Job 39
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. 38–42:6. The Lord answers Job out of the Storm

We are now to witness the last act of the drama. And to understand it we have to go back to the starting-point and recall the idea of the Poem. This idea is expressed in the question, Doth Job serve God for nought? Or, as otherwise put, the idea is, The trial of the Righteous. This trial has been observed proceeding throughout the whole Book. Now it approaches its conclusion. The Lord, who caused it or permitted it, and has watched it from afar, must now interpose to bring it to an end, and bestow on Job the fruits of it. The trial has been successfully borne: for though Job has sinned under it, his sin has not been of the kind predicted by the Adversary; he has continued to cleave to God, and even sounded deeps of faith profounder than ever he had reached before (ch. 19), and tasted the sweets of righteousness with a keener delight than during his former godly life (ch. Job 17:9).

At the point at which we are now arrived the sole object of interest is Job’s mind in its relations to God. The speculative question discussed between him and his friends concerning the meaning of his sufferings, or the meaning of evil in general in the providence of God, has no importance, except so far as the conclusions which Job has arrived at have left his mind in a condition of perplexity in regard to the ways of God. The Author’s didactic purpose in raising the discussion between Job and his friends has been served (ch. 21, 23–24.). Job himself now remains the problem.

Though the trial has been successfully borne upon the whole, Job has not come out of it scatheless. His demeanour towards God, especially in presuming to contend with Him, has been at many points profoundly blameworthy. And the thought, which he refuses to abandon (ch. Job 27:2-6, Job 31:35 seq.), that God is unjust in His rule of the world, even though he maintains it more as a theory and necessary construction of facts as he observes them, without allowing it much to influence his life, or destroy his larger faith in God, is a thought not only derogatory to God, but one that must cripple every religious movement of Job’s heart. So long as such a feeling remains his trial cannot be said to be ended. But nothing that Job himself can do, nor anything that his friends can urge, is able to remove it. It was God, by His mysterious providence, who raised this dark doubt in His servant’s mind, and He must interpose to drive it away.

It might be supposed at first that the simplest way of restoring Job to peace would have been to reveal to him that his afflictions were not due to his sin, but were the trial of his righteousness, and in this way solve the problem that perplexed him. But the elements of blameworthiness in Job’s conduct forbade this simple treatment. The disease had spread in his mind, and developed moral symptoms, which required a broader remedy. Besides, it is God who now speaks to Job; and in His teaching of men He never moves in the region of the mere understanding, but always in that of the religious life. He may remove perplexities regarding His providence and ways from men’s minds, but He does not do so by the immediate communication of intellectual light, but by flushing all the channels of thought and life with a deeper sense of Himself. Under the flow of this fuller sense of God perplexities disappear, just as rocks that raise an angry surf when the tide is low are covered and unknown when it is full. This is the meaning of God’s manifestation to Job out of the storm. He brings Himself and His full glory near to Job, and fills his mind with such a sense of Him as he had never had before—“Now mine eye seeth thee” (ch. Job 42:5). At this sight of God his heart not only quivers with an unspeakable joy, but he abhors his past thoughts of Him, and his former words, and repents in dust and ashes.

The object of the Lord’s answer to Job out of the storm is twofold, to rebuke Job, and to heal him—to bring home to his heart the blameworthiness of his words and demeanour towards God, and to lift him up out of his perplexities into peace. The two things hardly differ; at least both are effected by the same means, namely by God’s causing all His glory to pass before Job.

The Lord’s answer to Job out of the storm consists of two parts, or contains two questions:—

First, ch. Job 38:1 to Job 40:5, Shall mortal man contend with God?

Second, ch. Job 40:6 to Job 42:6, Shall man charge God with wrong in His rule of the world?

The two questions, however, are hardly kept apart, for the first implies the second, inasmuch as a man’s contention with God will naturally be because of His unjust treatment of himself. And Job, in his final words of penitence (ch. Job 42:1-6), refers back to ch. Job 38:2.

