Job 39:9
Will the unicorn be willing to serve you, or abide by your crib?
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(9) The unicorn.—It is a mistake to identify this animal with the rhinoceros, as was formerly done; it is more probably the same with the buffalo, or wild ox. The most glaring form of the mistake is in Psalm 22:22 : “Thou hast heard me also from among the horns of the unicorns” The way in which the animal is here spoken of, as in analogous contrast to the domestic ox, suggests that it is not wholly dissimilar. It is familiar and homely toil that the wild ox is contemplated as being put to, in the place of tame cattle, whose work it is.

Job 39:9. Will the unicorn be willing to serve thee — Canst thou tame him, and bring him into subjection to thy command? Or, abide by thy crib? — Will he suffer himself to be tied, or confined there all night, and kept for the work of the next day as the oxen are? Surely not. It is much disputed among the learned, whether this reem, which is the Hebrew name of the animal here spoken of, be the rhinoceros, or a certain kind of wild goat, called orix, or a kind of wild bull, which seems most probable, both from the description of it here and elsewhere in Scripture. Schultens inclines to this opinion, thinking it to be the Arabian buffalo of the bull species, but absolutely untameable, and which the Arabians frequently hunt. See the note on Numbers 23:22.39:1-30 God inquires of Job concerning several animals. - In these questions the Lord continued to humble Job. In this chapter several animals are spoken of, whose nature or situation particularly show the power, wisdom, and manifold works of God. The wild ass. It is better to labour and be good for something, than to ramble and be good for nothing. From the untameableness of this and other creatures, we may see, how unfit we are to give law to Providence, who cannot give law even to a wild ass's colt. The unicorn, a strong, stately, proud creature. He is able to serve, but not willing; and God challenges Job to force him to it. It is a great mercy if, where God gives strength for service, he gives a heart; it is what we should pray for, and reason ourselves into, which the brutes cannot do. Those gifts are not always the most valuable that make the finest show. Who would not rather have the voice of the nightingale, than the tail of the peacock; the eye of the eagle and her soaring wing, and the natural affection of the stork, than the beautiful feathers of the ostrich, which can never rise above the earth, and is without natural affection? The description of the war-horse helps to explain the character of presumptuous sinners. Every one turneth to his course, as the horse rushes into the battle. When a man's heart is fully set in him to do evil, and he is carried on in a wicked way, by the violence of his appetites and passions, there is no making him fear the wrath of God, and the fatal consequences of sin. Secure sinners think themselves as safe in their sins as the eagle in her nest on high, in the clefts of the rocks; but I will bring thee down from thence, saith the Lord, #Jer 49:16". All these beautiful references to the works of nature, should teach us a right view of the riches of the wisdom of Him who made and sustains all things. The want of right views concerning the wisdom of God, which is ever present in all things, led Job to think and speak unworthily of Providence.Will the unicorn be willing to serve thee? - In the previous part of the argument, God had appealed to the lion, the raven, the goats of the rock, the hind, and the wild ass; and the idea was, that in the instincts of each of these classes of animals, there was some special proof of wisdom. He now turns to another class of the animal creation in proof of his own supremacy and power, and lays the argument in the great strength and in the independence of the animal, and in the fact that man had not been able to subject his great strength to the purposes of husbandry. In regard to the animal here referred to, there has been great diversity of opinion among interpreters, nor is there as yet any one prevailing sentiment. Jerome renders it "rhinoceros;" the Septuagint, μονόκερως monokerōs, the "unicorn;" the Chaldee and the Syraic retain the Hebrew word; Gesenius, Herder, Umbreit, and Noyes, render it the "buffalo;" Schultens, "alticornem;" Luther and Coverdale, the "unicorn;" Rosenmuller, the "onyx," a large and fierce species of the antelope; Calmet supposes that the rhinoceros is intended; and Prof. Robinson, in an extended appendage to the article of Calmet (art. Unicorn), has endeavored to show that the wild buffalo is intended.

