In this sermon, we continue to explore the use of Biblical allegories, including Galatians 4 and the 39th chapter of the Book of Job.
Last week began covering the different animals in the 39 chapter of the Book of Job. We found that there were quite a few parallels between the animals in Job and people, when we compare the 39th chapter of Job to the rest of Scripture. For example, the deer were a picture of regenerate believers, the goats were unbelievers, and the donkey represented men who pursued “every green thing,” which we take to mean their desires.
What was the significance of this? For the deer and the goats, God provided for them in their birthing and sustenance. The same can be said for the donkey and all the other animals. God knows them all and provides for them all.
But, there is more than the issue of provision. In reference to the donkey, it was wild because God “loosed its bonds.” As we will see with the other animals God likewise robs from them their intelligence, provides courage, and gives them other aptitudes. Surely, God does the same with us and even in the Book of Job similar ideas are invoked such as God withholding knowledge from Job’s friends (Job 17:4) and that he walked by God’s light (Job 29:3).
When we interpret the Scripture, as a matter of course, we never go wrong when we just take what it says at face value. However, we have evidence in the Scripture that God intends to communicate more than the literal meaning of the words.
For example, in Luke 24:27 it speaks of Jesus on the road to Emmaus. It says, “Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.” I don’t know about you, but I do not remember a whole lot about Jesus in the Torah, the books of Moses.
Yet, Paul points out a few things that Christ likely taught on the road to Emmaus that we would otherwise miss in the Book of Genesis. In Gal 4:22-28 it says:
[I]t is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the bondwoman and one by the free woman. 23 But the son by the bondwoman [r]was born according to the flesh, and the son by the free woman through the promise. 24 [s]This is allegorically speaking, for these women are two covenants: one proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children [t]who are to be slaves; [u]she is Hagar.25 Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem above is free; [v]she is our mother. 27 For it is written,
“Rejoice, barren woman who does not bear;
Break forth and shout, you who are not in labor;
For more numerous are the children of the desolate
Than of the one who has a husband.”
28 And you brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise.
So, the women are more than literally two women. God ordained their whole lives and had them recorded for us so we may also gather that they represent two covenants. It is those who have faith in God who are children of the promise, because they proceed from Sarah, the heavenly Jerusalem, who is not sold in bondage to the Law like Hagar.
In reference to Gen 1 where it says,”Let there be light” (Gen 1:3) Paul explains as follows in 2 Cor 4:6: “For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” Again, we see that a literal event had an allegorical meaning. God meant the event so that it would teach us more than merely how light was literally created. He is telling us that just as the world was a dark, formless void before His creating, so to were our hearts of stone. They were dark with ignorance of spiritual things until God gave us new hearts of flesh that can discern spiritual things.
Perhaps the most important allegory in all the Scripture is interpreted for us by Paul in Eph 5:31-33-
For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. 32 This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. 33 Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she [r]respects her husband.
Paul, in the middle of an extremely literal “this is how husbands and wives should relate” conversation shows that our marriages are supposed to be a picture of Christ’s love for the Church. Therefore, even marriage is an allegory, even though it maintains a separate, literal reality. Hence, I do not believe we can divorce a literal meaning from the allegorical, nor the allegorical from the literal.
And let’s briefly reflect upon the profound nature of what Eph 5 is teaching us. There is a reason why, upon judgment, we are righteous like Christ. We are not infused with His righteousness, rather, because we are all parts of His bride, His Church, we are married to Christ and thereby one flesh with Him. Because we are one with Christ, in union with Him, we are accounted as Christ, and He is accounted as us!
Concerning allegory, let it be known to everyone here, I am not an allegory guy. Ask my wife, I take everything very literally. I do not detect sarcasm and I am really gullible.
So, how do we detect allegory in the Scripture. Well, there are the literalists who will say that unless the Bible explicitly tells us something is a similie, metaphor, or allegory, it isn’t. If we were to do this, we would rob the Scriptures of much of their Christological elements, which we can only infer by presuming that on some level the conveyed meaning of the text is allegorical. Then we have the types that think everything is an allegory. The downside to this, as I referred to before, is that it is an anything goes mentality. There would not be a consistent way to interpret the Scripture, for even the most literal things can now suddenly be allegory.