In the beginning of His first address Jehovah invites Job to enter upon that contention with Him, which he had so often sought, “Gird up thy loins like a man; and I will demand of thee, and answer thou me” (ch. Job 38:3). The point aimed at by the Divine Speaker is the presumption of Job in desiring to contend with the Almighty. Then the Lord causes a panorama of creation, both inanimate and living, to pass before Job (ch. Job 38:4 to Job 39:30). Having done so He demands, “Will he that reproveth the Almighty contend with Him”? (ch. Job 40:2.) Does Job, now that the glory of God has been made to pass before his eyes, continue to desire to contend with Him? To which Job replies, “Behold I am too mean; how shall I answer thee? I lay mine hand upon my mouth” (ch. Job 40:4). The exhibition of the great panorama of creation was but a method of revealing God, not in one attribute but in all His manifoldness and resource of mind. It was designed to abase Job before God, and rebuke his presumption. And this was its effect: “Behold I am too mean”! But the revelation of God had another design besides abasing Job. It was given to Job that he might know God, and be at peace (ch. Job 22:21).

The process, however, is not yet complete. In a second address the Lord again commands Job to gird up his loins and answer Him. But now He is more specific: “Wilt thou condemn me that thou mayest be in the right”? (ch. Job 40:8.) And He ironically invites Job to clothe himself with the attributes of the Supreme Ruler, and conduct the rule of the world himself. The invitation brings home to Job a still deeper feeling of that which the Almighty is, and he exclaims, “I had heard of thee with the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth thee” (ch. Job 42:5). And in this light of God his own past thought of Him seems the darker: “I abhor it, and repent in dust and ashes.”

Thus the solution to Job’s problem given in God’s answer from the storm is a religious solution, not a speculative one. It is a solution to the heart, not to the intellect. It is such a solution as only God could give; a solution which does not solve the perplexity but buries it under the tide of a fuller life and joy in God. It is a solution as broad as Job’s life and not merely the measure of his understanding; the same solution as was given to the doubting Apostle, making him to exclaim, “My Lord and my God!” and teaching him that not through his sense of touch or his eyesight, but through a broader sense, God makes himself felt by man.

Ch. Job 38:1 to Job 40:5. The Lord’s First Answer to Job out of the Storm. Shall mortal Man contend with God?

The passage has three general divisions:

First, ch. Job 38:1-38, a review of inanimate nature, the wonders of earth and sky, all revealing the manifoldness of the Divine mind, and suggesting by contrast the littleness of man.

Second, ch. Job 38:39 to Job 39:30, a review of the world of animal life, having the same object as the former division.

Third, ch. Job 40:1-5, the impression produced on Job by this vision of the glory of God in creation—he is abased and brought to silence.

This first address to Job touches simply the presumption of a man seeking to contend with God. Hence it is taken up with presenting God and man in opposition to one another. The vivid pictures of the inanimate creation, with its wonders, and the world of animal life, with its instincts and properties—all of them originated and bestowed by God—are but the means used for displaying God. And the sharp, ironical questions put to Job, where he was when God laid the foundations of the earth; whether he hunts her prey for the lioness; or combined such contradictory qualities in the ostrich; or created that wonder of beauty and fierceness, the war-horse—these questions but serve to bring out by contrast with God the feebleness and meanness of man.

Knowest thou the time when the wild goats of the rock bring forth? or canst thou mark when the hinds do calve?
1. canst thou mark] Rather, dost thou. The goats of the rock are the mountain goats, a species of chamois.

Ch. Job 39:1-4. The goats of the rock and the hinds.

Canst thou number the months that they fulfil? or knowest thou the time when they bring forth?
2. canst thou number] Rather, dost thou. The “months that they fulfil” is the time they go with young. The words “knowest thou”, “dost thou mark”, and the like, though no doubt referring partly to man’s ignorance of the habits of these remote and timid creatures, carry also the question, Is it Job who presides over and determines all connected with the life and habits of these solitary creatures?

