In this sermon we explore the spiritual meanings behind the animals in God’s response to Job.
Last week we covered how in God’s responses, He emphasizes both man’s insignificance and His sovereignty over all aspects of existence.
What is chapter 39 about? One Psalm sums it up: “Your righteousness is like the mountains of God, Your judgments are like a great deep. O Lord, You preserve man and beast” (Ps 36:6).
Most interpreters read this chapter with the view that God is aweing Job with His wisdom in taking care of the fine details of beasts that man cannot control. For this reason, many of the animals discussed in this chapter are not domesticated. This may be true and it would be sufficient to note that God’s care and design of these creatures make His wisdom greater than man who cannot do these things.
Such an interpretation conveys man’s insignificance, but it does not say much else. We will try to explore one other possible set of meanings that God may have been trying to convey. Just as God is sovereign and works all in these beasts, the different attitudes and attributes they have can also be seen in men. Therefore, if God is sovereign over these things in animals, He is sovereign over the attitudes of men also.
If God is sovereign over beasts and the men just like them, and He lovingly cares for and preserves them all, how then could one question God’s justice when we conform to instincts for reasons that God knows and controls? It would require us to know better than God as to why the world, the animals, and we have all been made the way we are.
Let’s explore an interpretation you probably never applied to chapter 39: the allegorical one. I am indebted to Silas Duran, who said, “Each one [of the descriptions of the animals] no doubt has a special spiritual significance, but what this may be I cannot hope fully to understand. In some cases I may suggest an interpretation of the figure which will be sustained by the Scriptures, and then we may feel a degree of certainty in regard to its correctness” (The Trial of Job, Chapter XIX).
The first observation God makes is of animals giving birth (Job 39:1-4). Whether it is the goat in an inaccessible cliff or the deer hiding itself well in an otherwise easily transversable forest, man does not get to witness these events regularly. In fact, without the aid of cameras or captivity, it is something man would never witness. God put in them an instinct where they can outsmart a man and hide from him in this fragile moment. Likewise, both of these animals are resilient in their birthing (Job 39:3) and in the plain sight of all God sustains their young (Job 39:4). In time, the process repeats without any deliberate action on part of the animals. God brings it all to pass.
The birthing may be a picture of how we are given spiritual life. Just as the birthing of these animals’ physical life is invisible to us, the work of the Spirit is invisible like the wind but its fruit such as “love, joy, peace, [and] patience” are readily apparent (Gal 5:22).
Further, the birthing of the deer may hold special significance. The Scripture compares Naphtali, among the redeemed people of God, to deer (Gen 49:21). The Bible also says, “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for You, O God” (Ps 42:1). True water, in which we will never thirst, is supplied to us by Jesus Christ: “[W]hoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life” (John 6:14). So, like the deer, we want to thirst for the things of God.
The Scripture elsewhere comments on the birth of deer: “The voice of the Lord makes the deer to calve” (Ps 29:9). Why is this relevant? This is the picture of the regeneration of the elect which are “born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13). Just as the salvation of man is monergistically brought about and initiated by God, so does the voice of the Lord bring about the birthing of deer.
Yet another Scripture conflates the new birth of spiritual regeneration with deer of the animal kingdom. Isaiah says, “[T]he lame will leap like a deer…For waters will break forth in the wilderness” (Is 35:6). These waters are the outpouring of the Holy Spirit from the hearts of believers (John 7:38-39). Therefore, God takes those that are lame, those who cannot will their own salvation, and makes them new creations.
Concerning the goat, as Durand observes it is “used to represent those who shall not inherit life (Matthew 25:33)” (The Trial of Job, Chapter XIX). The goat has demonic undertones in Daniel 8 and Lev 17:7. God says that He will punish the goats (Zech 10:3). Though goats do not universally have a negative connotation is Scripture , it appears that God is showing us a dichotomy between the goat and the deer. So, God “sends rain on the just and the unjust alike” (Matt 5:45). He sustains all of us, good and bad.
Indeed, He “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4), but the goat is self-righteous and will ultimately reject God. Even though God knows this, He sustains the life of the goat for a season, and more importantly, for a specific reason. As Christ says in the parable of the tares:
The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away…[What does the Master desire in this situation? NOT TO UPROOT THE TARES! WHY?] For while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot the wheat with them. Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, ‘First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn’ (Matt 13:24-30).
God does not want to uproot the weeds, the goats, the wicked. Why? So, who knows if one of the goat’s children’s children will give birth to another lame goat. God, for His name’s sake, may take pity on this lame goat and remove its bonds enslaving it to sin. He will make it a new creation, no longer a goat that lives according to a goat’s nature and instincts, but turn it into a whole new creature: the deer. To uproot the wicked universally in the present is to cut off the wheat before it gets a chance to grow, thwarting God’s redemptive purposes. Man can never see that far ahead. God’s mercy is so much beyond that of man and His justice, who can question it?
God then speaks of the wild donkey in Job 39:5-8. A donkey is generally a domesticated animal, so when we happen upon one in the “wilderness” we may believe it to be an abandoned domesticated animal that we can put to use (Job 39:5-6). Yet, God “loosed its bonds” and the donkey refuses to be put to work (Job 39:5). What a surprise it must be to find out the hard way that it’s wild!
So, when rebellious men are compared to “[a] wild donkey accustomed to the wilderness” (Jer 2:24, see also Hosea 8:9), we must remind ourselves who loosed their bonds! “He hardens whom He desires” (Rom 9:18).
This donkey in its hardness of heart “searches after every green thing” (Job 39:8). As Durand puts it, “The wild ass may fitly represent the natural state and inclination of man…The range of the mountains is his pasture, and he searcheth after every green thing — after all earthly pleasures” (The Trial of Job, Chapter XIX).