or neighing is rather clothed with the neck, as being within it, than the neck with it; for nothing is more common in Scripture than to say that men are clothed with righteousness, humility, and other graces, which yet are in strictness of speech within the man, and not he within them. But because this word in this form is not elsewhere extant, some render it otherwise, with a mane, with a thick, and full and deep mane, as the phrase of being clothed with it implies; for this is mentioned by all writers of horses as a notable mark of a generous horse; which therefore they conceive would not be omitted here, where so many several properties and excellencies are described. And the verb raam, whence this comes, in the Syriac language signifies not only to thunder, but also to be high or lofty; which fitly agrees to the mane, which is in the highest part of the horse.

Verse 20

As a grasshopper; which is easily affrighted, and chased away by the least noise of a man. Or, as divers others render the place, Didst thou make him to move like a grasshopper, skipping and leaping as he goes? So he describes the posture of a gallant and generous horse, who curvets, and pranceth, and as it were danceth as he walks.

The glory of his nostrils; that snorting, or sound, and smoke which cometh out of his nostrils, especially when he is enraged and engaged in battle, which is another note of a generous horse, and strikes a terror into his adversary. Or, the vehemency, or majesty, or magnificence of his snorting, or snoring, as this word is rendered, Jeremiah 8:16.

Verse 21

He paweth; or, he diggeth. Through courage and wantonness he cannot stand still, but is beating, as it were digging, up the earth with his feet.

In the valley: this he adds, partly because the ground being there more plain and smooth, he hath the better conveniency for his prancing and pawing with his feet, which in hilly and uneven ground he cannot so well do; and partly because battles use to be pitched in valleys, or low grounds, especially horse battles.

Rejoiceth in his strength; making semblance of great pride and complacency in it.

He goeth on to meet the armed men, with great readiness and undaunted courage.

Verse 22

At fear, i.e. at all instruments and objects of terror, as fear is oft used, as Proverbs 1:26 10:21. He despiseth what other creatures dread.

From the sword; or, because of the sword; or, for fear of the sword, as this phrase is used, Isaiah 21:15 31:8 Jeremiah 14:16 1:16.

Verse 23

The quiver; or although the quiver &c. So this comes in as an aggravation of his courage, notwithstanding the just causes of fear which are mentioned in this verse. And the quiver is here put for the arrows contained in it, by a metonymy, very usual in this very case, and in all sorts of authors, which being shot against the horse and rider, make this rattling noise here mentioned.

The glittering spear and the shield; or rather, the lance or javelin. For that this was not a defensive, but an offensive weapon, seems plain, both from this place, where it is mentioned among such, and as an object of fear, which the shield is not, and from Joshua 8:18 1 Samuel 17:45, where it is so used.

Verse 24

The sense is either,

1. He is so earnest and eager upon the battle, that he rusheth into it with all speed; and runs over the ground so swiftly, that he might seem to have swallowed it tap. Or,

2. He is so full of war-like rage and fury, that he not only champs his bridle, but is ready to tear and devour the very ground on which he goes. And the phrase here used is not unusual, both in Arabic and in other authors; of which see my Latin Synopsis on this place.

He is so pleased with the approach of the battle, and the sound of the trumpet calling to it, that he could scarce believe his cars for gladness: compare Genesis 45:26 Luke 24:41. Or thus, he cannot stand still, or firm, (as this verb and Hie derivative from it is used, not only in the Chaldee and Syriac dialect, but also in the Hebrew, as Deuteronomy 28:59 1 Samuel 2:35) when the trumpet soundeth; his rider can hardly keep him still, but he strives and longs to run to the fight.

Verse 25

Ha, ha; an expression of joy and alacrity, declared by his proud neighings; whereby he doth in some sort answer the sound of the trumpets, in way of scorn and challenge.

He smelleth, i.e. he perceiveth, as this phrase is used, Jude 16:9.

Afar off; at some distance, either of place, or rather of time, as the word is most frequently used. He perceives by the motion of the soldiers, and the clattering of the arms, that the battle is at hand, which is very welcome to him.

The thunder of the captains; by which he understands, either the military orations which the captains make and deliver with a loud voice to animate their soldiers to the battle; or rather the loud and joyful clamour begun by the commanders, and followed by the soldiers, when they are ready to join battle, that thereby they may both daunt their enemies, and encourage themselves.

Verse 26

Doth the hawk fly in so singular a manner, so strongly and steadily, so constantly and unweariedly, so swiftly and speedily, so regularly and cunningly, to catch her prey, by thy wisdom; didst thou inspire her with that wisdom?

Stretch her wings toward the south; which she doth, either.

1. When she casts her old feathers, and gets new ones, which is furthered either by the warmth of southerly winds, or by the heat of the sun, which was southward from Job’s country, as it is from ours; whence it is, that as wild hawks do this by natural instinct, so the places which men build for the keeping of tame hawks are built towards the south. Or,

2. In or towards winter, when wild hawks fly into warmer countries, as being impatient of cold weather.

Verse 27

Mount up; fly directly upward, till she be out of thy sight; which no other bird can do.

On high; in the highest and inaccessible rocks. Compare Jeremiah 49:16 Obadiah 1:4.

Verse 28

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 followeth.

Verse 29

Her sight is exceeding sharp and strong, so that she is able to look upon the sun with open eyes, and to behold the smallest prey upon the earth or sea, when she is mounted out of our sight; which when she spies, she flies to it with incredible swiftness, even like an arrow out of a bow.

Verse 30

Blood; either 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. Naturalists note of the eagle, that she drinketh no water, but blood only.

Where the slain are; where any dead carcasses are, yea, or are like to be; for natural historians write of the eagles, that they can presage or smell a battle some days before it be fought. And although some writers affirm that there are divers eagles who do not feed upon carcasses, and will not meddle with them, yet that many eagles do feed on them is sufficiently evident, by the testimony both of Scripture, as Matthew 24:28, and of divers both ancient and later writers.

There is she, to wit, in an instant, flying thither with admirable celerity.

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Bibliographical Information
Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Job 39". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://pro.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/mpc/job-39.html. 1685.