Monday, November 17, 2003

Job 40, 41: Behemoth and Leviathan

This essay is #49 of an ongoing series on the book of Job. Click here to start at the beginning.


The Lord asked Job about the nature of creation and then asked him about the nature of the animal kingdom. After this came a distinct break as the Lord challenged Job to match Him in glory and majesty. 

Now he directs Job's attention to Behemoth and Leviathan, which seemingly have no physical counterpart on the earth today. When I read their descriptions, I picture a triceratops and a fire breathing dragon. Although the triceratops did not live during Job's day, the reference to its being among the "first of the works of God" leaves room for the Lord giving Job a vision of such a creature. I have no problem with associating the other with a fire breathing dragon because the Lord says that it "is not on earth."

The more important issue is that these two animals lead Job to repent in dust and ashes. What did the Lord communicate to Job by using these creatures?

Here is the description of Behemoth:

Look now at Behemoth, which I made as I made you; it eats grass like the ox. Look at its strength in its loins, and its power in the muscles of its belly. It makes its tail stiff like a cedar, the sinews of its thighs are tightly wound. Its bones are tubes of bronze, its limbs like bars of iron. It ranks first among the works of God, the One who made it has furnished it with a sword. For the hills bring it food, where all the wild animals play. Under the lotus trees it lies, in the secrecy of the reeds and the marsh. The lotus trees conceal it in their shadow; the poplars by the stream conceal it. If the river rages, it is not disturbed, it is secure, though the Jordan should surge up to its mouth. Can anyone catch it by its eyes, or pierce its nose with a snare? (Job 40:15-24)

What are we to make of this beast?

  • God made him as He had made Job, and presumably us as well. Although some call for Behemoth to be a mythical beast, this suggests a very real animal.
  • It eats grass like an ox. The animal is a vegetarian. The reference to the ox implies a gentle nature. Leviathan, which is described next, is a carnivore.
  • It is incredibly strong an sturdy. It seems to be quite muscular, large boned, and stable.
  • It is among the first animals created (Genesis 1:24). The word for cattle in Genesis 1:24 is behemah. You can see the semantic association between behemah and behemoth. In fact behemoth is the plural of behemah. Its use in Job is one that implies greatness rather than plurality.
  • It has been furnished with a sword. It is a strange turn of phrase. The Net Bible suggests that it is a horn of tusk on the animal.
  • It eats its food on the hill surrounded by wild animals. This creature has no fear of them because of its size.
  • It likes to sleep in the shade of lotus trees.
  • It is large enough and stable enough to stand firm in a raging river.
  • It has no fear of being trapped.

Behemoth represents a gentle, sturdy, and unshakeable beast. The question is, "Why does the Lord describe this animal?" I have my thoughts about this, and I must caution you that I have not read them anywhere else. This happens to me on occasion and I am usually delighted to find someone, with better credentials than I, who can confirm it. It is usually not good to have insights into Scriptures that no one else has had. Job has been around for a few thousand years, and I should not presume to have a new insight. On the other hand, my thoughts are not strange and they connect with the story and provide an answer to the question. So here it is: The Lord is offering to Job the heart of Behemoth. A character that is able to withstand the floods of life, be surrounded by its troubles and dangers, and still exhibit a gentle nature. The heart will trust that the Lord will bring him what he needs (hills that bring food), and provide wisdom for self-preservation (tusks). This is what the Lord wants Job to become.


If Behemoth poetically describes what Job could be, Leviathan represents what Job is in danger of becoming:

Can you pull in Leviathan with a hook, and tie down its tongue with a rope? Can you put a cord through its nose, or pierce its jaw with a hook? 

Will it make numerous supplications to you, will it speak to you with tender words? Will it make a pact with you, so you could take it as your slave for life? 

Can you play with it, like a bird, or tie it up for your girls? 

Will partners bargain for it? Will they divide it up among the merchants? Can you fill its hide with harpoons or its head with fishing spears? 

