Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator

Job 39

Verses 1-4

Job 39:1-4

Knowest thou the time when the wild goats of the rock bring forth?

The study of zoology a religious duty

God is here represented as calling the attention of Job to various orders of animal life. Reasons for such study.

I. Because it gives to man a high revelation of God. Next to mental and moral philosophy, there is no subject in nature that gives us so high a view of God. There is more of Him seen in the humblest sentient creature than in the orbs of heaven, the billows of ocean, the flowers of the field, or the trees of the forest. In these creatures we discover sensation, self-motion, choice; and these are not merely Divine productions, but rather Divine emanations. Whilst I would not underrate the study of physics, chemistry, botany, astronomy, I hold that zoology is a grander, more quickening, and a more religious study than either. It brings the soul into contact with much that is akin to itself, the “seeing eye, the hearing ear,” the quivering sensation, and the guiding instinct.

II. Because it tends to promote our spiritual culture.

1. It tends to encourage our faith in the goodness of God. The creatures specified in this chapter are all objects of His kindly regard. Surely the God who takes care of these creatures will not neglect His human children.

2. It tends to destroy our egotism. What are we in the presence of some of these creatures? What is our strength to that of the unicorn or the buffalo, our courage to that of the war horse, our vision to that of the eagle or the hawk, our speed to that of the ostrich and the wild ass? Where is boasting then?

3. It tends to promote a kindly feeling towards all sentient life.

III. They supply illustrations of human life. Let us look for this purpose at the three creatures mentioned here--the “wild ass,” the “ostrich,” and the “war horse.” The “wild ass” may be taken to illustrate--

1. The genius of freedom.

2. The “ostrich” may be taken to illustrate an intensely Selfish character; and she does so in three respects--heartlessness, cowardice, and pride. How heartless she is! She “leaveth her eggs in the earth, and warmeth them in dust, and forgetteth that the foot may crush them, or that the wild beast may break them.” “She is hardened against her young ones,” or treateth her young ones harshly. No creature in creation seems so indifferent to its young. To an intensely selfish man, self is everything; neighbours, and even children, are sacrificed to self-gratification. In her cowardice she illustrates a selfish character. Naturalists tell us that when danger appears, she puts her head into the sand, so as not to hear or see the approaching perils. She will not look danger in the face and grapple with it. A selfish man is always cowardly, and that in proportion to his selfishness. In fact, there can be no bravery and intrepidity where there is not a generous love; it is love alone that makes the hero. How proud is the ostrich! “She lifteth up herself on high, she scorneth the horse and his rider.” This creature seems to be remarkably proud of its wings, although it cannot fly, and of its power of speed. When the fleetest horse with its rider approaches, she flaps her wings as if in proud scorn, conscious that she can leave the swiftest horseman behind. So in truth she can; it is said, with the help of her wings, she can run at the rate of sixty miles an hour. In this she seems to glory. The more selfish a man is, the more he prides himself in a something that he has which others do not possess. The “war horse” here presented in such majestic poetry as bounding and quivering with the spirit of the campaign, may be taken to illustrate--

3. Those noble workers in the cause of human progress who are found fixed and filled with the spirit of their mission. Difficulties to them are nothing. They laugh at impossibilities; for dangers they care not; opposition they defy. Such were Paul, Luther, Garibaldi. No man can fulfil his mission whose whole nature does not glow with his spirit. (Homilist.)

Verse 10

Job 39:10

Will he harrow the valleys after thee?

Will he harrow the valleys after thee

What more humiliating proof have we of the depravity of the human heart, than the arrogant assumption of deciding on God’s plans, and censuring His providential government, when we are so entirely ignorant of the most simple and ordinary occurrences in Nature? This was the error into which Job had fallen. Harrowing so tears and disturbs the ground, that it has, from the earliest ages, been considered as a fit emblem of very heavy and complicated trial. Here it suggests the necessity and benefits of frequent adversity.

