Job 39:1-39:30 The Glory of the Herd

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God’s questions as an assertion …as if He were the family doctor — or even a grandparent… that same care over unsupervised animals..Yes, God is humbling Job, but He’s doing it by pointing out how His love and compassion — and knowledge and power — transcend anything Job can imagine… God has a purpose…

Job 39:1-39:30

As I did yesterday, I plan to list the entire chapter, section by section, interpreting God’s questions as an assertion of what He is doing.

Knowest thou the time when the wild goats of the rock bring forth? or canst thou mark when the hinds do calve? 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.

God is implying He knows the times (yada` `eth) and numbers the months (caphar yerach) of the wild goats (ya`el). But, I don’t read this as God merely boasting of His skill in natural history. Rather, He tracks their travail (chebel) and thriving (chalam rabah) as if He were the family doctor — or even a grandparent.

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.

God exercises that same care over apparently unsupervised (chophshiy) animals, like the wild donkey (pere’ or `arowd). God sets up (suwm) for him a home (bayith) in the wasteland (`arabah), a pasture (mir`eh) in the mountains (har).

This reminds me of Jesus comment about sparrows. God exercises loving attention to goats and donkeys in the wilderness. Yes, God is humbling Job, but He’s doing it by pointing out how His love and compassion — and knowledge and power — transcend anything Job can imagine. Perhaps not entirely unlike how Job’s morality transcends mine.

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?

Perhaps this is the flip-side of the previous section. By discussing Job’s inability to bind (`aboth) the aurochs (r@’em) to his purpose, God seems to imply that He has already bound the animal to His. That is, God has a purpose for wild animals which they fulfill. Interesting ecological implication, in addition to being a somewhat unusual perspective on sovereignty.

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 her’s: 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.

God goes even further. The ostrich (nowtsah) is not merely wild but, well, foolish (riyq), lacking wisdom (chokmah) and understanding (biynah) — words pretty important in and to Job. Such callousness in nature sometimes make’s people question God’s goodness, or even existence. Yet God does not appear the least bit embarrassed by these limitations of His creatures. If anything, He’s glorying in it, and how those weaknesses make its mockery (sachaq ) over horse and rider (cuwc rakab) that much greater.

I get the impression that we are being warned not to judge the animal — or divine! — world according to human standards. God grants strengths and weaknesses to all creatures (and perhaps other things) in accordance with His purposes and pleasures. We may well wonder at — and even study — such things, but we should be wary of judging them.

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.

God seems like the word ‘sachaq’; translated ‘mockery’ thrice in this chapter, then twice ‘play’ and once ‘laughter’. There is a deep sense of joy in creation, that transcends the petty reasoning and schemes of mankind. Like the old story of the bumblebee who kept flying, unaware that aeronautical engineers had proved it impossible.

God really seems to particularly enjoy horses; perhaps unsurprising given how much humans have valued, trusted, celebrated, and even befriended them. Yet this is the first domestic after at least six wild creatures God mentions. Interesting.Earlier, God talks about man’s inability to tame and guide the wild creatures. Perhaps anticipating man’s retort that at least he has tamed the horse, God points out how small a thing that is. God takes credit for the horse’s strength (g@buwrah), glory (howd), disdain (sachaq) of dread (pachad), fierceness (ra`ash) and rage (rogez).

As if to say, “You can only harness what I put into him; you can never change, much less create one.”

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.

Perhaps to ensure we don’t miss the point, God returns to the wild animals. The imagery is both lofty (ruwm qen ruwm) and bloody (dam chalal).

In a sense, it feels like God is besting Job at his own game. Job is quite convinced of his righteousness, apparently because of all the good works he has done. Implying a confidence is his own wisdom, power, and virtue. God is basically showing Job that he’s not even in the same league, much less a worthy adversary.

I can’t wait to see the effect on Job. Or rather, I have to wait, since I’m out of time.

Prayer

God, regardless of what Job feels, I am blown away by your speech. I am humbled before your power and care for the animal kingdom. You alone are Lord, and you alone know the purpose and of every living thing. Help me to accept the role you’ve given me, and glory in the strengths you allot me. For the sake of your glory, not mine. Amen.

Note:

For this essay, I will assume the fantastic beasts of Job are merely artifacts of the KJV, though it doesn’t much matter for our purposes. There are some delightful theories about these actually representing dinosaurs and legendary creatures, but I personally consider that an unwarranted extrapolation from the text. If Job is anywhere near as old as we think it is, we have no way of reliably translating these various animal-oriented phrases, and its dangerous to be build a theology (much less a paleontology or mythology) out of half-understood words.

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