Consider the Ostrich: Job 39 and Creation – Part II

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):

  1. The wings of the ostrich wave proudly, But are her wings and pinions [like the] kindly stork’s?
  2. For she leaves her eggs on the ground, and warms them in the dust;
  3. She forgets that a foot may crush them, or that a wild beast may break them.
  4. She treat her young harshly, as though [they were] not hers; her labor is in vain, without concern,
  5. Because God deprived her of wisdom, and did not endow her with understanding.
  6. When she lifts herself on high, she scorns the horse and its rider.
An illustrators impression of the Garden of Eden.  (Image linked to source)
An illustrators impression of the Garden of Eden.  This is a typical impression that many have where all the animals are around and look just like today’s animals.  Notice the penguins in the foreground.  Also, what is up with that rainbow? I thought that would be after the Flood.  (Image linked to source)

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.

This image (credit Jamie Lee Curtis Taete) from the Creation Museum by Answers in Genesis shows a penguin (a flightless bird) in the Garden with Adam.  But did penguins really look like this in the past?
This image (credit Jamie Lee Curtis Taete) from the Creation Museum by Answers in Genesis shows a penguin (a flightless bird) in the Garden with Adam.

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.

8 thoughts on “Consider the Ostrich: Job 39 and Creation – Part II

  1. The Hebrew words chokmah and biynah translated in Jon 39 as wisdom and understanding respectively are terms which the Bible attributes only to God, the angels, and to man. The terms are never applied to animals. Nevertheless, the animals are not left to themselves for God made Adam and gave him “dominion over them”. (Gen.1:28). I would understand this relationship in much the same way as the relationship I have with my dog. The dog may wish to chase cars, regardless of the danger in doing so, but I am able to train him to refrain from such behavior. In spite of the dog’s lack of wisdom or understanding he was not left without guidance because I have been given the task of guiding him to behave wisely. In the same fashion, Adam was given wisdom to care for the animals under his “dominion”. When Adam sinned, he gave up his dominion to “the prince of this world” (John 12:31), and the creation no longer was wholly good.. Job 39 describes the behavior of the ostrich in a world which has been perverted by sin. The Bible recognizes this and points to a time when the first dominion will be restored (Micah 4:8, Zechariah 9:10), and there will be a “new heaven and a new earth” (Revelation 21:1). The behavior of the animals will be very different in this perfect place than it is now. The Bible describes how “the wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock” (Isaiah 65:25).
    Now may I pose to you a question? Since no “natural” process is known to produce matter from nothingness, where did the matter in the universe come from? If not by natural means, then must not the matter which makes up the universe be supernaturally formed? I have no other explanation. Thanks. steve.


    1. All of the mater that exists now existed as energy inside the singularity. Since time are things that also expanded out of the singularity, the idea of asking where it came from doesn’t make any sense. without time or space, there was no possibility of causation. I suspect what you really want to know is how the singularity came into existence. No one knows (though there are ideas). But this ignorance does not mean that it came about by magic! We know that the principle that magic operates on are not real and obviously have never been observed. It is impossible, for instance to cause something to happen by speaking (God said let there be light and there was light, etc.). If you want to say that this is possible for god (although every text including the Bible that assumes it is possible for god to operate by magic also asserts human beings can do the same [Google–“sabbath calf” kabbalah–for instance]). What you need to do is look at the equations that describe the singularity and its expansion and show how god or magic relate to them–you’d have a Noble in Physics waiting for you if you could. Frankly the idea is so ridiculous it doesn’t bear consideration. An unknown natural processes not supernatural. The universe operate by well described mathematical and physical laws and, while there may be room in them for so far unknown principles at the quantum level (like string theory), there is nothing unknown at the macroscopic level and if magic were a real operative principle with the pervasive power religion attributes to ti it would ave been observed long before now.


  2. Hi Steve, thanks for your thoughtful comments. I agree that the word here used for wisdom really can only be applied to those you have mentioned. The ostrich never would have had wisdom and so it is not taken away but simply withheld or was the intention of creation to ever endow creatures such as the ostrich with such a characteristic. The dog analogy is good but I am not sure what you mean when you say that behaviors are those described in world perverted by sin? Would wolves, under the dominion of man, been constrained by man from desiring to track and hunt prey even thought that was their inclination? I guess I’m not sure if you are agreeing or disagreeing that the ostrich “natural” (ie. God-endowed/created) behaviors cause the death of her young/eggs. Would the presence of a sinless man somehow save every egg so that they all hatched or did Adam’s sin cause the ostrich to lay more eggs thus causing many of them to become wasted? The future behavior of animals doesnt’ necessarily imply that the past behavior of animals was different.
    With regards to your questions, I’ve never sought a “natural” process to explain the origin of the universe as it seems clear that God created all from nothing. I don’t have any other explanation either. Joel


