JOB Chapter 39: God’s Wisdom & Providence, Exhibited in Wildlife Pairs

JOB CHAPTER 39: GOD’S WISDOM AND PROVIDENCE, EXHIBITED IN WILDLIFE PAIRS

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

עיט חורש.jpg
LESSER SPOTTED EAGLE (Wikipedia photo credit)

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?

Job 39:26-27

The Book of Job has a literary structure that does not fit an “either-or” categorization of prose-versus-poetry, because Job’s book begins with a historical prose prologue (chapters 1 & 2), and concludes with a historical narrative epilogue (42:7-17)—yet the intervening text (3:1—42:6) primarily provides powerful and poignant discourses (both monologues and dialogues) that are presented in the parallelism-framed format of Hebrew poetry.[1]

Job 39 is part of the lengthy serial-questions-based “nature sermon” (Job chapters 38—41) that God gave unto Job, with each creation exhibit (including all animal “creature features”) proving God’s infinite wisdom and providence, as the Creator of the heavens, earth, animal life (especially wildlife), and mankind—including Job himself.[2] 

Specifically, God’s nature sermon (Job 38-41) begins with God’s rhetorical questions about the heavens and Earth’s geophysical environment (38:1-38), follows with God’s questions about selected land-based beasts of the earth (38:39—39:30), and ends with two monstrous beasts of water-dominated habitats—Behemoth (chapter 40, inhabiting freshwater wetland habitats) and Leviathan (chapter 41, inhabiting “deep” saltwater habitats). 

Thus, within the overall context (of Job 38-41), the flow (of Chapter 39’s wildlife lessons) actually begins at Job 38:39, which begins a theme-connected series of “creature feature” pairs, starting with the hunger of lions and ravens.[3]

Job’s book is structured as Hebrew poetry, so parallelism is the key to exegeting Job 38-41. The first “creature feature” animal pair is the “lion” (38:39-40) and “raven” (38:41), whose hunger God satisfies. That pair is followed by four more land-based animal pairs (chapter 39),[4] concluding with a wet-habitat monster pair, Behemoth (chapter 40) and Leviathan (chapter 41).  

Thus, Chapter 39 continues this series of animal pairs with child-bearing “wild goat of the rock” and the child-bearing “hind” (39:1-4); followed by the free-ranging, untamed “wild ass” (39:5-8) and free-ranging, untamed “unicorn”[5] (39:9-12); followed by the fearless, reckless “ostrich” (39:13-18) and fearless, reckless “horse” (introduced in verse 18, discussed in 39:19-25); followed by the wind-borne, soaring “hawk” (39:26) and wind-borne, soaring “eagle” (39:27-30).

[U]sing a “nature sermon” … God pointed to how He takes care of earthly creatures through His providential timing. Lion and raven babies hunger first, then they eat. Wild goats and deer have designed timeframes for gestation, then birth occurs. Hawks and eagles fly with purposeful timing, synching their flights to thermal air currents … Sequential timing is vital for the important things in this life, even the basics of being born, metabolizing food, and daily movements. Timing contextualizes all of the temporal adversities in human life, too. But eventually, all temporal afflictions end. God was testing Job’s moral character. We know this now because we have [Job’s] book and know the entire ordeal, including the happy ending. But if God had told Job about the test in advance, including how God was proving that Satan was an impudent liar, it would have ruined the legitimacy of Job’s own trial of faith.What Job learned through his agonizing ordeal was synched to sequenced timing—God’s timing—so that Job’s sufferings ultimately ended and counted for good … as Paul would later say, “all things work together for good.”[6]

[ quoting JJSJ, citation given below in Endnote References ]

The main lesson for Job—which fits the overall context of his book—is that God is providentially caring, all-wise, and all-powerful, so He can and should be trusted with all of Job’s life.

Exegetical Observations and Lexical Analysis

Verses 1-4. 

As before (such as in 38:39, with God’s question about lions), God’s interrogation (of Job) begins with the interrogatory particle prefix (ha-), indicating a question. In these verses Job is asked about gestation and child-bearing, as illustrated in the life cycles of the ya‘elê-sâla‘ (KJV: “wild goats of the rock”) and ‘ayyâlôth (KJV: “hinds”).  Both of these are wild mammals illustrate the need for successful reproduction.  God’s inquiry begins with the rhetorical question “do you know [ha-yâda‘tâ – qal perfect 2nd person masculine singular of yâda‘] …?”—emphasizing God’s perfect and infinite knowledge of creation, in contrast to Job’s imperfect and finite knowledge.

These two animals exhibit the suffering (affliction, pain, discomfort, etc.) of preganancy and childbirth that leads to a good outcome, eventually.[7] 

There are two infinitive constructs in 39:1, the qal ledeth (“bring forth”, i.e., to procreatively generate or “beget”/“give birth”, from yâlad) and the pôlēl ôlēl (“do calve”, i.e., to procreatively struggle in pain/discomfort to give birth, from ûl, as in Isaiah 26:17 & 54:1).  For both of these mammal mothers, the timing of their pregnancy and childbirths is providential:  God knows “when” [‘ēt] the ibexes bring forth, as well as when cervid “hinds” (deer roe) calve. God’s question (in 39:1b) implies that Job does not observe or provide watch-care[8] over these critical wildlife events, once again demonstrating Job’s limited knowledge of how God cares for the world and its creatures’ life cycles.

Nice female ibex Israel.JPG
FEMALE NUBIAN IBEX Wikipedia / Peter van der Sluijs photo credit

As 39:2 indicates, these birthing events are always observed (and providentially cared for) by God; unlike Job the mortal human, God can and does “number [qal imperfect form of sâphar] the months they fulfill [piel imperfect form of mâla’]” and He knows “the time [‘ēt] when they bring forth [qal infinitive construct form of yâlad, with 3rd person feminine plural suffix]”.

