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The Blue Letter Bible

David Guzik :: Study Guide for Job 39

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God Continues to Question Job

A. Regarding mountain goats, wild donkeys, and wild oxen.

1. (Job 39:1-4) Do you know about or master the wild mountain goat?

"Do you know the time when the wild mountain goats bear young?
Or can you mark when the deer gives birth?
Can you number the months that they fulfill?
Or do you know the time when they bear young?
They bow down, They bring forth their young,
They deliver their offspring.
Their young ones are healthy,
They grow strong with grain;
They depart and do not return to them."

a. Do you know the time when the wild mountain goats bear young? Here God kept bringing the level of knowledge down for Job. He could, quite conceivably, know such facts of nature from simple observation. Yet even this relatively low level of knowledge was beyond Job.

i. "The offspring of an ibex doe, unlike human infants that need years of care, can stand within minutes of birth and soon gambol off to thrive in the wild." (Smick)

ii. Though Job didn't know these principles of the natural order, at the same time he had to admit that the natural order all seemed to work pretty good. All these questions brought Job before another truth: "I see that this world made by God operates with remarkable order and wisdom; can I deny His wisdom and government of all things just because there are things in my own life I can't understand? Or, should I simply trust this God who does all these other things so marvelously well?"

b. They bow down, they bring forth their young: Here God reminded Job of the arrangement of growth and maturity He had engineered for the natural order. Did Job design this, or even know much about it?

2. (Job 39:5-8) Do you know about or master the wild donkey?

"Who set the wild donkey free?
Who loosed the bonds of the onager,
Whose home I have made the wilderness,
And the barren land his dwelling?
He scorns the tumult of the city;
He does not heed the shouts of the driver.
The range of the mountains is his pasture,
And he searches after every green thing."

a. Who set the wild donkey free? Job had no knowledge of these facts of nature; he had even less power over the animals. These things belonged to God and not to Job.

i. The onager is another name for a wild donkey. "One of the most admired animals of the Old Testament world was the wild donkey. It was a compliment and a promise of an enviable freedom when the angel declared that Ishmael (Genesis 16:12) would become 'a wild donkey of a man.' The creature was admired for both its freedom and its ability to survive under the harshest conditions." (Smick)

b. The range of the mountains is his pasture, and he searches after every green thing: God knew how the wild donkey lived and was provided for; Job obviously did not.

i. "Why so weak and harmless a creature as the wild ass should be untamable, when the most savage lions and tigers have been tamed, and how there comes to be so vast a difference between the tame and the wild ass, thou canst give no reason." (Poole)

3. (Job 39:9-12) Do you know about or master the wild ox?

"Will the wild ox be willing to serve you?
Will he bed by your manger?
Can you bind the wild ox in the furrow with ropes?
Or will he plow the valleys behind you?
Will you trust him because his strength is great?
Or will you leave your labor to him?
Will you trust him to bring home your grain,
And gather it to your threshing floor?"

a. Will the wild ox be willing to serve you? No one would doubt that Job was smarter than a wild ox; yet the ox would not serve him. He lacked in both knowledge of and mastery over the natural world.

i. Wild ox is not a very good translation; nor is the class King James Version translation of "unicorn" here. This animal is actually a fearsome, mighty, extinct animal knows as the aurochs.

ii. "The beast in question is the aurochs, not the fabled 'unicorn' of the AV. Extinct since 1627, this enormous animal was the most powerful of all hoofed beasts, exceeded in size only by the hippopotamus and the elephant. It is the standard symbol of strength in the Old Testament, where it is mentioned nine times."

b. Can you bind the wild ox in the furrow with ropes? Understanding the fearsome nature of this ancient wild ox, God here made a humorous picture for Job. One might just as easily picture Job using a rhino to plow his field or put into his barn.

B. Regarding ostriches, horses, and hawks.

1. (Job 39:13-18) Do you understand the ostrich?

"The wings of the ostrich wave proudly,
But are her wings and pinions like the kindly stork's?
For she leaves her eggs on the ground,
And warms them in the dust;
She forgets that a foot may crush them,
Or that a wild beast may break them.
She treats her young harshly, as though they were not hers;
Her labor is in vain, without concern,
Because God deprived her of wisdom,
And did not endow her with understanding.
When she lifts herself on high,
She scorns the horse and its rider."

a. The wings of the ostrich wave proudly: God here spoke of the proudly waving wings of the flightless ostrich. Perhaps Job could explain why a flightless bird has wings, or why a winged creature is flightless?

i. "It is what it is, a silly bird, because God made it so. Why? The comical account suggests that amid the profusion of creatures some were made to be useful to men, but some are there just for God's entertainment and ours." (Andersen)

ii. "This passage is remarkable in that it continues the first and only real humor in the book of Job. Leave it to God to pull a stunt like this, forcing a smile out of Job at a time when the poor fellow has been so intent on his misery." (Mason)

b. God has deprived her of wisdom: Here God reminded Job that God is the dispenser of wisdom; He gives or withholds as pleases Him.

i. "The seeming cruelty to her young derives from the practice of driving off the yearlings when mating season arrives." (Smick)

ii. It was through wonderful and strange examples like the ostrich that God both taught and entertained Job. "Get used to My absurdity, and live by faith rather than by sight. Be like the ostrich: though you cannot fly, you can still flap your wings joyfully!" (Mason)

2. (Job 39:19-25) Do you understand or master the horse?

