Job 39
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
We truly know that of man it is written, "Thou hast put all things under his feet;" and "We see not yet all things put under him." The creatures over whom dominion was given to man are not wholly submissive. And man must learn his littleness in presence of the great creatures of God whom he fails to subdue. "The wild goats" and "the hinds" and "the wild ass," "the unicorn," even "the ostrich," "the horse" and the birds of the air, "the hawk" and "the eagle," are all alike independent of man. They have neither their beauty nor their strength, their flight nor their instinct, from him. With all his knowledge, his skill, his inventiveness, his cunning, still the creatures are independent of him, though he is not independent of them. They can do without him, but not he without them. It is another step in the course of the humiliation through which the Lord is leading Job. Man may sling with the stone, or shoot with the arrow, or entrap with his skill, or train and conquer by his superior wisdom, yet is he miserably impotent in their presence. And most certainly they derive neither their life nor any of their powers from him. Shall vain man, then, contend with the Creator of all? Shall he whose are all things find him to whom none belong entering the lists with him? Shall he contend? shall he instruct? shall he reprove? and answer? Nay, verily. His place is tire dust, and to the dust God will humble him; and in doing so, he brings man into the presence of his many and beautiful and powerful creatures, and shows him how independent they are of him. This is the teaching of the entire chapter. Humility, therefore, is due -



III. BECAUSE IN MANY OF THEIR POWERS THEY EXCEED THE MIGHT OF MAN, who cannot give them their speed, their strength, or their great beauty. How little is man amidst the wonders of the Divine hands! and how truly wise is be who, in presence of the divinely wrought creatures, bows down confessing, "How wonderful are all thy works, O Lord!" - R.G.

The special characteristic of the wild ass is said to be untractability. While no animal is more tame than the poor, ill-treated donkey of the London street, no animal is more essentially untamable than the Syrian ass of the desert. It is said that though one of these creatures bad been captured when young and kept for three years in confinement, it remained "as untractable as when it was first caught, biting and kicking furiously at every one who approached it." It is the type of the untamable.

I. GOD RULES OVER THE WILDEST CREATURES. When we look at the wild ass we see a creature that is quite beyond the range of man's dominion. The "lord of creation" has no authority here. His dominion ceases at the border of the wilderness. His will is scorned by the free animals of the desert. Yet they are under the rule of God, who has implanted in them their instincts; they live only according to the laws of the nature that he has made. Men break from God's laws in self-will and thus they fall into sin. Untractable as the wild ass is to man, it is absolutely obedient to the will of God, like the sea that obeys the laws of waves and tides.

II. GOD IS THE AUTHOR OF LIBERTY. The very wildness of the creature is a gift of God. He has given it its high spirits, its fleet running, its love of the wilderness. God does not keep his creatures like cowed and tamed beasts in a menagerie. He aires them a wide field, and he permits them to enjoy a large freedom. To beings of spiritual nature he also gives liberty, and that of a higher order. Men are set free from external constraints. God treats us not as slaves, but as children. Further, God gives the highest liberty - liberty of soul. He sets men free from the chains of ignorance anti the crushing burden of sin. In his glorious grace he deals most liberally with his children. Not like the despot who fears a whisper of the word "liberty," God grieves over the self-made slavery of souls, and sends his gospel for the very purpose of giving "liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound" (Isaiah 61:1). Surely liberty is a prize to be eagerly sought and jealously guarded in government, in thought, and in spiritual life. Dryden writes -

"The love of liberty with life is given,
And life itself th' inferior gift of Heaven."

III. GOD INTENDS US TO USE OUR LIBERTY IN OBEDIENCE. We must combine the two previous thoughts to see how the wild ass is provided for by God. It follows tire laws of its nature, and so obeys God absolutely, albeit unconsciously, while it enjoys the largest liberty. Thus it cannot be said to abuse its liberty, but only to use it. Roaming over the desert on its swift feet, it espies the green oasis and revels in the fresh pasturage. God expects us to use our liberty in obedience to his will. He does not poor food into our mouths; we must seek it. He does not force iris grace upon us; we have to follow the method he has laid down, and turn to him in faith. But in doing this we are to use the utmost freedom of thought, and to be absolutely independent of the constraints of man on our religion, while we ask for help to be free from the bondage of evil, in obedience to the will of God. - W.F.A.

This chapter of natural history carries us on from one graphic picture to another, in which we see the glorious strength and freedom of God's creatures, altogether outside the domain of man's rule. Now we are to look at the urus. In bodily form he is very like the docile ox; yet how different in habit and temper! Will he serve us, lodge in our stall, plough our field and drag our harrow like his homely cousin, the drudge of the farm? Yet he is immensely strong. We cannot trust mere strength.

