Job 39 Summary: Let’s turn our attention to Job 39.
We’re in the section in this book where God appears to Job and speaks to him. And instead of answering any questions that Job may have had – God has been asking question after question to Job.
If my count is correct, then God has so far asked Job 52 questions. These questions have dealt with the earth, the clouds, the heavens, the sea, snow, hail, rain, light, darkness, animals, wisdom, and even death.
And we’ve noted that these questions are all intended to help Job understand that Job ultimately doesn’t know much about anything. On the other hand – God understands all of these things perfectly. And not only does he understand all of these things – he alone is mighty and powerful enough to make them happen.
Now, the last several questions that God asked have dealt with animals. God most recently asked Job about…
Q38-39: Feeding Lions
Q40: Feeding Ravens
Q41-44: Birth of Goats and Deer
Q45-46: Wild Donkeys
Q47-52: Powerful Wild Oxen
And for the rest of chapter 39, God is going to keep talking to Job about animals – about their peculiarities – about their strengths – about their uniquely-excellent qualities.
Job 39 Summary: Q53-54?: Birds
And God begins by talking to Job about birds.
And he focuses first on their wings.
KJV Job 39:13 [Gavest thou the goodly/The ostriches’] wings [unto the peacocks/flap joyfully]?
[or/with the/but are they the/but they cannot compare with the] [wings/pinions] and [feathers/plumage/feathers] [unto the ostrich/of love/of a stork]?
“Gavest thou the goodly wings”
And we need to stop here and figure out what’s being said here.
First of all we have the phrase in the KJV, “Gavest thou the goodly…” And you can see that the phrase “Gavest thou” is in italics – which means that those words were supplied by the translators.
But what we also need to note is that the word translated as “goodly” by the KJV occurs only one time in the Old Testament. And you can guess where that is! Right here, of course.
So, when a word appears only once, it’s sometimes difficult to figure out what it means. Context is the most helpful clue for us. And the KJV decided that the context indicates that the word means “goodly” or something that is beautiful or helpful or commendable.
But most other translations translate that Hebrew word that appears only here as “ostrich” as in “The ostrich’s wings…” So, God is speaking of an ostrich and her wings.
“unto the peacocks”
And we also need to note that there’s another translational issue right after the first one we just discussed. And that is the phrase in the KJV, “unto the peacocks.”
The word underlying that phrase is found three times in the Old Testament. Once it’s rendered the way it is here – as “peacock.” Another time it’s translated in the KJV as “solace” – the idea of comfort or consolation. And the third time it’s translated in the KJV as “rejoice.”
So, think with me here. There was a song on a TV program when I was a kid that went:
One of these things is not like the others
One of these things just doesn't belong
Can you tell which thing is not like the others
By the time I finish my song? (Sesame Street)
But at any rate – when you think of these three words: “solace,” “rejoice,” and “peacock” – which doesn’t belong? Which is the odd man out?
“Solace” and “rejoice” both have to do with your emotional state. They’re furthermore to be viewed as positive realities.
And then we have “peacock.” And yes, that’s the thing that doesn’t belong in this group. And ultimately, I think we are justified to seek another way to translate that word here in Job 39 rather than as “peacock.”
So – putting this all together – God is telling Job that the ostrich has wings that rejoice! They – according to one translation – flap joyfully!
That’s good. We finally understand what that first line means!
But wait – there’s more! This verse is pretty difficult to interpret. But we’ll get there, with God’s help.
There are a few more translational difficulties that we need to hammer out.
“or wings and feathers unto the ostrich?”
The word “wings” is fine. No issue there.
But that next word “feathers” occurs six times in the Old Testament. Five times the KJV translates it as “stork.” And once it’s translated as it is here – as “feathers.” So, hold that thought for just a moment.
And let’s consider one last word in this verse. It’s the word “ostrich.” That word appears four times in the Old Testament. And three times it’s translated by the KJV as “feathers.” And I’m sorry for sounding like a broken record, but only one time this word is translated as we have it here – “ostrich.”
If you’ll allow me to take a little liberty in using the words as the KJV uses them in the majority of the verses in which they appear, then the end of verse 13 says something like, “wings of a stork and feathers.”
