Job 39:1-30

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Job was asked questions about the natural world, questions for which he had no answers. Did he know when the wild goats or ibexes (literally, “wild goats of a crag”) gave birth in rocky terrain? Had he observed the calving of deer? (39:1) Did he know the “number of months they fulfill,” or the gestation period, and the time they would give birth? (39:2) When giving birth, the animals are described as crouching. They bring forth their young and, with the completion of the birthing process, they are delivered of offspring (literally, “pangs” or “birth pangs”). (39:3) Their young become strong, growing up in the open. After going forth or departing from their birth mother, they are on their own and do not return. Although this is not specifically stated, the questions and comments appear to allude to God’s care for these animals during their vulnerable time of giving birth and for their young thereafter. (39:4; see the Notes section for verses 1 through 4.)

The Hebrew words pére’ and ‘aróhd appear to be parallel designations for the wild donkey or onager. Concerning the animal, the question for Job to the answer was, Who set the wild donkey free and loosened its bonds or did not permit it to have bonds imposed upon it? In the Septuagint, the second phrase does not contain a parallel designation for “wild donkey.” Otherwise, the question reads much like the one in the extant Hebrew text. (39:5)

God is quoted as saying that he made the “steppe” or “desert” the home of the wild donkey or onager and a “salt plain” (either a salt-encrusted flat area or unproductive land) its habitat. (39:6; see the Notes section.) In cities, towns, and villages, donkeys were seen pulling loads, bearing burdens, or being ridden. Wild donkeys, however, lived far away from human habitation. Therefore, this animal is referred to as laughing at or scorning the commotion or the hustle and bustle of a city. In the Septuagint, the reference is to its laughing at a city’s large crowd. The wild donkey does not hear the shouts of the one driving or exacting (a tax collector [LXX]), for it is free from human control. (39:7) It seeks out or explores hills or mountains for its pasture and searches after all greenery. Whereas domestic donkeys are dependent on humans for their care, this is not the case with onagers. The implication may be that God is the one who made ample provision for them. (39:8; see the Notes section.)

Another animal over which humans had no control was the wild bull or aurochs (“unicorn” [LXX], possibly the rhinoceros). Job was asked, “Will a wild bull be willing to serve you? Will it spend the night by your crib?” (39:9) Furthermore, would Job be able to bind the animal, keeping it in the furrow, and would it harrow valleys or plains after him? The Septuagint rendering is more specific than is the extant Hebrew text. It raises the question as to whether Job could bind the wild bull’s “yoke with straps” and have it draw furrows for him in a plain. (39:10) Would Job be able to trust the aurochs because of its great strength and leave his labor to it? (39:11) Could he rely on the animal to bring back his “seed” (possibly meaning harvested grain from the field) and take it (literally, “gather”) to the “threshing floor”? Job knew that there was no possibility that he could use the animal for agricultural purposes. (39:12; see the Notes section.)

Have the wings of ostriches (literally, one of ringing or piercing cries) “exulted” (or moved proudly or joyously)? The sound an ostrich makes may be described as hoarse and mournful, and the male can make a loud noise that has been compared to a lion’s roar. Accordingly, the ostrich could fittingly be described as a bird that makes piercing cries. Possibly the phrase that includes the words that may be translated “pinions,” “stork,” and “plumage” is another question. “Does an ostrich have the pinions and plumage of a stork?” The elliptical nature of the phrase has given rise to various renderings. “Are her pinions and plumage like a stork’s?” (Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition]) “The wings of the ostrich flap joyfully, but they cannot compare with the pinions and feathers of the stork.” (NIV) “The ostrich’s wings flap wildly, though its pinions lack plumage.” (NRSV) “The wings of the ostrich beat idly; her plumage is lacking in pinions.” (NAB) “Can the wing of the ostrich be compared with the plumage of stork or falcon?” (NJB) Unlike a stork, the ostrich is a flightless bird. Its weight, breastbone, and wing structure render flight impossible. (39:13; see the Notes section.)

