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In the Book of Job, chapter 40 describes Behemoth, a large land animal that may be mythical, a hippo, an herbivourous dinosaur, or an as yet uncreated beast that God has in the works for the future. I am not interested in what Behemoth was, but what it represents. My bias, based on previous reading, was to consider Behemoth (a beast of the earth) and Leviathan (a beast from the sea) to be referring to the two creatures that are found in Revelation 13. That would mean that each represented a facet of evil, an evil kingdom, Satan or one of his demons.

However, I am reading a commentary on Job by William Wells:

http://www.newwinemedia.com/media/classic_books/William_W_Wells-Commentary_on_the_Book_of_Job.pdf

A short quote from Wells:

God is sending Job an important message. Behemoth is “the chief of the ways of God” (40:19), and is linked with Job's deliverance. “Then will I also confess unto thee that thine own right hand can save thee. Behold now Behemoth...” (40:14-15). Leviathan, on the other hand, “is a king over all the children of pride” (41:34). Leviathan is blocking Job's path to God.

Wells claims that Behemoth is a contrast to Leviathan. Leviathan represents the person that chooses pride and the chaos it leaves in its wake, whereas Behemoth is placid, trusting, secure and humble, and represents the life submitted to God, the opposite choice. This is the first author that I have ever read that attributed positive, noble characteristics and interpretation to this creature. It is easy to find writers that take the opposite view. Do you know of any other writers who would agree with Wells? Is Behemoth good?

  • This is certainly a very novel idea!! – Mac's Musings Apr 11 at 21:18
  • Hours of research and I still can't find another backer. I am writing my own commentary on Job and everyone has lots to say about Leviathan and not much to say about Behemoth. Trying to understand the meaning of Job 40. – Paul Chernoch Apr 12 at 18:27
  • For Leviathan elsewhere in the Bible see Job 3:8; Pss. 74:14; 104:26; Isa. 27:1, and allusion in Job 26:13. Note also 2 Esdr. (4 Ezra) 6:49-52, where Behemoth and Leviathan are two creatures God preserves at creation—they will one day be eaten (presumably by the righteous), a motif that made its way into later Rabbinic traditions. Compare to Revelation 13:1, 13:11, 17:16. – Alan Fuller Apr 17 at 16:13
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You are quite correct, that very few writers try to explain Behemoth, dealing instead with Leviathan. I also note a heavy tendency to try to say what animals they might have been, whereas the book of Job is dealing with massive, eternal issues of suffering, pain, and God’s justice. Surely we should see God’s comments about Behemoth and Leviathan as His answer to those issues?

Yet some years ago I read this comment by a Christian (using a pseudonym), on a Website where a Q had been asked about this. He dealt with a literal interpretation of Behemoth, what kind of a creature it could have been:

The description of Behemoth matches that of a sauropod. In the Congo, when indigenous tribes are shown pictures of bears, moose and other animals not native to the region, they understandably do not recognize the creatures; however, when shown a picture of a sauropod, they excitedly recognize the creature, claiming it's about the size of an elephant and lives in the water, but is rarely seen. So there is the possibility that it may exist. … Alexander the Great, Marco Polo and others claim in their writings to have encountered dragons during their expeditions. "Dragons" were what large reptiles were called back then. (Leviathan appears to have been some aquatic species of dragon/dinosaur.) When partially fossilized dinosaur bones are found containing soft tissue, that could be evidence for them.”

However, a scientist has written about this in his book (below) viewing the biblical account of Job as an early pointer for us to understand the natural world but without any need to delve into taxonomy. He uses the Bible book of Job to urge us to ask different questions, to put science and faith together, to get a better understanding that will give us biblical wisdom. He says in Faith & Wisdom in Science,

“Chapters 40 and 41 of Job sing "in exquisitely detailed praise the power of two monstrous creatures, the Behemoth and Leviathan (sometimes interpreted as the hippopotamus and the crocodile, but textually more splendid and terrible)… this is a 'decentralising' text that places humans at the periphery of the world, looking on in wonder at its centerpieces... Although the book of Job is the least anthropocentric of ancient cosmologies, passing by humans to exalt the great Leviathan as the pinnacle of creation, still mankind retains a special place in regard to the potential possession of wisdom. Our examinations of the Lord's answer to Job has identified the same unreasonable optimism that the great wisdom questions of nature can one day be answered... The double Hebraic encouragement to search for 'wisdom and understanding' (the practical and cognitive aspects of knowing) that we have met in Job and elsewhere resonates strongly with the dual methodology of experiment and theory, and with the deeply-lying longing for wisdom that their meeting can release."

