I’d like to begin this evening by contrasting two poems.
In 1779 William Cowper wrote a poem called ‘Light Shining Out of Darkness.’ In it he says the following: “God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform; He plants his footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the storm…ye fearful saints, fresh courage take, the clouds ye so much dread are big with mercy, and shall break in blessings on your head. Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust him for his grace; behind a frowning providence, He hides a smiling face. His purposes will ripen fast, unfolding every hour; the bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flower.”
Now contrast Cowper’s poem with one of the sonnet’s of Robert Frost called ‘Design’ from 1936. After describing the mixture of elegant beauty and horrid ugliness shown in two dead insects (a spider and a moth) lying on top of a flower Frost asks the purpose for such a design saying, “What but design of darkness to appall? If design govern in a thing so small.”
Both Cowper and Frost experienced difficult things in life and in their respective poems ask about the nature of things and why they are designed in such a manner. While Cowper finds rest and relief in God’s sovereign and good ordering of all things Frost finds no relief and even questions whether things as small as flowers and insects are governed by a greater power at all. The contrast between these two poets is telling for what God is doing in His answer to Job. In his suffering Job has grown into something of a Robert Frost like position on how God governs and rules over the world He has made. This is not a good place to be. By answering him in the manner He does God intends to bring Job more into a William Cowper like position. To a place where Job doesn’t need answers but realizes his humble position before God.
God began this in chapter 38 as He powerfully displayed His command over all creation, and tonight we’ll see God continue this in chapter 39 as He powerfully displays His command over all creatures in creation. In summarizing His power over all creatures in His creation, God specifically brings up nine animals: lions, ravens, mountain goats, wild donkeys, the wild ox, the ostrich, the battle horse, hawks, and eagles. After this God applies these things to Job, and Job responds with what he has learned.
As each of these animals come into view they form a new section for us to examine, so let’s take one at a time.
Lions / Ravens (38:39-41)
“Can you hunt the prey for the lion, or satisfy the appetite of the young lions, when they crouch in their dens or lie in wait in their thicket? Who provides for the raven its prey, when its young ones cry to God for help, and wander about for lack of food?”
The issue at stake here in these questions from God to Job is a question of prey for the predators. Can Job give the young lions or young ravens their needed food? Can Job provide for them as they wait in their dens or wander around seeking sustenance? No, he cannot but God can, and not only can God provide this, He does provide this. So Psalm 104:21 says, “The young lions roar for their prey, seeking their food from God.” Similarly Psalm 147:9 says, “He gives to the beasts their food, and to the young ravens that cry.” Simply put, God can do this, does do this, and Job cannot. But see further into this. God has ordered the lives of all creatures in such a manner that suffering for some (the prey) is necessary for the survival of others (the predator). Perhaps even here we see hints of God’s grand plan of redemption. How? The suffering of One Man will be the means of not only survival but the enlivening and awakening and thriving of God’s elect?If God can so bring about life through death in the animal world, He can also bring dead sinners to new life through the death and resurrection life of His Son.
Mountain Goats (39:1-4)
“Do you know when the mountain goats give birth? Do you observe the calving of the does? Can you number the months that they fulfill, and do you know the time when they give birth, when they crouch, bring forth their offspring, and are delivered of their young? Their young ones become strong; they grow up in the open; they go out and do not return to them.”
The subject of new life comes into view with questions concerning mountain goats. Does Job know the inner workings of how a young mountain goat is born? Does he know the time it takes for them to form in the womb? Does he know how they are brought forth from the womb? Does he know, or does he understand how they grow, become strong, and go off on their own never to return? He does not. But God does. God knows all and holds the time of all in His hands. Therefore, since God knows the intricate details of a mountain goats birth and maturing it is implied that God knows the intricate details of human births and their maturing as well.Job needs to be reminded of this because in his lament back in chapter 3 it is these very things he casts doubt upon and calls into question. God corrects him, reminding him that He holds the times of all mountain goats in His hands, just as He holds the times of all mankind in His hands.