The female ostrich “leaves her eggs on the earth” or the ground, letting them be warmed on the sand. (39:14; see the Notes section for additional details about the ostrich.) It is then as if the bird has forgotten that a “foot may crush” the eggs and that a wild animal (literally, a “beast of the field”) may trample on them. (39:15)

The female ostrich “is hard” or deals harshly with her “sons” or young “as if not hers.” Observations of ostriches in Kenya confirm this. Hens without a permanent mate and a nest do not care for any chicks that may hatch from eggs they lay in the nests of other ostriches. Even permanently paired ostriches do not necessarily look after their own offspring. Another ostrich pair with their own chicks will round up chicks from other nests, thereafter functioning as escorts and guardians of more than 100 chicks. Most of these chicks will not reach maturity. In one documented case, only 16 chicks were alive from among 152 that had hatched in the previous year. So it can indeed be said that the labor expended in incubating and in guarding the nest and afterward the hatched chicks largely proves to be “in vain.” The reference to “no dread” may be understood to indicate that ostriches act as though they have no fear respecting the vulnerability of the chicks. (35:16)

Possibly in view of the lack of care regarding the eggs and the young on the part of a “secondary” hen, the text says that God has made her oblivious to wisdom and has not apportioned understanding to her. This could also be said about a cock and his permanently mated hen when their hatched chicks are later escorted and guarded by another pair of ostriches. (35:17)

The initial phrase of this verse may be literally translated, “In time in a height, [the ostrich] flaps away.” This obscure wording has been variously translated, but none of these renderings may be regarded as definitive. “Yet when she spreads her feathers to run …” (NIV) “… while like a cock she struts over the uplands …” (REB) “Yet in her swiftness of foot …” (NAB) “When it spreads its plumes aloft …” (NRSV) “But once she starts running …” (CEV) “Yet, if she bestirs herself to use her height …” (NJB) “Else she would soar on high …” (Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition]) The Greek version of Theodotion provides no insight. This Greek text could be translated, “At the right time, he [God] will raise [the ostrich] in the height.” Another possible rendering would be, “At the right time, it [the ostrich] will raise in the height.” The concluding phrase of the Hebrew text and the version of Theodotion focuses on the speed of the ostrich. The bird is described as laughing at the horse and at its rider. This is because the ostrich is known for its remarkable running speed. An ostrich may attain a maximum speed in excess of 40 miles (roughly 70 kilometers) per hour and maintain a pace of approximately 30 miles (c. 50 kilometers) per hour for some 30 minutes or more. (39:18)

The description of the horse is mainly focused on its use in warfare. Job was asked whether he had given strength to the horse and clothed its neck with a “mane” (ra‘máh). The Septuagint translator seems to have linked the Hebrew word ra‘máh to ra‘ám, which term can apply to “thunder,” “turmoil,” or “uproar,” and appears to have considered it to refer to trembling in fear. This appears to be the reason the Septuagint contains the rendering, “And did you clothe its neck [the neck of the horse] with fear?” (39:19)

The questions directed to Job continued. “Do you make” the horse “leap like the locust?” Job knew that he could not endow the horse with its remarkable jumping ability. In the partially preserved text of the Qumran version of the Targum of Job as translated by Geza Vermes, the question is whether Job could frighten the horse. The Septuagint rendering words the question differently. “And have you [Job] clothed” the horse with “panolpy?” This question appears to relate to equipping the horse with the abilities and the capacity (as if putting a full suit of armor on the animal) to function in battle. According to the Hebrew text, the verse concludes with a reference to the “majesty” of the horse’s “snorting” and links this snorting to “terror” or “dread.” This seems to mean that the sound of the snorting war horse gave rise to dread among those who came under attack. The partially preserved Qumran Targum concludes with the words that may be translated “fear and dread.” According to the Septuagint rendering the question for Job continued, “Have you [clothed] the glory” or majesty of the horse’s “breast with courage?” (39:20)

War horses are said to “dig” or “paw” in the valley, impatiently stamping with their hoofs. The horse used in warfare is identified as exulting in its “strength” and going out to meet weaponry. According to the translation of the Qumran Targum by Geza Vermes, the horse “searches out the valley, he trembles and rejoices, and mightily advances towards the sword.” The Septuagint refers to the horse as digging or pawing in the plain, exulting or being proud, and going out “into the plain in strength.” (39:21)