These animal childbirth processes involves struggle, as 39:3 indicates:  these mammal mothers “bow themselves” [qal imperfect form of kâra‘], to “bring forth” [piel imperfect form of pâla] their begotten-ones (i.e., their newborn babies); thus they forcibly “cast out” [piel imperfect form of šâla] their sorrows. 

Yet this progeny-generating struggle achieves a good outcome: “their young ones” (benêhem = “their children”) grow up in the open field (bar); they issue forth and don’t return unto their parents. Notice that the last two verbs in 39:4, yaşe’û (they “go forth”) and šâbû (they “return”) and both qal perfect forms (of şâ’and šûb, respectively), indicating a description of activity as completed.  Although the multi-generational process continues, with each new generation of ibexes leaving their mothers after weaning, God is emphasizing (to Job) that He completes the child-rearing process so that the filial generation become independent of parental care and does not return to the earlier state of childish dependence. This shows that the Hebrew perfect verb is not identical to an English grammar’s “past” tense, because the completed action (of leaving maternal care for a new life of independence) is chronologically future as to future generations.

The rocky cliff-dweling ya‘alâh (introduced in 39:1a) is not a domesticated goat (‘ēz). The root verb for this noun is “ascend” (‘âlah), and that is what these high-elevation quadrupeds are famous for doing.  The first-named animal is a type of wild mountain goat, most likely what today is called the Nubian ibex, which is similar to the Alpine ibex (a/k/a Steinbok).[9] This animal, in singular feminine noun form (ya‘alâh), appears in Proverbs 5:19. The masculine plural noun form (ye‘ēlîm) appears also in 1st Samuel 24:2 (1st Samuel 24:3 in the Hebrew Bible), associated with rocks, and in Psalm 104:18, associated with high elevations.

The cervid doe (introduced in 39:1b), i.e., the mother deer (“hind” in KJV, the Hebrew feminine plural is ‘ayyâlôth), is the second-named baby-bearing (and birthing) mammal. This feminine noun appears elsewhere, such as in Genesis 49:21, 2nd Samuel 22:34, Habakkuk 3:19, etc.—with Psalm 29:9 specifically noting that it is the LORD Who shakes loose (i.e., causes calving) the cervid hind’s newborn, at birth, using a wordplay with the same verb [ûl] in Psalm 29:8. The male deer (“hart” in KJV) is ayyâl in Hebrew (as in Psalm 42:1(2), Isaiah 35:6, etc.  

Verses 5-12. 

The next wild mammal pair begins with the “wild ass” (pere’, also called ‘ârôr in 39:5b), followed by the “unicorn”[10] (re’ēm). The common theme for this pair is their unharnessed, free-ranging, vigorous independence (linking to the independence allusion in 39:4). 

What the Heck Is That?: ONAGER - The New York Times
ONAGER (WILD DONKEY) / New York Times photo credit

The “wild ass”, according to zoölogist George Cansdale, is most likely the steppe-dwelling Asian equid variety called the Onager, which is the same untamed “wild ass” mentioned in Jeremiah 2:24 (and metaphorically likened to Ishmael’s progeny in the prophecy of Genesis 16:12).[11] The wild ass lives apart from mankind (39:7), so a lifetime of domesticated service, such as bearing burdens for a “driver”, or hearing the noises of city activities—is not the lifestyle of the wild ass. Yet mankind is not needed, for the wild ass to survive (and thrive) in the wildernesses or arid deserts and semi-arid steppes (39:8), because the onager ass is providentially equipped to search out needed food (“every green thing” = kâl-yârôq) from vegetation growing in “mountains” (hârîm = highlands, i.e., mountains or hills). In effect, to the wild ass, “his pasture” (mire‘ēhû) is what humans call a wild wasteland.  Onagers are resilient, no thanks to humans—again showing God’s providence.

The next animal is what the King James Version calls the “unicorn”—which was the usual English word used, back in A.D.1611, to denote a one-horned rhinoceros (today called Rhinoceros unicornis).[12]  In fact, as shown elsewhere, the usages of the Hebrew noun re’ēm suggest that this noun was not limited to the one-horned variety of rhinoceros, as is indicated by Deuteronomy 33:17 (which refers to the re’ēm having more than one horn). In fact, one-horned rhinoceros (Indian and Javan varieties) once ranged in northern India, in Indochina, and in Indonesia; whereas two-horned rhinos (White and Black varieties) once dwelt over most in Africa—including not far from the Nile River (and thus near the Mideast), as well as one variety (Sumatran variety) in Indochina and in Indonesia.[13] Since Job lived in “the land of Uz” (1:1), which (according to Lamentations 4:21) was later associated with the Edomites, the historic ranges of the two-horned rhinoceros was geographically closer to where Job is assumed to have lived, which better matches the re’ēm  of Deuteronomy 33:17.

Two rhino species 'extinct'
2-horned Rhinoceros (Telegraph photo credit)

Unsurprisingly, humans do not domesticate rhinos; the rhinoceros is neither service-harnessed (for ploughing agricultural fields) nor housed in a cattle-crib, as 39:9-10 indicates. Rhinoceros might is unquestioned, but that power will not be useful to human farmers (39:11).  God uses rhetorical questions to guide Job’s thinking, with interrogative particles (ha-) prefixed to the “unicorn” questions in Verses 9, 10, 11, and 12.

Because Job himself was a master of agriculture, owning oxen and asses (as noted in Job 1:3), God’s alludes to grain crops being planted (39:10-11) and harvested (39:12)—but the rhinoceros is no help to crop-growing farmers who need beasts of burden like mules or oxen.