They bow themselves, they bring forth their young ones, they cast out their sorrows.
3. cast out their sorrows] That is, their pains; with the birth of their young they are rid of their pains also. Or “their pains” may mean “their young,” by a figure common in all poetry.

Their young ones are in good liking, they grow up with corn; they go forth, and return not unto them.
4. in good liking] i. e. in good condition, strong.

grow up with corn] Rather, they grow up in the open field.

These shy, solitary creatures, inhabiting the rocks, are without the care and help in bearing their young which domesticated creatures enjoy; yet their bearing is light and speedy; their young are robust; they grow up in the desert and rapidly provide for themselves. The care of God suffices for them.

Who hath sent out the wild ass free? or who hath loosed the bands of the wild ass?
5–8. The wild ass. Who gave the wild ass his freedom and his indomitable love of liberty—who scorns the noise of cities and laughs at the shouts of the driver, which his tame brother obeys? The point of the questions lies not only in the striking peculiarities of the beautiful creature itself, but in the strange contrast between it and the tame ass, which in external appearance it resembles.

Whose house I have made the wilderness, and the barren land his dwellings.
He scorneth the multitude of the city, neither regardeth he the crying of the driver.
7. The verse reads,

He scorneth the tumult of the city,

And heareth not the shoutings of the driver.

The wild ass is frequently referred to in the poetry of the Arabs, who were passionately fond of hunting it. Prof. Ahlwardt has collected from his unequalled reading in the Poets a list of statements regarding the creature which is of great interest (Chalef Elaḥmar, pp. 341–360). The colour on the upper part of the body, the neck and higher part of the head is light bay, with a coffee-brown band running down the back to the tuft of the tail; between this band and the bay there is some white. The other parts are of a silver grey, tending to white on the under-side of the body. The animal is described as “thick,” “thick-fleshed,” but also “narrow-built,” that is, behind and in front, and hence it is compared to the point of an arrow. The tail is long. Its pace is exceedingly quick, only the fleetest horses being able to overtake it; and when running it holds its head to the side in frolicsomeness and performs all manner of pranks and capers. A troop of wild asses is usually small, consisting of a male, one or two females, and the young. This is confirmed by Tristram, who says, “I have seen this ass wild in the desert of North Africa, in troops of four or five” (Nat. Hist. of the Bible, p. 43). Wetzstein on the contrary speaks of the herd as consisting of “several hundred” (Del. ii. p. 331). The abode of the wild ass is in deserts, untrodden by man (comp. Job 39:6), hence he is called “the solitary” (comp. Hosea 8:9, “A wild ass alone by himself”). In spring he frequents the plains in which there are pools, and later the heights where grass is abundant (comp. Job 39:8). On these heights he passes the summer with the females; and there he stands and keeps watch, spying the approach of foes (comp. Jeremiah 14:6, “The wild asses did stand in the high places &c.”). The poets compare a deep ravine or abyss to the “belly” of the wild ass, which is often lank and empty from want of food (Jeremiah 14:6). He is said to live to a great age, over a hundred years. The flesh is delicious, and for this reason, as well as for the excitement of the chase, the creature was eagerly hunted by the Arabs. His vigour and hardiness are testified to in the proverb, “sounder than a wild ass.”