Bochart, also, in a long and learned argument, has endeavored to show; that the rhinoceros cannot be meant. Hieroz. P. i. Lib. iii. chapter xxvi. He maintains that a species of antelope is referred to, the "rim" of the Arabs. DeWette (Com. on Psalm 22:21) accords with the opinion of Gesenius, Robinson, and others, that the animal referred to is the buffalo of the Eastern continent, the bos bubalus of Linnaeus, an animal which differs from the American buffalo only in the shape of the horns and the absence of the dewlap. The word which occurs here, and which is rendered "unicorn" (רים rêym or ראם re'êm, is used in the Scriptures only in the following places, where in the singular or plural it is uniformly rendered "unicorn," or "unicorns" - Numbers 23:22; Deuteronomy 33:17; Job 39:9-10; Psalm 22:21; Psalm 29:6; Psalm 92:10; and Isaiah 34:7. By a reference to these passages, it will be found that the animal had the following characteristics:

(1) It was distinguished for its strength; see Job 39:11 of this chapter. Numbers 23:22, "he (that is, Israel, or the Israelites) hath as it were the strength of a unicorn - ראם re'êm. In Numbers 24:8, the same declaration is repeated. It is true that the Hebrew word in both these places (תועפה tô‛âphâh) may denote rapidity of motion, speed; but in this place the notion of strength must be principally intended, for it was of the power of the people, and their ability manifested in the number of their hosts, that Balaam is speaking. Bochart, however (Hieroz. P. i. Lib. iii. c. xxvii.), supposes that the word means, not strength, or agility, but height, and that the idea is, that the people referred to by Balaam was a lofty or elevated people. If the word means strength, it was most appropriate to compare a vast host of people with the vigor and force of an untamable wild animal. The idea of speed or of loftiness does not so well suit the connection.

(2) It was an animal that was not subjected to the service of tilling the soil, and that was supposed to be incapable of being so trained. Thus, in the place before us it is said, that he could not be so domesticated that he would remain like the ox at the crib; that he could not be yoked to the plow; that he could not be employed and safely left to pursue the work of the field; and that he could not be so subdued that it would be safe to attempt to bring home the harvest by his aid. From all these declarations, it is plain that he was regarded as a wild and untamed animal; an animal that was not then domesticated, and that could not be employed in husbandry. This characteristic would agree with either the antelope, the onyx, the buffalo, the rhinoceros, or the supposed unicorn, With which of them it will best accord, we may be able to determine when all his characteristics are examined.

(3) The strength of the animal was in his horns. This was one of his special characteristics, and it is evidently by this that he is designed to be distinguished. Deuteronomy 33:17, "his glory is like the firstling of a bullock, and his horns like the horns of unicorns." Psalm 92:10, "my horn shalt thou exalt like the horn of an unicorn." Psalm 22:21, "thou hast heard me (saved me) from the horns of the unicorns." It is true, indeed, as Prof. Robinson has remarked (Calmet, art. "Unicorn"), the word ראם re'êm has in itself no reference to horns, nor is there in the Hebrew an illusion any where to the supposition that the animal here referred to has only one horn. Wherever, in the Scriptures, the animal is spoken of with any allusion to this member, the expression is in the plural, "horns." The only variation from this, even in the common version, is in Psalm 92:10, where the Hebrew is simply, "My horn shalt thou exalt like an unicorn, "where the word horn, as it stands in the English version, is not expressed. There is, indeed, in this passage, some obvious allusion to the horns of this animal, but all the force of the comparison will be retained if the word inserted in the ellipsis is in the plural number. The horn or horns of the ראם re'êm were, however, beyond question, the principal seat of strength, and the instruments of assault and defense. See the passage in Deuteronomy 33:17, "With them he shall push the people together to the ends of the earth."

(4) There was some special majesty or dignity in the horns of this animal that attracted attention, and that made them the proper symbol of dominion and of royal authority. Thus, in Psalm 92:10, "My horn shalt thou exalt like the horn of an unicorn," where the reference seems to be to a kingly authority or dominion, of which the horn was an appropriate symbol. These are all the characteristics of the animal referred to in the Scriptures, and the question is, With what known animal do they best correspond? The principal animals referred to by those who have examined the subject at length are, the onyx or antelope; the buffalo; the animal commonly referred to as the unicorn, and the rhinoceros. The principal characteristic of the unicorn was supposed to be, that it had a long, slender horn projecting from the forehead; the horn of the rhinoceros is on the snout, or the nose.