Verses 13-25. 

The next pair of animals are described (in 39:13-25) with some vocabulary that has puzzled (and often confused) many translators, to say the least. Identifying the second animal (of the pair) is easy: the horse (sûs), which is the only animal in this series that is bridled for mankind’s service.  It is the first-named creature of the pair, the birds called renânîm (plural noun, based upon the root verb rânan = “to call/sing/shout/scream/cry loudly”), and its described traits, that baffle many exegetes. As shown below, the most likely identification of this wild flightless bird is the ostrich (or perhaps an ostrich “cousin”, such as now-extinct ratites like the moa or elephant bird).

The common theme in 39:13-25 is the fearless (even reckless) disposition of both the powerful ostrich and powerful war-horse.  Job is experiencing what seems like an out-of-control world, so he can relate to what looks like crazy recklessness (e.g., 39:15-16 & 39:20-22) and crazy commotion (39:18 & 39:20-25) that attends the fast-lane lifestyles of ostrich and war-horse.

Ostrich Facts | Ostriches | African Animals
OSTRICH Animal Fact Guide photo credit

The ostrich wing (kenaph-renânîm in 39:13) is not designed for flying.[14]  However, that does not mean those wings (like the wings of other ratite birds) are useless, because flapping wings are useful to the ostrich:  they are used for courtship displays, they conserve body heat (including coverage of upper leg skin) during cold nights, and they can radiate excess body heat during hot days. Moreover, the ostrich uses his or her wings like an aerodynamic “rudder”, for quick change-of-direction steering while running at high speeds. These unusual wings—and the ostrich’s unusual speed—are traits that God emphasizes to Job, as God explains how He balances creaturely limitations with providential traits, so that the overall outcome is a success story.[15]

The ostrich is relatively careless about parenting, exposing ground-laid eggs[16] to injury (39:14-15), yet the resilient toughness and speed of the ostrich compensates, as a counter-balancing advantage that suits this fearless bird for its rough habitats (39:16-18). Ostrich ranges were previously larger, including southwest Asia, in Israel and the Arab regions, and in Africa.[17] The ostrich is the largest bird alive nowadays, it is not surprising that it is a confident, noisy bird—it has virtually no predators to be fearful of.  As a noisy bird—its Hebrew name is related to the verb that is often translated “sing” (rânan), usually in contexts of rejoicing (e.g., Psalms 51:14 & 81:1; Isaiah 35:6 & 65:14; Jeremiah 31:7; etc.).[18]

The feminine singular noun “wing” (kenaph, as construct form in 39:13) somehow matches three other feminine singular words in that same sentence: ’ebrâh (“wing”/“pinion” = power, i.e., powering the wings for flight), asîdâh (“faithful” or “stork”), andşâh (plumage/feather). The connotation of kenaph is the wing’s action of overspreading, collecting, and fencing in the air, for airlift (see Daniel 9:27; see also the equivalent Aramaic verb kenaph in Daniel 3:2-3 & 3:27).  Further complicating the sentence, the pivotal conjunction ’im (immediately preceding ’ebrâh in 39:13) serves as an interrogative or hypothetical particle, often implying a contrast or negative (see Jeremiah 33:25-26).  How does that conjunction (’im) connect the feminine singular noun “wing” (kenaph, as a construct form in 39:13) with the three subsequent feminine singular nouns (and/or adjectives, i.e., ’ebrâh (“wing”/power, as in Psalm 55:6(7), Isaiah 40:31, Ezekiel 17:3), asîdâh (“faithful”/“stork”, as in Jeremiah 8:7), andşâh (plumage/feather, as in Ezekiel 17:3 & 17:7)?

Although many translate asîdâh (in 39:13) as a feminine adjective (meaning “loving-kind” or “faithful”), it could be the same-spelled feminine noun, meaning “stork”. Israel’s white stork (asîdâh) is famous for its dependability, faithfully returning from its migration—as such a role-model of faithfulness that the prophet Jeremiah contrasted its faith return to the failure of God’s covenant people (i.e., Israel) to “return” to Him.[19] Also, the wings of the stork are notable for their size and airlift (see Zechariah 5:9), greatly contrasting with flightless ostrich wings. 

Another puzzle piece is the Hebrew etymology of şâh – is that derived from the verbşâh, meaning “to fly over”/“oversee” (as in ), or from the same-spelledşâh, meaning “to struggle”/“to overcome”/“to overpower”//“to contend”, etc., as in Exodus 2:13 & 21:22; Leviticus 24:10; 2nd Samuel 14:6; Jeremiah 4:7; Isaiah 37:26; Numbers 26:9, etc.).

Maybe the pivotal conjunction ’im introduces a contrast, i.e., that the flightless wings of the ostrich are designed in contrast to the flight-powering wings of the stork?[20]  Perhaps this sentence may be more literally translated: “[The] wing of ostriches is joy-waved, but [is it] wing-power [of] stork and/or plumage?”  If so, the rhetorical question necessarily implies that the ostrich has wings that are unlike those of the stork, because God’s purpose for the ostrich’s terrestrial (running) mobility is very different from God’s purpose for the stork’s airborne (flying) mobility.

Like the boisterous ostrich, the horse (sûs)—especially the horse trained for warfare—is powerful, fearless, and thrive amidst commotion (39:19-25).  When the surrounding circumstances are in danger and tumult (as was then the case, with Job’s personal life, during Job’s dialogue with God), both the ostrich and the war-horse, in effect, laugh with confidence (39:18 & 39:25).[21] 

Verses 26-30. 