1. The human heart, naturally haughty, requires much to reduce it, and break it into subjection to Christ; events adverse to our wishes, and which cross our inclinations, graciously effect this useful purpose. As the ground is torn and reduced by the harrow, so adversities administered by the Almighty lower the haughty temper and subdue the unhallowed dispositions of His people.

2. By this method of tillage the surface of the earth is smoothed and rendered level. Our minds are brought into an orderly and submissive state by trials of extraordinary severity and pressure. So ruffled and rugged are our tempers that, for our own sakes, this chaos must be brought to order, this confusion into regularity. The unequality of a ploughed field is too feeble a representation of this state of mind.

3. Adverse providences occasion the good seed of the Word to be covered and hidden in our hearts, as the grain literally is covered from injury, and concealed from the birds, by the process of harrowing. An analogy may be traced between the field sown and yet unharrowed, and the mind stored with moral and even religious instruction, but undisciplined by trial.

4. The resemblance between the usefulness of harrowing, to collect the dead weeds, and cleanse the land of old roots, and the good effects of holy trouble, to detach those many moral weeds and those pernicious roots of evil which yet remain in our hearts. (W. Clayton.)

Verses 19-30

Job 39:19-30

Hast thou given the horse strength?

The higher teaching of Nature

The intent of all these beautiful references to the works of Nature is to teach us, from the wisdom, skill, and curious designs discoverable in the formation and the instincts of various birds and beasts, to impress ourselves with a worthy notion of the “riches of the wisdom” of Him that made and sustaineth all things. These impressions we are to carry with us when we consider the dealings of God in the way of Providence, and in His ordering of all events, as the great Governor of the universe. Can we suppose that there is anything wrong here, or without the design of the most consummate wisdom, when He has put forth so much of His skill and contrivance in the formation and ordering of these inferior animals? May He not be trusted to do all things well, concerning the destiny of man, the greatest of His works? In this higher economy, are we to suppose there is less wisdom and design to be manifested, than in this, which displays itself so visibly in these inferior works of His hand? Thus would our blessed Lord increase the confidence of His disciples in His providential care of them, by observing, “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing, and not one of them falleth to the ground without your Father?” “Fear not,” “are ye not much better than they?--of more value than many sparrows.” It was the want of such due impressions concerning the designing wisdom of God, ever present, and ever operating in all things, that had led Job to think and speak unworthily of that dispensation of Providence under which he now lived, as being altogether arbitrary, discovering no design and discriminating wisdom, nor manifesting the righteous Governor of all things. His despairing mind seemed to think that the Lord had forsaken the earth; and such confusion and misrule permitted that the wisdom and justice and goodness of God could only be manifested in what was hereafter to take place in a future state. Therefore had Job despaired of life, and longed for death. And we remember what it was that led Job into this unhappy state of mind. On account of his moral and religious attainments, he had been so lifted up with pride, that when it pleased God, in His secret wisdom, to suffer him to be afflicted, he dared to say he did not deserve it: and in order to reconcile the possibility of that, with the notions that he held in common with his friends, respecting the Providence of God,--as certainly willing and accomplishing all things which come to pass,--he was led to express those unworthy notions of the present dispensation of things which we have seen exposed, first by His messenger Elihu, and now by Jehovah Himself. (John Fry, B. A.)

The horse

As the Bible makes a favourite of the horse, the patriarch, and the prophet, and the evangelist, and the apostle, stroking his sleek hide, and patting his rounded neck, and tenderly lifting his exquisitely-formed hoof, and listening with a thrill to the champ of his bit, so all great natures in all ages have spoken of him in encomiastic terms. Virgil in his Georgics almost seems to plagiarise from this description in the text, so much are the descriptions alike--the description of Virgil and the description of Job. The Duke of Wellington would not allow anyone irreverently to touch his old war horse Copenhagen, on whom he had ridden fifteen hours without dismounting at Waterloo; and when old Copenhagen died, his master ordered a military salute to be fired over his grave. John Howard showed that he did not exhaust his sympathies in pitying the human race, for when ill he writes home, “Has my old chaise horse become sick or spoiled?” There is hardly any passage of French literature more pathetic than the lamentation over the death of the war charger Marchegay. Walter Scott had so much admiration for this Divinely honoured creature of God, that, in St. Ronans Well, he orders the girth to be slackened and the blanket thrown over the smoking flanks. Edmund Burke, walking in the park at Beaconsfield, musing over the past, throws his arms around the worn-out horse of his dead son Richard, and weeps upon the horse’s neck, the horse seeming to sympathise in the memories. Rowland Hill, the great English preacher, was caricatured because in his family prayer he supplicated for the recovery of a sick horse; but when the horse got well, contrary to all the prophecies of the farriers, the prayer did not seem quite so much of an absurdity. (T. De Witt Talmage.)