  3. Joel;
    You’re surely right that future behavior doesn’t necessarily Imply past behavior, but I haven’t got a better way. The Bible describes a world that was very good, that was then perverted by sin, and finally is made new. It makes some sense to me that the behavior described in the new world would mirror that of the world before it was damaged by sin, but other than that presumption, I have no evidence. Based on that presumption, I would think that the wolves natural inclination would not have been to hunt and destroy. The thought expressed in Isaiah that the wolf would one day lie down with the lamb seems to imply that Gods idea of a perfect world would not include the animals destroying each other. Similarly, I would expect that the ostriches did not kick their eggs out so that some of them would be lost.
    I know I have been something of a monkey wrench thrown into the machinery when I come in as a creationist to post on your web site. It is very helpful on my end to read your posts and try and understand some of you all’s thinking on these matters and I do appreciate your kind and thoughtful replies. God bless. Steve.


    1. Hi Steve, I’m sorry about the long delay in responding. I really appreciate the comments. I think it is very difficult for us to think about what a world would be like without death. In some ways its like mortal man trying to imagine what heaven could be like. In both cases God communicates to us about the world in the beginning and the end through language that we can understand. I realize that the very fact that I can’t imagine how a world would work without death isn’t a compelling argument that one didn’t exist. But I do think that all creationists images of the prefallen world border on being naive and overly optimistic about how easily it can be understood. Genetics in a no-death world is pretty near inconceivable to me and what I know about physics couldn’t be applied at all to that world. What hits me sometimes is that that world would have been so foreign that I can’t really relate to it at all. Adam and Eve hardly seem to have any relationship to me physically or emotionally. Ironically young earth creationists want Adam and Eve to have prime importance and want us to relate to them and yet have created (I think unbiblically) a construct of a world for them that really we can’t relate to in any meaningful way. What I’m trying to grapple with is if God created a world where no death of animals would occur then how is it that the genetics of today’s organisms are so well adapted to earth’s ecology that includes death? As Christians, we like to talk about how amazing God’s creatures are today and yet if there was no death in the original creation as a biologist I feel like I don’t have a clue what those animals were like in the original creation because the ones we have today are designed so well for the present world. From my other writing you will see that I am sympathetic at least to the view that Eden was a real/physical place specially designated by God where He could commune with a real adam and eve and where they would worship God but that the world outside of Eden was as it is today, more like chaos than order. The promise to Adam was that he was to expand the garden and bring that world in subjected to order but he sinned and rather than subjecting the rest of creation to order just as God had done in the creation account he now is subject to that chaos. Much more in some of my other posts and a book, “Revisiting the Days of Genesis” by B.C. Hodge, I finished recently really brought that home to me more clearly than ever before.


      1. Eden was indeed a real place. It was a well-watered region that stretched from the Nile-Lake Chad Basin to the Tigris-Euphrates. This was the region ruled by Abraham’s ancestors and it was to them that God gave the Edenic Promise (Gen. 3:15). They expected a woman of their blood lines to bring forth the “Seed” of God. This belief expressed itself in the Horites’ unique and distinctive marriage and ascendancy pattern which can be traced from Genesis 4 and 5 to Jesus Christ.


  4. I enjoyed reading this Part 2 about the ostrich. Thanks!

    Death entered the world with sin and that certainly altered human existence – and if St. Paul is correct – the whole of creation.

    Wisdom is always attributed to God as an aspect of the Divine nature. However, according to St. Paul God’s eternal power and His divine nature are made know in the order of creation (Rom. 1:20). Paul is not advocating a hippie-commune-with-Jesus-in the forest religion. He is answering a concern of the Roman converts from paganism concerning their deceased loved ones. What he is saying is what Jesus said: that we should seek with all our hearts and minds to know God who has revealed Himself. This is something close to empirical investigation into the Truth of God, although the ancients didn’t use that word, of course. Nonetheless, they were great observers and kept astronomical records over very long periods.

    There were places or seats of wisdom in the ancient world. Most were associated with Abraham’s Horite people. The wisdom of the Horites extended to medicine, astronomy, writing, commerce, navigation, natural sciences, and architecture. The 400-acre Edomite complex at Petra reflects Horite architecture and beliefs.


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