I. PHYSICAL STRENGTH IS NOT THE GREATEST GIFT OF NATURE. There is energy in nature. But before we can use it we must apply mind to nature. A Samson may do good work in hard, rough times, but he cannot be the Redeemer of man. The worship of muscle has grown to enormous proportions in this age of athletics. Good as it is to be in health and to be strong, and natural as the reaction is from extreme. ascetic views, our modern glorying in health and strength does not touch what is highest in man, and it may lead to a neglect of this. It may humble the idolizer of strength for him to consider how enormously his greatest power is outdone by that of the urus. At best he is creeping up far behind one of the most senseless of animals.

II. STRENGTH IS FRUITLESS UNLESS IT IS TURNED TO USEFUL SERVICE. The urus may be stronger than the domestic ox, yet he wastes his powers in blundering about in the wilderness. He cannot be put to any good service, because he will not be controlled. There are men of great power who flitter away their energies aimlessly and fruitlessly, because their minds and wills have never been subdued and bent into some worthy service. They have ability, but they do nothing effectively. It is as important to train the will as it is to cultivate the faculties. The most useful service of God and man is not always performed by those who have the greatest gifts. The disposition to serve will enable the less gifted to do more in life than their brilliant companions who will not stoop to wear the yoke.

III. STRENGTH CAN ONLY BE OF SERVICE WHEN IT IS WISELY DIRECTED. The urus is wild, senseless, untamable, and not susceptible to educative influences; therefore he cannot use his strength for profitable work. Human strength needs Divine guidance. So long as the soul is wild and self-willed, the powers of mind and body cannot be spent fruitfully. The humble ox looks a less noble beast than the wild and daring bison, with his shaggy mane, his flashing eye, his powerful neck, his thunderous charge; yet the former is useful because it is obedient. The first lesson we have to learn in life is to obey; this, too, is the last lesson. As the ox looks to its master, we have to look to our Master; and when we follow his guidance, whether our strength be great or small, it will not be fruitless. - W.F.A.

Each creature has its own distinctive features determined for it by the wisdom and conferred on it by the power of God. Some of these features are not attractive, nor what we should have selected if we had had the ordering of creation. They are the more significant on this account, because they show us the more clearly that nature is not ordered according to our thought, and yet the whole description shows that it is ordered well, and for a grand total result of life far beyond anything we could have imagined. Now, we have the special characteristics of the ostrich sketched with a master-hand in view of these considerations.

I. EXCELLENCES. Here is no caricature, exaggerating eccentricities. Though what look like the defects of the ostrich are to be referred to, its goodly wings are first mentioned. Let us see merit wherever we can. In giving blame, let us not condemn wholesale. Although all may not be as we should wish, let us generously acknowledge that all is not bad. It is better to admire the good in the world than to be only on the look out for the evil. We shall be more helpful friends if we rejoice to lay hold of what is admirable in others, and seek this first, instead of pouncing upon the ugly faults, like vultures who have eyes for nothing but carrion.

II. DEFECTS. The ostrich is not perfect, according to man's idea of perfection. There are defects in nature, and these defects are not ignored in the natural theology of "Job;" It is wiser to admit them frankly than to gloss them over. Although they may not be the principal characteristics, they startle us by their very existence, The ostrich appears to be lacking in maternal care; it is a foolish creature, leaving its eggs without imagining the danger they are in of being trampled on by the wild animals of the desert. God is leading nature on to perfection, but it is not yet perfect. The law of nature, like that of man, is progress, not stationary completeness.

III. COMPENSATIONS. Things are not so bad with the ostrich as they appear to us at first sight. Although the ostrich-eggs are left in the sand, they do not perish as the eggs of most birds under ordinary circumstances would do. Beneath the tropical heat of the sun they can be deserted during the day, the bird returning to sit on them at night. Thus by the wonderful balancing of influences in nature the careless maternity of the ostrich does not seriously endanger its offspring. If God has not given the bird wisdom, it does not need it. So long as we keep to the lines that God has laid down, we shall see that most defects have ample compensation in other directions. The culpable carelessness is that which goes against the laws of God; the fatal folly is that which departs from his ways. This carelessness and this folly are not found in the ostrich; they are only seen in man. - W.F.A.

This magnificent picture of the horse shows him to us as he is about to rush into battle. Whilst asses, oxen, and camels were employed for peaceable work on the farm and as beasts of burden, the horse was almost confined to war. He was rarely used excepting to dash with the charioteer into the thick of the fight. In the poet's picture he is scenting the battle from afar. Let us look at his striking features.

