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The Blue Letter Bible

David Guzik :: Study Guide for Job 41

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God, Job, and Leviathan

A. Contending with Leviathan.

1. (Job 41:1-7) Mankind is helpless against Leviathan.

"Can you draw out Leviathan with a hook,
Or snare his tongue with a line which you lower?
Can you put a reed through his nose,
Or pierce his jaw with a hook?
Will he make many supplications to you?
Will he speak softly to you?
Will he make a covenant with you?
Will you take him as a servant forever?
Will you play with him as with a bird,
Or will you leash him for your maidens?
Will your companions make a banquet of him?
Will they apportion him among the merchants?
Can you fill his skin with harpoons,
Or his head with fishing spears?

a. Can you draw out Leviathan with a hook? After the discussion of Behemoth in Job 40:15-24, now God called Job to consider another fearful monster, Leviathan. This creature was first mentioned in Job 3:8; Job in that context considered how sailors and fishermen would curse the threatening Leviathan, and with the same passion he cursed the day of his birth.

i. Usually Leviathan is considered to be a mythical sea-monster or dragon that terrorized sailors and fishermen. Yet in the context of Job 41, God does not seem to consider Leviathan to be mythical at all. Some believe that Leviathan describes some ancient dragon-like dinosaur that either survived to Job's day, or survived in the collective memory of mankind, so that God could refer to it as an example. Others consider that in this context, Leviathan is nothing more than a mighty crocodile.

ii. The name Leviathan means "twisting one" and is also used in other interesting places in Scripture.

- Psalm 74:12-14 refers to Leviathan as a sea serpent, and that God broke the head of the Leviathan long ago, perhaps at the creation.
- Psalm 104:26 also refers to Leviathan as a sea creature.
- Isaiah 27:1 speaks of the future defeat of Leviathan, also associating it with a twisted serpent that lives in the sea.
- Isaiah 51:9 and Psalm 89-8-10 also speak of a serpent associated with the sea that God defeated as a demonstration of His great strength, and identifies this serpent with the name Rahab, meaning proud one.
- Job 26:12-13 also refers to God's piercing defeat of a fleeing serpent associated with the sea.

b. Can you put a reed through his nose, or pierce his jaw with a hook? God's point with this description of Leviathan is to show Job just how powerless he is against this creature. There is nothing that Job can do against this mighty monster.

i. This makes the association between Leviathan - obviously, some dragon-type creature, even if it were in this context only a mighty crocodile - and Satan even more interesting. Satan is often represented as a dragon or a serpent (Genesis 3; Revelation 12 and 13). Therefore, Leviathan may be another serpent-like manifestation of Satan.

ii. Indeed, as Adam Clarke says: "The Septuagint has Axeis de drakonta? 'Canst thou draw out the DRAGON?' The Syriac and the Arabic have the same."

iii. Even as Job was powerless against Leviathan (as all men are), so he was also powerless against an unleashed Satan set against him. Only God could defeat Leviathan and Satan. "Satan may be typified here by behemoth and leviathan. Be that as it may, the question left with Job was this: 'Canst thou?' Thus he was called to the recognition of his own impotence in many directions, and at the same time to a remembrance of the power of God." (Morgan)

2. (Job 41:8-11) If mankind can't overpower Leviathan, it can't hope to overpower God.

Lay your hand on him;
Remember the battle;
Never do it again!
Indeed, any hope of overcoming him is false;
Shall one not be overwhelmed at the sight of him?
No one is so fierce that he would dare stir him up.
Who then is able to stand against Me?
Who has preceded Me, that I should pay him?
Everything under heaven is Mine."

a. Indeed, any hope of overcoming him is false: Job could not hope to defeat Leviathan; it was simply beyond his power to do so.

b. Who then is able to stand against Me? The logical point is made. If Job cannot contend with Leviathan (or even with Satan, whom Leviathan represents), how could he ever hope to stand against the God who made and masters Leviathan? This was another effective way of setting Job in his proper place before God.

i. "Having now said and largely proved that man could not contend with God in power, he now adds, that he cannot do it in justice, because God oweth him nothing, nor is any way obliged to him." (Poole)

ii. There is a second, also important point: that God Himself was master over Leviathan (everything under heaven is Mine). "By telling of his dominion over Behemoth and Leviathan, the Lord is illustrating what he has said in 40:8-14. He is celebrating his moral triumph over the forces of evil. Satan, the Accuser, has been proved wrong though Job does not know it. The author and the reader see the entire picture that Job and his friends never knew." (Smick)

B. The description of Leviathan.

1. (Job 41:12-17) The limbs and skin of Leviathan.

"I will not conceal his limbs,
His mighty power, or his graceful proportions.
Who can remove his outer coat?
Who can approach him with a double bridle?
Who can open the doors of his face,
With his terrible teeth all around?
His rows of scales are his pride,
Shut up tightly as with a seal;
One is so near another
That no air can come between them;
They are joined one to another,
They stick together and cannot be parted.

a. I will not conceal his limbs, his mighty power, or his graceful proportions: To strengthen the point made in the previous section (that Job cannot stand against Leviathan, so he could not hope to stand against God), the LORD will now describe in greater detail the might and glory of this creature.

b. Who can remove his outer coat … terrible teeth all around … rows of scales … joined one to another: This description of Leviathan (especially with the rough, armor-like scaly skin and terrible teeth all around) makes some people believe that whatever Leviathan is in other Biblical and mythological contexts, here God had in mind a mighty crocodile.

i. John Trapp on they are joined one to another, they stick together and cannot be parted: "Let the saints strengthen themselves by close sticking the one to the other, as the primitive Christians did; so that the very heathens acknowledged that no people under heaven did so hold together and love one another as they."

