In Job 40-41, GOD Introduces Job to two new characters. Behemoth is a powerful beast with strong legs (Job 40:16), a stiff tail (Job 40:17), and a carefree riverside existence (Job 40:20-23). Leviathan dwells in the sea (Job 41:1, 7), breathes fire (Job 41:18-21), and crushes hunters (Job 41:25-29). Who are these two creatures?
I grew up hearing that these chapters prove both 1) the existence of dinosaurs, and 2) the co-habitation of humans with them. The Bible shows that archaeology and paleontology are worthwhile pursuits. Hurrah!
Later I discovered that many interpreters in church history have considered Behemoth and Leviathan to be poetic exaggerations of the hippopotamus and the crocodile. Some translations even footnote the titles as such (for example, NASB, NRSV).
Job, you’ll never understand the behavior of mountain goats or ostriches. And you will never domesticate the lion, the wild ox, or the war-horse. Stop justifying yourself…And by the way, you can’t control the hippo or crocodile, either. But I Can.
That one certainly doesn’t work. The dinosaur interpretation does a little better:
Job, you’ll never understand the behavior of mountain goats or ostriches. And you will never domesticate the lion, the wild ox, or the war-horse. Stop justifying yourself…And by the way, you can’t control these two dinosaurs, either. But I can.
Both interpretations, however, miss a few key facts:
GOD'S First Speech covers the entire natural creation (Job 38:4). Reading from the beginning, you’ll notice a remarkable similarity to the order of things in Genesis 1. The resemblance is complete enough not to warrant revisiting the created order in the second speech.
The main question in GOD'S Second Speech is whether Job can not merely be angry at his suffering but actually bring it to an end (Job 40:9-13). If so, that would justify Job’s putting GOD in the wrong and saving himself from his own situation (Job 40:8, 14). Of course, Behemoth and Leviathan show this idea to be ludicrous.
Job’s final response comes from a completely blown mind. “You can do all things…No purpose of yours can be thwarted…I have uttered what I did not understand…Now my eye sees you…I despise myself…” (Job 42:1-6).
The Second Speech aAdvances the first, Giving Job (and us) a picture of GOD'S Supreme Control, not only over the natural creation, but even over supernatural suffering and evil. Behemoth and Leviathan represent these things in Job’s life. Unlike Job, GOD Can, in fact, bring suffering and evil to an end. Satan could not snap a thread of Job’s garment without GOD'S Explicit Permission (Job 1:12, 2:6). And Satan cannot resist the snapping of his own neck if GOD Wills it.
Let HIM WHO Made [Behemoth] bring near HIS Sword! (Job 40:19)
Who then is he who can stand before ME? Who has first given to ME, that I Should Repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is MINE. (Job 41:10-11)
GOD Gives Job a taste of this Power when HE Brings Job’s earthly suffering to an end (Job 42:12-17). And when GOD Gives Job exactly twice what he lost (compare with Job 1:2-3), HE Plays the part of a thief who must repay double (Ex 22:7-9). Not that GOD Is a Thief, mind you; but HE Takes the place of a thief along with his blame.
Sort of like another Divine Warrior WHO Had Power to Bind Satan (Mark 3:27) and Triumph over the rulers and authorities through the Cross (Col 2:13-15). And HE Did it, Playing the part of a Thief (Mark 15:27). HE Will one day Destroy every ferocious beast (Rev 19:20-21), Satan (Rev 20:9-10), and death itself (Rev 20:14).
When Paul runs out of words to describe GOD'S Unsearchable Justice and Unfathomable Wisdom, he turns to the speech about Leviathan in Job 41 (Romans 11:33-36). Paul must have realized there was something there bigger than hippos and crocodiles.
Job, you’ll never understand the behavior of mountain goats or ostriches. And you will never domesticate the lion, the wild ox, or the war-horse. Stop justifying yourself…And by the way, you can’t ever bring your suffering to an end. But I Can.