Why do I think that Job 39 is an allegory? You might not be able to take these reasons to the bank, but they are worth pondering. First, I believe an allegorical interpretation works better with the purpose of the book. Let’s keep in mind what God is setting out to do in the whole book. He’s not trying to tell us about animals, He is giving us an answer to human suffering. Hence, the meaning we should derive from the 39th chapter should have some direct relevance to humans in some way.
Second, while Elihu’s answer covers God’s purposes for suffering, God’s answer speaks of man’s insignificance when compared to God’s complete sovereignty. So, when God speaks of having power over the animals, we know that literally God is sovereign over the animals, and not man. Man is therefore insignificant. However, isn’t it more profound and accurate to say that God is not only sovereign over animals, but over all sorts of different men? Hence, the allegorical interpretation merely strengthens the interpretation that we already derive from the literal meaning.
Third, right before the discussion on animals Job 38:36 says, “Who has put wisdom in the innermost being, Or given understanding to the [l]mind?” This seems to tells us that the discussion about animals, which often revolves around their intellects, is meant to teach us a general truth about how God does the same with men.
Lastly, God sticks with the animal allegories for the remainder of His response. Chapter 40 is about Behemoth and 41 is about Leviathan. When He speaks of Behemoth, He says, “He is the first of the ways of God” (Job 40:19). As for Leviathan, “He looks on everything that is high; He is king over all the sons of pride” (Job 41:34). These are not descriptions that make sense with the description of literal beasts. In this, I think, is a clue that we are supposed to skim a little below the surface.
So, let’s return to chapter 39 and see if we have reason to believe that the parallels between the animals and the men are so strong, that God is teaching us how He is sovereign over every element of our being.
The next beast God speaks of appears to be absolutely useless (Job 39:9-12). Whether it is an ox or a rhinoceros, the picture is clear: this beast cannot be tamed! Though He has great strength that if tapped would be of much use, no man can take advantage of it (Job 39:11) but God can! He puts the beast to good use in Deut 33:17 to “gore the nations.”
The point? Man cannot tame the worst of the wild beasts any more than he can make the blind see. But, God can do both.
Durand observed that we cannot counter the “ungovernable strength of the wild passions of men” (The Trial of Job, XIX). We cannot control our own passions apart from His grace. So, we must pray about them to God and He can make us new creations. Who is man to question God’s justice when he cannot even control his own passions which are the author of many evils?
Next, God speaks of the ostrich (Job 39:13-18). The bird is a picture of cruelty in the way it neglects its young: “Even jackals offer the breast, they nurse their young; but the daughter of my people has become cruel like ostriches in the wilderness” (Lam 4:3). In Is 34:13 the ostrich has demonic undertones, haunting the land after God has laid it waste as a punishment.
In the description offered in Job, the bird’s lack of care for her young is attributed to God having not “given her a share of understanding” (Job 39:17). She stupidly abandons her eggs at times, even crushing them under foot (Job 39:14-16).
What is God’s purpose in withdrawing from her the capacity for empathy and intelligence? The answer to the question may lay in the passage that speaks of how the ostrich struts her stuff and flaps her wings, not reflecting upon that they are of no use for flying (Job 39:13). The reference to wings flapping joyously “with the pinion and plumage of love” is a reference to God restraining her wings from flight–He pinioned them lovingly. For there is a gracefulness to the feathers, but they do not assist in flight as they would on other birds.
Much like the ostrich is restrained from flying, so is the hand of man sealed and his will restrained. Man’s hand is impressive in some ways, but not infinite in its capacity. The natural man wrongly views himself as capable of evaluating things of the Spirit.
Man like the ostrich views his “wings” as something lofty, when from the proper vantage point they are found wanting. Like the ostrich, he waves his hand joyously but thinks of it much too highly. God has set a seal on the hand of man, lovingly pinioning his wings so they cannot give him flight. Therefore, God does not inhibit a man’s free will, but gives a man limitations on what he can will. Much like an ostrich, we both may want to fly but we cannot will it to take place. God does this with “love” just like with the ostrich, so we may take this to mean that He has righteous and kind purposes in giving man his limitations.