I. In regard to the antelope, or the "rim" of the modern Arabs, supposed by Bochart to be the animal here referred to, it seems clear that there are few characteristics in common between the two animals. The onyx or antelope is not distinguished as this animal is for strength, nor for the fact that it is especially untamable, nor that its strength is in its horns, nor that it is of such size and proportions that a comparison would naturally be suggested between it and the ox. In all that is said of the animal, we think of one greater in bulk, in strength, in untamableness, than the onyx; an animal more distinguished for conquest and subduing other animals before him. Bochart has collected much that is fabulous respecting this animal, from the rabbis and the Arabic writers, which it is not needful here to repeat; see the Hieroz. P. i. Lib. iii. c. xxvii.; or Scheutzer, Physi. Sac. on Numbers 23:22.

II. The claims of the "buffalo" to be regarded as the animal here referred to, are much higher than those of the onyx, and the opinion that this is the animal intended is entertained by such names as those of Gesenius, DeWette, Robinson, Umbreit, and Herder. But the objections to this seem to me to be insuperable, and the arguments are not such as to carry conviction. The principal objections to the opinion are:

(1) That the account in regard to the horns of the ראם re'êm by no means agrees with the fact in regard to the bison, or buffalo. The buffalo is an animal of the cow kind (Goldsmith), and the horns are short and crooked, and by no means distinguished for strength. They do not in fact surpass in this respect the horns of many other animals, and are not such as would occur ordinarily as the prominent characteristic in their description. It is true that there are instances where the horns of the wild buffalo are large, but this does not appear to be the case ordinarily. Mr. Pennant mentions a pair of horns in the British Museum, which are six feet and a half long, and the hollow of which will hold five quarts. Lobo affirms that some of the horns of the buffalo in Abyssinia will hold ten quarts; and Dillon saw some in India that were ten feet long. But these were manifestly extraordinary cases.

(2) The animal here referred to was evidently a stronger and a larger animal than the wild ox or the buffalo. "The Oriental buffalo appears to be so closely allied to our common ox, that without an attentive examination it might be easily mistaken for a variety of that animal. In point of size, it is rather superior to the ox; and upon an accurate inspection, it is observed to differ in the shape and magnitude of the head, the latter being larger than in the ox." "Robinson, in Calmet." The animal here referred to was such as to make the contrast particularly striking between him and the ox. The latter could be employed for labor; the former, though greatly superior in strength, could not.

(3) The ראם re'êm, it was supposed, could not be tamed and made to subserve domestic purposes. The buffalo, however, can be made as serviceable as the ox, and is actually domesticated and employed in agricultural purposes. Niebuhr remarks that he saw buffalo not only in Egypt, but also at Bombay, Surat, on the Euphrates, Tigris, Orontes, and indeed in all marshy regions and near large rivers. Sonnini remarks that in Egypt the buffalo, though but recently domesticated, is more numerous than the common ox, and is there equally domestic, and in Italy they are known to be commonly employed in the Pontine marshes, where the fatal nature of the climate acts on common cattle, but affects buffalo less. It is true that the animal has been comparatively recently domesticated, and that it was doubtless known in the time of Job only as a wild, savage, ferocious animal; but still the description here is that of an animal not only that was not then tamed, but obviously of one that could not well be employed in domestic purposes.

We are to remember that the language here is that of God himself, and that therefore it may be regarded as descriptive of what the essential nature of the animal was, rather than what it was supposed to be by the persons to whom the language was addressed. One of the principal arguments alleged for supposing that the animal here referred to by the ראם re'êm was the buffalo, is, that the rhinoceros was probably unknown in the land where Job resided, and that the unicorn was altogether a fabulous animal. This difficulty will be considered in the remarks to be made on the claims of each of those animals.

