Friday, November 14, 2003

Job 40: Behemoth and Leviathan

This essay is #48 of an ongoing series on the book of Job. Click here to start at the beginning.

Job Responds to the Lord

The Lord concludes His questions to Job with:

Then the Lord answered Job: “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let the person who accuses God give him an answer!” (Job 40:1-2)

Do you remember a few chapters ago, when it looked like Job had raised some really good questions? Do they seem very relevant now? Job had claimed the high ground, and now his challenge is to make good on the claim. Now is his opportunity. Except that he has to answer God's questions. But one who has finally memorized the addition table through the twelves is little able to discuss the Calculus. The gulf between Job and his God is greater still. Little wonder that Job replies,

Then Job answered the Lord: “Indeed, I am completely unworthy—how could I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth to silence myself. I have spoken once, but I cannot answer; twice, but I will say no more.” (Job 40:3-5)

Is this the end of the matter then? The Lord has silenced Job. Is that what this has all been about? Not really. Job is silenced, but where is his heart right now? Is it rising in faith and understanding or is it descending into a yet deeper pit of despair. What does Job mean by "completely unworthy?" 

So the final section of the Lord's speech instructs Job in a way that finally produces a change of heart and restores the relationship between himself and the Lord. Perhaps it does more that restore, perhaps it establishes it. It consists of a prolog and then it describes two strange beasts.

Here are the prolog:

Then the Lord answered Job from the whirlwind: “Get ready for a difficult task like a man. I will question you and you will inform me! 

Would you indeed annul my justice? Would you declare me guilty so that you might be right? 

Do you have an arm like God’s, and can you thunder with a voice like his? 

Adorn yourself, then, with majesty and excellency, and clothe yourself with glory and honor! Scatter abroad the abundance of your anger. 

Look at every proud man and bring him low; Look at every proud man and abase him; crush the wicked on the spot! Hide them in the dust together, imprison them in the grave. 

Then I myself will acknowledge to you that your own right hand can save you. (Job 40:6-14)

You have to have fun with this prolog to appreciate it. As we have marched through the book, it has been our imagination that has opened up its riches. I have worked in these sessions to flesh out real people in a real situation. So let's take two aspects of what the Lord says here. First, He is still speaking from the whirlwind. This alone communicates, noise, motion, danger, and awesome power. Second, how high do you think Job jumped at, "And can you thunder with a voice like his?" Can you not hear the volume of these words rise. The Lord has moved from questions regarding His wisdom and handiwork to questions regarding the majestic nature of His being: majesty, excellency, glory, and honor. These are values that we find in our Creator.

"Look at every proud man and bring him low." How can you break a person of his pride without breaking his spirit? Perhaps Job is now quiet because his pride has been broken. He has been brought low. He has been silenced. But that is not necessarily sufficient. Perhaps Job is like the child forced to sit in the corner who says, "I may be sitting on the outside, but I am standing on the inside." Perhaps, Job is in a place of one more bitter defeat.

Now look at the last line of the prolog to the Behemoth and Leviathan section. "Then I myself will acknowledge to you that your own right hand can save you." Whoa! Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar have been full of advice about what Job needed to do to get his life back. Job, for his part, expected to get his life back as a matter of right and privilege. Here the Lord says that none of that is right.

Job's sufferings have not been about an argument between God and Satan. They have not been about Job's character. They have been about Job's salvation. They have been about flaws, hidden to all, that would prove fatal, if uncorrected. As with all things, the happenings in Job's life have been about mercy. Here is the chastening that Elihu had spoken of.

And with that, the Lord brings Job into the reality behind two mythical beasts: Behemoth and Leviathan. I will take up the details of these beasts next week. For now I will just cover what these creatures are not.

Most Bibles have a note associated with Behemoth stating that this creature is probably a hippopotamus. This I have never understood. One need only compare a picture of a hippo's tail and compare this with, "It makes its tail stiff like a cedar." Good night! A hippo hardly has a tail big enough to wag. Even assuming that it could, or would, stick its tail straight back, it just does not connect with Behemoth's tail swinging like a tree truck.

The same Bibles will tell you that Leviathan is a crocodile. Again the images do not line up. I read about Leviathan and I see a fire breathing dragon.

Some people read about these creatures and claim to have found a biblical reference to dinosaurs. In my opinion, it is also incorrect to identify Behemoth and Leviathan with dinosaurs, although the descriptions certainly fit nicely. The primary reason is that the description of these creatures is what finally changes the heart of Job. Nothing about the hippopotamus, crocodile, apatosaurus, or tyrannosaurus provides any clue as to why the description of these beasts would affect Job's heart.

That is what I will take up next.

Monday: What Kind of Animal are You?

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


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