Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Behemoth and the Leviathan

"TrueConvert" asked the following question in the General Theology board at HCR:
What is it? Any perspectives on the Leviathan of Job 41, or the Behemoth of Job 40?? Fire-breathing? Wow!!
I dug up some commentaries and here's what they say:


Douay-Rheims Bible with Notes:
"Behemoth"... In Hebrew, behema, which signifies in general an animal; but many authors explain, that here it is put for the elephant.
New American Bible with Notes:
Behemoth: the hippopotamus.
Geneva Study Bible:
This beast is thought to be the elephant, or some other, which is unknown.
Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible:
behemoth--The description in part agrees with the hippopotamus, in part with the elephant, but exactly in all details with neither. It is rather a poetical personification of the great Pachydermata, or Herbivora (so "he eateth grass"), the idea of the hippopotamus being predominant. In Job 40:17, "the tail like a cedar," hardly applies to the latter (so also Job 40:20,23, "Jordan," a river which elephants alone could reach, but other hand, Job 40:21,22 are characteristic of the amphibious river horse. So leviathan (the twisting animal), Job 41:1, is a generalized term for cetacea, pythons, saurians of the neighboring seas and rivers, including the crocodile, which is the most prominent, and is often associated with the river horse by old writers. "Behemoth" seems to be the Egyptian Pehemout, "water-ox," Hebraized, so-called as being like an ox, whence the Italian bombarino.
Matthew Henry Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible:
God, for the further proving of his own power and disproving of Job’s pretensions, concludes his discourse with the description of two vast and mighty animals, far exceeding man in bulk and strength, one he calls behemoth, the other leviathan. In these verses we have the former described. "Behold now behemoth, and consider whether thou art able to contend with him who made that beast and gave him all the power he has, and whether it is not thy wisdom rather to submit to him and make thy peace with him.’’ Behemoth signifies beasts in general, but must here be meant of some one particular species. Some understand it of the bull; others of an amphibious animal, well known (they say) in Egypt, called the river-horse (hippopotamus), living among the fish in the river Nile, but coming out to feed upon the earth. But I confess I see no reason to depart from the ancient and most generally received opinion, that it is the elephant that is here described, which is a very strong stately creature, of very large stature above any other, of wonderful sagacity, and of so great a reputation in the animal kingdom that among so many four-footed beasts as we have had the natural history of (ch. 38 and 39) we can scarcely suppose this should be omitted. Observe,
I. The description here given of the behemoth.
1. His body is very strong and well built. His strength is in his loins, v. 16. His bones, compared with those of other creatures, are like bars of iron, v. 18. His back-bone is so strong that, though his tail be not large, yet he moves it like a cedar, with a commanding force, v. 17. Some understand it of the trunk of the elephant, for the word signifies any extreme part, and in that there is indeed a wonderful strength. So strong is the elephant in his back and loins, and the sinews of his thighs, that he will carry a large wooden tower, and a great number of fighting men in it. No animal whatsoever comes near the elephant for strength of body, which is the main thing insisted on in this description.
2. He feeds on the productions of the earth and does not prey upon other animals: He eats grass as an ox (v. 15), the mountains bring him forth food (v. 20), and the beasts of the field do not tremble before him nor flee from him, as from a lion, but they play about him, knowing they are in no danger from him. This may give us occasion,
(1.) To acknowledge the goodness of God in ordering it so that a creature of such bulk, which requires so much food, should not feed upon flesh (for then multitudes must die to keep him alive), but should be content with the grass of the field, to prevent such destruction of lives as otherwise must have ensued.
(2.) To commend living upon herbs and fruits without flesh, according to the original appointment of man’s food, Gen. 1:29. Even the strength of an elephant, as of a horse and an ox, may be supported without flesh; and why not that of a man? Though therefore we use the liberty God has allowed us, yet be not among riotous eaters of flesh, Prov. 23:20.
(3.) To commend a quiet and peaceable life. Who would not rather, like the elephant, have his neighbours easy and pleasant about him, than, like the lion, have them all afraid of him?
3. He lodges under the shady trees (v. 21), which cover him with their shadow (v. 22), where he has a free and open air to breathe in, while lions, which live by prey, when they would repose themselves, are obliged to retire into a close and dark den, to live therein, and to abide in the covert of that, ch. 38:40. Those who are a terror to others cannot but be sometimes a terror to themselves too; but those will be easy who will let others be easy about them; and the reed and fens, and the willows of the brook, though a very weak and slender fortification, yet are sufficient for the defence and security of those who therefore dread no harm, because they design none.
4. That he is a very great and greedy drinker, not of wine or strong drink (to be greedy of that is peculiar to man, who by his drunkenness makes a beast of himself), but of fair water.
(1.) His size is prodigious, and therefore he must have supply accordingly, v. 23. He drinks so much that one would think he could drink up a river, if you would give him time, and not hasten him. Or, when he drinks, he hasteth not, as those do that drink in fear; he is confident of his own strength and safety, and therefore makes no haste when he drinks, no more haste than good speed.
