Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
Knowest thou the time when the wild goats of the rock bring forth? or canst thou mark when the hinds do calve?Job 39:1
If the baffled inquirer drops out the search after God, as many do, and says—I will go down to nature and it shall, at least, be my comfort that nature is intelligible, and even a subject of definite science, he shortly discovers that science only changes the place of mystery and leaves it unresolved.... Asking what is matter, what is life, animal and vegetable, what is heat, light, attraction, affinity, he discovers that, as yet, we really comprehend nothing, and that nature is a realm as truly mysterious even as God. Not a living thing grows out of the earth, or walks upon it, or flies above it; not an inanimate object exists, in heaven, earth, or sea, which is not filled and circled about with mystery as truly as in the days of Adam or Job, and which is not really as much above the understanding of science, as the deepest things of God's eternity or of His secret life.
A community which has heard the voice of truth and experienced the pleasures of liberty, in which the merit of statesmen and systems are freely canvassed, in which obedience is paid, not to persons but to laws, in which magistrates are regarded, not as the lords but as the servants of the public, in which the excitement of a party is a necessary of life, in which political warfare is reduced to a system of tactics; such a community is not easily reduced to servitude. Beasts of burden may easily be managed by a new master. But will the wild ass submit to the bonds? Will the unicorn serve and abide by the crib? Will leviathan hold out his nostrils to the hook?
—Macaulay, Essay on Hallam's Constitutional History.
Job 39:19 f.
After quoting this passage in his Literary Essays, Mr. R. H. Hutton observes: 'This deeper insight into the natural constitution and beauty of the universe, and complete disavowal of all power on the part of man to form any judgment upon it, is especially remarkable as compared with the bold justification of the spiritual participation of human nature in one of the attributes of God. It proves that the Hebrew poet had already distinguished between the direct knowledge of God's spirit which spiritual communion gives, and the indirect knowledge of His mysterious ways which can only be gained by a study of those ways. It shows that he had mastered the conviction, that to neglect the study of the natural mysteries of the universe leads to an arrogant and illicit intrusion of moral and spiritual assumptions into a different world—in a word, to the false inferences of Job's friends as to his guilt, and his own equally false inference as to the injustice of God.'
Carlyle finely applies this passage, in his essay on The Death of Irving: 'A giant force of activity was in the man; speculation was accident, not nature. Chivalry, adventurous field-life of the old Border, and a far nobler sort than that, ran in his blood. There was in him a courage, dauntless not pugnacious, hardly fierce, by no possibility ferocious; as of the generous war-horse, gentle in its strength, yet that laughs at the shaking of the spear.'
In the ninth chapter of The Revolution in Tanner's Lane, Mr. Hale White depicts Zachariah Coleman wandering about in Manchester, looking out for work. 'And it was curious that, as he paced those dismal Manchester pavements, all their gloom disappeared as he reargued the universal problem of which his case was an example. He admitted the unquestionable right of the Almighty to damn three parts of creation to eternal hell if so He willed; why not, then, one sinner like Zachariah Coleman to a weary pilgrimage for thirty or forty years? He rebuked himself when he found that he had all his life assented so easily to the doctrines of God's absolute authority in the election and disposal of the creatures He had made, yet that he revolted when God touched him, and awarded him a punishment which, in comparison with the eternal loss of His presence, was as nothing. At last—and here, through his religion, he came down to the only consolation possible for him—he said to himself, "Thus hath He decreed; it is foolish to struggle against His ordinances; we can but submit". "A poor gospel," says his critic. Poor!—yes, it may be; but it is the gospel according to Job, and any other is a mere mirage. "Doth the hawk fly by thy wisdom, and stretch her wings towards the South?" Confess ignorance and the pity of insurrection, and there is a chance that even the irremediable will be somewhat mitigated. Poor! yes; but it is genuine; and this at least must be said for Puritanism, that of all the theologies and philosophies it is the most honest in its recognition of the facts; the most real, if we penetrate to the heart of it, in the remedy which it offers.'
How dare he lift himself up against the Almighty's designs? The Almighty asked him the question eternally repeated to us, which He had asked thousands of years ago, 'Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare, if thou hast understanding.... Doth the hawk fly by thy wisdom, and stretch her wings forward to the earth?' 'The hawk flies not by my wisdom,' murmured Michael to himself, 'nor doth the eagle at my command make her nest on high. Ah, it is by His wisdom and at His command; how should I dare to interfere? I see it—I see it all now.' After his fashion and through his religion he had said to himself the last word that can be uttered by man. He knelt down and prayed.
—Mark Rutherford, in Michael Trevanion.
Reference.—XL. 3, 4.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. ii. No. 83.
Canst thou number the months that they fulfil? or knowest thou the time when they bring forth?
They bow themselves, they bring forth their young ones, they cast out their sorrows.
Their young ones are in good liking, they grow up with corn; they go forth, and return not unto them.
Who hath sent out the wild ass free? or who hath loosed the bands of the wild ass?
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.
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?
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?
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.
She is hardened against her young ones, as though they were not hers: her labour is in vain without fear;
Because God hath deprived her of wisdom, neither hath he imparted to her understanding.
What time she lifteth up herself on high, she scorneth the horse and his rider.
Hast thou given the horse strength? hast thou clothed his neck with thunder?
Canst thou make him afraid as a grasshopper? the glory of his nostrils is terrible.
He paweth in the valley, and rejoiceth in his strength: he goeth on to meet the armed men.
He mocketh at fear, and is not affrighted; neither turneth he back from the sword.
The quiver rattleth against him, the glittering spear and the shield.
He swalloweth the ground with fierceness and rage: neither believeth he that it is the sound of the trumpet.
He saith among the trumpets, Ha, ha; and he smelleth the battle afar off, the thunder of the captains, and the shouting.
Doth the hawk fly by thy wisdom, and stretch her wings toward the south?
Doth the eagle mount up at thy command, and make her nest on high?
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.