"Have you given the horse strength?
Have you clothed his neck with thunder?
Can you frighten him like a locust?
His majestic snorting strikes terror.
He paws in the valley, and rejoices in his strength;
He gallops into the clash of arms.
He mocks at fear, and is not frightened;
Nor does he turn back from the sword.
The quiver rattles against him,
The glittering spear and javelin.
He devours the distance with fierceness and rage;
Nor does he come to a halt because the trumpet has sounded.
At the blast of the trumpet he says, 'Aha!'
He smells the battle from afar,
The thunder of captains and shouting."

a. Have you given the horse strength: Like many, Job could be impressed with the majestic strength of the horse. Yet he had no strength to give the horse; it came from God and not from Job or any other man.

i. "Can you make such an animal? Can you control him? Even the well-broken and best-trained mount might break from the restraints for the most skilled rider, so that even the one domesticated animal included in the list is not completely under the control of man." (Andersen)

b. He mocks at fear, and is not frightened; nor does he turn back from the sword: Job could give no explanation for the warrior nature of a horse, which operates against reason and the self-interest of the horse.

i. "In this creature therefore we have a clear instance of the wonderful power and wisdom of God. If the horse be so strong and warlike, what is the Almighty, that man of war?" (Trapp)

3. (Job 39:26-30) Do you understand or master the hawk or the eagle?

"Does the hawk fly by your wisdom,
And spread its wings toward the south?
Does the eagle mount up at your command,
And make its nest on high?
On the rocks it dwells and resides,
On the crag of the rock and the stronghold.
From there it spies out the prey;
Its eyes observe from afar.
Its young ones suck up blood;
And where the slain are, there it is."

a. Does the hawk fly by your wisdom: After considering many land animals and the wisdom and mystery surrounding them, now God turned to a majestic bird - the hawk. Job could not explain, much less create the mechanics of flight for this noble bird.

i. "G.K. Chesterson writes that the way God describes all His fabulous creatures and parades them before Job, He makes each one seem 'like a monster walking in the sun. The whole is a sort of psalm or rhapsody of the sense of wonder. The maker of all things is astonished at the things He has Himself made.'" (Mason)

ii. God also wanted Job to be astonished at the wildness of it all; even allowing for the fact that God had given man dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth (Genesis 1:26). Even with dominion over all these, man did not make or sustain these great wild animals. If mankind had so little authority over nature, could Job expect to have more control over the mysterious events of his life?

b. Does the eagle mount up at your command: Job was equally powerless to explain the eagle and its ways, much less to command it.

i. It might seem that God was being harsh with Job; but one must compare what God said with Job with what Job's accusers thought God should say to him. God did not come to Job as a judge or even a policeman; He came to Job as a teacher - a loving, winsome, vivid, powerful, humorous teacher. God was once again with Job (in His proper relation, of course), and that was enough for Job.

ii. "What these speeches do not contain is almost as important as what they do. The speeches do not reverse the Lord's judgment in the Prologue about Job. Satan was wrong in impugning Job's inner reasons for being righteous, and the friends were wrong about Job's outward conduct as a reason for his suffering. . . . Job did not get the bill of indictment or verdict of innocence he wanted. But neither was he humiliated with a list of sins he had committed for which he was being punished." (Smick)

iii. "If we find it exasperating that God never gives Job any reasons for his long ordeal of suffering, then we have entirely missed the point of these final chapters. While it is true that the Lord's answer to Job is neither logical nor theological, this is not the same as saying that He gives no answer. The Lord does give an answer. His answer is Himself." (Mason)

iv. "One thought, and one only, is brought into the foreground. The world is full of mysteries, strange, unapproachable, overpowering mysteries that you cannot read. Trust, trust in the power, and in the wisdom, and in the goodness of Him, the Almighty One, who rules it." (Bradley)

© 2007 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission

Study Guide for Esther 1 ← Prior Book
Study Guide for Psalm 1 Next Book →
Study Guide for Job 38 ← Prior Chapter
Study Guide for Job 40 Next Chapter →
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