(2.) His eye anticipates more than he can take; for, when he is very thirsty, having been long kept without water, he trusts that he can drink up Jordan in his mouth, and even takes it with his eyes, v. 24. As a covetous man causes his eyes to fly upon the wealth of this world, which he is greedy of, so this great beast is said to snatch, or draw up, even a river with his eyes.
(3.) His nose has in it strength enough for both; for, when he goes greedily to drink with it, he pierces through snares or nets, which perhaps are laid in the waters to catch fish. He makes nothing of the difficulties that lie in his way, so great is his strength and so eager his appetite.
II. The use that is to be made of this description. We have taken a view of this mountain of a beast, this over-grown animal, which is here set before us, not merely as a show (as sometimes it is in our country) to satisfy our curiosity and to amuse us, but as an argument with us to humble ourselves before the great God; for,
1. He made this vast animal, which is so fearfully and wonderfully made; it is the work of his hands, the contrivance of his wisdom, the production of his power; it is behemoth which I made, v. 15. Whatever strength this, or any other creature, has, it is derived from God, who therefore must be acknowledged to have all power originally and infinitely in himself, and such an arm as it is not for us to contest with. This beast is here called the chief, in its kind, of the ways of God (v. 19), an eminent instance of the Creator’s power and wisdom. Those that will peruse the accounts given by historians of the elephant will find that his capacities approach nearer to those of reason than the capacities of any other brute-creature whatsoever, and therefore he is fitly called the chief of the ways of God, in the inferior part of the creation, no creature below man being preferable to him.
2. He made him with man, as he made other four-footed beasts, on the same day with man (Gen. 1:25, 26), whereas the fish and fowl were made the day before; he made him to live and move on the same earth, in the same element, and therefore man and beast are said to be jointly preserved by divine Providence as fellow-commoners, Ps. 36:6. "It is behemoth, which I made with thee; I made that beast as well as thee, and he does not quarrel with me; why then dost thou? Why shouldst thou demand peculiar favours because I made thee (ch. 10:9), when I made the behemoth likewise with thee? I made thee as well as that beast, and therefore can as easily manage thee at pleasure as that beast, and will do it whether thou refuse or whether thou choose. I made him with thee, that thou mayest look upon him and receive instruction.’’ We need not go far for proofs and instances of God’s almighty power and sovereign dominion; they are near us, they are with us, they are under our eye wherever we are.
3. He that made him can make his sword to approach to him (v. 19), that is, the same hand that made him, notwithstanding his great bulk and strength, can unmake him again at pleasure and kill an elephant as easily as a worm or a fly, without any difficulty, and without the imputation either of waste or wrong. God that gave to all the creatures their being may take away the being he gave; for may he not do what he will with his own? And he can do it; he that has power to create with a word no doubt has power to destroy with a word, and can as easily speak the creature into nothing as at first he spoke it out of nothing. The behemoth perhaps is here intended (as well as the leviathan afterwards) to represent those proud tyrants and oppressors whom God had just now challenged Job to abase and bring down. They think themselves as well fortified against the judgments of God as the elephant with his bones of brass and iron; but he that made the soul of man knows all the avenues to it, and can make the sword of justice, his wrath, to approach to it, and touch it in the most tender and sensible part. He that framed the engine, and put the parts of it together, knows how to take it in pieces. Woe to him therefore that strives with his Maker, for he that made him has therefore power to make him miserable, and will not make him happy unless he will be ruled by him.
John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible:
Behemoth - Very learned men take the leviathan to be the crocodile, and the behemoth to be the river - horse, which may fitly be joined with the crocodile, both being well known to Joband his friends, as being frequent in the adjacent parts, both amphibious, living and preying both in the water and upon the land. And both creatures of great bulk and strength. Made - As I made thee. Grass - The river - horse comes out of the river upon the land to feed upon corn, and hay, or grass, as an ox doth, to whom also he is not unlike in the form of his head and feet, and in the bigness of his body, whence the Italians call him, the sea - ox.
Nave's Topical Bible:
An amphibious animal
Treasury of Scripture Knowledge:
[Behêmôwth ,] Perhaps an extinct dinosaur, maybe a Diplodocus or Brachiosaurus, the exact meaning is unknown. Some translate as elephant or hippopotamus but from the description in Job 40:15-24,this is patently absurd.
Easton's Bible Dictionary:
Some have supposed this to be an Egyptian word meaning a "water-ox." The Revised Version has here in the margin "hippopotamus," which is probably the correct rendering of the word. The word occurs frequently in Scripture, but, except here, always as a common name, and translated "beast" or "cattle."
Smith's Bible Dictionary:
(great beasts). There can be little or no doubt that by this word, (Job 40:15-24) the hippopotamus is intended since all the details descriptive of the behemoth accord entirely with the ascertained habits of that animal. The hippopotamus is an immense creature having a thick and square head, a large mouth often two feet broad, small eyes and ears, thick and heavy body, short legs terminated by four toes, a short tail, skin without hair except at the extremity of the tail. It inhabits nearly the whole of Africa, and has been found of the length of 17 feet. It delights in the water, but feeds on herbage on land. It is not found in Palestine, but may at one time have been a native of western Asia.