So, putting the whole verse together, we have God saying, “An ostrich flaps her wings joyfully” and then he compares those wings to that of a stork.
Why would God talk about a stork here? From this verse through to verse 18, God talks about the ostrich – not storks. So, why mention a stork here?
Well, from what I could find out, it seems that storks are known for the longevity of their nests. They continue to use the same nest year after year. They’re faithful to lay their eggs and hatch them – in the same spot – year after year.
And that’s an important distinction – because as God tells us for the next several verses – ostriches are really not very faithful when it comes to nesting and caring for their young.
14 [Which/For she/She] [leaveth/abandons/lays] her eggs [in/to/on] the [earth/ground],
and [warmeth them/lets them be warmed] [in/on the] [dust/soil/sand],
15 [And forgetteth/Unmindful] that [the/a] foot [may/might] crush them,
or that [the/a/some] wild [beast/animal] [may/might] [break/trample] them.
So, ostriches do make their nest in the sand on the ground. And when you think about it, this is rather unusual for a bird. When you think of bird nests and bird eggs you typically think of nests being up in a tree or in some other high and hard-to-reach area.
But the ostrich just lays her eggs on the ground – where any old animal can come by and smash her eggs or some human can come along and take them.
Now, I understand that a male ostriches will mate with several female ostriches and they will usually all lay eggs – sometimes up to 70 eggs between all of the females in the group. The problem is that only about 20 eggs can be incubated at once – by the way, the sitting on the eggs that these ostriches do is to actually cool the eggs rather than to warm them – the hot African sun does that pretty well without any help!
Anyway, there’s a dominant female that incubates the eggs during the day and the male does so at night. That process takes about 40 days. If there are more than 20 eggs in the sand nest – the dominant female will push the excess eggs out of the nest to be stepped on or stolen or to rot or whatever else. And of course, it seems that most of the time, the discarded eggs are not hers – but rather those of the minor ostrich hens in the group. (http://www.tektonics.org/lp/ostrich.php)
And it’s that kind of behavior that God is referencing when he utters the following of these ostriches:
16 She is [hardened against/harsh with/treats cruelly] her young ones,
as [though/if] they were not hers:
her labour is [in vain/useless] [without fear/she is unconcerned/she cares not];
So, God could be speaking of any of several realities here when he says that the ostrich is hardened against her young ones.
He could be referring to the fact that the dominant female pushes some of the eggs out of the nest – the ones that she’s been charged with caring for. Or he could be speaking of the minor hens that don’t seem to care that their eggs have been pushed out of the nest. Or it could be speaking of the fact that once the eggs hatch, the hen is not the one to take care of the young – but instead the male does that.
At any rate, from laying the egg to incubating to what happens after the egg hatches – it can be said that in certain ways it seems that the female ostrich is not all that concerned about these lives that she is bringing into the world.
She has labor – hard work – both to produce the eggs and then to hatch them. And yet, she turns around and treats her eggs the way she does without any fear or concern or care.
And that’s just odd! What is wrong with this bird?! Why does she act this way??
17 Because God [hath deprived her of/has made her forget/did not endow her with] wisdom,
neither hath he [imparted/given a share] to her [understanding/of good sense].
It’s not wise to treat your young poorly – whether you’re a bird or a human or anything else. It shows a lack of understanding when this is how a creature acts.
And this is how God says Job has acted – without understanding. Remember how God started out this barrage of questions to Job? “Who is this that darkens counsel without – what? – understanding?”
And just as silly and foolish as the ostrich seems for being so callous and careless regarding her young – so too Job is operating carelessly. Job has been questioning God’s justice and his goodness. Job has been demanding that God give an account to him for his actions in Job’s life. And so, God is responding to Job like – “You’re lacking wisdom and understanding. How could you possibly question the justice and goodness of the one who alone is able to both define and embody those very concepts?”
And so, Job is receiving a healthy dose of reality from God here. And we’re going to see him later respond right with wisdom and understanding to God’s rebuke. That’s how wise people respond to God’s chastening.
But as for our old friend the ostrich – she is totally incapable of such a response. She’s free and that’s all she cares about!
18 [What time/When/But as soon as/Yet when] she [lifteth up herself on high/springs up/spreads her feathers to run],
she [scorneth/laughs at] the horse and his rider.