III. It was an early opinion, and the opinion was probably entertained by the authors of the Septuagint translation, and by the English translators as well as by others, that the animal here referred to was the unicorn. This animal was long supposed to be a fabulous animal, and it has not been until recently that the evidences of its existence have been confirmed. These evidences are adduced by Rosenmuller, "Morgenland, ii. p. 269, following," and by Prof. Robinson, "Calmet, pp. 908, 909." They are, summarily, the following:

(1) Pliny mentions such an animal, and gives a description of it, though from his time for centuries it seems to have been unknown. "His. Nat. 8, 21." His language is, Asperrimam autem feram monocerotem reliquo corpore equo similem, capite cervo, pedibus elephanti, cauda apro, mugitu gravi, uno cornu nigro media fronte cubitorum duum eminente. IIanc feram vivam negant capi. "The unicorn is an exceeding fierce animal, resembling a horse as to the rest of his body, but having the head like a stag, the feet like an elephant, and the tail like a wild boar; its roaring is loud; and it has a black horn of about two cubits projecting from the middle of the forehead."


9. unicorn—Pliny [Natural History, 8.21], mentions such an animal; its figure is found depicted in the ruins of Persepolis. The Hebrew reem conveys the idea of loftiness and power (compare Ramah; Indian, Ram; Latin, Roma). The rhinoceros was perhaps the original type of the unicorn. The Arab rim is a two-horned animal. Sometimes "unicorn" or reem is a mere poetical symbol or abstraction; but the buffalo is the animal referred to here, from the contrast to the tame ox, used in ploughing (Job 39:10, 12).

abide—literally, "pass the night."

crib—(Isa 1:3).

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, Deu 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. Will the unicorn be willing to serve thee,.... Whether there is or ever was such a creature, as described under the name of an unicorn, is a question: it is thought the accounts of it are for the most part fabulous; though Vartomannus (y) says he saw two at Mecca, which came from Ethiopia, the largest of which had a horn in his forehead three cubits long. There are indeed several creatures which may be called "monocerots", who have but one horn; as the "rhinoceros", and the Indian horses and asses (z). The Arabic geographer (a) speaks of a beast in the Indies, called "carcaddan", which is lesser than an elephant and bigger than a buffalo; having in the middle of the forehead an horn long and thick, as much as two hands can grasp: and not only on land, but in the sea are such, as the "nahr whal", or Greenland whale (b); but then they do not answer to the creature so called in Scripture: and, besides, this must be a creature well known to Job, as it was to the Israelites; and must be a strong creature, from the account that gives of it, and not to be taken as here. And Solinus (c) speaks of such "monocerots" or unicorns, which may be killed, but cannot be taken, and were never known to be in any man's possession alive; and so Aelianus (d) says of the like creature, that it never was remembered that anyone of them had been taken. Some think the "rhinoceros" is meant; but that, though a very strong creature, and so may be thought fit for the uses after mentioned, yet may be tamed; whereas the creature here is represented as untamable, and not to be subdued, and brought under a yoke and managed; and besides, it is not very probable that it was known by Job. Bochart (e) takes it to be the "oryx", a creature of the goat kind; but to me it seems more likely to be of the ox kind, to be similar to them, and so might be thought to do the business of one; and the rather, because of its great strength, and yet could not be brought to do it, nor be trusted with it: for the questions concerning it relate to the work of oxen; and as the wild ass is opposed to the tame one in the preceding paragraph, so here the wild ox to a tame one. And both Strabo (f) and Diodorus Siculus (g) relate, that among the Troglodytes, a people that dwelt near the Red sea, and not far from Arabia, where Job 54ed, were abundance of wild oxen or bulls, and which far exceeded the common ones in size and swiftness; and the creature called the seem in the original, has its name from height. Now the question is, could Job take one of these wild bulls or oxen, and tame it, and make it willing to do any work or service he should choose to put it to? No, he could not;

or abide by thy crib? manger or stall, as the tame or common ox will; who, when it has done its labour, is glad to be led to its stall and feed, and then lie down and rest, and there abide; see Isaiah 1:3; but not so the wild ox.

(y) Navigat. l. 1. c. 19. (z) Vid. Bochart. Hierozoic. par. 1. l. 3. c. 26. (a) Nub. Clim. 1. par. 8. (b) Ludolf. Ethiop. Hist. l. 1. c. 10. Of this narhual, or sea unicorn, see the Philosoph. Transact. abridged, vol. 9. p. 71, 72. (c) Polyhistor. c. 65. (d) De Animal. l. 16. c. 20. (e) Hierozoic. par. 1. l. 3. c. 27. col. 969, &c. (f) Geograph. l. 16. p. 533. (g) Bibliothec. l. 3. p. 175.

