God’s Dominion over Animals
Topic: Expository Passage: Job 38:39–39:30
Today, we are going to look at a fascinating section of Job, where God gives his perspective on the animal world. I’ve really enjoyed this section, because I’ve always been fascinated with animals. Growing up on the farm, I loved to watch and care for the cattle and the hogs. And I’ve always enjoyed learning about wildlife.
This summer, I’ve watched documentaries on wildlife in Russia, Chile, Alaska and other places. It’s amazing to see the power of a grizzly, the majesty of a Siberian tiger, and the organization of a beehive. Our God is truly amazing.
In Job 38:39–39:30 God reflects on several of his incredible creations. But he is doing far more than producing an entertaining documentary; rather, God uses these illustrations to make an emphatic point to Job and his friends.
Remember that Job and his friends want to understand why Job is suffering, and how man can ensure himself a life of blessing and ease. In other words, they want to live in a neat, tidy world they fully understood and can completely control. They aren’t alone. We all dream of living in a world where we are in control of our destiny and where we fully understand the reason for our circumstances.
But God uses his dominion over the animals to demonstrate that there is so much we don’t understand, don’t control, and that doesn’t fit the simplistic worldview of Job and his friends. Rather, God’s power and wisdom are FAR beyond us. Even more importantly, God’s purpose is far more complex than we will ever comprehend.
So, today we will stand in awe at the greatness and wisdom of God displayed in his animal kingdom. In the process, I trust that we will be humbled before our Father and learn to trust him more fully. Notice first that God demonstrates his glory in that…
God cares for the animals (38:39–39:4).
God feeds the lions and the ravens (38:39–41). Lions are fascinating creatures, aren’t they? One of my sons is currently obsessed with roaring like a lion. We have all watched videos of lions running down their prey, because their power, speed, and tactics are mesmerizing.
And God’s point to Job and his buddies is that they can’t take credit for any of it. They didn’t make the lion a great hunter, they don’t feed him, and they don’t control him either. Rather, the lion’s greatness declares God’s wisdom, power, creativity, and grace.
It’s also worth noting that the way God provides for the lion proves that the world is not the rosy utopia Job’s friends want to think it is. Maybe you’re the person who hates those clips of lions hunting, because you feel bad for the poor little gazelle or zebra.
The reality is that God feeds the lion through violent death that troubles our minds. It demonstrates that God’s purpose is not as simple as we might like to think. Even violence serves his infinite purpose in ways we will never fully comprehend. This an important point that we will come back to.
Then v. 41 adds that God also feeds the raven and its young. You’re probably thinking, “I know, last week ravens got in my trash bin looking for food and made a mess of my yard.” We don’t like ravens. The Law declared them unclean. But infinite God watches over and provides for the lowly raven and its young He is gracious and near. Then vv. 1–4 state that…
God watches over the mountain goat and the deer (39:1–4). Mountain goats are pretty incredible. They inhabit some of the harshest places on Earth. It’s amazing to watch video of them climbing and sometimes running up and down steep ridges where a minor slip means certain death. God has given them some unique abilities to live in unique environments.
What’s especially important is that they don’t live man-centered lives. Mountain goats live in remote places, and they are very shy. They don’t need us, and we don’t watch over them. But God says that he watches over their gestation and birthing processes, like a watchful nurse. He has enabled them to reproduce in a harsh environment and to quickly defend themselves against violent predators.
It’s another testimony to the greatness of our God and the smallness of man. God designed the most intricate details of creation with beautiful wisdom and creativity. He sees all of it, and he cares for all of it. On the other hand, we struggle to keep a goldfish alive. There is so much that we don’t know and don’t control.
We ought to be humbled, but we also must learn how to rest in our great God. Notice how Jesus applies God’s care for the animals to his disciples as he sends them out to preach in a hostile world (Matthew 10:29–31). Jesus says that we are far more precious to our Father than a lion, mountain goat, or sparrow. He knows every detail of your life and your heart. He is watching over you.
And what’s the application? “Do not fear,” no matter how harsh and hostile the world may be, “You are of more value than many sparrows.” God will care for us and keep us, just as he keeps the animals. Returning to Job, the 2nd major way that God demonstrates his glory among the animals is that…
God rules over the animals (39:5–12).
