God asks Job to respond, and Job says he will remain silent. God then describes two giant creatures which Job has no control over.
God scoffs at Job: “Can you draw out Leviathan by a fishhook? Can you press down his tongue by a rope? Can you put a ring through his nose, Or pierce his jaw with a barb?” (vv. 25-26)
III. Important Verses
vv. 3-5: Job said in reply to the LORD: See, I am of small worth; what can I answer You? I clap my hand to my mouth. I have spoken once, and will not reply; Twice, and will do so no more.
vv. 15-19: Take now behemoth, whom I made as I did you… His bones are like tubes of bronze, His limbs like iron rods. He is the first of God’s works; Only his Maker can draw the sword against him.
vv. 25, 32: Can you draw out Leviathan by a fishhook? Can you press down his tongue by a rope? … Lay a hand on him, And you will never think of battle again.
1-2. God confronts Job 3-5. Job retracts his claims 6-32. God’s speech 6. Introduction 7-14. Confrontation 15-24. Job cannot handle the Behemoth (hippopotamus?) 25-32. Job cannot handle the Leviathan (crocodile? whale?)
Chapter 40 begins with a brief dialogue between God and Job, and ends with the first part of God’s final speech. The speech contains a harsh introduction (vv. 7-14), and the description of two mighty creatures, the behemot “Behemoth” and the liwyatan “Leviathan.” God describes these animals in order to discredit Job: since Job cannot control these animals, he surely cannot understand the rules of the universe. Let us now explore the nature of these two creatures.
Hakham writes regarding the Behemoth (p. 214 fn. 17, translation my own): “[The behemoth] refers to the hippopotamus amphibius, the largest dry land creature in the region…” Indeed, many statements in our chapter indicate that the Behemoth is a large hippopotamus-like animal. For example, v. 15 says “He eats grass, like the cattle,” and v. 21 says, “He lies down beneath the lotuses, In the cover of the swamp reeds.” In regards to the Leviathan Hakham writes (p. 217 fn. 36, translation my own): “It seems that the liwyatan mentioned here is the crocodile, the largest reptile of our day… It also logical that it also refers to the largest of the mammals, what we today called the whale.”
Unlike Hakham, a large number of scholars view the creatures to be mythical in nature. There are two main reasons for this belief: (1) many verses in Tanakh indicate that these are mythical creatures, and (2) there seems to have been a popular Canaanite myth which speaks about God’s battle with the great primordial sea creatures. John Day writes (“Leviathan,” in the Anchor Bible Dictionary, Vol. IV pp. 295-296): “In Job 40:25–41, 26 [—Eng 41:1–34] part of the second divine speech is a detailed description of Leviathan. Many commentators have believed, following the view of S. Bochart expressed in 1663, that Leviathan is here the crocodile, and similarly that Behemoth in Job 40:15–24 is the hippopotamus. However, good reasons can be put forward against Leviathan’s equation here with the crocodile, or for that matter with any other actually existing beast. For example, Leviathan is said to breathe out fire and smoke (Job 41:11–13—Eng 19–21), which is suggestive of a mythological creature, and it is implicit in God’s argument that no human is able to capture him. We probably have here the same mythological Leviathan who is attested elsewhere in the OT, and whom God overcame at the creation (though it is arguable that he now has only one head rather than seven). The point of God’s argument seems to be that since Job cannot overcome Leviathan, how much less can he hope to overcome in argument the God who defeated him.”
Indeed, God appears to be at odds with sea creatures in other places of Tanakh. Ps. 74:13-14 says, “it was You who drove back the sea with Your might, who smashed the heads of the monsters in the waters; it was You who crushed the heads of Leviathan, who left him as food for the denizens of the desert,” and Ps. 89:10-11 says, “You rule the swelling of the sea; when its waves surge, You still them. You crushed Rahab; he was like a corpse; with Your powerful arm You scattered Your enemies.” Yet, it is still possible that the word liwyatan has two meanings, one mythical and one tangible. One place where the word might mean a whale is Ps. 104:26: “There go the ships, and Leviathan that You formed to sport with.” Needless to say, more research into this topic is required.
VI. Works Used
(see “Commentaries” page)
Hakham, Sefer Iyov (Daat Mikra [Hebrew])
Day, “Leviathan” (Anchor Bible Dictionary, Vol. IV pp. 295-296)
Photo taken from http://www.neiu.edu/~dcgreer/whale4.jpg