Comment - God's Deeper Answer to Job - Part 1
The Beasts

(Bible Study - December 2004)

After days of intense and agonized discussion between Job and his companions, God finally speaks. More than 3,000 years later His first speech still inspires awe. “Where were you, Job?” God asks, “when I laid the foundation of the earth?” God uses His inconceivable majestic power to nurture His creation day by day, from guiding the stars to showing care and compassion to all of His creatures.

Job is brought into complete humility. The reality of the presence of God is so much more than he had ever experienced before. But God isn’t finished. The majesty of God’s first speech is followed with a second (Job 40-41). Surely another mighty speech is coming! Everything about the form and structure of the book leads us to expect this second speech to be the pinnacle of Job’s experience.

Talk about anti-climax! At least if we accept the interpretation given by most commentators. Read almost any book on the topic, and Behemoth is said to be the hippo, and Leviathan the crocodile. In this interpretation, God’s second speech is almost reduced to: “Oh, and here are two more animals to consider.”

There is a much more compelling interpretation, however, which not only gives the speech the power we would expect, but is strongly supported by the rest of the Bible. It is this: Behemoth and Leviathan are symbols of the base instinct for evil that is present in all of us, and that manifests itself collectively in the empires mankind establishes.

In this interpretation, whereas the first speech is about the natural creation, the second is about the spiritual creation. The themes of the first speech are weather, and food, and care for the young; but the themes of the second speech are justice, and arrogance, and subjugation.

Our purpose here is to draw out this interpretation. In the first part we shall hardly touch on Job 40-41, and instead consider how the words and concepts are used in other parts of the Bible. The second part examines the interpretation in Job 40-41, itself.

Rahab the sea monster
The most immediate objection to any non-literal interpretation is that the description of the creatures seems so concrete: loins, eating grass, scales, and so on. In particular, would Job have had any idea that God was painting a symbol rather than describing a physical creature?

It seems the answer is “Yes” and that Job et al were quite familiar with this idea. At least three different “beast” names occur in the book of Job. They are Rahab, Leviathan, and Behemoth. We’ll deal with them in that order.

In the Canaanite world, Rahab was a mythical coiling sea-monster, slain by Baal in the primordial chaos. Biblically, Rahab is used as a symbol of Egypt. Metaphorically, the nation is a monster in the chaos of the sea of nations. (This Rahab shouldn’t be confused with Rahab of Jericho — the Hebrew is a wholly different word.) While Rahab the sea monster occurs six times in the Hebrew Old Testament, it doesn’t always come through clearly in the KJV, as the word is sometimes translated instead of being preserved as a name. The name Rahab means storm or arrogance and so when the KJV translates the word it uses English words like pride or the proud, though the KJV margin sometimes does make reference to the original. The NIV (and other modern versions) leaves the name untranslated. Here’s the NIV of the six occurrences.

Job 9:13-14God does not restrain his anger; even the cohorts of Rahab cowered at his feet. How then can I dispute with him? How can I find words to argue with him?

Job 26:11-14The pillars of the heavens quake, aghast at his rebuke. By his power he churned up the sea; by his wisdom he cut Rahab to pieces. By his breath the skies became fair; his hand pierced the gliding serpent.

Ps 87:4I will record Rahab and Babylon among those who acknowledge me—Philistia too, and Tyre, along with Cush—and will say, ‘This one was born in Zion.’

Ps 89:8-10O LORD God Almighty, who is like you? You are mighty, O LORD, and your faithfulness surrounds you. You rule over the surging sea; when its waves mount up, you still them. You crushed Rahab like one of the slain; with your strong arm you scattered your enemies.

Isa 30:6-7 The envoys carry their riches on donkeys’ backs, their treasures on the humps of camels, to that unprofitable nation, to Egypt, whose help is utterly useless. Therefore I call her Rahab the Do-Nothing.

Isa 51:9-10Awake, awake! Clothe yourself with strength, O arm of the LORD; awake, as in days gone by, as in generations of old. Was it not you who cut Rahab to pieces, who pierced that monster through? Was it not you who dried up the sea, the waters of the great deep, who made a road in the depths of the sea so that the redeemed might cross over?

The usage is consistent. The Egypt beast was pierced by God in the destruction at the Red Sea. In Isaiah’s time, she is worthless as a means of protection for Israel despite her boasts of strength. In the future, however, Rahab (Egypt) will acknowledge God, along with Babylon, Philistia, Tyre and Cush.

Note how Job’s use of Rahab is directly comparable with its use in the later Psalms and Isaiah. The parallels between Job 26 and Isa. 51 are particularly striking; striking enough to suggest that Isaiah is actually quoting Job. We can be pretty confident, therefore, that Job is comfortable using the idea of a sea beast like Rahab as a metaphor for political powers.

As an aside, there’s an interesting conclusion we can draw: Job knew about the destruction of the power of Egypt in the Red Sea. Here is Biblical validation for Moses’ statement (in Num. 14:15-16) that all the nations around would have heard of how Israel was rescued from Egypt. Here also is very compelling evidence that the story of Job takes place at about the same time as Israel’s wandering in the wilderness, which incidentally fits perfectly with other dating evidence, such as the genealogy of Eliphaz, for example.

