The Prevailing Will of God
Dispositions and habits of animals differ. But what can man do about it? He can learn a lesson from God.
WHEN the Almighty spoke to Job in a series of questions, he contrasted the smallness of man with his own greatness. Jehovah pointed to his inanimate creation, the earth, the sea, its waves, snow and hail, rain, dew, frost and ice, the constellations, clouds, lightnings; he asked Job if he could control them and understand fully the divine laws governing them. Then the Almighty illustrated the superiority of his power and will by pointing to the animal creation. The lions, wild goats, hinds and even the lowly ravens all get along without man’s help. Next, God brought to Job’s attention other wild creatures:
“Who sent forth the zebra free, and who loosened the very bands of the wild ass, whose house I have appointed the desert plain and whose dwelling places the salt country? It laughs at the turmoil of a town; the noises of a stalker it does not hear. It explores mountains for its pasturage and after every sort of green plant it seeks.”—Job 39:5-8.
What a difference between tame animals and wild ones, even when they are most similar in appearance! Whence this mysterious difference of inward disposition? God says it was his will to send forth “the zebra free” and to loosen “the very bands of the wild ass.” Before the Sabean raid Job had five hundred she-asses, which he could use for burden bearing and plowing. Such domestic asses were noted for their submissiveness. (Job 1:3) But could Job use the wild ass in a similar way? No, for God had given the wild ass its liberty and had appointed the desert plain as its home. It is not because of man’s will that the wild ass is so nimble and untractable and that even the salt country is its dwelling place, salt being a welcome ingredient to its diet. The wild ass manages to get along without man’s help. “Every sort of green plant it seeks, gnawing even down into the roots. The wild ass migrates restlessly in search of greenery, even exploring mountain areas for pasturage.
But would the wild ass exchange its freedom for the more easily obtained provisions of the domesticated ass? No, and it would be in vain to entice the wild ass to dwell in busy towns for the sake of more abundant food. “It laughs at the turmoil of a town.” It instinctively avoids places inhabited by man, so “the noises of a stalker it does not hear.” Not that the wild ass cannot hear well; it is exceedingly wary because of its keen senses of hearing, sight and smell. Should a man invade its desolate domain and try to stalk this creature, it will dart off with utmost rapidity. Xenophon, the Greek historian of the fourth and fifth centuries B.C., wrote in his Anabasis:
“The asses, when they were pursued, having gained ground of the horses, stood still (for they exceeded them much in speed); and when these came up with them, they did the same thing again; so that our horsemen could take them by no other means but by dividing themselves into relays, and succeeding one another in the chase.”
What a strange contrast between the tame and wild asses, which are in appearance so similar! Can man account for this difference or do much about it?
POWER OF WILD BULL NOT HARNESSED BY MAN
Then Jehovah God brings up another wild creature whose power man could not harness, the wild bull: “Does a wild bull want to serve you, or will it spend the night by your manger? Will you bind a wild bull fast with its ropes in the furrow, or will it harrow low plains after you? Will you trust in it because its power is abundant, and will you leave your toil to it? Will you rely on it that it will bring back your seed and that it will gather to your threshing floor?”—Job 39:9-12.
The answer to these questions, as well as those previously asked by God, is No. What farmer would dare? The wild bull was not like the cattle used for agricultural purposes, even though similar in appearance. Job once had five hundred spans of cattle, which he used for plowing. (Job 1:3, 14) But he could not harness the greater strength of the wild bull for the same purpose. The pictorial representations on monuments show that the ancient Egyptians bound their oxen to the plow by a cord fastened around the horns and tied to the yoke and the handle. But could any man bind a wild bull fast with its ropes in the furrow? No.
Then the question: “Will you trust in it because its power is abundant?” No, indeed. The greater wonder, then, that man could not avail himself of this strength to do his work. The wild bull was one of the most powerful animals known to the Israelites. The Hebrew word for this animal, reem, is mistranslated in the King James Version Bible as “unicorn”; but the reem was no one-horned mythological beast. It had two horns, “the horns of a wild bull.” (Deut. 33:17) Apparently related to domesticated cattle, the reem was not serving man, plowing his fields or hauling home grain.
The ancients considered the wild bull to be a most formidable creature, an Assyrian king calling it “strong and fierce.” English Orientalist H. C. Rawlinson translated this inscription of an Assyrian king, and it reads: “Four wild bulls, strong and fierce, in the desert . . . with my long arrows tipped with iron, and with heavy blows, I took their lives. Their skin and their horns I brought to my city of Ashur.” And English archaeologist Sir Austen Layard wrote in Nineveh and Its Remains: “The wild bull, from its frequent representation in the bas-reliefs, appears to have been considered scarcely less formidable and notable game than the lion. The king is frequently seen contending with it, and warriors pursue it on horseback and on foot.”
What kind of animal was this wild bull? Many present-day naturalists believe that the Hebrew reem must have been the now-extinct aurochs, an oxlike creature that stood six feet at the shoulder. Dr. George C. Goodwin, associate curator of the Department of Mammals of the American Museum of Natural History, states in The Animal Kingdom: “The aurochs was once plentiful in Palestine; it appears to be mentioned in the Bible as the ‘unicorn.’” If this is the wild bull spoken of by God, it was indeed a most powerful animal. The aurochs existed in Gaul (France) down to the time of Julius Caesar, who wrote in his Commentaries (De bello Gallico):
“They are little inferior in size to elephants; they are bulls in their nature, color and figure. Great is their strength and great is their swiftness, neither do they spare man or beast, which they have caught sight of. . . . [They] can not be habituated to man and made tractable, not even when caught very young. The great spread of the horns as well as the shape and quality of them differ much from the horns of our oxen.”
