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401. Job 39:9-12, The Wild Ox


9 “Will the wild ox consent to serve you,

Or will he spend the night at your manger?

10 Can you bind the wild ox in a furrow with ropes,

Or will he harrow the valleys after you?

11 Will you trust him because his strength is great

And leave your labor to him?

12 Will you have faith in him that he will return your grain

And gather it from your threshing floor?


In this fourth strophe on the wild animals we turn to the reem (9x) or the “wild ox.” The word appears with more than one spelling—sometimes an aleph is added between the first and last consonants, sometimes not. It appears twice here and twice in the Balaam narrative, but there it is the “horns of the wild ox” that are mentioned (Numbers 23:22; 24:8). “Ox” and “ass” appear together elsewhere in the Scripture, such as in Isaiah 1:3, but the words for each animal are different in that place. Yet, interestingly, the rare word in Job 39:8 for the wild donkey's sleeping/lodging in one’s manger (ebus, 3x) is the same word that appears in Isaiah 1:3 to talk about the ox (shor) and ass (chamor) knowing the sources of its food/rest. Domestic animals are in view in Isaiah 1:3; the reem is wild. 


God’s question is an unusual one in that He uses the verb abah, “to be willing/consent,” a common enough verb elsewhere (55x) but only appearing here in Job. God asks, with perhaps a slight chiding tone in the voice,


    “Will the wild ox be willing/consent to serve you? Or will he lodge upon your 

    manger/feeding trough?”


The word rendered “crib” or “manger” or “feeding trough” is ebus, derived from the 2x-appearing verb abas, which refers to a “fattened” ox (I Kings 4:23; Proverbs 15:17). The interesting verb abah (“to consent/be willing”) might gently suggest that persuasion and consent, rather than force, is really at the heart of relationships between and among species of the earth. It is a challenging thought, especially when we consider whether God’s method of “persuasion” here in Job 38-41 resembles more what we might call persuasion or compulsion. If we conclude the latter, then we have a delicious irony to think about: persuasion is the method that “works” for the “dumb” species but force is the method imposed by the “wise” creator on the “thinking” creature. 


But no wild ox will consent to settle down at Job’s feeding trough. So, God asks another question in verse 10, picking up on the theme of “binding” (qashar) which was explored in 38:31 with respect to the Pleiades. Job will not be able to “bind” either heavenly (Pleiades) or earthly (wlld ass) things. The language of 39:10 is very difficult, though the concept is rather clear.  Literally, we have:


    “Can you bind the wild ox in the furrow of his ropes? Or will he plow the ground after you?”


Job couldn’t persuade them to settle in his manger in verse 10. Now, obviously, he can’t compel (“bind”) them. But the language of “in the furrow of his ropes” must mean “with ropes in the furrow” even though the text doesn’t say that. The word for “ropes” is aboth (24x), which primarily appears in the Tabernacle narrative (Exodus 25-40) to describe the “corded” or “wreathen” chains of that structure. The word for “furrow” is the rare telem (5x) which we have previously seen in 31:38, where Job utters his clearance oath—that the land “or its furrows” have not cried out against him. Again, the word for “plow” is rare (sadad, 3x). In one of its other appearances (Hosea 10:11) it may be rendered to “break the clods” (of the soil), but plow seems to be more appropriate here.


Once it is established that Job can’t either persuade or compel the wild ox to join him, God changes the divine vocabulary, focusing now on language of trust and reliance.  Clines and others have pointed out that the wild ox is huge, fierce and dangerous; getting it to lie down in the manger doesn’t necessarily assure anyone’s safety. As Woody Allen said famously with regard to Isaiah’s vision of the peaceable kingdom of Isaiah 11, ‘The lion and the lamb will lie down together, but the lamb won’t get much sleep.’


So, we have in verse 11:


    “Will you rely on him because his strength is great and will you give your work over to him?"


The sense of this fascinating question is whether Job, even if he could persuade or capture the wild ox, would truly be able to “trust” it. The verb is batach, 120x, a common verb throughout Scripture, and especially the Psalms, to emphasize the concept of reliance on something, usually on God. The point should be clear—the snake that the "genius snake charmer” thinks he has tamed may just turn on him at any moment. So it is with the wild ox. Again, I don’t believe the point is that God is trying to make any theological points about trust or taming of animals; He just is varying his repertoire of questions so that Job sees his multiform inadequacy. He simply points to Job’s inability to control any of the wild creatures that God can mention.  


Verse 12 rubs it in a little more, using another verb for “trust” (aman, 108x) which first appears memorably in Genesis 15:6, where Abram “trusts” God and it is reckoned to him as righteousness. Job 39:12 says, repeating the thought of verse 11:


    “Will you trust him when he returns home with your seed and gathers your threshing floor?


Though the words again don’t make perfect sense, the thought is clear enough. Job has no ability to bring this wild animal under his control. The wild animal might not want to be brought under control, and it could do considerable damage. There is so much about the world that is beyond the ken of Job. God’s description is awesome and delightful at the same time, and Job and we are no doubt wonderfully impressed, even if we aren’t fully convinced that God is attending to Job’s basic questions.   

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