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Behemoth and Leviathan

August 28, 2007

At Ed Welch’s suggestion, I’m reading Job 38-42 every day for a month.  I expected to love the first part where we contemplate the greatness and incomprehensibility of God as reflected in creation.  But I also expected to struggle with the second part.  A chapter and a half on Behemoth and Leviathan sounded like it would be difficult to read 30 times.

But I have been surprised by how much encouragement I have found in it.

I had only heard two takes on the section before.  The creation scientists think Behemoth and Leviathan are dinosaurs.  Others say hippo and alligator.  I’m not finding either interpretation persuasive.

I think Behemoth and Leviathan are the same beast and it’s a dragon.  Here’s what I said several weeks ago about dragons in a sermon on Psalm 148:

The KJV translated verse 7 “Praise the Lord from the earth, ye dragons”.  We don’t normally think of dragons swimming, so the NAS better translates it sea monster.  We can’t get away with thinking that the great sea creatures of verse 7 are just fish or whales. The word means some kind of a giant sea serpent.  Now perhaps there are giant sea serpents swimming out there somewhere, who knows?  There’s all kinds of things we don’t know about the ocean.  But I think it more likely that the post-exilic psalmist is again referring to the mythology of the pagans all around him.   Just as when the Psalm 97:7 says “worship him, all you gods” that doesn’t mean that there really are any gods besides the LORD, so worship him you sea monsters doesn’t necessarily lend any credence to the sea monsters of pagan mythology.  It is a taunting of the idolaters to tell them that their dreaded Leviathan is but God’s pet that he created to frolic in the sea.

Or when Isaiah 51:9 says that God is the one who cut Rahab in pieces, that pierced the dragon, the mystery of that verse is solved when we notice that elsewhere in both Isaiah and Ezekiel, God derisively calls Egypt by the name of Rahab.  This has nothing to do with Rahab the prostitute in the book of Joshua, this is Rahab the sea monster of pagan mythology.  By calling Egypt Rahab, God is calling her a monster.  And so when Isaiah celebrates the slaying of Rahab the dragon, he stealing the imagery of pagan mythology to celebrate the exodus from Egypt

Reaching now for an application, I might say that we are hereby given some license to make use of contemporary mythologies to communicate truths about God.  If I were to say to you that Jesus is the One who was born inside the matrix to deliver us from slavery, you would not take me to be affirming anything of the worldview of that fantasy, but, if you saw that movie, you would know what I meant.  Praise him, all ye agents.

Dragons in the Bible can stand for evil empires that threaten the existence of Israel, or the imagery can be applied to Satan, the god of this world.  The point is that we have enemies and an Enemy against whom we are absolutely powerless on our own.  We are as unable to save ourselves as we are unable to slay a dragon. 

Job 41:7-9  Can you fill his skin with harpoons or his head with fishing spears?Lay your hands on him; remember the battle- you will not do it again! Behold, the hope of a man is false; he is laid low even at the sight of him.

The hope of a man is false.  That’s what we’re to learn from this passage. 

In God’s first speech to Job (chs. 38-39) the focus is on our lack of knowledge.  (see 38:2, 4,18, 21, 39; 39:1, 17, 26). In the second speech (chs. 40-41) it’s our lack of power.  Here’s the passage that immediately precedes the long description of Behemoth/Leviathan.  

Job 40:9-14  Have you an arm like God, and can you thunder with a voice like his? Adorn yourself with majesty and dignity; clothe yourself with glory and splendor. Pour out the overflowings of your anger, and look on everyone who is proud and abase him. Look on everyone who is proud and bring him low and tread down the wicked where they stand. Hide them all in the dust together; bind their faces in the world below. Then will I also acknowledge to you that your own right hand can save you.

If you are really qualified to find fault with the Almighty’s way of doing things, prove it by delivering yourself from all the wicked of the world.  You think you can do it?  Can your own right hand save you?  Consider the impossibility.  Consider the Leviathan…

And then reading this description of the unassailability of the dragon reminds me that I am totally unable to save myself, and it leads me to worship God as my Dragonslayer.  The one who rescues me from enemies vastly stronger than I.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Oddball permalink
    August 29, 2007 12:09 pm

    I don’t know what to think of these mystery beasts, but you make a very strong case.

    On a side note, one thing that strikes me about Job 38-40 is that creation has inherent value simply because it glorifies God and he delights in it, apart from any human utilitarian considerations. Modern western Christians often lose sight of this.

  2. September 6, 2007 2:59 pm

    Amazing how God works at times … I just revealed to the congregation this week my view on dragons lol … the context was different of course, but too funny…

    I believe that the flow of the context here in Job indeed shows us real animals not mythological beasts and behemoth and leviathan cannot be a hippo or an alligator because they don’t fit the ‘awesomeness’ of the descriptions. Dinosaur means ‘terrible lizard’ so one could say that even if you take them to be dragons that dragons were just a type of dinosaur.

    I myself see them as a type of brontosaurus and dragon (dinosaur).

    An amazing passage whereby the Lord shows Job (and us ) that He is far beyond our ideas, thoughts, and abilities and that He owes us not an explanation for our state.

    Good stuff.

  3. September 9, 2007 9:07 am

    God as my Dragonslayer!


    My son and I were doing a picture study of a painting called “St. George and the Dragon” and intermingled throughout the artistic observations (how did he paint those horses? how did he make the cloth look so heavy? how do we know that those colors mixed together are reflections on the water?) we also talked about the story itself. Who was St. George? Why was the princess praying? Who answered her prayers?

    We were able to agree that it makes a good story, but that a false God could not have really come and saved her. Only the Lord Jehovah can answer prayers and be strong to save. It was a good conversation.

    So you post reminds me of that painting: God as my dragonslayer, and me helpless, in need, in prayer, but not in any real danger because he has promised to be an ever present help in times of trouble.

  4. Albert permalink
    September 13, 2007 5:30 pm

    “The Dragonslayer”. Man, that would be an awesome title to a head-banging worship song to reach the death metal crowd.

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