Douay-Rheims Bible with Notes:
"Leviathan"... The whale or some sea monster.
New American Bible with Notes:
Leviathan here is the crocodile. But cf Job 3:8.
Geneva Study Bible:
Meaning the whale.
Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible:
leviathan--literally, "the twisted animal," gathering itself in folds: a synonym to the Thannin (Job 3:8, Margin; see Psalms 74:14; type of the Egyptian tyrant Psalms 104:26, Isaiah 27:1; the Babylon tyrant). A poetical generalization for all cetacean, serpentine, and saurian monsters all the description applies to no one animal); especially the crocodile; which is naturally described after the river horse, as both are found in the Nile.

tongue . . . lettest down?--The crocodile has no tongue, or a very small one cleaving to the lower jaw. But as in fishing the tongue of the fish draws the baited hook to it, God asks, Canst thou in like manner take leviathan?
Matthew Henry Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible:
Whether this leviathan be a whale or a crocodile is a great dispute among the learned, which I will not undertake to determine; some of the particulars agree more easily to the one, others to the other; both are very strong and fierce, and the power of the Creator appears in them. The ingenious Sir Richard Blackmore, though he admits the more received opinion concerning the behemoth, that it must be meant of the elephant, yet agrees with the learned Bochart’s notion of the leviathan, that it is the crocodile, which was so well known in the river of Egypt. I confess that that which inclines me rather to understand it of the whale is not only because it is much larger and a nobler animal, but because, in the history of the Creation, there is such an express notice taken of it as is not of any other species of animals whatsoever (Gen. 1:21, God created great whales), by which it appears, not only that whales were well known in those parts in the time of Moses, who lived a little after Job, but that the creation of whales was generally looked upon as a most illustrious proof of the eternal power and godhead of the Creator; and we may conjecture that this was the reason (for otherwise it seems unaccountable) why Moses there so particularly mentions the creation of the whales, because God had so lately insisted upon the bulk and strength of that creature than of any other, as the proof of his power; and the leviathan is here spoken of as an inhabitant of the sea (v. 31), which the crocodile is not; and Ps. 104:25, 26, there in the great and wide sea, is that leviathan. Here in these verses,
I. He shows how unable Job was to master the leviathan.
1. That he could not catch him, as a little fish, with angling, v. 1, 2. He had no bait wherewith to deceive him, no hook wherewith to catch him, no fish-line wherewith to draw him out of the water, nor a thorn to run through his gills, on which to carry him home.
2. That he could not make him his prisoner, nor force him to cry for quarter, or surrender himself at discretion, v. 3, 4. "He knows his own strength too well to make many supplications to thee, and to make a covenant with thee to be thy servant on condition thou wilt save his life.’’
3. That he could not entice him into a cage, and keep him there as a bird for the children to play with, v. 5. There are creatures so little, so weak, as to be easily restrained thus, and triumphed over; but the leviathan is not one of these: he is made to be the terror, not the sport and diversion, of mankind.
4. That he could not have him served up to his table; he and his companions could not make a banquet of him; his flesh is too strong to be fit for food, and, if it were not, he is not easily caught.
5. That they could not enrich themselves with the spoil of him: Shall they part him among the merchants, the bones to one, the oil to another? If they can catch him, they will; but it is probable that the art of fishing for whales was not brought to perfection then, as it has been since.
6. That they could not destroy him, could not fill his head with fish-spears, v. 7. He kept out of the reach of their instruments of slaughter, or, if they touched him, they could not touch him to the quick.
7. That it was to no purpose to attempt it: The hope of taking him is in vain, v. 9. If men go about to seize him, so formidable is he that the very sight of him will appal them, and make a stout man ready to faint away: Shall not one be cast down even at the sight of him? and will not that deter the pursuers from their attempt? Job is told, at his peril, to lay his hand upon him, v. 8. "Touch him if thou dare; remember the battle, how unable thou art to encounter such a force, and what is therefore likely to be the issue of the battle, and do no more, but desist from the attempt.’’ It is good to remember the battle before we engage in a war, and put off the harness in time if we foresee it will be to no purpose to gird it on. Job is hereby admonished not to proceed in his controversy with God, but to make his peace with him, remembering what the battle will certainly end in if he come to an engagement. See Isa. 27:4, 5.
II. Thence he infers how unable he was to contend with the Almighty. None is so fierce, none so fool-hardy, that he dares to stir up the leviathan (v. 10), it being known that he will certainly be too hard for them; and who then is able to stand before God, either to impeach and arraign his proceedings or to out-face the power of his wrath? If the inferior creatures that are put under the feet of man, and over whom he has dominion, keep us in awe thus, how terrible must the majesty of our great Lord be, who has a sovereign dominion over us and against whom man has been so long in rebellion! Who can stand before him when once he is angry?
John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible:
Leviathan - Several particulars in the following description, agree far better with the crocodile, than the whale. It is highly probable, that this is the creature here spoken of. Cord - Canst thou take him with a hook and a line, as anglers take ordinary fishes.
Nave's Topical Bible:
Possibly a crocodile
Job 41; Psalms 104:26