The name Leviathan indicates a wreathed or coiling animal, i.e. a serpent. Like Rahab, the word occurs six times in the Hebrew Old Testament: once in Job 41, and then in the following passages (NIV again).

Job 3:8-9May those who curse days curse that day, those who are ready to rouse Leviathan. May its morning stars become dark; may it wait for daylight in vain and not see the first rays of dawn.

Psa. 74:12-15 But you, O God, are my king from of old; you bring salvation upon the earth. It was you who split open the sea by your power; you broke the heads of the monster in the waters. It was you who crushed the heads of Leviathan and gave him as food to the creatures of the desert. It was you who opened up springs and streams; you dried up the ever flowing rivers.

Psa. 104:25-27There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number — living things both large and small. There the ships go to and fro, and the leviathan, which you formed to frolic there. These all look to you to give them their food at the proper time.

Isa. 27:1-2In that day, the LORD will punish with his sword, his fierce, great and powerful sword, Leviathan the gliding serpent, Leviathan the coiling serpent; he will slay the monster of the sea. In that day—“Sing about a fruitful vineyard: I, the LORD, watch over it; I water it continually. I guard it day and night so that no one may harm it.”

The use of Leviathan is not as obvious as Rahab. Psalm 74 clearly is using it as a metaphor for Egypt again, whereas the context of Isaiah 26-27 indicates that Leviathan is Babylon, at least in its initial fulfillment. In each case, the mighty serpent is used of whatever world empire is reigning at the time. In addition, Isaiah 25-27 is presumably intended to have a future fulfillment, given the very strong elements of resurrection and judgment throughout: in this future fulfillment we can expect Leviathan to represent the national world power or coalition that God will overcome when Israel is finally given eternal peace.

Given the earliness of the book of Job (only the Torah is earlier, and even then possibly only Genesis), this ancient usage lays the foundation for other Biblical use of the imagery. The serpent in Eden metaphorically becomes Leviathan, a serpent of the seas, growing in power through the pride of mankind, ultimately finding culmination in the mighty dragon of Revelation 12: a mighty force in the world, set up in direct opposition to the will of God.

Job’s use of Leviathan in Job 3 pushes the idea further in an interesting way. Here Leviathan seems to refer to the constellation of the dragon (around the star Draco). There is a suggestion, popularized by Bullinger, that the earliest origin of the signs of the zodiac came from God’s instruction of the gospel in the heavens. If so, then the dragon Leviathan is again the symbol of man’s pride and rebelliousness against God written in the stars for all ages to see.

The remaining reference in Psalm 104 seems literal at first reading. Maybe it is intended to be so, but given that all the other uses so far are metaphorical, it would seem wise to remain open minded about this one also.

The Hebrew word for “behemoth” as used in Job is a plural form of the very common word behemah, a dumb beast. Most uses of behemoth are in this form -- that is, as a plural word used to indicate many beasts, cattle for instance. Sometimes, as in Job, behemoth is used in a singular context. When that happens, the plural word used in this singular context seems to be used to indicate greatness and power. A similar pattern holds with the plural word Elohim — sometimes it means the mighty ones (in plural); but when it occurs in a singular context, it means the great mighty one, that is God Himself.

The following are uses of the plural word behemoth in a singular context that occur outside of Job 40:

Deut. 32:24-25 I will send wasting famine against them, consuming pestilence and deadly plague; I will send against them the fangs of behemoth, the venom of vipers that glide in the dust. In the street the sword will make them childless; in their homes terror will reign. Young men and young women will perish, infants and gray-haired men.

Isa. 30:6 An oracle concerning the behemoth of the Negev: Through a land of hardship and distress, of lions and lionesses, of adders and darting snakes, the envoys carry their riches on donkeys’ backs, their treasures on the humps of camels, to that unprofitable nation.

Hab. 2:16-17You will be filled with shame instead of glory. Now it is your turn! Drink and be exposed! The cup from the LORD’s right hand is coming around to you, and disgrace will cover your glory. The violence you have done to Lebanon will overwhelm you, and [the] destruction of behemoth will terrify you. For you have shed man’s blood; you have destroyed lands and cities and everyone in them.

Psa. 73:21-23When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was behemoth before you. Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.

The Psalm is especially powerful. The Hebrew very clearly uses behemoth in a singular context. David is confessing that when he coveted the success of the godless, he became the proud and rebellious beast of mankind. In contrast, when he entered the sanctuary of God, he remembered how fleeting they were for all their pomp and glory.

In this first part, we have seen how the rest of the Bible uses the concept of a mighty beast as a metaphor for mankind’s prideful rebellion against the authority and rulership of God. Rahab is used for Egypt in particular. The more general Leviathan, the serpent, is the world empire of the time, sometimes Egypt, sometimes Babylon, and sometimes the Babylon of the future. Behemoth, also a generic word, is used similarly of human powers, but is also used to describe the arrogant mindset behind those powers.

Next month, Lord willing, we shall look at God’s second speech to Job in great detail. We shall see that a detailed examination shows it to be completely in line with how the metaphors are used elsewhere in the Bible. God is not talking about another couple of animals, He has a much deeper message for Job to appreciate.

John Launchbury

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