There is no hesitancy on the part of the war horse. The animal “laughs at fear,” manifesting no sign of wanting to avoid the conflict. It is “not dismayed” or terrified but undaunted. According to the Septuagint rendering, the horse “laughs” when encountering a “missile” or an arrow. The horse “does not turn back from a sword.” In the Septuagint, the refusal to turn back is made emphatic with two Greek words for “not,” and the phrase may be rendered, “and by no means will it turn back from iron” or weaponry. (39:22)

During the course of the conflict, a quiver filled with arrows “rattles” against the horse, as also does the “flashing” or blade of a “spear” and a “javelin.” In the Septuagint, “bow and sword” are represented as “exulting” upon the war horse, indicating that the animal encounters weaponry. The reading of the Qumran Targum suggests that the rider on the horse has a lance, a javelin, and a sword available for use in the conflict. (39:23)

“With trembling and excitement,” the horse races over the land as if “swallowing” [gamá’] the ground over which it passes. The Septuagint translator appears to have understood the Hebrew word gamá’ as meaning “destroy” or “obliterate” and rendered the text accordingly. “And in anger, he will destroy the land.” In the Hebrew text, the horse is seemingly portrayed as being so eager to enter the fray that it cannot “believe” it is hearing the shophar or the ram’s-horn trumpet sounding the signal for battle. According to the Septuagint, the horse “will by no means believe” until the trumpet sounds the recognizable signal. (39:24; see the Notes section.)

The Hebrew expression that could be literally translated, “in the sufficiency of the shophar,” probably refers to the sounding of the signal of the ram’s-horn trumpet. In response to that trumpet sound, the horse is portrayed as saying, “Aha!” (“Good!” [LXX]) It is then the time to rush into the fray. Already from afar, the horse is spoken of as smelling the battle and perceiving the “thunder” or the shout of captains and the war cry. (39:25; see the Notes section.)

The Hebrew word nets is a generic term for a bird of prey and has commonly been rendered “falcon” or “hawk.” Job was asked whether it was by his wisdom that this raptor flies or soars (“sets” or “stands” [LXX], probably meaning stops in the air and then descends upon its prey) and “spreads its wings toward the south.” The Septuagint rendering could be understood to mean that the raptor spreads out its wings, remaining motionless in the air while focusing on what lies “toward the south.” (39:26; see the Notes section regarding the Qumran Targum of Job.)

In response to the rhetorical question about the eagle, Job would be forced to acknowledge that it was not at his “command” that the bird mounted up and made its nest in a location high above the ground. Whereas the Septuagint mentions the “eagle” initially, it refers to the vulture as sitting, “lodged on its nest.” (39:27)

The Hebrew text refers to the eagle as settling down on a “rock” and lodging or spending the night on a “tooth [or a prominence, projection, or high point] of a crag” and concludes with the words “and stronghold.” This mention of “stronghold” suggests that the lofty position of the nest on top of a crag in mountainous terrain is like a stronghold for the raptor and its offspring. (39:28; see the Notes section.)

From the high location of the nesting site, the eagle (or vulture [39:27, LXX]) searches, or is on the lookout, for food. Endowed with keen vision, the eyes of the raptor can watch prey from a great distance. Soaring at an altitude of about a thousand feet (over 300 meters) above the ground, an eagle can see partially hidden animals on which it feeds. With an unobstructed view of the terrain below, a perched eagle may spot moving prey that is more a mile (over 1.5 kilometers) away. (39:29; see the Notes section.)

There is uncertainty about the meaning of the Hebrew verb (‘ala‘) that expresses what an eagle’s young ones do with the blood. The verb ‘ala‘ has been understood to mean “sip” or “suck,” but this does not fit the manner in which eaglets partake of blood. The thought appears to be that the young birds ingest blood from the flesh of the prey that is brought to them. In the Septuagint, there is no word that means “sip” or “suck.” It refers to the young of the vulture as being “soaked in blood.” Feathers may come in contact with blood when the birds tear into the flesh of the prey. (39:30)

The verse concludes with an apparent proverbial saying. Wherever the slain or the carcasses are, there the eagle or vulture (LXX) will be found. Having seen the potential meal from a considerable distance while in flight or when perched far above the ground, the raptor will quickly descend to feed on the flesh. (39:30)


According to the marks of Origen, the initial phrase of verse 1 in the Greek text was added from the version of Theodotion. It may be rendered, “If you knew the time of giving birth [for] wild goats of a rock.” The Septuagint then continues with the words that may be translated, “And did you observe the birth pangs of deer?”