"The crooked (RSV) serpent."
Isaiah 27:1

Psalms 74:14
Torrey's Topical Textbook:
Created by God
Psalms 104:26

Nature and habits of
Job 41:1-34

God’s power, exhibited in destroying
Psalms 74:14

--Powerful and cruel kings
Isaiah 27:1

--Power and severity of God
Job 41:10
Treasury of Scripture Knowledge:
See definition 03882. A large aquatic animal, perhaps the extinct dinosaur, plesiosaurus, the exact meaning is unknown. Some think this to be a crocodile but from the description in Job 41:1-41:34 this is patently absurd. It appears to be a large fire breathing animal of some sort. Just as the bomardier beetle has an explosion producing mechanism, so the great sea dragon may have an explosive producing mechanism to enable it to be a real fire breathing dragon.
3:8 *marg: Psalms 74:14; 104:26 Isaiah 27:1
Easton's Bible Dictionary:
a transliterated Hebrew word (livyathan), meaning "twisted," "coiled." In Job 3:8, Revised Version, and marg. of Authorized Version, it denotes the dragon which, according to Eastern tradition, is an enemy of light; in 41:1 the crocodile is meant; in Psalms 104:26 it "denotes any large animal that moves by writhing or wriggling the body, the whale, the monsters of the deep." This word is also used figuratively for a cruel enemy, as some think "the Egyptian host, crushed by the divine power, and cast on the shores of the Red Sea" (Psalms 74:14). As used in Isaiah 27:1, "leviathan the piercing [RSV 'swift'] serpent, even leviathan that crooked [RSV marg. 'winding'] serpent," the word may probably denote the two empires, the Assyrian and the Babylonian.
Smith's Bible Dictionary:
(jointed monster) occurs five times in the text of the Authorized Version, and once in the margin of (Job 3:8) where the text has "mourning." In the Hebrew Bible the word livyathan , which is, with the foregoing exception, always left untranslated in the Authorized Version, is found only in the following passages: (Job 3:8; 41:1; Psalms 74:14; 104:26; Isaiah 27:1) In the margin of (Job 3:8) and text of (Job 41:1) the crocodile is most clearly the animal denoted by the Hebrew word. (Psalms 74:14) also clearly points to this same saurian. The context of (Psalms 104:26) seems to show that in this passage the name represents some animal of the whale tribe, which is common in the Mediterranean; but it is somewhat uncertain what animal is denoted in (Isaiah 27:1) As the term leviathan is evidently used in no limited sense, it is not improbable that the "leviathan the piercing serpent," or "leviathan the crooked serpent," may denote some species of the great rock-snakes which are common in south and west Africa.

I hope that helps

Pax Christi,

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