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