Little wonder the psalmist David linked the lion and the wild bull together: “Save me from the mouth of the lion, and from the horns of wild bulls you must answer and save me.” (Ps. 22:21) What farmer would trust this wild bull?
STORK AND OSTRICH CONTRASTED
God next asked Job if he could account for the difference between the stork and the ostrich, which are both birds and yet are so unlike in habits:
“Has the wing of the female ostrich flapped joyously, or has she the pinions of a stork and the plumage? For she leaves her eggs to the earth itself and in the dust she keeps them warm, and she forgets that some foot may crush them or even a wild beast of the field may tread on them. She does treat her sons roughly, as if not hers—in vain is her toil because she has no dread. For God has made her forget wisdom, and he has not given her a share in understanding. At the time she flaps her wings on high, she laughs at the horse and at its rider.”—Job 39:13-18.
Has the wing of the ostrich flapped joyously, as that of the stork? No. The stork has powerful wings and flies very high in the air. The Bible speaks of “the stork in the heavens.” (Jer. 8:7) But the ostrich, though it flaps its wings, cannot do the same. The stork’s pinions are of great breadth and power, the secondaries and tertiaries being as long as the primaries, giving an immense surface to the wing and enabling it to be a bird of lofty and long-continued flight. But can the ostrich flap its wings in such a joyous way?
What a contrast, too, between the ostrich and the stork as to where they nest and lay their eggs. The female ostrich “leaves her eggs to the earth itself.” It is not said that the female ostrich in the wild necessarily forsakes her eggs. No, but she leaves her eggs to the earth itself rather than trust them to a nest built on a lofty tree, as does the stork. “As for the stork, the juniper trees are its house.” (Ps. 104:17) The stork’s large and well-compacted nest is usually built in the loftiest places. Not so the ostrich. The earth is her nest. In nontropical countries the female birds incubate by day, the males taking their turn by night, carefully guarding the eggs. In tropical countries the parent birds incubate by turn during the night but leave them by day to the sun’s heat, the eggs being partly or wholly covered with sand or dust. “Actual incubation of the eggs is performed by the heat of the sun.” (The New Funk & Wagnalls Encyclopedia) By leaving her eggs to the earth and by keeping them warm in the dust, she appears to be doing a stupid thing: “She forgets that some foot may crush them or even a wild beast of the field may tread on them.” She may need to leave the eggs uncared-for at the approach of enemies.
Not only is there a difference in the nest location of the ostrich and the stork but also in the way they treat their young. Says John Kitto, in The Pictorial Bible, about storks: “No bird is more famous for its attachment to its young; and, which is more rare among birds, for the kindness to the old and feeble of its own race.” But the ostrich? “She does treat her sons roughly, as if not hers.” Wrote God’s prophet Jeremiah: “The daughter of my people becomes cruel, like ostriches in the wilderness.” (Lam. 4:3) Commenting on this rough treatment, English traveler Thomas Shaw wrote in Travels in Barbary:
“A very little share of that natural affection, which so strongly exerts itself in most other creatures, is observable in the ostrich. For, upon the least distant noise, or trivial occasion, she forsakes her eggs or her young ones, to which perhaps she never returns; or, if she does, it may be too late. . . . The Arabs meet sometimes with whole nests of these eggs undisturbed, some of which are sweet and good, others addled and corrupted. . . . They oftener meet a few of the little ones, no bigger than well-grown pullets, half-starved, straggling and moaning about, like so many distressed orphans, for their mothers.”
Yes, “God has made her forget wisdom,” and yet her young ones are protected by providence just as well as the young of the stork, the emblem of maternal tenderness. The ostrich’s very want of wisdom is not without wise design by God, just as in the sufferings of Job, which had seemed so unreasonable to him, there was a wise purpose.
What happens when the ostrich detects danger? It does not hide its head in the sand. Rather, it flaps its wings on high and “laughs at the horse and at its rider.” With its two long legs and flapping wings this bird outruns many fast four-footed animals. Historian Xenophon wrote: “But no one ever caught the ostrich, for in her flight she kept constantly drawing on her pursuer, now running on foot, and again lifting herself up with her wings spread out, as though she had hoisted sails.” Similarly Shaw’s Travels in Barbary says:
“Neither are the Arabs ever dexterous enough to overtake them, even when they are mounted upon their best horses. They, when they raise themselves up for flight, laugh at the horse and his rider. They afford him an opportunity only of admiring at a distance the extraordinary agility and the stateliness likewise of their motions. . . . Nothing certainly can be more beautiful and entertaining than such a sight; the wings, by their repeated, though unwearied, vibrations, equally serving them for sails and oars; whilst their feet, no less assisting in conveying them out of sight, are no less insensible of fatigue.”
When laughing at the horse, how fast does the ostrich run? “So fleet are they,” says The Encyclopedia Americana, “that even the Arab on his blooded steed can seldom overtake one single-handed, and even when hunted in relays, as the birds circle about their favorite territory, one or more horses are frequently sacrificed to the chase.” The volume The Animal Kingdom says: “It can outrace most of its enemies on the African plains. Forty miles per hour is a fair estimate of its speed.” Some naturalists limit its top speed to twenty-eight miles per hour; but Martin Johnson, the motion picture photographer of wild life, said the bird’s maximum speed is fifty miles per hour.
Jehovah’s words about the ostrich, wild ass and wild bull show that the great Bestower of instincts does according to his will; and what can man do about it? The divine will prevails in this as in all the affairs of life and we are wise to work in harmony with it. “You are worthy, Jehovah, even our God, to receive the glory and the honor and the power, because you created all things, and because of your will they existed and were created.”—Rev. 4:11.