This scientist author, who is also a Christian, then considers Behemoth as the climax of God’s response to Job’s human questioning about pain. In one sense Job was asking the wrong question, yet Job’s thread of God’s justice in managing His creation is woven into Job’s disputation. A surprising new picture enters the tapestry – Behemoth. The author says:

“With trepidation, and against the weight of opinion, I am therefore suggesting that the Lord’s answer is an answer to Job’s complaint – possibly the only adequate answer. There are five lines of argument that point this way.”

(1) Creation is not out of control. The way Job and his friends viewed ‘control’ was wrong.

(2) The experience of pain cannot be divorced from the confrontation of human hope and a universe of freedom, and this perspective is foundational to the acquisition of wisdom that deals with matters in extreme tension with each other.

(3) God invites a new relationship with the physical world that leaves behind the irresponsibly polarised positions of Job and his friends.

(4) God’s physical structures are not a sideshow; the failure to acquire wisdom in working with nature hurts both the world and ourselves; there is a biblical ‘creation covenant’.

(5) God’s answer is eschatological. Science affirms that nature matters; knowledge has an ancient history and we need to participate in learning and understanding more. There is to be reconciliation between the human and the non-human, a theme of the New Testament. (Tom McLeish, pp110 & 145-6 (Oxford University Press 2014)

I cannot do justice to the author with my brief selection of points but I refer to him for his use of those two creatures to advocate combining science and faith to grasp God’s answers to our oft-misguided questions that can show ignorance on our part which a deeper knowledge of God’s created order could rectify.

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Questions: Can you find scholarly support that Behemoth is an example of humble submission? Is Behemoth placid, trusting, secure and humble, representing the life submitted to God, as suggested by William W. Wells? Is Behemoth good? Answer to the first question: I’m afraid not.

This is not something I’ve ever read before, although it is an interesting point of view. Even though nobody knows which animal the behemoth was, within the context of Job we know that its great size and strength is compared to Job’s frailty and human weakness.

The Bible tells us that the behemoth is a plant-eater (Job 40:15) with a massive tail that “sways like a cedar” (verse 17). It is very strong and muscular (verses 16, 18.) It lives near water (verses 21–23) and is at home even in a flooded, raging river (verse 23). The behemoth “ranks first among the works of God” (verse 19), and only its Creator can master it. Hunting the behemoth is futile, because it cannot be captured (verse 24). Matthew Henry makes these comments:

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 (Job 38:1-39:30) we can scarcely suppose this should be omitted.

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 (Job 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.”

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. Source: https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/matthew-henry/Job.40.15-Job.40.24

The NIV Study Bible makes this comment regarding Job 40:15 and 19 where the Hebrew word translated as behemoth means “beast par excellence”:

The Hebrew underlying this phrase (first among the works of God)... Here the descriptive phrase stresses the importance of the behemoth as an example of a huge animal under the control of a sovereign God.

Whether the behemoth was an elephant or a sauropod (ten times heavier than elephants) matters not. The behemoth is like putty in the hands of our creator God, who alone can subdue it.

Edit: As for Leviathan, the Hebrew word has the root meaning of “coiled” or “twisted.” Isaiah 27:1 speaks of Leviathan the gliding serpent, the coiling serpent, the fearsome monster of the sea. The NIV Study Bible makes this comment:

A symbol (drawn from Canaanite myths) of wicked nations, such as Egypt.

The conclusion of the matter: “Who then is able to stand against me? Who has a claim against me that I must pay? Everything under heaven belongs to me” (Job 41:10–11).

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