Bible Verse Explanations and Resources


Job 39:13

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

The goodly wings unto the peacocks? - I believe peacocks are not intended here; and the Hebrew word רננים renanim should be translated ostriches; and the term חסידה chasidah, which we translate ostrich, should be, as it is elsewhere translated, stork; and perhaps the word נצה notsah, rendered here feathers, should be translated hawk, or pelican. The Vulgate has, Penna struthionis similis est pennis herodii et accipitris; "the feather of the ostrich is like to that of the stork and the hawk." The Chaldee has, "The wing of the wild cock, who crows and claps his wings, is like to the wing of the stork and the hawk." The Septuagint, not knowing what to make of these different terms, have left them all untranslated, so as to make a sentence without sense. Mr. Good has come nearest both to the original and to the meaning, by translating thus: -

"The wing of the ostrich tribe is for flapping;

But of the stork and falcon for flight."

Though the wings of the ostrich, says he, cannot raise it from the ground, yet by the motion here alluded to, by a perpetual vibration, or flapping - by perpetually catching or drinking in the wind, (as the term נעלסה neelasah implies, which we render goodly), they give it a rapidity of running beyond that possessed by any other animal in the world. Adanson informs us, that when he was at the factory in Padore, he was in possession of two tame ostriches; and to try their strength, says he, "I made a full-grown negro mount the smallest, and two others the largest. This burden did not seem at all disproportioned to their strength. At first they went a pretty high trot; and, when they were heated a little, they expanded their wings, as if it were to catch the wind, and they moved with such fleetness as to seem to be off the ground. And I am satisfied that those ostriches would have distanced the fleetest race-horses that were ever bred in England."

As to נצה notsah, here translated falcon, Mr. Good observes, that the term naz is used generally by the Arabian writers to signify both falcon and hawk; and there can be little doubt that such is the real meaning of the Hebrew word; and that it imports various species of the falcon family, as jer-falcon, gos-hawk, and sparrow-hawk.

"The argument drawn from natural history advances from quadrupeds to birds; and of birds, those only are selected for description which are most common to the country in which the scene lies, and at the same time are most singular in their properties. Thus the ostrich is admirably contrasted with the stork and the eagle, as affording us an instance of a winged animal totally incapable of flight, but endued with an unrivalled rapidity of running, compared with birds whose flight is proverbially fleet, powerful, and persevering. Let man, in the pride of his wisdom, explain or arraign this difference of construction.

"Again, the ostrich is peculiarly opposed to the stork and to some species of the eagle in another sense, and a sense adverted to in the verses immediately ensuing; for the ostrich is well known to take little or no care of its eggs, or of its young, while the stork ever has been, and ever deserves to be, held in proverbial repute for its parental tenderness. The Hebrew word חסידה chasidah, imports kindness or affection; and our own term stork, if derived from the Greek στοργη, storge, as some pretend, has the same original meaning." - Good's Job.

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible

Gavest thou the goodly wings unto the peacocks? - In the previous verses the appeal had been to the wild and untamable animals of the desert. In the prosecution of the argument, it was natural to allude to the feathered tribes which resided there also, and which were distinguished for their strength or fleetness of wing, as proof of the wisdom and the superintending providence of God. The idea is, that these animals, far away from the abodes of man, where it could not be pretended that man had anything to do with their training, had habits and instincts special to themselves, which showed great variety in the divine plans, and at the same time consummate wisdom. The appeal in the following verses Job 39:13-18 is to the remarkable habits of the ostrich, as illustrating the wisdom and the superintending providence of God. There has been very great variety in the translation of this verse, and it is important to ascertain its real meaning, in order to know whether there is any allusion here to the peacock, or whether it refers wholly to the ostrich. The Septuagint did not understand the passage, and a part of the words they endeavored to translate, but the others are retained without any attempt to explain them. Their version is, Πτέρυξ τερπομένων νεέλασσα, ἐὰν συλλάβῃ ἀσιδα καὶνέσσα Pterux terpomenōn neelassa ean sullabē asida kai nessa - the wing of the exulting Neelassa if she conceives or comprehends the Asia and Nessa.” Jerome renders it,” The wing of the ostrich is like the wings of the falcon and the hawk.” Schultens renders it, “The wing of the ostrich is exulting; but is it the wing and the plumage of the stork?” He enumerates no less than twenty different interpretations of the passage. Herder renders it,

“A wing with joyous cry is uplifted yonder;

Is it the wing and feather of the ostrich?”

Umbreit renders it,

“The wing of the ostrich, which lifts itselfjoyfully,

Does it not resemble the tail and feather of the stork?”

Rosenmuller renders it,

“The wing of the ostrich exults!

Truly its wing and plumage is like that of the stork!”