Before God speaks to Job about the monstrous creatures of wet habitats—Behemoth (in chapter 40) and Leviathan (in chapter 41)—God refers to one more pair of land-based creatures, both of them raptor birds, the “hawk” (ş) and the “eagle” (šer, which some would apply to certain vultures, but those “vultures” are misnamed and should be labeled “eagles”), in 39:26-30.

These predatory birds are large-bodied, and thus heavy, so launching from the earth, into the skies, requires efficiently overcoming gravity. Yet it is God Who has solved (in advance) the gravity problem, just as God solves all of the important problems in life (including Job’s problems).

Some who read Job 39:26—which alludes to a hawk stretching out its wings “toward the south”—assume that hawk migration is the question’s topic.[22]  But the poetic parallelism-based context suggests otherwise, because the hawk’s aerial behavior is compared to eagle flight. Both raptor birds require special aerodynamics to lift their heavy bodies up into the air successfully. In fact, God has designed such raptors to utilize weather-powered “elevators” for ascending upward into air currents.[23]  As Luke 12:55 indicates, hot air currents routinely come from south of Israel, so hawks can “catch a [thermal] ride” simply by stretching out their wings southward, catching the powerful air current, just as a boat’s sail catches wind-power to blow the boat across a sea. This harnessing of wind-power matches the Hebrew vocabulary used (in Job 39:26), as is shown by the same Hebrew verb [pâraś] used to describe hawk wing-spread (in 39:26) being used in Isaiah 33:23, to refer to boat-sails being spread out, to catch the wind’s power.[24]

Беркут (Aquila chrysaetos).jpg
GOLDEN EAGLE (Wikipedia photo credit)

Likewise (in 39:27), the “eagle” (šer) “mounts up” (a hiphil imperfect form of gâbah) upon God’s command, and is thus enabled to frequent high places (as Obadiah 1:14 indicates) where it “makes high its nest” (yârîm qinnô).

Thus, the continuing focus of this series of “creature feature” pair questions is emphasized in 39:26, when God’s question confronts Job: 

Is it from your wisdom … [that these animals can do what they do, successfully] …?” 

[ quoting the beginning portion of God’s question in Job 39:26 ]

All these animals are able to survive—and even thrive—amidst the rough-and-tough vicissitudes of life on a fallen planet, because God providentially applies His infinite wisdom (bînâh) to the multifarious life challenges facing all these wild creatures—including their need for food (38:39-41), their need for successful reproduction (39:1-4), their need for a home range (39:5-12), their need for mobility on land (39:25) or mobility in the skies (39:26-30). The implied lesson for Job, as he suffers, is that Job can trust God to do the same—and more—for Job (1st Peter 4:19).

Absurd Creature of the Week: The Magnificent Bearded Vulture Only Eats  Bone. Metal, Dude | WIRED
Bearded Vulture, about to land (Wikipedia photo credit)

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Alerstan, Thomas.  Bird Migration (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1993).

Baughman, Ray E. Seeking Bible Treasures. Oak Park, IL: Emmaus Bible School, 1965.

Cansdale, George S.  All the Animals of the Bible Lands (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1976).

Dinerstein, Eric.  The Return of the Unicorns: The Natural History and Conservation of the Greater One-Horned Rhinoceros (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003).

Eggleton, Michael. “On Eagle’s Wings: The American Bald Eagle”, Creation, 38(2):34-37 (2016).

Harrison, Colin, & Howard Loxton.  The Bird: Master of Flight (Hauppauge, NY: Barron’s, 1993).

Johnson, James J. S.  “Hawks and Eagles Launching Skyward”, Acts & Facts, 47(4):21 (April 2018), posted at https://www.icr.org/article/hawks-eagles-launching-skyward .

Johnson, James J. S.  “Genesis Is History, Not Poetry: Exposing Hidden Assumptions about What Hebrew Poetry Is and Is Not”, Acts & Facts, 40(6):8-9 (June 2011), posted at https://www.icr.org/article/genesis-history-poetry-exposing-hidde .

Johnson, James J. S. “God’s Timing Makes Sense of Adversity”, Acts & Facts, 45(2):21 (February 2016), posted at https://www.icr.org/article/gods-timing-makes-sense-adversity

Johnson, James J. S.  “Skeptics’ Pointless Ridicule of the Bible’s ‘Unicorns’”, Acts & Facts, 47(2):21 (February 2018), at https://www.icr.org/article/skeptics-pointless-ridicule-bibles .

Johnson, James J. S.  “A Lesson from the Stork”, Days of Praise (August 22, 2008), posted at https://www.icr.org/article/lesson-from-stork .

Johnson, James J. S.  “God Fitted Habitats for Biodiversity”, Acts & Facts, 42(3):10-12 (March 2013), posted at https://www.icr.org/article/god-fitted-habitats-for-biodiversity/ .

Johnson, James J. S.  “Mechanical Multitasking on the Mayflower”, Acts & Facts, 46(11):21 (November 2017), at https://www.icr.org/article/mechanical-multitasking-mayflower/ .

Johnson, James J. S.  “Job’s Icy Vocabulary”, Acts & Facts, 43(12):19 (December 2014), posted at https://www.icr.org/article/jobs-icy-vocabulary .

Johnson, James J. S.  “Locust Plague Now 20 Times Worse”, Creation Science update (May 8, 2020), posted at https://www.icr.org/article/locust-plague-now-20-times-worse  .

Morris, Henry M.  The Remarkable Record of Job:  The Ancient Wisdom, Scientific Accuracy, and Life-Changing Message of an Amazing Book (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2000).

Pratico, Gary D., & Miles V. Van Pelt.  Basics of Biblical Hebrew Grammar (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001).

Stokes, Donald, & Lillian Stokes, A Guide to Bird Behavior, volume III(Boston, MA: Little, Brown & Company, 1989).