Notice that God brings up 2 animals, the wild donkey and ox, who have close relatives that are domesticated. But both of them refuse man’s authority.
The Wild Donkey (vv. 5–8): God points out that wild donkeys live in harsh, dry environments. One of the shows I watched this summer had a section on wild donkeys living in the Himalayas. They were high in the mountains in a cold but very dry region. It looked miserable.
But they have survived there for thousands of years without any help from people. In fact, notice how God describes them in v. 7. They don’t need us, they want nothing to do with us, and their lives do not revolve around us. But God created them, loosed them into the wilderness, and gave them the resources to care for themselves. Again, God’s power, wisdom, and authority are so far beyond us. Next God mentions…
The Wild Ox (vv. 9–12): God is almost certainly referring to the Aurochs (KJV wrong to have unicorn). It was an especially large species of wild cattle that went extinct in the 1600s. Some of the bulls could be over 3,000 lbs. That’s a lot of beef!
And they were not nearly as docile as domesticated cattle. Because they were so large, so powerful, and so wild, the idea that Job would put a yoke on one and expect it to plow his fields in a straight line was simply absurd. The Aurochs refused man’s authority. Therefore, in vv. 9–12, God mocks Job’s inability to control this powerful animal. You can almost hear God laughing at human pride and weakness.
We need to be put in our place occasionally, because, if anything, human pride has only grown. We are so proud of our technology and our knowledge of the world. But God made it all, and he manages all of it from the smallest insect to the blue whale. We boast about the huge damns that we have built to control the flow of rivers, but God holds the oceans in his hand. He made the earth to spin on its axis and to revolve around the sun. We can’t even imagine that kind of power. God’s strength is truly incredible.
Not only that, our text demonstrates that God rules with meticulous detail. God carefully crafted the large and majestic Aurochs that lived in fertile plains, and he also made the scraggly donkey that lives in the remote wilderness. And he watches over them all.
We ought to stand in awe of his power, and we ought to rest secure in his care. If God controls the donkey and the ox, he is certainly in control over every detail of our lives. There is nothing in your life that is truly random or left to chance. It’s not an accident that it’s so hot this weekend, that your car broke down this week, or that your boss was a jerk on Friday. All of it is in God’s sovereign control. Therefore, Jesus’ words again ring true, “Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Matt 10:31). The 3rd major way that God demonstrates his glory among the animals is that…
God determines the strengths and weaknesses of the animals (39:13–30).
In the rest of the chapter, God mostly highlights the strengths that he has given to 3 of his creatures, but he also notes how he has withheld gifts from one of them. Together, these examples demonstrate God’s sovereignty over the world and that his purposes often defy our understanding. We can’t put God in the tidy little box Job’s friends wanted to put him in. First…
God made the ostrich foolish but fast (vv. 13–18). This is a really entertaining description of the ostrich. God mostly mocks how goofy the ostrich is. First, he mocks the ostrich’s silly little wings. Verse 13 says that the ostrich proudly flaps his wings, even though they are stumpy and not even remotely capable of making the ostrich fly like the graceful stork and other majestic birds. So God mocks the ostrich for flauting his stumpy little wings. It’s as silly as skinny little boy proudly flexing in the mirror.
Then in vv. 14–16 God mocks the ostrich’s stupid and silly parenting style. Some birds put a lot of care into building very intricate nests and into caring well for their young, but not the ostrich. They make very simple nests in the dirt, and sometimes they just lay their eggs in another bird’s nest.
And she isn’t careful with her eggs either. She doesn’t protect them, and sometimes, she steps on them. And when they hatch, she doesn’t gently care for them; instead, she makes them follow her all over the desert. She’s a terrible mother!
Why is that (v. 17)? This is a fascinating verse in the context of Job, because God doesn’t give any reason why he made the ostrich dumb, just like he never explains why he allowed Job to suffer. Rather, God simply says that he is the keeper of wisdom and that in his perfect purpose, he chose to withhold wisdom from the ostrich and to make him a silly creature.
But then ironically, v. 18 adds that God chose to gift the ostrich with incredible speed. They can run up to 40 mph, with strides 12-15’ long. It’s another example of the fact that God is the keeper of every gift. Yes, our choices have consequences, but we are not in control. God is. His ways are higher than ours, and his purposes are beyond our understanding.
