Some passages of scripture contain fascinating natural history information about animals. The book of Job, in particular, records many physical and behavioral traits of animals. One such animal described in Job is the ostrich. The ostrich we know today is a strange bird. It is very large, its wings are not able to provide flight function, its bones are heavy and strong like a land mammal, and it displays a number of peculiar behaviors (though it doesn’t put its head in the sand.)
Previously (Consider the Ostrich: Job 39 and God’s Commentary on His Creation) we explored how such a creature is portrayed in the Bible and compared that to a modern-day ostrich. The conclusion from this comparison was that the Biblical description of the ostrich matches observations of modern ostrich behavior very well. In this post, I want to explore the implications of this text as it relates to what God is telling us about His creation.
First, let’s remind ourselves of the primary text that refers to the ostrich (Job 39 verses 13-18, NKJV):
- The wings of the ostrich wave proudly, But are her wings and pinions [like the] kindly stork’s?
- For she leaves her eggs on the ground, and warms them in the dust;
- She forgets that a foot may crush them, or that a wild beast may break them.
- She treat her young harshly, as though [they were] not hers; her labor is in vain, without concern,
- Because God deprived her of wisdom, and did not endow her with understanding.
- When she lifts herself on high, she scorns the horse and its rider.
The perfection of the prelapsarian world?
Many evangelicals are prone to believe that the way the physical world operates was manifestly, and dramatically, altered by Adam’s sin. Furthermore, they believe that,, though still “good” in some senses the relationship of animals to man, their behavior toward one another, and their relationship to the environment have become seriously flawed. Man and his sin are responsible for this damaged earth but there is an eschatological hope for a return to the ecology of Eden (the prelapsarian world) where animals, or things with the “breath of life” (see footnote), did not die nor were they any danger to Adam and Eve. That “good” garden had a perfectly harmonious environment and included “all the land”–usually interpreted as the whole earth.
But, was the Garden of Eden, and Eden in general, truly a radically different earth where the laws of nature/providence did not function as they do today? Did those prelapsarian rules extend out over the entire earth? Paul’s words in Romans 5:12-18 referencing the sin of Adam bringing death into the world is the go to verse to support this view. But is this a proper extrapolation this text and is the rest of the Bible silent on this issue? In both cases I don’t believe so.
What does this account of the ostrich in Job tell us about creation?
Job 39:17 (Because God deprived [the ostrich] of wisdom, and did not endow her with understanding.)uses Hebrew words translated in the New King James Version as “deprived” and “endow.” These terms are infrequently used in Scripture but have been translated variously as “caused to forget” and “given”, or, “imparted” and “given a share of” respectively. A straightforward reading of this passage tells us God is referring to, especially when the context of the rest of the chapter is considered, how he made (or “formed” as Genesis 1 says) the ostrich.
The context of chapters 38 and 39 finds God asking Job if he was there at the beginning when He formed the earth and the living things. There is no indication that God is referring to some sort of post-fall version of animals adapted to a sin-corrupted world. Rather, God is saying here that He made the ostrich and endowed it–originally– with the characteristics listed in this passage. There is no indication that the ostrich was initially created such that she took “perfect” care of her young or that her actions led to absolutely no egg ever being lost (either broken or just never developed and hatched) or that her young wouldn’t be snatched by wild animals. There isn’t any sense here that because creation was broken God has remade the ostrich. The natural order of the world, as witnessed at the time of Job, was assumed by the author of Job, through God’s words, to represent the condition of God’s creation. Not only that, but in this passage we have God telling us (see footnote about authorship of Job) directly that this assumption is correct. God never scolds Job nor does Job scold his friends for misunderstanding creation.