Webster, Noah, American Dictionary of the English Language (San Francisco, CA: 1995; facsimile edition of Noah Webster’s 1828 first edition).

Zuck, Roy B.  Job, Everyman’s Bible Commentary (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1978).

A black kite landing in Israel. Photo via Shutterstock.com
BLACK KITE in Israel (Shutterstock.com photo credit)

ENDNOTES REFERENCES

[1] See James J. S. Johnson, “Genesis Is History, Not Poetry: Exposing Hidden Assumptions about What Hebrew Poetry Is and Is Not”, Acts & Facts, 40(6):8-9 (June 2011).

[2] It is not surprising that God used a “nature sermon” in the Book of Job, because the events of that book most likely occurred during the patriarchal period, not many centuries after the worldwide Flood, and likely during the Ice Age, when the world (and its post-Flood humanity) was dominated by the drama of nature “settling down”. See, accord, James J. S. Johnson, “Job’s Icy Vocabulary”, Acts & Facts, 43(12):19 (December 2014).

[3] It would be more thematically convenient if chapters 38 and 39 broke at Job 38:38 / 38:39—because the series of animal-based inquiries begins with the question of how lions get food (at 38:39-40), which is paired to the question of how ravens get food (38:41).

[4] While describing creature features pairs, the LORD also alludes briefly to grasshoppers (and arguably to storks), but these are not specifically described for Job to consider as specific exhibits of God’s caring providence.

[5] The “unicorn” (re’ēm) of Job 39:9-12 appears to be what is today called rhinoceros. For detailed analysis of this Hebrew noun, see James J. S. Johnson, “Skeptics’ Pointless Ridicule of the Bible’s ‘Unicorns’”, Acts & Facts, 47(2):21 (February 2018).

[6] Quoting James J. S. Johnson, “God’s Timing Makes Sense of Adversity”, Acts & Facts, 45(2):21 (February 2016).  The book of Job begins by introducing the cosmic purpose for Job’s earthly trials—sufferings that Job, in temporal circumstances, will not understand the importance of until those trials are finished. Providential timing is thus an important theme in Job chapter 39.

[7] These paired animals, as well as the other wildlife pairs, illustratively fit the overall “Creator-cares-for-His-struggling-creation” theme of Job’s book; this theme is well summarized by 1st Peter 4:19.

[8] Qal imperfect form of root verb šâmar = to watch, keep, safeguard, preserve.

[9] George S. Cansdale, All the Animals of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1976), 87-89.  Zoölogist Cansdale observe, on page 88: “The incident in I Samuel 24:2 ff. gives useful confirmation by describing David and his men as being ‘on the rocks of the wild goats’.  This was at En Gedi, the oasis just above the west side of the Dead Sea.  The name itself was significant—the Fountain [i.e., freshwater well/spring] of the Kid—and the ibex themselves are still there today, in a Wildlife Sanctuary made specially to protect them among the barren hills where they have always lived.  In Job 39:1 the [Nubian] ibex is associated with [i.e., compared to] the hind (deer) in a way suggesting that they belong to the same class [or comparable category] of animals.”

[10] The “unicorn” (re’ēm) of Job 39:9-12 appears to be a rhinoceros, as noted hereinbelow. For detailed analysis of this Hebrew noun, see James J. S. Johnson, “Skeptics’ Pointless Ridicule of the Bible’s ‘Unicorns’”, Acts & Facts, 47(2):21 (February 2018).

[11] Cansdale, ibid., at pages 94-95, especially page 94. The “wilderness”/“desert” steppes of southwest Asia match the allusions to the wild ass’s wilderness habitat, as mentioned in Job 24:5 (“desert” = midbar) and in Jeremiah 2:24 (“wilderness” = midbar). Psalm 104:11 (“the wild asses quench their thirst”) also suggests that this wild equid customarily lives in arid places, so it habitually needs God to providentially give it sources of drinkable water. In Job 39:6 God tells Job that the wild ass is located in the arid “wilderness” (‘arâbâh) and the salty “barren land” (melēḥâh).

[12] The “unicorn” (re’ēm) of Job 39:9-12 appears to be a rhinoceros. For analysis of this Hebrew noun, see James J. S. Johnson, “Skeptics’ Pointless Ridicule of the Bible’s ‘Unicorns’”, Acts & Facts, 47(2):21 (February 2018). See especially Noah Webster, American Dictionary of the English Language (San Francisco, CA: Foundation for American Christian Education, 1995; facsimile of Noah Webster’s 1828 first edition), unpaginated.

[13] Eric Dinerstein, 2003. The Return of the Unicorns: The Natural History and Conservation of the Greater One-Horned Rhinoceros (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003).

[14] Notice that (in Job 39:13) “wing” is in singular feminine construct, “ostriches” is in plural masculine absolute. Since the wings are symmetrical, the God-designed anatomy and utility of one wing applies to both wings.

[15] Regarding ratite traits, relevant to the ostrich, Cansdale, ibid., at pages 190-193, especially page 193.  Regarding biological multitasking, see James J. S. Johnson, “Mechanical Multitasking on the Mayflower”, Acts & Facts, 46(11):21 (November 2017).

[16]Regarding the ostrich, Cansdale (at page 191) observes: “Its habitat is open thornbush country and semi-desert with a fairly warm climate.”  In the warm habitats where ostriches live, including semidesert flatlands and tropical grasslands, laying eggs in or by vegetation on the ground is an efficient way to warm them, as a substitute for incubation inside an arboreal nest.

[17] Cansdale, ibid., at page 191.

[18] There may be a wordplay linking the joyful singing connotation (of the ostrich’s Hebrew name) with the action verb in Job 39:13, ‘âlas – the action of rejoicing (i.e., the verb “rejoice” in Job 20:18).