Wild Donkeys (39:5-8)
“Who has let the wild donkey go free? Who has loosed the bonds of the swift donkey, to whom I have given the arid plain for his home and the salt land for his dwelling place? He scorns the tumult of the city; he hears not the shouts of the driver. He ranges the mountains as his pasture, and he searches after every green thing.”
Here the subject of the questions in view concerns freedom and specifically the freedom of the wild donkeys. Job isn’t the one who let these animals go free. Job isn’t the one who burst the bonds of their cage. Job isn’t the one who gave it a land to freely dwell in roam about. Job isn’t the one made the donkey dislike cities and prefer arid deserts and mountain ranges. Job isn’t the one who gave these donkeys a taste for the green things of the wild. No, Job didn’t do any of these things. Who did? God did. In His providential governing over all things God set the wild donkey free and gave it the desire to make a life in a naturally difficult terrain. So too, as we saw before see here again that God holds all things in His hands, even the wild life of the wild donkeys who do life in a wild terrain.
Wild Ox (39:9-12)
“Is the wild ox willing to serve you? Will he spend the night at your manger? Can you bind him in the furrow with ropes, or will he harrow the valleys after you? Will you depend on him because his strength is great, and will you leave to him your labor? Do you have faith in him that he will return your grain and gather it to your threshing floor?”
In view in these questions is the wild power of the untamed ox. Can Job go out into the wilderness, find a wild ox, make it serve him? Can Job bind him with ropes or a harness and force him to plow his fields? Can Job get a proper agricultural labor out of such a wild beast and fill his barns with grain? The implied answer is no, and the thought of doing something like this is unheard of. No one tries to tame a wild beast like this, they use tamed animals that are less dangerous to get fruitfulness out of their agricultural efforts. Why? Because the power of the wild ox is incredible. Some of them can be six feet across at the shoulders. David rejoiced in Psalm 22 when God rescued him from a wild ox. Commenting on how fiercely God protects Israel Balaam said in Numbers 23 and 24 that God “is for them like the horns of the wild ox.”But despite it’s power, God is able to bring the wild ox into submission to wield it for His own purposes. Therefore, as fierce and untamable and wild as the wild ox may be the power of God is infinitely greater. Job can’t accomplish such a feat, but God can easily. Perhaps Job has forgotten the power of God, and here he’s reminded of it.
The Ostrich (39:13-18)
“The wings of the ostrich wave proudly, but are they the pinions and plumage of love? For she leaves her eggs to the earth and lets them be warmed on the ground, forgetting that a foot may crush them and that the wild beast may trample them. She deals cruelly with her young, as if they were not hers; though her labor be in vain, yet she has no fear, because God has made her forget wisdom and given her no share in understanding. When she rouses herself to flee, she laughs at the horse and his rider.”
The questions in v13-18 are unique. In all the other questions we see something concrete and straight forward but here we see something else, namely, that there are things in life that don’t make sense but still work according to the plan of God. What creature specifically doesn’t make sense but still does life under the sovereign control of God? The Ostrich. What doesn’t make sense about the Ostrich? Just look back at this passage. It seems the Ostrich lives in an opposite manner to most all else. Having wings but being unable to fly with them, leaving her eggs unguarded and out in the open for predators, dealing cruelly with her young as of they weren’t her own effectively making her labor in vain, having no sense of fear or danger because God hasn’t given her any share of wisdom. And yet, v18 seems to imply that when she is roused to run she can run faster than a horse. This is an amazingly foolish, yet fast, creature. Why is she like this? Because God made her this way. It doesn’t make sense that God would have a creature be like this, but He knows more than us, and perhaps Job needs to remember that. Perhaps here also, we get a glimpse of the redemption to come through Christ.The perfect One who would paradoxically provide full atonement for sin by taking on the full penalty of sin, though He wasn’t a sinner Himself! As with the Ostrich so it is with Christ. No one would believe unless God had so ordered it.