Will the unicorn be willing to {g} serve thee, or abide by thy crib?

(g) Is it possible to make the unicorn tame? signifying that if man cannot rule a creature, that it is much more impossible that he should appoint the wisdom of God, by which he governs all the world.

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.Verse 9. - Will the unicorn be willing to serve thee, or abide by thy crib? This is an unfortunate translation, since there is no word etymologicallly correspondent to "unicorn" in the original. The word used is rem or reyrn; and the rem is distinctly said in Deuteronomy 33:17 to have "horns." All that is said of the rim in Scripture points to some species of wild cattle, and recent critics are almost universally agreed thus far at any rate. Assyrian investigation carries us a step further. It is found that the wild bull so often represented on the monuments as hunted by the Ninevite monarchs was known to the Assyrians by the name of rimu or rim. Careful examination of the sculptures has resulted in the identification of this animal with Bee primi-genius an extinct species, probably identical with the urns of the Romans, which Caesar saw in Gaul, and of which he has left a description. "These uri," he says, "are scarcely less than elephants in size, but in their nature, colour, and form are bulls. Great is their strength, and great their speed; nor do they spare man nor beast, when once they have caught sight of him. ... Even when they are young, they cannot be habituated to man and made tractable. The size and shape of their horns are very different from those of our own oxen" ('De Bell. Gall.,' 6:28). 1 Dost thou know the bearing time of the wild goats of the rock?

Observest thou the circles of the hinds?

2 Dost thou number the months which they fulfil,

And knowest thou the time of their bringing forth?

3 They bow down, they let their young break through,

They cast off their pains.

4 Their young ones gain strength, grow up in the desert,

They run away and do not return.

The strophe treats of the female chamois or steinbocks, ibices (perhaps including the certainly different kinds of chamois), and stags. The former are called יעלים, from יעל, Arab. w‛l (a secondary formation from עלה, Arab. ‛lâ), to mount, therefore: rock-climbers. חולל is inf. Pil.: τὸ ὠδίνειν, comp. the Pul. Job 15:7. שׁמר, to observe, exactly as Ecclesiastes 11:4; 1 Samuel 1:12; Zechariah 11:11. In Job 39:2 the question as to the expiration of the time of bearing is connected with that as to the time of bringing forth. תּספּור, plene, as Job 14:16; לדתּנה (littâna, like עת equals עדתּ) with an euphonic termination for לדתּן, as Genesis 42:36; Genesis 21:29, and also out of pause, Ruth 1:19, Ges. 91, 1, rem. 2. Instead of תּפלּחנה Olsh. wishes to read תּפלּטנה, but this (synon. תמלטנה) would be: they let slip away; the former (synon. תבקענה): they cause to divide, i.e., to break through (comp. Arab. felâh, the act of breaking through, freedom, prosperity). On כּרע, to kneel down as the posture of one in travail, vid., 1 Samuel 4:19. "They cast off their pains" is not meant of an easy working off of the after-pains (Hirz., Schlottm.), but חבל signifies in this phrase, as Schultens has first shown, meton. directly the foetus, as Arab. ḥabal, plur. ahbâl, and ὠδίν, even of a child already grown up, as being the fruit of earlier travail, e.g., in Aeschylus, Agam. 1417f.; even the like phrase, ῥίψαι ὠδῖνα equals edere foetum, is found in Euripides, Ion 45. Thus born with ease, the young animals grow rapidly to maturity (חלם, pinguescere, pubescere, whence חלום, a dream as the result of puberty, vid., Psychol. S. 282), grow in the desert (בּבּר, Targ. equals בּחוּץ, vid., i. 329, note), seek the plain, and return not again למו, sibi h. e. sui juris esse volentes (Schult.), although it might also signify ad eas, for the Hebr. is rather confused on the question of the distinction of gender, and even in חבליהם and בניהם the masc. is used ἐπικοίνως. We, however, prefer to interpret according to Job 6:19; Job 24:16. Moreover, Bochart is right: Non hic agitur de otiosa et mere speculativa cognitione, sed de ea cognitione, quae Deo propria est, qua res omnes non solum novit, sed et dirigit atque gubernat.

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