on Job 39 :9
Will the unicorn be willing to serve thee? - The "fine elegant animal like a horse, with one long rich curled horn growing out of his forehead," commonly called the unicorn, must be given up as fabulous. The heralds must claim him as their own; place him in their armorial bearings as they please, to indicate the unreal actions, fictitious virtues, and unfought martial exploits of mispraised men. It is not to the honor of the royal arms of Great Britain that this fabulous animal should be one of their supporters. The animal in question, called רים reim, is undoubtedly the rhinoceros, who has the latter name from the horn that grows on his nose. The rhinoceros is known by the name of reim in Arabia to the present day. He is allowed to be a savage animal, showing nothing of the intellect of the elephant. His horn enables him to combat the latter with great success; for, by putting his nose under the elephant's belly, he can rip him up. His skin is like armor, and so very hard as to resist sabres, javelins, lances, and even musket-balls; the only penetrable parts being the belly, the eyes, and about the ears.
Or abide by thy crib? - These and several of the following expressions are intended to point out his savage, untameable nature.
on Job 39 :9
Will the unicorn be willing to serve thee? - In the previous part of the argument, God had appealed to the lion, the raven, the goats of the rock, the hind, and the wild ass; and the idea was, that in the instincts of each of these classes of animals, there was some special proof of wisdom. He now turns to another class of the animal creation in proof of his own supremacy and power, and lays the argument in the great strength and in the independence of the animal, and in the fact that man had not been able to subject his great strength to the purposes of husbandry. In regard to the animal here referred to, there has been great diversity of opinion among interpreters, nor is there as yet any one prevailing sentiment. Jerome renders it "rhinoceros;" the Septuagint, μονόκερως monokerōs, the "unicorn;" the Chaldee and the Syraic retain the Hebrew word; Gesenius, Herder, Umbreit, and Noyes, render it the "buffalo;" Schultens, "alticornem;" Luther and Coverdale, the "unicorn;" Rosenmuller, the "onyx," a large and fierce species of the antelope; Calmet supposes that the rhinoceros is intended; and Prof. Robinson, in an extended appendage to the article of Calmet (art. Unicorn), has endeavored to show that the wild buffalo is intended.
Bochart, also, in a long and learned argument, has endeavored to show; that the rhinoceros cannot be meant. Hieroz. P. i. Lib. iii. chapter xxvi. He maintains that a species of antelope is referred to, the "rim" of the Arabs. DeWette (Com. on Psalm 22:21) accords with the opinion of Gesenius, Robinson, and others, that the animal referred to is the buffalo of the Eastern continent, the bos bubalus of Linnaeus, an animal which differs from the American buffalo only in the shape of the horns and the absence of the dewlap. The word which occurs here, and which is rendered "unicorn" (רים rêym or ראם re'êm, is used in the Scriptures only in the following places, where in the singular or plural it is uniformly rendered "unicorn," or "unicorns" - Numbers 23:22; Deuteronomy 33:17; Job 39:9-10; Psalm 22:21; Psalm 29:6; Psalm 92:10; and Isaiah 34:7. By a reference to these passages, it will be found that the animal had the following characteristics:
(1) It was distinguished for its strength; see Job 39:11 of this chapter. Numbers 23:22, "he (that is, Israel, or the Israelites) hath as it were the strength of a unicorn - ראם re'êm. In Numbers 24:8, the same declaration is repeated. It is true that the Hebrew word in both these places (תועפה tô‛âphâh) may denote rapidity of motion, speed; but in this place the notion of strength must be principally intended, for it was of the power of the people, and their ability manifested in the number of their hosts, that Balaam is speaking. Bochart, however (Hieroz. P. i. Lib. iii. c. xxvii.), supposes that the word means, not strength, or agility, but height, and that the idea is, that the people referred to by Balaam was a lofty or elevated people. If the word means strength, it was most appropriate to compare a vast host of people with the vigor and force of an untamable wild animal. The idea of speed or of loftiness does not so well suit the connection.
(2) It was an animal that was not subjected to the service of tilling the soil, and that was supposed to be incapable of being so trained. Thus, in the place before us it is said, that he could not be so domesticated that he would remain like the ox at the crib; that he could not be yoked to the plow; that he could not be employed and safely left to pursue the work of the field; and that he could not be so subdued that it would be safe to attempt to bring home the harvest by his aid. From all these declarations, it is plain that he was regarded as a wild and untamed animal; an animal that was not then domesticated, and that could not be employed in husbandry. This characteristic would agree with either the antelope, the onyx, the buffalo, the rhinoceros, or the supposed unicorn, With which of them it will best accord, we may be able to determine when all his characteristics are examined.
(3) The strength of the animal was in his horns. This was one of his special characteristics, and it is evidently by this that he is designed to be distinguished. Deuteronomy 33:17, "his glory is like the firstling of a bullock, and his horns like the horns of unicorns." Psalm 92:10, "my horn shalt thou exalt like the horn of an unicorn." Psalm 22:21, "thou hast heard me (saved me) from the horns of the unicorns." It is true, indeed, as Prof. Robinson has remarked (Calmet, art. "Unicorn"), the word ראם re'êm has in itself no reference to horns, nor is there in the Hebrew an illusion any where to the supposition that the animal here referred to has only one horn. Wherever, in the Scriptures, the animal is spoken of with any allusion to this member, the expression is in the plural, "horns." The only variation from this, even in the common version, is in Psalm 92:10, where the Hebrew is simply, "My horn shalt thou exalt like an unicorn, "where the word horn, as it stands in the English version, is not expressed. There is, indeed, in this passage, some obvious allusion to the horns of this animal, but all the force of the comparison will be retained if the word inserted in the ellipsis is in the plural number. The horn or horns of the ראם re'êm were, however, beyond question, the principal seat of strength, and the instruments of assault and defense. See the passage in Deuteronomy 33:17, "With them he shall push the people together to the ends of the earth."
