New European Commentary


About | PDFs | Mobile formats | Word formats | Other languages | Contact Us | What is the Gospel? | Support the work | Carelinks Ministries | | The Real Christ | The Real Devil | "Bible Companion" Daily Bible reading plan

Deeper Commentary

Job 39:1 Do you know the time when the mountain goats give birth? Do you watch when the doe bears fawns?- The idea is that man may not know the exact time, but God does, and it is built into His plan; see on :2. "Watch [over]" is the same word used for how God had set the parameters for Job's trials in the prologue; his life was to be preserved (s.w., Job 2:6). But Job like the friends became obsessed with immediate suffering and issues to the point that he overlooked these basic parameters set by God. We can do the same. He complains that God watches over him too closely (Job 13:6; 33:11 s.w.), and yet complains that God isn't watching over him (Job 29:2). God's response is to direct him again to the natural creation, where God's constant 'watching over' His creation is evident. He even watches over the exact gestation time of mountain goats, who were invisible to human eyes (Job 39:1 s.w.). And likewise Job was to understand that the time of his sufferings, like the period of exile for the captives, was likewise intensely noted by God and had not been forgotten.

Job 39:2 Can you number the months that they fulfil? Or do you know the time when they give birth?-
This continues the theme of Job 38, that everything has its bounds and limits, and timings set by God. This was so relevant to the exiles who considered their suffering endless; it was a reminder that restoration had been promised after a period, even if they didn't know that exact time (see on :1) and that script is written into all God's work in creation.

The answer of course was that they could not be numbered by man, but only by God. This is the same word used in the restoration prophecy of Jer. 38:22: "As the host of the sky cannot be numbered, nor the sand of the sea measured", so God's grace would be poured out in restoring His people. Job was being taught the same lesson. He believed it, but the exiles generally didn't, and so their restoration didn't happen after the pattern of Job's.

In Canaanite myth, Aquhat [another ‘Satan’ figure in their theology] could alone “count the months” (Robert S. Fyall, op cit p. 75) – but the same phrase is used here in Job 39:2 about how God alone has this power. See on Job 38:8.

Job 39:3 They bow themselves, they bring forth their young, they end their labour pains-
This is the language of later Isaiah; the travail of Zion would come to an end, in the rebirth of a restored Kingdom of God in Judah. That at least was the Divine intention, although the Jews largely precluded its realization by their own refusal to really want it.


Job 39:4 Their young ones become strong. They grow up in the open field. They go forth, and don’t return again-
LXX emphasizes this idea of 'going forth', which as noted on :1,2 looks ahead to the going forth of the Jews from captivity: "Their young will break forth; they will be multiplied with offspring: their young will go forth, and will not return to them".

"Grow up" is the word for 'bring forth' in Job 28:11: "The thing that is hidden He brings forth to light". God can reveal everything physical, if He wishes. But man will still not find "wisdom" if he is searching for it as a 'physical' thing, obtained by a process of mining and subsequent refining. That reveals merely "stones of obscurity" (Job 28:3), nuggets of isolated truth. This message needs to be heeded by those who consider the Christian duty is to search out academic truth, mining it from the pages of the Bible and further processing it. This of itself is not to be despised, but this can be done as the Pharisees did it, and as the friends did- without coming to the awesome personal encounter with God and His grace with which the book of Job concludes. God can dry up the streams so that those panning in them thigh deep for precious stones- find them. He can bring them to light, but this is not the same thing as the "wisdom" of personal relationship with Him and departing from evil in our hearts (Job 28:9,10,28). This is what was happening on Job's life; God was 'bringing forth' light from death, deep things from darkness (s.w. Job 12:22). And this was realized by God bringing it forth, and not man's search for 'truth'. Job as a person was to be 'brought forth' by God as gold from that fire of affliction (Job 23:10 s.w.). Just as plants are 'brought forth' from the earth without the need for mining under the earth (Job 28:5 s.w.). This is why God's reply to Job keeps on using this word for 'bring forth', labouring the point that God 'brings forth' by His processes and initiatives, and not man. And that is as a code stamped upon all of creation (Job 38:8,29,32; 39:4,21; 41:20,21).