Prof. Lee renders it, “Wilt thou confide in the exulting of the wings of the ostrich? Or in her choice feathers and head-plumage, when she leaveth her eggs to the earth,” etc. So Coverdale renders it, “The ostrich (whose feathers are fairer than the wings of the sparrow-hawk), when he hath laid his eggs upon the ground, he breedeth them in the dust, and forgetteth them.” In none of these versions, and in none that I have examined except that of Luther and the common English version, is there any allusion to the peacock; and amidst all the variety of the rendering, and all the difficulty of the passage, there is a common sentiment that the ostrich alone is referred to as the particular subject of the description. It is certain that the description proceeds with reference only to the habits of the ostrich, and it is very evident to my mind that in the whole passage there is no allusion whatever to the peacock.

Neither the scope of the passage, nor the words employed, it is believed, will admit of such a reference. There is great difficulty in the Hebrew text, which no one has been able fully to explain, but it is sufficiently clear to make it manifest that the ostrich, and not the peacock, is the subject of the appeal. The word which is rendered “peacock,” רננים reneniym is derived from רנן rânan “to give forth a tremulous and stridulous sound;” and then to give forth the voice in vibrations; to shake or trill the voice; and then, as in lamentation or joy the voice is often given forth in that manner, the word comes to mean to utter cries of joy; Isaiah 12:6; Isaiah 35:6; and also cries of lamentation or mourning, Lamentations 2:19. The prevailing sense of the word in the Scriptures is to rejoice; to shout for joy; to exult. The name is here given to the bird referred to, evidently from the sound which it made, and probably from its exulting or joyful cry.

The word does not elsewhere occur in the Scriptures as applicable to a bird, and there is no reason whatever, either from its etymology, or from the connection in which it is found here, to suppose that it refers to the peacock. Another reason is suggested by Scheutzer (Phys. Sac. in loc.), why the peacock cannot be intended here. It is, that the peacock is originally an East Indian fowl, and that it was imported at comparatively a late period in the Jewish history, and was doubtless unknown in the time of Job. In 1 Kings 10:22, and 2 Chronicles 9:21, it appears that peacocks were among the remarkable productions of distant countries that were imported for use or luxury by Solomon, a fact which would not have occurred had they been common in the patriarchal times. To these reasons to show that the peacock is not referred to here, Bochart, whose chapters on the subject deserve a careful attention (Hieroz. P. ii. L. ii. c. xvi. xvii.), has added the following:

(1) That if the peacock had been intended here, the allusion would not have been so brief. Of so remarkable a bird there would have been an extended description as there is of the ostrich, and of the unicorn and the horse. If the allusion is to the peacock, it is by a bare mention of the name, and by no argument, as in other cases, from the habits and instincts of the fowl.

(2) The word which is used here as a description of the bird referred to, רננים reneniym derived from the musical properties of the bird, is by no means applicable to the peacock. It is of all fowls, perhaps, least distinguished for beauty of voice.

(3) The property ascribed to the fowl here of “exulting in the wing,” by no means agrees with the peacock. The glory and beauty of that bird is in the tail, and not in the wing. Yet the wing is here, from some cause, particularly specified. Bochart has demonstrated at great length, and with entire clearness, that the peacock was a foreign fowl, and that it must have been unknown in Judea and Arabia, as it was in Greece and Rome, at a period long after the time in which the book of Job is commonly supposed to have been written. The proper translation of the Hebrew here then would be, The wing of the exulting fowls “moves joyfully” - נעלסה ne‛âlasâh The attention seems to be directed to the wing, as being lifted up, or as vibrating with rapidity, or as being triumphant in its movement in eluding the pursuer. It is not its beauty particularly that attracts the attention, but its exulting, joyful, triumphant, appearance.

Or wings and feathers unto the ostrich? - Margin, “or, the feathers of the stork and ostrich.” Most commentators have despaired of making any sense out of the Hebrew in this place, and there have been almost as many conjectures as there have been expositors. The Hebrew is, ונצה חסידה אם־אברה 'im'ebrâh chăsı̂ydâh venôtsâh A literal translation of it would be, “Is it the wing of the stork, and the plumage,” or feathers? The object seems to be to institute a comparison of some kind between the ostrich and the stork. This comparison, it would seem, relates partly to the wings and plumage of the two birds, and partly to their habits and instincts; though the latter point of comparison appears to be couched in the mere name. So far as I can understand the passage, the comparison relates first to the wings and plumage. The point of vision is that of the sudden appearance of the ostrich with exulting wing, and the attention is directed to it as in the bounding speed of its movements when in rapid flight.

In this view the usual name is not given to the bird - יענה בנות benôth ya‛ănâh Isaiah 13:21; Isaiah 34:13; Isaiah 43:20; Jeremiah 50:39, but merely the name of fowls making a stridulous or whizzing sound - רננים reneniym The question is then asked whether it has the wing and plumage of the stork - evidently implying that the wing of the stork might be supposed to be adapted to such a flight, but that it was remarkable that without such wings the ostrich was able to outstrip even the fleetest animal. The question is designed to turn the attention to the fact that the ostrich accomplishes its flight in this remarkable manner without being endowed with wings like the stork, which is capable of sustaining by its wings a long and rapid flight. The other point of the comparison seems couched in the name given to the stork, and the design is to contrast the habits of the ostrich with those of this bird - particularly in reference to their care for their young. The name given to the stork is חסידה chăsı̂ydâh meaning literally “the pious,” a name usually given to it - ”avis pia,” from its tenderness toward its young - a virtue for which it was celebrated by the ancients, Pliny “Hist. Nat. x;” Aelian “Hist. An. 3,23.” On the contrary, the Arabs call the ostrich the impious or ungodly bird, on account of its neglect and cruelty toward its young. The fact that the ostrich thus neglects its young, is dwelt upon in the passage before us Job 39:14-17, and in this respect she is placed in strong contrast with the stork. The verse then, I suppose, may be rendered thus:

“A wing of exulting fowls moves joyfully!