(4) There was some special majesty or dignity in the horns of this animal that attracted attention, and that made them the proper symbol of dominion and of royal authority. Thus, in Psalm 92:10, "My horn shalt thou exalt like the horn of an unicorn," where the reference seems to be to a kingly authority or dominion, of which the horn was an appropriate symbol. These are all the characteristics of the animal referred to in the Scriptures, and the question is, With what known animal do they best correspond? The principal animals referred to by those who have examined the subject at length are, the onyx or antelope; the buffalo; the animal commonly referred to as the unicorn, and the rhinoceros. The principal characteristic of the unicorn was supposed to be, that it had a long, slender horn projecting from the forehead; the horn of the rhinoceros is on the snout, or the nose.
I. In regard to the antelope, or the "rim" of the modern Arabs, supposed by Bochart to be the animal here referred to, it seems clear that there are few characteristics in common between the two animals. The onyx or antelope is not distinguished as this animal is for strength, nor for the fact that it is especially untamable, nor that its strength is in its horns, nor that it is of such size and proportions that a comparison would naturally be suggested between it and the ox. In all that is said of the animal, we think of one greater in bulk, in strength, in untamableness, than the onyx; an animal more distinguished for conquest and subduing other animals before him. Bochart has collected much that is fabulous respecting this animal, from the rabbis and the Arabic writers, which it is not needful here to repeat; see the Hieroz. P. i. Lib. iii. c. xxvii.; or Scheutzer, Physi. Sac. on Numbers 23:22.
II. The claims of the "buffalo" to be regarded as the animal here referred to, are much higher than those of the onyx, and the opinion that this is the animal intended is entertained by such names as those of Gesenius, DeWette, Robinson, Umbreit, and Herder. But the objections to this seem to me to be insuperable, and the arguments are not such as to carry conviction. The principal objections to the opinion are:
(1) That the account in regard to the horns of the ראם re'êm by no means agrees with the fact in regard to the bison, or buffalo. The buffalo is an animal of the cow kind (Goldsmith), and the horns are short and crooked, and by no means distinguished for strength. They do not in fact surpass in this respect the horns of many other animals, and are not such as would occur ordinarily as the prominent characteristic in their description. It is true that there are instances where the horns of the wild buffalo are large, but this does not appear to be the case ordinarily. Mr. Pennant mentions a pair of horns in the British Museum, which are six feet and a half long, and the hollow of which will hold five quarts. Lobo affirms that some of the horns of the buffalo in Abyssinia will hold ten quarts; and Dillon saw some in India that were ten feet long. But these were manifestly extraordinary cases.
(2) The animal here referred to was evidently a stronger and a larger animal than the wild ox or the buffalo. "The Oriental buffalo appears to be so closely allied to our common ox, that without an attentive examination it might be easily mistaken for a variety of that animal. In point of size, it is rather superior to the ox; and upon an accurate inspection, it is observed to differ in the shape and magnitude of the head, the latter being larger than in the ox." "Robinson, in Calmet." The animal here referred to was such as to make the contrast particularly striking between him and the ox. The latter could be employed for labor; the former, though greatly superior in strength, could not.
(3) The ראם re'êm, it was supposed, could not be tamed and made to subserve domestic purposes. The buffalo, however, can be made as serviceable as the ox, and is actually domesticated and employed in agricultural purposes. Niebuhr remarks that he saw buffalo not only in Egypt, but also at Bombay, Surat, on the Euphrates, Tigris, Orontes, and indeed in all marshy regions and near large rivers. Sonnini remarks that in Egypt the buffalo, though but recently domesticated, is more numerous than the common ox, and is there equally domestic, and in Italy they are known to be commonly employed in the Pontine marshes, where the fatal nature of the climate acts on common cattle, but affects buffalo less. It is true that the animal has been comparatively recently domesticated, and that it was doubtless known in the time of Job only as a wild, savage, ferocious animal; but still the description here is that of an animal not only that was not then tamed, but obviously of one that could not well be employed in domestic purposes.
We are to remember that the language here is that of God himself, and that therefore it may be regarded as descriptive of what the essential nature of the animal was, rather than what it was supposed to be by the persons to whom the language was addressed. One of the principal arguments alleged for supposing that the animal here referred to by the ראם re'êm was the buffalo, is, that the rhinoceros was probably unknown in the land where Job resided, and that the unicorn was altogether a fabulous animal. This difficulty will be considered in the remarks to be made on the claims of each of those animals.
III. It was an early opinion, and the opinion was probably entertained by the authors of the Septuagint translation, and by the English translators as well as by others, that the animal here referred to was the unicorn. This animal was long supposed to be a fabulous animal, and it has not been until recently that the evidences of its existence have been confirmed. These evidences are adduced by Rosenmuller, "Morgenland, ii. p. 269, following," and by Prof. Robinson, "Calmet, pp. 908, 909." They are, summarily, the following:
(1) Pliny mentions such an animal, and gives a description of it, though from his time for centuries it seems to have been unknown. "His. Nat. 8, 21." His language is, Asperrimam autem feram monocerotem reliquo corpore equo similem, capite cervo, pedibus elephanti, cauda apro, mugitu gravi, uno cornu nigro media fronte cubitorum duum eminente. IIanc feram vivam negant capi. "The unicorn is an exceeding fierce animal, resembling a horse as to the rest of his body, but having the head like a stag, the feet like an elephant, and the tail like a wild boar; its roaring is loud; and it has a black horn of about two cubits projecting from the middle of the forehead."
on Job 39 :9
39:9 Unicorn - It is disputed whether this be the Rhinoceros; or a kind of wild bull.