Job 39:5 Who has set the wild donkey free? Or who has loosened the bonds of the swift donkey-
This loosing of bands is the language of Judah's bands being freed and their freedom to return to Zion. Job sees God as capable of binding and loosing him, untying the cords that restrain affliction and then binding them up again (Job 30:11 s.w.). God's response is that indeed this is the case, and such binding and loosing is seen throughout the natural creation (s.w. Job 38:31; 39:5; 41:14). And therefore, Job and the exiles are to live in hope of being bound up in safety from affliction, just as God "untied His cord and afflicted me" in Job 30:11.

Job 39:6 whose home I have made the wilderness, and the salt land his dwelling place?-
It was from the wilderness that Job's troubles came. The Bedouins attacked from there, and the destructive wind came from there. But God was somehow in all that.

Job 39:7 He scorns the tumult of the city, neither does he hear the shouting of the driver-
Job in his depression feels as Israel suffering in Egypt (Ex. 3:7; 5:6,13), considering that death was the only way out of the misery of hearing the "voice of the taskmaster", "the shouting of the driver" (Job 3:18). But he fails to see that out of that misery they were redeemed and restored to their land. This is alluded to when attention is drawn to how God's creations "hear not the voice, the shouts and curses of the driver". God's people didn't have to "hear" the voice of the taskmaster; there was a way of redemption offered.

The LXX here has a strange appropriacy to the release of the exiles from captivity, and the edicts of the Persian kings allowing them to reestablish their kingdom without paying any taxes: "He laughs to scorn the multitude of the city, and hears not the chiding of the tax-gatherer".


Job 39:8 The range of the mountains is his pasture, he searches after every green thing-
LXX "He will survey the mountains as his pasture, and he seeks after every green thing". The returned exiles would have free pasture in all their land, as Ez. 34 and other restoration prophecies had intimated.


Job 39:9 Will the wild ox be content to serve you? Or will he stay by your feeding trough?-
LXX "And will the unicorn be willing to serve thee, or to lie down at thy manger?". The reference may be to Cyrus being the servant of Yahweh in allowing the exiles to return.

Job 39:10 Can you hold the wild ox in the furrow with his harness? Or will he till the valleys after you?-
The wild animals may appear to the human eye to be aimlessly wandering hither and thither. But they are actually ploughing furrows for God. The apparently aimless wandering of Job and the exiles was likewise under God's control, and was actually intended to bring forth a great harvest from the apparently barren land.

Job 39:11 Will you trust him, because his strength is great? Or will you leave to him your labour?-
No man could "trust" the randomly wandering oxen. But God has such a close relationship with those things which seem random and aimless that He doesn't actually need to hold those wild animals in harness (:10), He can trust them to do His work without Him harnessing them. And the same progression is to be seen in His work with apparently wild men; they begin needing a harness (:10), but then progress to working independently and yet within the overall furrow of God's direction.

Job 39:12 Will you confide in him, that he will bring home your seed, and gather the grain of your threshing floor?-
Man struggles to have faith / trust (:11) or confidence in things and processes which appear random and out of his control. But God has such confidence, and He invites Job and all His people to do likewise. Job's sufferings, like Judah's, were not random and aimless. They can be trusted to achieve the work intended, and bring about a great harvest; incredible as that might seem to secular, onlooking man.

Job 39:13 The wings of the ostrich wave proudly; but are they the feathers and plumage of love?-
I suggest that the following verses are arguing that the ostrich may appear to behave strangely, but is not in fact without love or care for its young. No animal totally lacks parental instinct. The people of Job's time thought that the ostrich did lack it; just as Job and the exiles were questioning whether God really loved and cared for them. Her wings wave as she dashes around the desert in the day time; but the question is, does she really have love for her own? God likewise was and is active through the wings of the cherubim. But does He care for His little ones? That is the sense in which the ostrich becomes a significant animal.