Modern day young earth creationists universally interpret the original creation conditions as an earthly paradise in which animals behaved in ways that would could not be considered unwise nor result in the death of themselves or another animal. For them there could have been any prelapsarian carnivores. Young earth creationists claim that all death of animals (but not plants, fungi or bacteria – see footnote on the “breath of life”) is the result of man’s sin? If sin caused such a drastic change in ecology of the animals of the world, why does God not take this opportunity while speaking to Job to point out how Adam’s sin was responsible for the loss of wisdom of the Ostrich and for its carelessness resulting in the death of her young? There is no hint here that the original ostrich of creation would have been unrecognizable to Job and that God has graciously provided for the ostrich’s survival in this world despite Adam’s sin. What we see instead is God saying this is the way that Ostrich is supposed to be, that He intended her to be this way. We read that “her wings are not like the storks”, yet we will see in part III that creation scientists believe that most if not all flightless birds were able to fly in the past.
In chapter 38 and 39 of Job God highlights the many seeming paradoxes of nature/creation that Job and others had pondered in the prior 35 chapters and says that he is responsible for them all and asks who they are to question the wisdom of his creation. There isn’t any sense whatsoever of paradise lost here only a very real sense of the loss of man’s right relationship and understanding of God. Man no longer appreciates the creator and trusts Him as the animals depend on God.
I would suggest that the most straightforward reading of the OT wisdom literature as well as Genesis leads to the conclusion that appearance and behavior of the animals described therein were part of the “very good” creation. The animals who scavenge the ostrich egg or the ostrich chick are acting in accordance with the instincts endowed to them. Scriptures are full of examples of how scenes of animal behavior are portrayed not as ones of injustice, imperfection, or maladaption in the created order but rather as God’s good provision for his creation. It is a creation that is the way God intends it to be.
Let me end this post here by saying that I think we should be careful here to understand that to call the creation “very good” is not to same as saying that the ecology of these animals is the very best that it could be. Good – yes, best – no! How do we know this? We know this because the earth that God formed and filled so that it would be habitable for man was never, in that condition, meant to be the ultimate endpoint of the creation. We might say that the creation was immature because we see that Adam was given the command to protect and care for the Garden and to cause it to expand over all the earth. There were commands to follow his word and to fill the earth and a promise of a future. Man was never created to live forever in the Garden of Eden as it was but was created for a higher purpose – he was God’s appointed vice-reagent and able to tend and keep the creation and, I take it, to expand the temple garden over the face of the earth. He failed to achieve that purpose but through Christ man is redeemed and has a hope for the future that is more glorious than life in that land of Eden of the past. Today, many Christians are apt to look back at the “good” creation and yearn for a return to a form of perfection that is their imagination rather than looking forward to the world to come.
Next up I will ask the question: what did the original ostrich kind look like? Was the ostrich able to fly in the past? Where there any prelapsarian flightless birds? This will lead me to ponder the creationists’ idea of species limits (baraminology) and ultra-fast evolution.
1) Breath of Life – the scientific and Biblical definitions of life are quite different. It is difficult to know just what groups of animals correspond to the category of having the “breath of life” in the Bible but at least all vertebrates and possibly other animals. What aren’t included are plants, fungi and bacteria and thus they do not die in the sense that animals are able to die.
2) Authorship of Job – In the post above I have been assuming the usual view of inspiration held by young earth creationists which take Job to have been written by a human author but under inspiration to write exactly the revealed words (not concepts) that God revealed to him to write. As a result the words of God in Job 38 are God speaking directly to us about the Ostrich. Another view of Job’s authorship that could still be considered as under the umbrella of an orthodox view of the doctrine of inspiration says that the author of Job was a poet who is exploring the problem of suffering and using a historical story but not writing the actual words spoken by the participants. Of course there are more liberal approaches that would take the whole book as the imagination of a non-inspired poet who is trying to understand why God would allow suffering. Regardless of whether the text of Job 39 are the verbatim words of God or the inspired imagination of man of what God would say “behind the scenes,” what we learn about the ostrich remains a valuable lesson about what God or man believes concerning the state of creation.