[19] Jeremiah 8:7. See also James J. S. Johnson, “A Lesson from the Stork”, Days of Praise (August 22, 2008).

[20] At the very least the analysis and literal translation of Job 39:13 justifies more careful study!

[21] God informs Job (in 39:19-25, especially in 39:20) that the war-horse is not intimidated by humans like Job, so the horse will not jump skittishly before him, like a grasshopper might.  Some translate ’arbeh (in 39:20) as “locust” but locusts are actually a condition-adapted form of grasshopper, so the Hebrew noun ’arbeh properly applies to both of what we call “grasshopper” and “locust”.  See James J. S. Johnson, “Locust Plague Now 20 Times Worse”, Creation Science Update (May 8, 2020), posted athttps://www.icr.org/article/locust-plague-now-20-times-worse  .

[22] Cansdale, ibid., at page 147.

[23] Isaiah 40:31; Obadiah 1:4; Proverbs 30:19. See also Colin Harrison, & Howard Loxton, The Bird: Master of Flight (Hauppauge, NY: Barron’s 1993), page 49.

[24] Thomas Alerstan, Bird Migration (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1933), pages 252-253.  On the common practice of hawks and eagles riding thermal air currents, see Donald Stokes & Lillian Stokes, A Guide to Bird Behavior, volume III (Boston, MA: Little, Brown & Company, 1989), pages 98, 110, 139, & 156.

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Obadiah’s Prophecy of Edom’s Downfall

Obadiah’s Prophecy:  Profanity and Pride Goeth before Edom’s Fall

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

Though you (thou) exalt yourself (thyself) as the eagle, and though you (thou) set your (thy) nest among the stars, thence will I bring thee down, saith the Lord. (Obadiah 1:4)

GoldenEagle-nest.high-rocks

Introduction

Obadiah’s prophecy focuses on the nation Edom, people descended from Esau, Jacob’s twin brother and rival. This book of prophecy – the shortest in the Old Testament – eventually expands its coverage to Israel’s other neighbors, and even alludes to “the day of the LORD is near upon all the heathen” (1:15).  Thus, the book of OBADIAH specifically recounts some of Edom’s wickednesses, noting how these evils are to be punished on the Day of the LORD.(1) 

The key theme of Obadiah is that punishment of Edom’s God-despising prideful profanity, which includes Edom’s merciless and cruel persecution of Jacob’s descendants, is assured and shall be accomplished by God, climaxing in judgment as part of the Day of the LORD (1:15-19).

Also, we see in Obadiah’s prophecy how the rivalry between Esau and Jacob (Genesis 25:22-23 & 25:27-34), specifically Esau’s unjust persecution of Jacob (e.g., see Genesis 27:41), continues through time. The ultimate examples of that rivalry, of course, climax in the Edomite (l/k/a Idumean) household of the Herod dynasty, Idumean kings who tried to murder the infant Jesus (Matthew 2:3-19), and who participated in sentencing Jesus to death (Luke 23:8-12; Acts 4:27), and who persecuted the followers of Jesus (Acts 12:1-20).  Unresolved rivalries result in regrettable ramifications (James 3:16).

Little wonder that God declared His hatred for the Edomite people, during the prophetic ministry of Malachi (Malachi 1:2-3; Romans 9:13).  One of the looming themes of “that Day” is how God shall angrily avenge Israel by punishing Israel’s persecutors, including Edom (Jeremiah 49:8-10).

GoldenEagle-swooping-down.NETNS-WildlifeZone

 Exegetical Observations and Comments on Obadiah’s sole chapter

The vision of Obadiah. Thus saith the Lord God concerning Edom: We have heard a rumor from the Lord, and an ambassador is sent among the heathen, Arise ye, and let us rise up against her in battle. (Obadiah 1:1)

Obadiah’s prophecy begins by pronouncing divine judgment against the nation of Edom, with God’s justice being executed through warfare that involves heathen (i.e., Gentile unbelievers) nations who combine their armies to attack Edom.

Behold, I have made you (thee) small among the heathen; you (thou) are greatly despised. (Obadiah 1:2)

The verb “despised” (1:2), in some ways, could be called the key to understanding the fate of Esau, and thus also the fate of his descendants’ civilization, the nation Edom. Recall the famous barter transaction between Esau and Jacob, where Esau traded his priceless Messianic birthright, for a bowl of red lentil soup:

Then Jacob gave [nâtan = “transferred”, “transmitted”] Esau bread and pottage of lentils; and he ate and he drink, and he rose up, and he went his way [“and he walked”]; thus Esau despised [a form of bâzah] his birthright. (Genesis 25:34)

In that voluntary value-exhibiting transaction, which Scripture qualifies (in Hebrews 12:16) as illustrating Esau’s profanity, we see how Esau “despised” (wayyôbez = “and he despised”) that which was spiritual (i.e., that which is valuable to God), preferring the passing physical pleasures to that which has ongoing value. That is the essence of profanity — insulting God by devaluing that which God has made holy.

In particular, Esau traded the Messianic birthright for a bowl of red soup – that illustrates Esau’s carnal-mindedness. No wonder Esau chose to be a fornicating polygamist (Genesis 26:34-35 & 27:46 & 28:9 & 36:10-18; Hebrews 12:16), preferring wives that were Hittite and Ishmaelite pagans (as opposed to selecting a YHWH-worshipping wife who was raised in the faith of Abraham).

Genesis25.34-Esau-despised-birthright

In the end, by Esau profanely despising the Messianic birthright, Esau forfeited his opportunity to be part of the Messianic lineage – so the Messianic birthright-lineage honor is forever Jacob’s, not Esau’s. As the subsequent history of Esau’s descendants (a/k/a the nation Edom) demonstrates, Edom’s shameful legacy was one long history of despising God, and despising people whom God valued.