Job 39:14 For she leaves her eggs on the earth, warms them in the dust-
"Ostriches, having scratched a hole in the sand, and deposited their eggs in it, cover the eggs over with a layer of sand, sometimes as much as a foot in thickness, and, leaving them during the daytime to be kept warm by the heat of the sun, only incubate at night". As noted on :13, the question is as to whether the ostrich really loves her young. She does; for no animal is without parental instinct. And likewise with God; He covers His little ones in the dust, and uses the darkness of night, the trials of life, to incubate them personally.

Job 39:15 and forgets that the foot may crush them, or that the wild animal may trample them-
The idea may be that the ostrich can forget about her eggs, with no fear that they may be crushed, as she has buried them well (see on :14). The eggs of both God and the ostrich are preserved; neither man nor wild beasts of nations can destroy them. Job was not going to be crushed as he feared (Job 4:19; 5:4). God likewise hides and covers His people (Is. 26:20), although to the eye of secular, imperceptive man, He may appear not to care. But in the analogy, His people had to be prepared to accept that covering; for indeed many of them were trodden down / trampled by the wild beasts of the nations.

Job 39:16 She deals harshly with her young ones, as if they were not hers. Though her labour is in vain, she is without fear- "
Young ones" is Heb. "sons". The ostrich is introduced as hard to understand- "loving, or unloving?" is the opening question about the ostrich (:13). And indeed she apparently deals harshly with her young ones. The Bedouin peoples amongst whom Job lived thought that the ostrich was unloving, that it didn't care for its young; and they had proverbs to this effect, alluded to in Lam. 4:3. But the ostrich is not without parental instinct. Why does she incubate at night and hide her eggs in the day time? Not so that she can flit around the desert at her own pleasure, but because she is out looking for food for her young, and at night she incubates her eggs- working around the clock for her little ones. God's labour for His exiled people was likewise, and was also at times in vain (Ps. 127:1; Is. 49:4). But He did not fear, He didn't give up because some were indeed crushed and trodden down by the wild beasts of the nations, but continued working for them. And God did at times appear to treat His people as if they were not His; for "you are not My people", because they had chosen not to be (Hos. 1:9; Jer. 23:39).

Job 39:17 because God has deprived her of wisdom, neither has He imparted to her understanding-
The ostrich is presented as being an apparent contradiction; lacking understanding and yet able to run swiftly and be stronger than a horse and its rider (:18). As explained above, the ostrich is not without wisdom nor without parental instinct. But it can appear she is; and indeed some of her young are lost and crushed. See on :18.

Job felt he had been deprived of everything, including wisdom and understanding (Job 26:5). But this was not because he was unwise; he is presented as a perfect man (Job 1:1). God is able to give and take wisdom, as is seen in the natural creation (Job 39:17 s.w.).

Job 39:18 When she lifts up herself on high, she scorns the horse and his rider-
This lifting herself up refers to how the ostrich does this in order to run at great speed. She has been given good qualities such as speed and power, and also apparent foolishness which leads to some of her young being lost (:17). It is this union of apparently differing qualities which is the impression men have as they look at the wok of God towards His little ones.


Job 39:19 Have you given the horse might? Have you clothed his neck with a quivering mane?-
The apparently foolish ostrich is a match for the might of the horse (:18). But all these abilities are given by God, contradictory as they may seem to the secular man observing them. This is addressing the complaint of Job, that God appears to act toward man in contradictory ways (Job 10:16).

Job 39:20 Have you made him to leap as a locust? The glory of his snorting is awesome-
"Awesome" is literally 'terrible' or 'as terrors', which the friends believed would come upon Job (Job 20:25 s.w.). "Terrors" are again the judgment of God upon an apostate Israel, whom Job was suffering for whilst innocent, after the pattern of the later Lord Jesus (Dt. 32:25 s.w.). Those "terrors" were likely understood by the friends as some kind of demonic beings. God deconstructs this by explaining that the great beasts He has created likewise were 'terrible' (s.w. "terrors"). But the simple point was that He had created them and was totally in control (s.w. Job 39:20; 41:14).