I. STRENGTH. There are two kinds of strength - mere brute strength of muscle, and the strength that is vitalized by nervous and mental influences. The urus is an instance of the former. In simple contractility of muscle he may exceed the horse. But the strength of the horse is nervous strength. It cannot well be measured, for it is continually fluctuating. It varies in degree according to the extent to which the sensitive animal is excited. We meet with the two kinds of strength in men, and especially in women. When the mind fires the body, unheard-of feats are performed. In moments of heroism naturally feeble people seem to have the strength of a giant. God gives strength through spiritual influences.

II. COURAGE. We may be surprised to meet with this characteristic in a description of the horse. Is he not a timid creature, shying at any unusual object by the wayside? This is true when he is dull and subdued. But our picture shows him to us as the war-horse rushing in to battle. Then he is brave as a lion. His courage is not the dull indifference to danger that is a trait of stupidity, but the fiery courage of intense excitement. It is difficult to be brave in cold blood. It is not easy to face the troubles and dangers of life without some inspiring influence. The Spirit of God in him makes the most timid brave.

III. ENTHUSIASM. The life of the picture is its enthusiasm. The horse is impatient for the rage of the battle, excited by the distant sound of it to a strong desire to rush into it. That is the spirit which will give him strength and courage to go right into the midst of the danger. Nothing succeeds like enthusiasm. Nothing is so beautiful, so inspiriting, so full of life and hope. It needs guidance or it may plunge into disaster; it is not enough without the direction of wisdom. But wisdom is vain without enthusiasm. In the Christian life men are uplifted and borne onward when they are reached by a wave of enthusiasm. Christ inspires the "enthusiasm of humanity," because he first inspires an enthusiasm for himself. Now, the first essential in a worthy enthusiasm is the perception of a worthy object. The horse scents the battle, and the horse knows its master. We see the great battle of sin and misery, and we have a glorious Captain of salvation. The need of the world calls us to the fight; the presence of our Lord gives us strength and courage, and ensures the victory. - W.F.A.

I. NATURE'S INDEPENDENCE OF MAN. This is the leading lesson of the whole chapter, impressed upon us by means of a series of most graphic illustrations; and it reaches its climax at the concluding paragraph, in which the high-flying birds of prey, the hawk and the eagle, are described. These above all other creatures are independent of man. Denizens of the air, they soar far above his reach. No human hand could give that might of pinion, that keenness of vision, that rush of life, which we see in the two birds - the one the terror of all small creatures, the other the dangerous foe of the young of larger animals. But nature throughout is quite beyond the skill and power of man. By the intelligence God has given us we may employ many of the great natural forces, and subdue fierce and powerful animals. But this is a small thing compared with the thought that planned and the energy that wrought in the making of those creatures. Surpassing us in many enviable qualities, the kings of the wilderness teach us our littleness in the presence of the wonderful Creator.

II. THE TRIUMPH OF MOVEMENT. Birds illustrate this most conspicuously. Cleaving the air with swift, strong strokes, rising and falling at will, floating like atmospheric fishes, darting hither and thither with the speed of an express train, birds are the very opposite of creatures that spend a merely vegetative existence. Their lively energy is seen in dazzling movements. Now, the movements of nature are typical of those that take place in spiritual regions. Stagnation is death. It is not enough to have been set right once for all. The bird will droop and fail if it is always moping on the perch. Souls must be in movement, seeking fresh enterprises, pressing on to new fields of service, or at least diligently pursuing the line of duty. Souls want wings. We can only live our fullest life when we rise. It is not easy to soar into the higher regions. The hawk mounts in a spiral. We cannot reach the altitude of spiritual experience at a bound; and we too may have to work our way up laboriously. But rise we must, if we would not fail in our Christian calling.

III. THE VICTORY OF VISION. The eyes of the hawk and the eagle are proverbial for strength and keenness. These birds can see their prey from afar. They would perish if they were blind, nay, even if they became dim-sighted. Souls must have eyes, strung to gaze at the light, keen to detect what is valuable. We blunder through the world in spiritual blindness, seeing neither the glory of God nor the best blessings he has given us. With clipped wings and hooded eyes, how can we enter into the large heritage that God has provided for us? Our souls need a purging of their vision from the sin that blinds and maims. Then regenerated by the Spirit of God, they have before them a glory of sight and life that leave the struggling attempts of hawk and eagle far beneath. - W.F.A.

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