The Hebrew word for ostrich is renan which means “a piercing cry; a wail”. In Job 30:29, Job said of himself, “I am a brother of jackals, and a companion of ostriches” (NKJV) because he felt desolate and isolated, unable to utter anything apart from the shrill doleful noise of the ostrich.

It was appropriate then, that when God answered Job, He brought up the subject of the ostrich: “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 treats her young harshly, as though they were not hers; her labour 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” Job 39:13-18 (NKJV).

In Bible times ostriches existed from Syria to Arabia, but these became extinct in 1941. Adult males may grow 2.5 metres tall, weigh 150 kilos, and have the biggest eyeballs of any bird—5cm across. The legs are powerful, with two toes that make formidable weapons, and are adapted for fast running. Female ostriches will lay eggs in a dirt nest that has been prepared by the male ostrich. Multiple females will use the same nest but typically, the last female to lay eggs is the dominant female and she will kick out of the nest many or all of the previously laid eggs. Even after hatching, it is the male ostrich that will take care of the young of which only 15% typically will survive to reproductive age, with the others becoming prey to a number of predators. When a predator approaches the nest, the ostrich flees, acting the role of a decoy drawing the danger in its own direction. It is so fast, it can outrun a horse.

God tells Job that He deliberately created the ostrich like this, depriving it of wisdom and understanding. It represents people who put on a proud show, “lift themselves on high” and laugh at danger. God’s point to Job is that there are many people who behave like the ostrich and yet, despite their offensive characteristics, they are part and parcel of life regulated by His power. Indeed, “The Lord hath made all things for himself: yea, even the wicked for the day of evil” (Prov 16:4).