Horses in battle

In time of war the cavalry service does the most execution; and as the battles of the world are probably not all past, Christian patriotism demands that we be interested in equinal velocity. We might as well have poorer guns in our arsenals and clumsier ships in our navy than other nations, as to have under our cavalry saddles and before our parks of artillery slower horses. From the battle of Granicus, where the Persian horses drove the Macedonian infantry into the river, clear down to the horses on which Philip Sheridan and Stonewall Jackson rode into the fray, this arm of the military service has been recognised. Hamilcar, Hannibal, Gustavus Adolphus, Marshal Ney were cavalrymen. In this arm of the service Charles Martel at the battle of Poictiers beat back the Arab invasion. The Carthaginian cavalry, with the loss of only seven hundred men, overthrew the Roman army with the loss of seven thousand. In the same way the Spanish chivalry drove back the Moorish hordes. Our Christian patriotism and our instruction from the Word of God demand that first of all we kindly treat the horse, and then, after that, that we develop his fleetness, and his grandeur, and his majesty, and his strength. (T. De Witt Talmage.)

Verse 27

Job 39:27

Doth the eagle mount up at thy command?

The captive set free

Many years had a noble eagle been confined in such a manner that no one had seen it even attempt to raise a wing. It had been cherished and fed that it might be exhibited to visitors and friends. Perfectly subdued, unconscious now of its native power, it remained inactive, and apparently contented, oblivious of the heights it once could soar. But its owner was about to leave for a far country, never to return. He could not take the eagle with him. “I will do,” said he, “one act of kindness before I go, which shall be remembered long after me.” He unloosed the chain from the captive. His neighbours and children looked on with regret that they should see the eagle no more. A moment, and it would be gone forever! But no. The bird walked the usual round, which had been the length of his chain, looked tamely about, unconscious that he was free, and at length perched himself at his usual height. The gazers looked on in wonder and in pity. Brief, however, was their pity. The slow rustling of a wing was heard. It was projected from the body, then folded. Anon it moved again. At last, stretched to its full expansion, it quivered a moment in the air, then folded softly against its resting place. Now slowly and cautiously the eagle expanded the other, and stood at last upon his perch with both wings spread, looking earnestly in the blue sky above. One effort to mount, then another. The wings have found their lost skill and strength. Upward, slowly, still upward--higher and speedier he mounts his way. The eye follows him in vain. Lost to sight, far above tide mountain top he is bathing his cramped wings in misty clouds, and revels in his liberty. Hast thou, O child of God, been pinioned long to the cares and toils of earth, so that thy wings of faith and love have lost all power to rise? Long bound to earth, its hopes and visions, thou canst not shake thy wings at once. The heart tries to mount in prayer, but it tries in vain. Scenes of earth are floating still before the vision, and sounds of earth ring in the ears. But cease not thy efforts. Expand thy soul once more, if only for a little. Raise the wing of thought first--still more, raise it higher yet. (Preachers Lantern.)

The eagle

The eagle is built for a solitary life. There is no bird so alone; other birds go in flocks--the eagle never, two at most together, and they are mates. Its majesty consists partly in its solitariness. It lives apart because other birds cannot live where and as it lives, and follow where it leads. The true child of God must consent to a lonely life apart with God, and often the condition of holiness is separation. (A. T. Pierson.)
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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Job 39". The Biblical Illustrator. https://pro.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/job-39.html. 1905-1909. New York.