Job 41:1-41:34 Leviathan’s Mean Feet

the infamous leviathan… not a tame lion… casually treat something so dangerous… Have you lost all good sense?… knock him back to sanity… worship aligns us with the spiritual world… best technology is laughable… foolish mortal.

Job 41:1-41:34

Canst thou draw out leviathan with an hook? or his tongue with a cord [which] thou lettest down? Canst thou put an hook into his nose? or bore his jaw through with a thorn?

The final example given Job is the infamous leviathan (livyathan), which has become an oft-repeated metaphor for a large uncontrollable beast. As usual, I’ll read through the whole thing, in an attempt to capture the emotions as well as the reasons of God’s words.

Will he make many supplications unto thee? will he speak soft words unto thee? Will he make a covenant with thee? wilt thou take him for a servant for ever?

The first point appears to be that he isn’t interested in entreaties (tachanuwn) or treaties (b@riyth). He is thus more inscrutable even than God, whom we have already seen make a covenant with Noah. At any rate, we get the point that he (He?) is not a tame lion:

Wilt thou play with him as with a bird? or wilt thou bind him for thy maidens?

Its a comical picture — rather like a bull in a china shop. Or perhaps a shark in swimming pool. It would be silly to so casually treat something so dangerous.

Shall the companions make a banquet of him? shall they part him among the merchants?

Another interesting picture. In addition to being non-domestic, he is non-commercial. And even non-military:

Canst thou fill his skin with barbed irons? or his head with fish spears? Lay thine hand upon him, remember the battle, do no more. Behold, the hope of him is in vain: shall not one be cast down even at the sight of him?

Civilized man has a hard time remembering how much terror the great beasts used to inspire. Today, violent animals are curiosities for zoos and reserves, or perhaps the occasional horror movie. In Job’s day, with whatever primitive techniques they had, I can barely imagine the import of God’s comments.

None is so fierce that dare stir him up: who then is able to stand before me? Who hath prevented me, that I should repay him? whatsoever is under the whole heaven is mine.

This is probably the crux of the chapter. God is saying something like: C’mon Job, would you tackle a leviathan on your own? Would you think your powers of reason and persuasion sufficient to the task? Is the leviathan something you can tame, or sell, or conquer? Do you really want him annoyed with you? Then what in My name do you think you’re doing trying to take me on? Have you lost all perspective and good sense? Don’t you know who I am? That I am greater than all these things? Shouldn’t you at least show me as much respect as you do a violent beast?

Again, I don’t read this as God shaming Job, so much as trying to knock him back to sanity. Just like education is designed to align our minds with the natural world, so worship aligns us with the spiritual world.

I will not conceal his parts, nor his power, nor his comely proportion. Who can discover the face of his garment? or who can come to him with his double bridle?

I was startled to see the word comely, though perhaps better translated graceful (chiyn). It is still interesting to note how much delight God takes in what seem to us unpleasant beasts — what one might call natural evil.

Who can open the doors of his face? his teeth are terrible round about. His scales are his pride, shut up together as with a close seal. One is so near to another, that no air can come between them. They are joined one to another, they stick together, that they cannot be sundered.

An intriguing use of the word pride (ga`avah). God appears to enjoy it when things He has created are exalted in accord with their purpose.

By his neesings a light doth shine, and his eyes are like the eyelids of the morning. Out of his mouth go burning lamps, and sparks of fire leap out. Out of his nostrils goeth smoke, as out of a seething pot or caldron. His breath kindleth coals, and a flame goeth out of his mouth. In his neck remaineth strength, and sorrow is turned into joy before him.

Even allowing for poetic license, this is an awesome vision. Or perhaps I should say “aweful.” The idea of sorrow-joy (d@’abah duwts) is probably better understood as dismay, but remains an evocative idea.

The flakes of his flesh are joined together: they are firm in themselves; they cannot be moved. His heart is as firm as a stone; yea, as hard as a piece of the nether millstone.

The NIV uses the term chest, but the word heart (leb) does seem to be the same one used for will and understanding. Certainly one does get a feeling of implacability as well as sheer physical presence.

When he raiseth up himself, the mighty are afraid: by reason of breakings they purify themselves.

Again, being mighty (‘ayil) among men is of no help against such a beast. Interesting, the word purify (chata’) also means wander, hence the NIV retreat. I actually first read it as “they soiled themselves,” but that probably isn’t in the Hebrew…

The sword of him that layeth at him cannot hold: the spear, the dart, nor the habergeon. He esteemeth iron as straw, and brass as rotten wood. The arrow cannot make him flee: slingstones are turned with him into stubble. Darts are counted as stubble: he laugheth at the shaking of a spear.

If I have my ages right, iron is still something of a novelty in Job’s era. Even their best technology is laughable (sachaq). A sobering thought: despite our great advances since Job, all our philosophy and worldly wisdom — even our technical prowess — is as child’s play before God.

Sharp stones are under him: he spreadeth sharp pointed things upon the mire. He maketh the deep to boil like a pot: he maketh the sea like a pot of ointment. He maketh a path to shine after him; one would think the deep to be hoary.

Another intriguing statement, given the Hebrew attitude towards the depths (m@tsowlah), sea (yam), and abyss (t@howm). The ability to tramp such a path (nathiyb) — especially one with light (‘owr) — is no mean feat.

Upon earth there is not his like, who is made without fear. He beholdeth all high things: he is a king over all the children of pride.

“I’m the king of the world (`aphar)!” Leviathan is at the top of the food chain, fearing (chath) nothing. He sees (ra’ah), or perhaps sees through, the lofty (gaboahh), and rules (melek) the proud (shachats ). Arguably this is God’s parting shot at Job. Even a mere beast eviscerates Job’s claim to power and authority. Job had, perhaps unknowingly, set himself up as being in a position to judge God. Foolish mortal.


God, I am a fool. I know so little of your world, and your Word, yet I think I am justified in my anger, despair, and frustration — even towards you. Grant me a vision of the Leviathan’s in the world around me, to remind me how small I am compared to them. And you. Yet, at the same time, remind me that you have created me, and that you glory in me. Help me to glorify you, at least as much as the dumb beasts of the field do, if not more so. By your Word, Amen.