God made the horse strong and courageous (vv. 19–25). This is a beautiful and poetic description of the warhorse. If you’ve seen the movie Secretariat, you may remember that in the climactic moment of the story as Secretariat pushes to win the Triple Crown, the narrator quotes this text. God’s beautiful words really add to the power of the scene.
Contrary to the silliness of the ostrich, God declares that has made the horse to be glorious, powerful, and beautiful. He has “clothed his neck with thunder,” and he has given him the speed and endurance to “devour the distance with fierceness and rage.”
Furthermore, God has made the horse courageous in battle. As he prepares to charge into battle, “His majestic snorting strikes terror.” “He mocks at fear, and is not frightened.” Of course, horses are not used in war anymore, but for millennia, the warhorse’s power and courage were a major force in battle.
And God’s point is to say that the reason horses are such glorious, athletic, and courageous animals is because God made them that way, in his perfect wisdom and purpose. What separates the ostrich from the horse is nothing in them, and it’s nothing in man (v. 19). Rather, it is the sovereign will of God.
It’s another humbling reminder of our absolute dependence on the Lord. Speaking of spiritual gifts, 1 Corinthians 4:7 states, “For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” I’m not the master of my fate, and I can’t guarantee anything about my future. No, just like the horse, all that I have and all that I am is solely by God’s grace.
God made the hawk and eagle to soar (vv. 26–30). Both hawks and eagles are majestic and impressive creations. If you’ve ever had a chance to watch them in nature, you know that they capture your attention. In this text, God highlights how they glide high in the sky with their powerful wings. Because of that, they can build their nests in some remote places, where nothing else can get to them. Finally, vv. 29–30 describe their keen eyesight, which allows them to spot prey from high in the sky and then to dart down and capture it. Again, there are some pretty incredible videos available of hawks and eagles capturing prey.
Therefore, we have adopted the bald eagle as a symbol of national pride. But God bluntly reminds us that we can’t take any credit for these marvelous creatures. Verse 26 says that we don’t make them fly. Quite the opposite, we learned how to build airplanes by looking at these birds. And v. 27 adds that we don’t control them either. We didn’t make these birds, we don’t control them, and they don’t need us. We are much smaller than we like to think. But again, God designed every majestic detail and watches their every move.
In sum, God has given us a beautiful window into his power, his wisdom, his watchful care, and into our great limitations. So how should we respond to what we have seen about God and ourselves. First, we must…
Bow in humility. Like Job and his friends, we like to think we understand the world, and that we are in control of our world. But God has given us a necessary reminder that we are very small. There is so much that I cannot control. Yes, I should work hard and be responsible, but I can’t ultimately determine what happens in our country, at work, in my home, with my health, or with my kids’ future. And to think anything else is simply absurd and asking for frustration.
Furthermore, there is so much that I do not understand and never will. I will never fully comprehend God’s purpose in my suffering, the prosperity of evil and evil men, and so many other things. Rather than proudly declaring that I get it, I must learn to humbly trust the Lord. I don’t comprehend his ways, but I know they are good and wise and that’s enough.
Bow in faith. We live in day, where, “The Bible says,” is not enough for most people. We are eager to let science, secular ethics, and human reasoning sit in judgment on God’s Word, but embarrassed to let Scripture judge modern assumptions. But if we are going to truly embrace the spirit of this chapter, we have to reject these patterns. We must determine to simply trust the Lord. If he said it, it’s true, because he is truth. I will trust him and him alone.
Bow in dependence. As I’ve said a couple of times, if God cares for the animals, he most certainly cares for you. If God watches every mountain goat hidden away in the wilderness give birth, he sees your every care and every concern. And if God provides food for ravens, he will meet your every need.
Therefore, stop doubting God and worrying about the things that God has promised to do. Bring your cares to him, and trust that he will meet every need. As always, I want to emphasize that this position of dependence is at the core of what it means to be a Christian. My faith begins when I acknowledge that I can’t save myself. My only hope is what Christ did on the cross. If you have never received Christ, I pray that you will do so today. And then we must continue to depend on the Lord through all of life. We depend on grace to forgive our sins, to strengthen our faith, and to obey God’s will. So, the stance of this text is foundational to our position before God. Nothing is more basic than that fact that God is big, and I am small.