Is it the wing and the plumage of the pious bird?”

This means that with both (in regard to the wing and the habits of the two) there was a strong contrast, and yet designing to show that what seems to be a defect in the size and rigor of the wing, and what seems to be stupid forgetfulness of the bird in regard to its young, is proof of the wisdom of the Creator, who has so made it as to be able to outstrip the fleetest horse, and to be adapted to its shy and timid mode of life in the desert. The ostrich, whose principal characteristics are beautifully and strikingly detailed in this passage in Job, is a native of the torrid regions of Arabia and Africa. It is the largest of the feathered tribes and is the connecting link between quadrupeds and fowls. It has the general properties and outlines of a bird, and yet retains many of the marks of the quadruped. In appearance, the ostrich resembles the camel, and is almost as tall; and in the East is called “the camel-bird” (Calmet).

It is covered with a plumage that resembles hair more nearly than feathers; and its internal parts bear as near a resemblance to those of the quadruped as of the bird creation - Goldsmith. See also Poiret‘s “Travels in the Barbary States,” as quoted by Rosenmuller, “Alte u. neue Morgenland,” No. 770. A full description is there given of the appearance and habits of the ostrich. Its head and bill resemble those of a duck; the neck may be compared with that of the swan, though it is much longer; the legs and thighs resemble those of a hen, but are fleshy and large. The end of the foot is cloven, and has two very large toes, which like the leg are covered with scales. The height of the ostrich is usually seven feet from the head to the ground; but from the back it is only four, so that the head and the neck are about three feet long. From the head to the end of the tail, when the neck is stretched in a right line, the length is seven feet.

One of the wings with the feathers spread out is three feet in length. At the end of the wing there is a species of spur almost like the quill of a porcupine. It is an inch long, and is hollow, and of a bony substance. The plumage is generally white and black, though some of them are said to be gray. There are no feathers on the sides of the thighs, nor under the wings. It has not, like most birds, feathers of various kinds, but they are all bearded with detached hairs or filaments, without consistence and reciprocal adherence. The feathers of the ostrich are almost as soft as down, and are therefore wholly unfit for flying, or to defend the body from external injury. The feathers of other birds have the web broader on one side than the other, but those of the ostrich have the shaft exactly in the middle. In other birds, the filaments that compose the feathers of the wings are firmly attached to each other, or are “hooked together,” so that they are adapted to catch and resist the air; on those of the ostrich no such attachments are found.

The consequence is, that they cannot oppose to the air a suitable resistance, as is the case with other birds, and are therefore incapable of flying, and in fact never mount on the wing. The wing is used (see the notes at Job 39:18) only to balance the bird, and to aid it in running. The great size of the bird - weighing 75 or 80 pounds - would require an immense power of wing to elevate it in the air, and it has, therefore, been furnished with the means of surpassing all other animals in the rapidity with which it runs, so that it may escape its pursuers. The ostrich is made to live in the wilderness, and it was called by the ancients “a lover of the deserts.” It is shy and timorous in no common degree, and avoids the cultivated fields and the abodes of man, and retreats into the utmost recesses of the desert. In those dreary wastes its subsistence is the few tufts of coarse grass which are scattered here and there, but it will eat almost anything that comes in its way.

It is the most voracious of animals, and will devour leather, glass, hair, iron, stones, or anything that is given. Valisnieri found the first stomach filled with a quantity of incongruous substances; grass, nuts, cords, stones, glass, brass, copper, iron, tin, lead, and wood, and among the rest, a piece of stone that weighed more than a pound. It would seem that the ostrich is obliged to fill up the great capacity of its stomach in order to be at ease; but that, nutritious substances not occurring, it pours in whatever is at hand to supply the void. The flesh of the ostrich was forbidden by the laws of Moses to be eaten Leviticus 11:13, but it is eaten by some of the savage nations of Africa, who hunt them for their flesh, which they regard as a dainty. The principal value of the ostrich, however, and the principal reason why it is hunted. is in the long feathers that compose the wing and the tail, and which are used so extensively for ornaments, The ancients used these plumes in their helmets; the ladies, in the East, as well as in the West, use them to decorate their persons, and they have been extensively employed also as badges of mourning on hearses. The Arabians assert that the ostrich never drinks, and the chosen place of its habitation - the waste, sandy desert - seems to confirm the assertion. As the ostrich, in the passage before us, is contrasted with the stork, the accompanying illustrations will serve to explain the passage.