If you lay your hand on it, you will remember the struggle, and you will not do it again! 

(See, his expectation is wrong, he is laid low even at the sight of it.)

Is it not fierce when it is awakened? Who is he, then, who can stand before it? 

(Who has confronted me that I should repay? Everything under heaven belongs to me.)

I will not keep silent about its limbs, and the extent of its might, and the grace of its arrangement. Who can uncover its outer covering? Who can penetrate to the inside of its armor? Who can open the doors of its mouth? Its teeth all around are fearsome. Its back has rows of shields, shut up closely together as with a seal; each one is so close to the next that no air can come between them. They lock tightly together, one to the next; they cling together and cannot be separated. Its snorting throws out flashes of light; its eyes are like the rays of dawn. Out of its mouth go flames, sparks of fire shoot forth! Smoke streams from its nostrils as from a boiling pot over burning rushes. Its breath sets coals ablaze and a flame shoots from its mouth. Strength lodges in its neck, and dismay runs before it. The folds of its flesh are tightly joined; they are firm on it, immovable. 

Its heart is hard as rock, hard as a lower millstone. When it rises up, the mighty are terrified, at its thrashing about they withdraw. Whoever strikes it with a sword will have no effect, nor with the spear, arrow, or dart. It regards iron as straw and bronze as rotten wood. Arrows do not make it flee; slingstones become like chaff to it. A club is counted as a piece of straw; it laughs at the rattling of the lance. Its underparts are the sharp points of potsherds, it leaves its mark in the mud like a threshing sledge. It makes the deep boil like a cauldron and stirs up the sea like a pot of ointment, It leaves a glistening wake behind it; one would think the deep to be a hoary head. 

The likes of it is not on earth, a creature without fear. It looks on every haughty being; it is king over all that are proud. (Job 41:1-34)

Here we have described for us a fire breathing dragon. The Lord does claim to have made this beast as an earth dweller. Indeed what is described here is familiar in Mesopotamian mythology as a great sea serpent. Job spoke of him in his opening lament when he cried, "Let those who curse the day curse it— those who are prepared to rouse Leviathan. (Job 3:8)" Now we see that Leviathan is not a thing to be casually aroused..

The clue to Leviathan is in the last line, "The likes of it is not on earth, a creature without fear." Leviathan is not a creature of the earth. "It looks on every haughty being, it is king over all that are proud." 

The Lord has just said, "Hail to your king Job." Look back over Job's last monolog and see how he misses all the attention and honor he used to get. He was becoming proud of his own achievements. Through Leviathan, Job sees his heart as the Lord has been seeing it. This is why I have indented and parenthesized the words above "(See, his expectation is wrong, he is laid low even at the sight of it.)"

So Job has a choice between Behemoth and Leviathan. He can submit to the Lord as King, because of his wisdom and majesty. Or he can continue his course and have Leviathan driving him where he wills.

Although it is not specifically connected in Job, Leviathan is the Satan of chapters 1 and 2. This is why there is no final view of the court in heaven where Satan comes before the Lord. Satan has been watching Job all these days. It would seem as if the Lord gave job eyes to see him lurking nearby. 

Job 41 belongs in the stream of revelation between Genesis 3:1 (the serpent) and Revelation 12:3 (the dragon).

If we humble ourselves before the Lord, we can become like Behemoth: able to withstand raging rivers. If we become proud, Satan has the power:

In the same way, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. And all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. And God will exalt you in due time, if you humble yourselves under his mighty hand by casting all your cares on him because he cares for you. Be sober and alert. Your enemy the devil, like a roaring lion, is on the prowl looking for someone to devour. Resist him, strong in your faith, because you know that your brothers and sisters throughout the world are enduring the same kinds of suffering. And, after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace who called you to his eternal glory in Christ Jesus will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him belongs the power forever. Amen. (1 Peter 5:5-11)

Which Animal are you?

Tuesday: Job Responds

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>


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