Job 39:21 He paws in the valley, and rejoices in his strength. He goes out to meet the armed men-
Just as the ostrich is on one hand apparently foolish and yet has qualities of speed and bravery (:18), so the horse has great strength and is eager to fight, not fearing the sword which can slay it (:22). It is this union of apparently differing qualities which is the impression men have as they look at the wok of God towards His people.

Job 39:22 He mocks at fear, and is not dismayed, neither does he turn back from the sword-
See on :21. "Dismay" is the word used of how the exiles were urged not to be dismayed but to believe that God would indeed bring them from exile to restoration in His restored Kingdom (Is. 51:7; Jer. 30:10; 46:27). Job begins by being dismayed / scared (Job 7:14), but develops to not be dismayed (Job 31:34 s.w.), following the example of the Lord's battle horse (Job 39:22).

Job 39:23 The quiver rattles against him, the flashing spear and the javelin-
This is all the language of Divine judgment (Nah. 3:3; Lam. 3:13). The horse doesn't fear that, just as Leviathan doesn't (Job 41:29). He is as he is, not always wise, but free from the fear of judgment, not fearing the battle as men fear it. And this was perhaps how God wants His people to be, and this was in fact how Job was.

Job 39:24 He eats up the ground with fierceness and rage, neither does he stand still at the sound of the trumpet-
"Stand still" is the word for 'belief'. The idea may be that 'he hardly trusts his ears for joy' that the battle is beginning. The sound of the trumpet can be understood as the call to judgment. The horse doesn't fear the battle nor the call to judgment, but is eager for it- just as Job was, and as David and Paul also were. And yet the horse fails to understand the real implications of it all. In this sense God may be justifying Job's attitude to judgment.

Job 39:25 As often as the trumpet sounds he snorts, ‘Aha!’. He smells the battle afar off, the thunder of the captains, and the shouting-
Eliphaz claims that God is preparing to judge Job like a king ready to ride into the battle (Job 15:24). But God's later revelation includes Him demonstrating that man cannot participate successfully in any battle with what God has willed (Job 41:8), and the horse runs foolishly into battle with no regard for consequence (Job 39:25). The connection with the words of Eliphaz may be in that it was effectively Eliphaz who was rushing into battle to do judgment against Job; and he was acting like the foolish horse, forgetting that God alone will fight in the battle, and win (Job 38:23).

Job 39:26 Is it by your wisdom that the hawk soars, and stretches her wings toward the south?-
The invasions of Judah from the north were as birds of prey flying south as they migrate- all under God's control.

Job 39:27 Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up, and makes his nest on high?-
The eagle was a symbol of the enemies of God's people (Dt. 28:49).  But their movements were completely under God's control.

Job 39:28 On the cliff he dwells, and makes his home, on the point of the cliff, and the stronghold-
The eagle dwells on a point which is inaccessible to man. That seems to be the point. But the eagle is completely under Divine control (:27), although man is unable to engage with it. It was this which Job needed to learn.

Job 39:29 From there he spies out the prey. His eyes see it afar off-
The extraordinary eyesight of the eagle was legendary. The context is of God teaching Job that all his concerns with process and 'why' this or that are inappropriate; for even the animal creation has better eyesight than he does. Job earlier compared the passing of his life to the swiftness of an eagle (Job 9:26); perhaps now he is being taught that such comparison is inappropriate. The relevance to the exiles may be that they were "afar off" from the promised land, but in a moment could be brought there, just as the eagle can in an apparent moment close that distance which was "afar off" (Is. 43:6; 49:12; 60:4,9).

Job 39:30 His young ones also suck up blood. Where the slain are, there he is
- The Lord appears to allude to this in Mt. 24:28. He is answering the disciples' concerns as to where and how the judgment will take place. Perhaps He sees their undue concerns with process to be similar to those of Job. He directs them back to this passage, which teaches that we are not to overly concern ourselves with these questions, contrary as that attitude is to the 'scientific' mindset of the age of reason. It is the reality of it which is to be focused upon.