This involves the Abrahamic Covenant, which promises cursing of those who curse Abraham’s promised seed (Genesis 12:3). Abraham’s promised seed descends through Jacob (Genesis 27:29 & 27:39-40 & 28:3-6 & 28:13-15 & 35:9-12), not Esau.

The pride of thine heart hath deceived you (thee), you (thou) who dwell in the clefts of the rock, whose habitation is high, who says in his heart, ‘Who shall bring me down to the ground?’  Though you (thou) exalt yourself (thyself) as the eagle, and though you (thou) set your (thy) nest among the stars, thence will I bring thee down, saith the Lord. (Obadiah 1:3-4)

Edom is compared to the eagle [nešer], who builds his or her nest in a high place, such as in rocky crags at the top of a high cliff or mountainside.  The fact that eagles (and other large raptors) live in high rocky places is no accident – it is a providentially designed behavior that fits the heavy-bodied eagles’ need for assisted airlift, such that eagles detect and ride upon rising thermal air currents, to save energy.(2)

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But, the ability of eagles to majestically soar at high altitudes is God’s gift to eagles – they did not invent (or “evolve”) themselves; rather, whatever wonderful traits they have are traits that God created for them, as their divine Bioengineer.

Likewise, whatever valuable traits we humans may have – and we are blessed with many – are undeserved gifts from God.  So being obsessed with the “pride of life” (see 1st John 2:16, αλαζονεια του βιου, which focuses on biophysical life, not spiritual life) is stupid.  Rather, as God-created creatures, we should be ever-thankful to our Creator, i.e., we should always be grateful for both our biophysical (bios) life and our non-physical (zôê) spirit/soul life.

If thieves came to you (thee), if robbers by night  — how are you (thou) cut off!  —  would they not have stolen till they had enough?  If the grape-gatherers came to you (thee), would they not leave some grapes? (Obadiah 1:5-6)

Obadiah emphasizes how thorough the destruction of Edom shall be, in the Day of the LORD – it shall be much more thorough than smash-and-grab felonies by vandals, robbers, or burglars (1:5). Even careful grape-gatherers miss a few grapes, so that a hungry man should be able to find a few “leftovers” after a grape-field harvest (1:6).

How are the things of Esau searched out!   How are his hidden things sought up! All the men of your (thy) confederacy have brought you (thee) even to the border; the men that were at peace with you (thee) have deceived you (thee), and prevailed against you (thee); they that eat your (thy) bread have laid a wound under you (thee); there is none understanding in him. (Obadiah 1:6-7)

Edom is betrayed by Edom’s confederates (literally “men of thy covenant”), illustrating how there is no honor among thieves (i.e., no integrity in how evildoers treat each other). Edom unwisely trusted in alliances with ungodly allies. This folly backfires on Edom.

Edom-map.Teman-noted

Shall I not in that day, saith the Lord, even destroy the wise men out of Edom, and understanding out of the mount of Esau?   And you (thy) mighty men, O Teman, shall be dismayed, to the end that every one of the mount of Esau may be cut off by slaughter. (Obadiah 1:8-9)

Notice the synonyms: Edom, mount of Esau, Teman – referring to places in Edom, which places, nowadays, are located within the southern part of the Kingdom of Jordan, plus perhaps some of Saudi Arabia.

History is full of examples of Muslim nations fighting other Muslim nations (Genesis 16:12 seems to fit this historical reality).  This pertains to Edom, because Genesis 28:9 indicates that Esau “married into” Ishmael’s household, and thus into Ishmael’s violent legacy (and that evil legacy of violence is noted in Obadiah 1:10, as “violence against thy brother Jacob”).

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So it is unsurprising to see Obadiah’s prophecy that Edom’s own allies will be part of Edom’s eventual (and violent) undoing. The Edomites are guilty of terrible sins of violence against the nation of Israel (1:10).

For your (thy) violence against your (thy) brother Jacob shame shall cover you (thee), and you (thou) shalt be cut off forever. In the day that you (thou) stood on the other side, in the day that the strangers carried away captive his forces, and foreigners entered into his gates, and cast lots upon Jerusalem, even you (thou) were as one of them. But you (thou) should not have looked on the day of your (thy) brother in the day that he became a stranger; neither should you (thou) have rejoiced over the children of Judah in the day of their destruction; neither should you (thou) have spoken proudly in the day of distress; you (thou) should not have entered into the gate of My people in the day of their calamity; yea, you (thou) should not have looked on their affliction in the day of their calamity, nor have laid hands on their substance in the day of their calamity; neither should you (thou) have stood in the crossway, to cut off those of his that did escape; neither should you (thou) have delivered up those of his that did remain in the day of distress.  (Obadiah 1:10-14)

Notice the Hebrew noun, used for Edom’s violence (ḥâmâs = Ḥamās) matches the name of today’s Muslim terrorist group Hamas.  Edom shall be punished for its ḥâmâs legacy, especially violence against the people of Jacob (i.e., Israel).

Obadiah recounts a few examples of Edomites harming Jews, such as when “strangers” (could this be describing Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian invaders, about 600 years before Christ?) invaded Jerusalem, Edomites sided with the invaders (1:11);  Edomites also then rejoiced at Jerusalem’s tragedies (1:12).   Moreover, Edomites plundered Jews’ substance when the Jews were invaded by enemies (1:13) – this is like modern-day looters who mercilessly steal from victims of tornados and hurricanes.

Furthermore, Edomites prevented (and even turned over) fleeing Jews from successfully escaping their pursuing attackers (1:14)  — this is like WWII Quisling-like traitors, who ruthlessly betrayed underground-harboring “Jew smugglers” (like the Dutch Christian family of Corrie Ten Boom).