Yet, this flawed man like the ostrich can accomplish great feats. The ostrich is so mighty in her ability, she can outrun the horse (Job 39:18). Likewise man by use of his attributes, which are made in God’s image, allow him to excel above any of the world’s creatures. He can move, lift, see, and devise greater than any of the beasts by use of his reason. Though his wings are not as grand as he may view them, they are still something to be flapped joyously. Man is greater than all the beasts and God has designed man’s reason, his beautiful plumage, with love.
When man acts ignorantly and callously like the ostrich, God ultimately is responsible for even this. Just as it is true that the ostrich “treats her young cruelly…because God has made her forget wisdom” (Job 39:14-15), in the same way “the plans of the heart belong to man…the answer of the tongue is from the Lord” (Prov 16:1). SO, THERE IS A CERTAIN DISPOSITION IN THE HEART OF THE CREATURE, BUT IT IS A DISPOSITION THAT GOD HAS BROUGHT TO PASS. IN THE CASE OF THE OSTRICH, GOD WITHDREW THE HEDGE SO HER PLANS OF CRUELTY WOULD COME TO PASS. GOD DOES THIS OFTENTIMES WITH MEN.
We have reason to believe that the warhorse in Job 39:19-25 represents the Church empowered by the Spirit. Why? The Scripture says that God will make His people “like His majestic horse in battle” (Zech 10:3). This is why God asks Job, “Do you give the horse his might” (Job 39:19)? For God is the one who empowers the warhorse, just as he empowers the Church to preach the name of Jesus Christ. This is why we do not boast in the strength of horses, but instead the name of our God (Ps 20:7), for God is the one who gives the horse its strength. The one who gives is superior to the one who receives.
The Church runs into the snares of Satan, his spears, javelins, and fiery arrows (Job 39:23, Eph 6:16). Even in persecution, pictured here by the horse charging headlong into battle, the believer can be confident. As Christ says, “When they arrest you and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but it is the Holy Spirit” (Mark 13:11).
While the ostrich often outruns the horse in this world (Job 39:18), she does so to her own ruin. Unbelievers run from what is good and do not confront evil. They chase after the wrong things, outrunning us in the rat race of life. However, the Church is not called to outrun them but to oppose the forces of darkness, to take part with God in the divine battle between the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of light.
Indeed, we work out our salvation in fear and trembling against the principalities and forces of darkness. But, by His Spirit, God prepares us for victory. “The horse is prepared for the day of battle, But victory belongs to the LORD” (Prov 21:31). It is He who empowers us in the day of battle, which is why we must always pray, “Lord, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one!”
It is wrong to believe we can deliver ourselves by our own ability. We may be able to appear like the warhorse, swift with our decisions and strong with our resolve. However, when God’s judgment comes “the swift of foot will not escape, nor will he who rides the horse save his life” (Amos 2:15). Therefore, we must always look to God who gives the horse strength for His own purposes–not to ourselves and our own abilities.
Finally, God speaks of the birds of prey (Job 39:26-30). By God’s understanding they soar (Job 39:26), which is contrary to the ostrich which has been purposely inhibited by God. The ostrich has been deprived of flight. The eagle with wisdom from God builds a nest where no can access it (Job 39:27-28). The ostrich, not given such help from God, callously lays its eggs in a hole in the sand, where they can easily be trampled. To the birds, they do this all based upon instinct, not knowing where it came. The instinct is implanted by God and to some He gives more liberally than others.
From the preceding, we can see how God gives to each a “measure of faith” (Rom 12:3). Some have more, others have less, and just as the pot cannot question the potter why this is so, neither can we. “[D]oes not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use” (Rom 9:21)?
Indeed, God has the right to do this. If He maintains the right, then He is righteous in executing His judgment, because it is His right to do so. We have a clue, however, what purpose God has in mind for the birds of prey:
From there [in the nest] he spies out food;
His eyes see it from afar.
His young ones also suck up blood;
And where the slain are, there is he (Job 39:29-30).