The range of the mountains is his pasture, and he searcheth after every green thing.
Will the unicorn be willing to serve thee, or abide by thy crib?
9. will the unicorn] Rather, the wild ox (Heb. reém, or, rém). From the allusions to this creature in Scripture two things may be inferred with some certainty, (1) that the animal had two horns: Deuteronomy 33:17 “his horns are like the horns of an unicorn”; comp. Numbers 23:22; Numbers 24:8 (where for “strength” some such words as “towering horns” should be read, see on ch. Job 22:25), Psalm 22:21; and (2) that the animal was considered to belong to the ox tribe. This appears from the present passage, where it is contrasted with the domestic ox, the labours of which it was fitted to perform if its disposition had not been untameable; and from two other passages, in both of which it is brought into connexion with the ox: Psalm 29:6, “He maketh them to skip like a calf, Lebanon and Sirion like a young unicorn”, and Isaiah 34:7, “And the unicorns shall come down with them, and the bullocks with the bulls.” The reém was probably either the animal called by the Germans Auerochs (Bos primigenius) or “primitive ox,” now extinct all over the world, or the bison, which still lingers in scanty numbers in one or two parts. The Arabs give the name ri’m to the white antelope. The translation “unicorn” came from the Sept. μονοκέρως. A one-horned animal, though abundantly testified to by travellers, probably exists only in the imagination. Jerome adheres to the general “unicorns” in Psalm 22:21 and Isaiah 34:7, but usually he renders “rhinoceros,” the nearest approach to a “unicorn” that exists in the world of reality. “The Unicorne, as Lewes Vartinian testifieth, who saw two of them in the towne of Mecha, is of the height of a yoong horse or colt of 30 moneths old, hee hath the head of a Hart, and in his forehead he hath a sharpe pointed home three cubites long … His horne is of a merueilous greate force and vertue against venome and poyson” (see Wright, Bible Word-Book).

The point of the passage lies not so much in the terrible attributes of the creature himself, as in the contrast between him and the tame ox, which he externally resembled. He was fitted for all the labour performed by the domestic animal, but was wild and untameable. Man uses the one, let him lay his hand upon the other and subdue him to his service! Who is the author of this strange diversity of disposition in creatures so like in outward form?

9–12. The Wild ox.

Canst thou bind the unicorn with his band in the furrow? or will he harrow the valleys after thee?
Wilt thou trust him, because his strength is great? or wilt thou leave thy labour to him?
Wilt thou believe him, that he will bring home thy seed, and gather it into thy barn?
Gavest thou the goodly wings unto the peacocks? or wings and feathers unto the ostrich?
13. The verse reads,

The wing of the ostrich beats joyously,

Is it a kindly pinion and feather?

The word rendered ostrich means lit. crying or wailing, that is, the cryer or wailer; the female ostrich is probably meant, see on ch. Job 30:29. The word “kindly,” lit. pious, is the name given to the stork (Psalm 104:17), whose affection for its young is proverbial, and there may be in the term an allusion to this bird, which the ostrich in some points resembles externally, but from which it differs so strangely in disposition.

13–18. The ostrich.

Which 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.
15. may break them] lit. trample them.

She is hardened against her young ones, as though they were not hers: her labour is in vain without fear;
16. she is hardened against] Or, she treateth hardly.

her young ones] The words refer here to her eggs, from which the young come forth, not to the young brood—as the second clause explains.

in vain without fear] The meaning is that she is without fear, has no apprehension of danger, and consequently her labour is often in vain—“she forgetteth that the foot may crush” her eggs.

The verses refer to the popular belief that the ostrich did not brood but left her eggs to be hatched in the sun; hence she is a type of unnatural cruelty, Lamentations 4:3, “Even the sea monsters (the jackals, Streane, Jerem. and Lam.) draw out the breast, they give suck to their young ones: the daughter of my people is become cruel, like the ostriches in the wilderness.” The belief is not sustained by observation, except to this extent, that the bird does not brood till her complement of eggs (thirty in number) be laid, and that during the early period of incubation she often leaves the nest by day to go in search of food. It is also said that she lays a number of eggs outside the nest, which are not incubated but serve as food for the poults when they are hatched.

Because God hath deprived her of wisdom, neither hath he imparted to her understanding.
17. God hath deprived her of wisdom] The Arabs have a proverb, “more stupid than an ostrich.” A poet suggests the reason of this charge of stupidity,

Like a bird that abandons her eggs in the desert,

And covers the eggs of another with her wings.

(Meidani, Prov. i. 405).

