The Ostrich — Not as Dumb as Her Critics

Critics of the Bible often imagine they have found a flaw in the sacred text. Though they know it not, the flaw is with them. Such is the case in one criticism of comments made regarding the ostrich in the book of Job.
By Wayne Jackson | Christian Courier

No narration available

The Reader’s Digest Association has published numerous books over the years illustrated with many wonderful aspects of nature, though most of these are punctuated with Darwinian evolutionism. One volume I have found particularly fascinating is Marvels and Mysteries of Our Animal World.

Some while ago, however, I ran across a comment regarding the ostrich. It was made by Jan Juta, one of the Digest writers.

“In Chapter 39 of the Book of Job we find an unflattering reference to the ostrich: ‘She is hardened against her young ones, as though they were not hers. Because God has deprived her of wisdom, neither hath he imparted to her understanding.’ Job obviously had never studied the ostrich. Actually the birds are good parents” (129).

While the author may have been an astute student of nature, she hardly qualifies as a credible exegete of the sacred text. She does illustrate how some biblically unlearned people are anxious to take pot shots at the sacred Book of God.

The Background of the Narrative

Job of Uz had undergone “months of misery” (Job 7:3), the cause of which he had no understanding at all. In times of pain and weakness, he had complained that the Lord was mistreating him. He went so far as to question the wisdom of God in his management of the universe.

He challenged Jehovah to meet him on the debate platform. In his agony he imagined he would vanquish his Creator with dazzling arguments of logic packaged in eloquence! In the concluding portion of this literary masterpiece (Job 38-41), Jehovah responds to the misguided patriarch, whom he lovingly has characterized as “my servant Job” (Job 1:8).

In a series of more than seventy, rapid-fire questions, the Lord brings the sage of Uz to his knees.

A number of these queries designed to emphasize the Lord’s sovereignty over the material creation pertain to the animal kingdom.

It is within this context that Jehovah, not Job, speaks about the ostrich. The charge under review, therefore, is actually aimed at God — not the patriarch.

The very purpose in the narrative is to expose that fact that no human being with his minuscule volume of knowledge has any business at all questioning the wisdom of God — in any matter!

The Controversial Text

For convenience sake, we introduce the entire text from Job 39.

“The wings of the ostrich wave proudly; but are they the pinions and plumage of love?
For she leaves her eggs on the earth,
And warms them in the dust,
And forgets that the foot may crush them,
Or that the wild beast may trample them.
She deals hardly with her young ones, as if they were not hers:
Though her labor be in vain, she is without fear; Because God has deprived her of wisdom,
Neither has he imparted to her understanding.
When she lifts up herself on high,
She scorns the horse and his rider” (Job 39:13-18).

One must remember first of all—and this is a most crucial point—the ostrich of this text is being portrayed as man commonly views her — not as she actually is in the created order of animals.

The purpose of the narrative is to demonstrate the inability of any mere human to criticize what the Creator has done.

Let us analyze the text.

Jehovah declares that the ostrich [not “peacock” KJV] proudly waves her wings in love. The term for “love” is related to a Hebrew word that means “stork” (see ASVfn).

There may be, therefore, an intended contrast between the well-known motherly stork, and that disposition which seems to be missing in the ostrich, at least at first glance.

Divine Design

The facts are these.

The ostrich lays thirty or so eggs in a sand nest. Superficially, she appears to be somewhat neglectful of them.

As the forty-two day incubation period progresses, she occasionally “leaves her eggs on the earth,” but they are kept “warm” by the sand (Job 39:14).

Admittedly, some of the outermost eggs are exposed, and at times become “trampled” by other creatures. It almost seems that “mother ostrich” has forgotten them (Job 39:15). But this appearance is a hastily drawn conclusion.

In reality, it is an evidence of design in the providential plan of the Almighty. These outer eggs actually provide the initial food for the chicks that presently hatch!

After the babies hatch, the ostrich again appears to exhibit a lack of concern for her little family, “as if they were not hers” (Job 39:16).

But what happens is this. When a predator approaches her nest, she flees, as though she were fearful. In reality, though, she is but acting the role of a decoy drawing the danger in her own direction.

She’s not neglectful. She is heroic. The real problem is man’s lack of perception of the wisdom of God!

While other creatures (including obtuse human beings) are contemplating the stupidity of the ostrich, she suddenly “lifts herself on high,” i.e., she raises her wings for balance (they were not designed for flight).

She then, as it were, challenges the proud horse and his rider to a race. And leaves them both in the dust (running up to forty miles per hour).

The Greek writer Xenophon once commented that some Greek horsemen, though well mounted, could not catch a single ostrich (Anabasis 1.5.3).

Surely the horse and his rider were “scorned” (Job 39:18).

And so are the critics of Job’s Teacher!

The Ostrich: A Marvelous Example

The ostrich is a marvelous example of divine creativity. In fact, she seems almost purposely crafted to boggle the arrogant, exceedingly limited mind of man. The Lord made a few more creatures of that sort as well!

Job, are you listening? And what about you, Mr./Ms. Critic? Whenever one thinks he has detected a flaw in what God has done, he had better get his “detector” checked.

Eventually, Job was humbled. Numerous others have not been.

  • George, Jean Craighead. 1964. Reader’s Digest Marvels & Mysteries of Our Animal World. London: Reader’s Digest Association.