2. (Job 41:18-21) Fearful emanations from Leviathan.

His sneezings flash forth light,
And his eyes are like the eyelids of the morning.
Out of his mouth go burning lights;
Sparks of fire shoot out.
Smoke goes out of his nostrils,
As from a boiling pot and burning rushes.
His breath kindles coals,
And a flame goes out of his mouth.

a. His sneezing flash forth light … out his mouth go burning lights; sparks of fire shoot out: This description of Leviathan seems definitely beyond that of a crocodile, and leads other commentators to believe that God had in mind much more than a currently known species.

b. Smoke goes out of his nostrils … a flame goes out of his mouth: This description of Leviathan seems much more like what we would think of as a dragon. Curiously, the dragon motif is common across cultures and lands, and may point to the actual existence of some creature of this type in pre-history. It may be to this common memory of this fire-breathing, reptilian creature that God refers.

i. "Those who regard these creatures as literal animals must admit that the description given here in Job is an exaggeration of the appearance and power of hippopotamuses and crocodiles." (Smick)

3. (Job 41:22-34) The might of Leviathan.

Strength dwells in his neck,
And sorrow dances before him.
The folds of his flesh are joined together;
They are firm on him and cannot be moved.
His heart is as hard as stone,
Even as hard as the lower millstone.
When he raises himself up, the mighty are afraid;
Because of his crashings they are beside themselves.
Though the sword reaches him, it cannot avail;
Nor does spear, dart, or javelin.
He regards iron as straw,
And bronze as rotten wood.
The arrow cannot make him flee;
Slingstones become like stubble to him.
Darts are regarded as straw;
He laughs at the threat of javelins.
His undersides are like sharp potsherds;
He spreads pointed marks in the mire.
He makes the deep boil like a pot;
He makes the sea like a pot of ointment.
He leaves a shining wake behind him;
One would think the deep had white hair.
On earth there is nothing like him,
Which is made without fear.
He beholds every high thing;
He is king over all the children of pride."

a. Strength dwells in his neck, and sorrow dances before him: In this last extended description of Leviathan, God spoke in terms that more closely connected the concept of Leviathan with Satan. It could be said of Satan as well as Leviathan (if not more so of Satan):

- They are strong (Strength dwells in his neck)
- They are cruel and entertained by sorrow (sorrow dances before him)
- They strongly defended (the folds of his flesh are joined together; they are firm on him and cannot be moved)
- They are unsympathetic and hard of heart (His heart is as hard as stone)
- They cause the mighty to fear (When he raises himself up, the mighty are afraid)
- They cannot be successfully attacked (Though the sword reaches him, it cannot avail … he laughs at the threat of javelins)
- They have few vulnerable spots (His undersides are like sharp potsherds)
- They have no worthy adversaries on earth (On earth there is nothing like him)
- They are filled with pride (He is king over all the children of pride)

i. This also means that the description of Behemoth in the previous chapter may also be a representation of the strength and seeming confidence that the apparently unassailable Adversary has. "The use of the two names Behemoth and Leviathan is a poetic repetition, just as Psalm 74 refers to the breaking of the heads of the monster (tanninim) and the heads of Leviathan." (Smick)

ii. "While it is true that Satan is never named outside the Prologue, this does not mean that the Lord never deals with him. He deals with him here in the form of Leviathan, describing him to Job with the same sort of symbolic picture-language He uses in Revelation." (Mason)

b. He is king over all the children of pride: This description of Leviathan - especially at this point - is so like that of Satan, that we may fairly suppose that God here was indicating to Job not only His great might and Job's vulnerability before Satan, but also alluding to Satan's role in Job's great crisis.

i. God called Job to consider these unconquerable beasts, who each in their own way were examples of Satan and his power. In this God allowed Job to consider the fact that he could not stand before the power of Satan without God empowering him. Job thought that he was all alone through his ordeal; indeed he felt he was alone. Yet this was God's way of saying that he was not alone, because if he were then he surely would have crumbled before the power of Leviathan and Behemoth.

ii. "Jonah was swallowed by a whale; but the believer in Jesus Christ swallows the whale. We eat Leviathan for breakfast. It takes a very big God, and a very big faith in God, to be able to absorb so much evil. Leviathan seems to endlessly sprawling, gargantuan, invincible. But the essence of the gospel is that the love of God is greater than any evil." (Mason)

iii. God ends His words to Job without ever telling him the story behind the story. Job was left ignorant about the contest between God and Satan that prompted his whole crisis (though perhaps God later told him). Though Job did not know the whole story, God did tell him of His great victory over Leviathan/Satan, giving Job assurance for the past, the present, and for the future.

iv. It was important that God did not tell Job the reasons why; then Job can be a continuing comfort and inspiration and example to those who suffer without an explanation. "Once again we emphasize that if the specific and ultimate reason for his suffering had been revealed to Job - even at this point - the value of the account as a comfort to others who must suffer in ignorance would have been diminished if not cancelled." (Smick)

© 2007 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission

Study Guide for Esther 1 ← Prior Book
Study Guide for Psalm 1 Next Book →
Study Guide for Job 40 ← Prior Chapter
Study Guide for Job 42 Next Chapter →
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