The concluding phrase of verse 2 in the Septuagint represents God as asking Job whether he relieved the birth pangs of deer.

In verse 3, the question in the Septuagint is, “And did you rear their young ones without fear?” The rest of the verse (based on the marks of Origen) was added from the version of Theodotion. “Will you send away their pangs” or birth pangs?

In verse 4, the added Greek text from the version of Theodotion (based on the marks of Origen) contains a phrase that differs from the extant Hebrew text. “They will be increased with offspring.” The point about their not returning is made emphatic with two Greek words for “not” and may be rendered “by no means.”

Origen marked the second phrase of the Greek text in verse 6 as having been added from the version of Theodotion (“and salt land for its dwelling places”).

According to the marks of Origen, the Greek wording of verse 8 was added from the version of Theodotion. This wording corresponds to that of the extant Hebrew text.

The wording of the Hebrew text in verse 12 is somewhat obscure, and the Septuagint rendering is basically the same. Modern translations differ in their renderings. “Can you trust him [the wild bull] to harvest your grain or take it to your barn from the threshing floor?” (CEV) “Can you rely on him to thresh out your grain and gather in the yield of your threshing floor?” (NAB) “Can you trust him to bring in your grain and gather it to your threshing floor?” (NIV) “Would you trust him to bring in the seed and gather it in from your threshing floor?” (Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition]) “Can you depend on him to come home and pile your grain on your threshing-floor?” (NJB) “Can you rely on it to come, bringing your grain to the threshing-floor?” (REB)

The marks of Origen indicate that the Greek wording for verses 13 through 18 was added from the version of Theodotion. In verse 13, the Hebrew words that may be rendered “exult” (move proudly or joyously), “stork,” and “plumage” are not translated but transliterated (neelasa, asida, and nessa). This verse would have been incomprehensible to the Greek reader who had no knowledge of Hebrew. For verses 14 through 18, the wording of the text of Theodotion is much like that of the Hebrew text.

Field studies of ostriches in Kenya provide details that fit the description in the book of Job (36:14, 15). A male ostrich establishes a territory and, at the beginning of the breeding season, scratches a depression in the ground that will serve as a nest where the principal female ostrich will lay her eggs. There are more mature female ostriches than males, with only about one out of three being able to find a permanent mate. The male with a nest and a territory has one permanent mate but will mate with other females. These secondary hens will lay eggs in the same nest and in those of other ostriches, and the eggs of the principal female will end up being surrounded by numerous eggs from other hens. The principal female recognizes her own eggs, places them in the central position, and rearranges those that she can incubate. Any eggs that are in excess of about twenty, the female ostrich moves some three feet (less than a meter) away from the nest. During the night, the territorial male incubates the eggs in the nest, whereas the principal female does so during the day. Whenever the nest is left unguarded (as, for example, when either the male or the female ostrich arrive late for their incubation turn), opportunistic predators steal or break a few eggs. These eggs usually are those of the “secondary” hens at the perimeter of the nest. Therefore, in the case of most female ostriches, they “forget” about their eggs and what might happen to them. Many of these eggs will lie in the sand without being incubated.

In verse 24, the expression “by no means” preserves the emphatic sense of the two Greek words for “not” found in the Septuagint. There is no corresponding wording for this verse in the Qumran Targum of Job.

Although the Septuagint (in verse 25) refers to the horse as smelling the battle, it does not specify a human source for the shouting but reads, “it smells the battle with jump and cry.”

The wording of verse 26 in the Qumran Targum of Job (as translated by Geza Vermes) is, “Does the hawk get excited because of your wisdom and spread his wings towards the south?”

According to the marks of Origen, the Greek wording for verse 28 is from the version of Theodotion. It is, “upon a prominence [or a projection] of a rock and in concealment.” In conjunction with the previous words, the thought is that the vulture has its nest in a hidden and secure location on an elevated site in mountainous terrain.

Based on the marks of Origen, the Greek wording of the concluding phrase of verse 29 was added from the version of Theodotion. The phrase reads much like the Hebrew text (“its eyes watch closely from far away”).