The eagle has superior vision and can see his prey from impossible distances. Even when a youth, he can literally smell blood. Why has God designed them this way? To execute His justice. The senses spoken about in Job appear to come into use when the birds of prey are called upon to “assemble for the great supper of God, so that you may eat the flesh of kings [that rebelled against God]” (Rev 19:17-18). Man empowers some men like Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus, and others to bring judgment upon the wicked. It is God who raised them up and gave them their abilities. And when the end times occurs, God will likewise be empowering those men as well.
However, just as God has designed the eagle to bring people into judgment (Hab 1:8, Lam 4:19) He also uses the bird as a picture of His grace (Ex 19:4 “I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself,” Ezek 17:1-6). So God may use men to also be vehicles of grace for other men. He may take pity on the wicked man and He reserves the right to show His mercy and swoop up the sinner from destroying himself. But, at the same time, He is not compelled to be merciful and can execute His justice with other birds of prey. He reserves the birds of prey for both purposes.
So, let’s further apply this to men. We may surmise that the birds of prey are those God has empowered with wisdom and superior senses. Men are surely dignified because of the abilities God has given them. God reserves the right to give men such abilities and direct them to fulfill His righteous purposes. If God empowers even the most superior attributes in man, how can man see himself as independent from God? Isn’t he in God’s debt? It is the potter’s right to do as He pleases.
Therefore, all the animals here reflect the different kinds of men and His righteous purposes for them. God sustains both the reprobates (goats) and the elect (deer). When men are rebellious like the donkey, they are so–not strictly because of their own free will, but because He loosed their bonds and has removed the hedge from around their hearts. Just as God can loose the bonds of rebellious men, He can take the strongest and most stubborn of them, typified in the ox, and master them.
Man glories in his intellect and free will, but it is the Lord who gives understanding to him. “For the LORD gives wisdom; From His mouth come knowledge and understanding” (Prov 2:6). Some men have been made to be stunted as the ostrich. Like brute beasts they are cruel and stupid. Other men have superior abilities like the birds of prey, in which God directs their wisdom and senses accordingly. Lastly, the horse is the man who is sustained by the Holy Spirit, equipped to confront evil in the spiritual war.
Is it obvious that no man can call God unfair, because by his own free will he acts like the lowest of the beasts that we just covered. If He excels and is like a warhorse or impressive eagle, was it not God’s doing and not man’s? So, then God cannot be unjust in any of this.
So God is merciful to each beast and each sort of man. He provides for them, but He is not compelled to give an equal measure of mercy to all. Some are granted great wisdom and courage, others are robbed of intelligence and allowed to be cruel by their own free will like the ostrich. Some are sustained in this world, but not the next and rightfully so.
And so, God is fair to all men, He sustains all men, and apart from God’s sustenance man cannot survive in this world nor proceed to the next one.
God is right in His ordering of creation (Job 38) and His dealings with men (Job 39).
What is the significance of this? Man is powerless in creation, sustaining the world, and even sustaining his own soul.
How can he then be the focal point of the universe and its measure? Man is completely insignificant. With this being the case, how can Job continue to question God just because he happens to be suffering?
One final note concerning suffering. Suffering does not always come to a resolution or have an easily discernible purpose. Look at the ostrich: “Though her labor be in vain…” (Job 39:16).
God withdrew her wisdom so that she is cruel to her eggs, crushing them without giving it much thought. So it is the same with us who by our own sinfulness cause our own suffering. Though God has loosed our bonds, He has done so knowing that the fruit of our sin or that of others causes great pain.
It would seem that just as the ostrich’s pain in labor be in vain, so it is the same with our pain. Pain does not always have an obvious purpose. For example, when a couple loses a child, they do not always become a comfort to another couple that has experienced the same. It is indeed possible that they might, but one cannot avoid the conclusion that much of the evil we witness and experience appears to be in vain.
For our intents and purposes, it often is. We have to have a peace about what we do not know and be certain in this: God has brought it about. Indeed, He has brought it about, but He is righteous and so the true purposes behind evil are consistent with His nature. How then does the existence of evil coincide with that of God’s righteousness, being that He is in full control of it? We by God’s grace will explore this subject adequately in the next two chapters.