For the Day of the Lord is near upon all the heathen: as thou hast done, it shall be done unto thee: thy reward shall return upon thine own head.  (1:15)

This is timeless justice (see Matthew 7:2 & 7:12 & 25:40; Luke 6:31), which climaxes when the Day of the LORD arrives.

Then, the rightful King, the Lord Jesus Christ (Earth’s only legitimate Kinsman-Redeemer) returns to Earth as He promised (fulfilling many O.T. promises), to reclaim and restore it to rightness (judging “the Mount of Esau”, inter alia), and Jerusalem will be restored and secured as Christ’s royal capital city, from where He will rule (on the throne of David, which is an earthly throne, not a heavenly throne!) over all the world.

For as you (ye) have drunk upon My holy, so shall all the heathen drink continually, yea, they shall drink, and they shall swallow down, and they shall be as though they had not been. But upon Mount Zion shall be deliverance, and there shall be holiness; and the house of Jacob shall possess their possessions. And the house of Jacob shall be a fire, and the house of Joseph a flame, and the house of Esau for stubble, and they shall kindle in them, and devour them; and there shall not be any remaining of the house of Esau; for the LORD hath spoken it. And they of the south shall possess the Mount of Esau; and they of the plain the Philistines: and they shall possess the fields of Ephraim, and the fields of Samaria: and Benjamin shall possess Gilead. And the captivity of this host of the children of Israel shall possess that of the Canaanites, even unto Zarephath; and the captivity of Jerusalem, which is in Sepharad, shall possess the cities of the south. And saviors [i.e., deliverers] shall come up on Mount Zion to judge the Mount of Esau; and the kingdom shall be the LORD‘s.  (1:16-21)

This coming restoration of justice on Earth is certain, “for the Lord hath spoken it” (1:18). The bottom line, as the battle of Armageddon ends (Revelation 16:16-19), is that Jerusalem will be restored to honor and security, because the Lord Jesus Christ justly overcomes all of His enemies, Christ starts a new 1000-year era, and “the kingdom shall be the LORD‘s.”

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Conclusion regarding Obadiah’s prophecy

Esau despised God and God’s values, plotting violence against the channel of Abraham’s promised seed.  Centuries later, Esau’s progeny – in the nation Edom – proudly repeated similar profane wickedness, despising God and God’s values, practicing violent hatred for Abraham’s promised seed, including the ultimate illustration – the Idumean Herods repeatedly persecuting Jesus.  So God hated Edom (and loved Israel).

In particular, as Obadiah recounts (apparently referring to the devastating destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian invaders, which curtailed the rule of Jerusalem by Judah’s tribe – even to the present day!) the people who descend from Esau have a long track-record of guilt for persecuting God’s chosen people, Israel.  The ultimate examples of Edomite-versus Jew persecution occurred when the Idumean Herod dynasty kings persecuted the Lord Jesus Himself, as well as Christ’s apostles.

But God’s powerful judgment shall eventually come to Earth, including to Edom, as part of the larger judgment that occurs on the “Day of the LORD”, a horrendous time of punitive judgment (which includes the battle of Armageddon).

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Thankfully, Church Age believers will not be eye-witnesses to the horrific bloodshed and maiming and death that will dominate the Day of the LORD.(3)  

However, many of Esau’s progeny, formerly called Edom (and God knows who and where they are today, most likely living in Jordan and part of Saudi Arabia), are doomed to pay for their sin.  This (in concert with many other moving parts) ushers in God’s planned 1000-year era, when “the kingdom shall be the LORD‘s.”

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ENDNOTES

(1) David Olander, The Greatness of the Day of the Lord and Christ’s Kingdom (Hurst, TX: Tyndale Seminary Press, 2017), especially pages 57-67.

(2) James J. S. Johnson, “Hawks and Eagles Launching Skyward”, Acts & Facts, 47(4):21 (April 2018), posted at https://www.icr.org/article/hawks-eagles-launching-skyward . This article cites Obadiah 1:4 in footnote #3.  See also James J. S. Johnson, “‘E’ is for Eagles and Eiders:  ‘E’ Birds, Part 1”, Lee’s Birdwatching Adventures Plus, 10-24-AD2016, posted at https://leesbird.com/2016/10/24/e-is-for-eagles-and-eiders-e-birds-part-1/ .

(3) See 1st Thessalonians 1:9-10; 2:19; 3:13; 4:16-17; 5:1-5 & 2nd Thessalonians 2:1-3, explained in David Olander, The Greatness of the Day of the Lord and Christ’s Kingdom (Hurst, TX: Tyndale Seminary Press, 2017), pages 11-13.

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BIBLIOGRAPHY

Beitzel, Barry J. The Moody Atlas of Bible Lands (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1985).

Hindson, Edward E., & Daniel R. Mitchell, editors. Zondervan King James Version Commentary – Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 2010).

Jensen, Irving L. “Obadiah” (pages 17-26), in his Minor Prophets of Judah  (Chicago, IL:  Moody Press, 1975).

Johnson, James J. S., “Hawks and Eagles Launching Skyward”, Acts & Facts, 47(4):21 (April 2018), posted at https://www.icr.org/article/hawks-eagles-launching-skyward .

James J. S. Johnson, “‘E’ is for Eagles and Eiders:  ‘E’ Birds, Part 1”, Lee’s Birdwatching Adventures Plus, 10-24-AD2016, posted at https://leesbird.com/2016/10/24/e-is-for-eagles-and-eiders-e-birds-part-1/ .

Olander, David. The Greatness of the Day of the Lord and Christ’s Kingdom (Hurst, TX: Tyndale Seminary Press, 2017), especially pages 57-67.