What time she lifteth up herself on high, she scorneth the horse and his rider.
18. lifteth up herself on high] That is, in flight. The flying of the ostrich is properly a very swift running, in which she is helped by her outspread wings and tail. “Its speed has been calculated at twenty-six miles an hour by Dr Livingstone, and yet the South African ostrich is smaller than the northern species; and I have myself, in the Sahara, measured its stride, when bounding at full speed, from twenty-two to twenty-eight feet” (Tristram, p. 237).

The cruel disposition of the ostrich and her foolishness have been implanted in her by God, yet in strange contradiction to these qualities are others which He has bestowed on her, such as her swiftness when pursued, which enables her to laugh at the horse and his rider. This singular union of dissimilar qualities, as if it were the work of creative power at play, shews both the inconceivable freedom and resource of the Mind that operates in creation.

Hast thou given the horse strength? hast thou clothed his neck with thunder?
19, 20. The verbs are better put in the present.

19.  Dost thou give strength to the horse?

Dost thou clothe his neck with trembling?

20.  Dost thou make him leap like the locust?

The glory of his snorting is terrible.

19. The word “trembling” hardly refers to the mane alone, but rather describes the quivering of the neck, when the animal is roused, which erects the mane.

19–25. The war horse.

Canst thou make him afraid as a grasshopper? the glory of his nostrils is terrible.
20. The comparison of the horse to the locust is not uncommon, Joel 2:4, Revelation 9:7. The picture of the horse is taken at the moment immediately preceding the onset, and thus his “bounding” and “snorting” are brought into connexion.

He paweth in the valley, and rejoiceth in his strength: he goeth on to meet the armed men.
21. the armed men] lit. the weapons.

He mocketh at fear, and is not affrighted; neither turneth he back from the sword.
22. from the sword] lit. because of, or, before the sword.

The quiver rattleth against him, the glittering spear and the shield.
23. rattleth against him] Rather perhaps, upon him. The quiver is that of his rider, the clang of which excites him.

the shield] Rather, the javelin, or, lance. The Poet does not seek to describe the actual conflict; it is a picture of the horse that he gives, and the moment before the conflict is that at which the animal’s extraordinary attributes are most strongly exhibited. “Although docile as a lamb, and requiring no other guide than the halter, when the Arab mare hears the war-cry of the tribe (cf. Job 39:25), and sees the quivering spear of her rider (cf. Job 39:23), 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 (cf. Job 39:19). A Bedouin proverb says, that a high-bred mare when at full speed should hide her rider between her neck and her tail” (Layard, Discoveries, p. 330).

He swalloweth the ground with fierceness and rage: neither believeth he that it is the sound of the trumpet.
24. neither believeth he] That is, most probably, he hardly trusts his ears for gladness.

He saith among the trumpets, Ha, ha; and he smelleth the battle afar off, the thunder of the captains, and the shouting.
25. he saith among the trumpets] Rather, as oft as the trumpet soundeth he saith, Ha, ha! The “thunder” of the captains is the roar of command; and the “shouting” is the battle-cry of the soldiery.

Has Job created this wonder of beauty and fierceness and endowed him with his extraordinary qualities, which make him mingle in the conflicts of men with a fury and lust of battle greater even than their own?

Doth the hawk fly by thy wisdom, and stretch her wings toward the south?
26. The hawk.

her wings toward the south] The allusion is to the migration of the bird southward when the cold season of the year begins. Is it Job’s wisdom that directs her flight to the south?

Doth the eagle mount up at thy command, and make her nest on high?
27–30. The eagle.

Is it at Job’s command that the eagle fixes her habitation fearlessly on the dizzy crag? Did he bestow on her her penetrating vision, which scans the wide expanse of country and pierces into the deep ravine? or did he endow her with her terrible instincts, that shew themselves at once in her young, which “suck up blood”?

She dwelleth and abideth on the rock, upon the crag of the rock, and the strong place.
From thence she seeketh the prey, and her eyes behold afar off.
Her young ones also suck up blood: and where the slain are, there is she.
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