The War Horse (39:19-25)
“Do you give the horse his might? Do you clothe his neck with a mane? Do you make him leap like the locust? His majestic snorting is terrifying. He paws in the valley and exults in his strength; he goes out to meet the weapons. He laughs at fear and is not dismayed; he does not turn back from the sword. Upon him rattle the quiver, the flashing spear, and the javelin. With fierceness and rage he swallows the ground; he cannot stand still at the sound of the trumpet. When the trumpet sounds, he says ‘Aha!’ He smells the battle from afar, the thunder of the captains, and the shouting.”
We return to the wild in v19, by looking at the horse. And as soon as we get into v19 we learn this is no ordinary tamed horse, but a war horse, strong in might. Clothed with a shining mane, able to leap like a locust, snorting majestically, charging out boldly to greet the oncoming enemy, laughing at fear, not turning back though weapons strike him all around, rejoicing at the sound of the war horn, smelling battle, and eagerly anticipating the dread to come. Can Job give this beast his might? Can Job clothe him with a bright mane? Can Job give him the ability to leap? No, but God can. And God does. As strong and mighty as the war horse has been throughout the centuries, God is stronger still. This is One Job has questioned, and this is the One revealing His might and strength to Job.
Hawks / Eagles (39:26-30)
“Is it by your understanding that the hawk soars and spreads his wings toward the south? Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up and makes his nest on high? On the rock he dwells and makes his home, on the rocky crag and stronghold. From there he spies out the prey; his eyes behold it from far away. His young ones suck up blood, and where the slain are, there is he.”
Our last creatures in view are also wild and have been used as symbols for many nations and empires throughout the ages because they are often seen as symbols of strength. The hawk and the eagle soar, spreading their wings out wide, mounting up and nesting on high in the rocky crags. From here they see much and hunt their keen eyes. Once gotten prey what do the young ones do? They suck out the blood of the prey. Whose understanding made these flying predators so fierce? Not Job’s, only God’s. At God’s command these wild creatures do all these things. And to think once again…this is the God Job is questioning? Which is why 40:1-5 comes next.
Conclusion: Job Learns (40:1-5)
“And the LORD said to Job: “Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it.” Then Job answered the LORD and said: “Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further.”
Do not miss that God calls him a faultfinder, and states that He has done nothing wrong, nothing out of line, and nothing out of bounds with his life. God’s counsel is perfect. Perhaps if our greatness was taken away, if our wealth was removed, if our family and servants were killed, and if our health was ruined we too would say things to God similar to what Job has said. But see what he says in v3-5. Realizing the difference between he and God he lays his hand on his mouth and says three things: he is of small account, he cannot answer back to God, and that he will say no more. Why? Because He has been humbled or tamed by this God who’s wilder than the wild creatures of His creation. Derek Kidner commenting on this passage says, God’s speech “…cuts us down to size, treating us not as philosophers but as children – limited in mind, puny in body – whose first and fundamental grasp of truth must be to know the difference between our place and God’s, and to accept it.”
On these five verses Charles Spurgeon says, “Surely, if any man had a right to say, I am not vile, it was Job; for, according to the testimony of God himself, he was “a blameless and an upright man, one that feared God and turned away from evil.” Yet we find even this eminent saint, when by his nearness to God he had received light enough to discover his own condition, exclaiming, “Behold I am vile.” We are sure that what Job was forced to say, we may each of us assent to, whether we be God’s children or not; and if we be partakers of divine grace, it becomes a subject of great consideration for us, since even we, although we be regenerated, must exclaim, each one for himself, “Behold, I am vile.”
May we be so humbled and tamed by such a wild and untamable God as this.
Robert Frost, quoted in Christopher Ash, Job: The Wisdom of the Cross – Preaching the Word Commentary (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2014) page 391. This chapter is by far, one of Ash’s best chapters in the commentary.