She laughs – as it were – at the horse who has a rider. Because she’s free! She has no wisdom, but she doesn’t care. So what if she has no wisdom? She’s free to do as she pleases.
No human rules over her. But God does. God is in charge of ostriches. He’s the one who decided to withhold wisdom from them so that they do these foolish things that we’ve discussed.
And without God’s wisdom we are all just as foolish and care-free as the ostrich.
Job 39 Summary: Q55-57: Horses
Well, as long as God brought up horses in relation to ostriches, he decides to ask Job a question about that animal next.
19 [Hast thou given/Do you give] the horse [strength/his might]?
hast thou clothed his neck with [thunder/a mane(1x in OT)]?
Has Job given the physical traits of strength and dignity to the horse? Of course not – only God has done that.
20 Canst thou make him [afraid/leap] [as/like] a [grasshopper/locust]?
[the glory of his nostrils/his majestic snorting/Its proud neighing/his proud snorting] [is terrible/is terrifying/strikes terror].
And so, rather than being able to scare a horse, Job is more likely to be afraid of this creature than the horse is afraid of man.
Because God’s not talking about some micro-horse or pony or something like that. God is talking about the kind of horse that’s not afraid to charge into battle!
21 He paweth [the ground…] [fiercely…] in the valley, [and rejoiceth in his strength/exulting mightily]:
he goeth on to meet the [armed men/weapons] [as it charges into the fray…].
And whereas the ostrich laughs at this horse – this horse has something else that he laughs at.
22 He [mocketh/laughs] at fear, and is not [affrighted/dismayed/afraid] [of anything…];
neither [turneth he back/does he shy away] from the sword.
No fear! Despite this kind of scene all around him…
23 The quiver rattleth [against him/on him/against his side],
the [glittering/flashing] [spear/lance] and [the shield/javelin/lance].
And rather than deter him, the presence of this kind of danger only seems to invigorate him.
24 He [swalloweth/races over/consumes/eats up] the ground with [fierceness/shaking/excitement] and [rage/impatience/frenzy]:
neither [believeth he that it is/does he stand still at] the sound of the trumpet.
25 He [saith/snorts] [among/at the sound of] the trumpets, [Ha, ha/Aha!];
and he [smelleth the/catches the scent of] battle [afar off/from a distance],
the [thunder/thunderous shouting] of the [captains/commanders], and the [shouting/war cry/battle cries].
And so, God has made this amazing creature what it is. God made the horse to be like this. He made the ostrich to be very different.
And God made Job – and he made you and me – to trust him even when we don’t understand his ways in our life.
Job 39 Summary: Q58: Hawks
Now, God returns to asking Job a question. And this time, he’s going to ask about hawks.
26 Doth the hawk [fly/soar/take flight] by thy [wisdom/understanding],
and [stretch/spread] her wings toward the south?
So, does Job lend wisdom to hawks to help them to soar? So, of course not.
Job 39 Summary: Q59: Eagle
And neither can Job command the eagle to fly and build her nest.
27 Doth the eagle [mount up/soar] at thy command,
and [make/build] her nest on high?
28 She [dwelleth/lives] and [abideth/lodges/spends the night there] on the [rock/cliff],
upon [the crag of the rock/a rocky crag], [and the strong place/an inaccessible place/a fortress/his stronghold].
29 From [thence/there] she [seeketh/spies out/spots/weeks out] [the prey/food],
and her eyes [behold/see it/gaze intently/detect it] [afar off/from a distance].
30 Her young ones also [suck up/devour/feast on] [the…] blood:
and where the [slain/dead carcasses] are, there is she.
So, these animals are amazing. Some are just plain foolish – but even their foolishness is amazing testimony to God’s influence and control over them. Some are strong, powerful, and fearless. Others soar and nest at great heights. Heights beyond the reach of humans.
And God is using all of this to remind Job that it’s not only the heights of birds’ nests that are beyond humans. God’s ways are by-and-large beyond us. We can’t understand them totally.
And that’s OK – because we have a God who knows what he’s doing and how to do it. And so, whenever we find ourselves feeling like God’s ways are beyond us – remember the eagle’s nest. It’s beyond your reach – it’s beyond your ability to access. And yet, it’s all in God’s capable hands. We can trust him.