Behemoth and Leviathan—Creative Marvels
“WHO is this that is obscuring counsel by words without knowledge?” Almighty God asked of Job. (Job 38:2) Though Job had kept integrity to God, he had obscured divine counsel by speaking words not based on accurate knowledge; he had cast some doubt upon the wise, loving and just procedure of the Creator. Job’s course of justifying his own soul more than God needed to be corrected. Out of the windstorm Jehovah spoke to Job, giving him knowledge of God’s infinite wisdom and loving care of his creatures. Deeply humiliated by the questions raised by the Almighty regarding works in nature, the animals and birds, Job confessed he had nothing to say toward his own justification. Then Jehovah asked another question: “Do you have an arm like that of the true God?” And to illustrate God’s power in nature, Jehovah describes a creative marvel, the mighty behemoth:
“Here, now, is Behemoth that I have made as well as you. Green grass it eats just as a bull does. Here, now, its power is in its hips, and its dynamic energy in the tendons of its belly. It bends down its tail like a cedar; the sinews of its thighs are interwoven. Its bones are tubes of copper; its strong bones are like wrought-iron rods. It is the beginning of the ways of God; its Maker can bring near his sword.”—Job 40:15-19.
Here is a mammoth creature made by God, mighty in power. From God’s description of the creature, the hippopotamus is generally identified with the behemoth; and a number of Bible translations of the book of Job use the word “hippopotamus” in their main text or in footnotes to identify the creature referred to by God.
Prodigious in size, a full-grown hippo may be twelve to fourteen feet long and may weigh up to 8,000 pounds. “The bulk of a full-grown male hippopotamus can hardly be believed even when viewed at close range in a zoo,” declares zoologist Ivan Sanderson. “One wonders, when so observing the brute, how on earth its small stumpy legs, for all their girth, can support the body, yet the same beast in its native waters can overtake almost any man-powered small boat and even motorboats by paddling like a dog with these same ridiculous little limbs.”—Living Mammals of the World.
Those small legs are of sturdy build. The bones of the hippo’s legs are as strong as “tubes of copper,” strong enough to support a four-ton creature. Its bones and ribs are like iron bars. “The sinews of its thighs are interwoven,” so that the fiber and tendons of muscles of its thighs are twisted together and braided like powerful cables. Its “power is in its hips,” in the muscles of its back, and “its dynamic energy in the tendons of its belly,” the muscles of its belly being powerful. The hide of the belly is thicker than that on other parts of the body, since the hippo is short-legged and drags his body over grass, sticks and stones of riverbeds. Its tail is like a cedar, not in length but since it can set its thick tail rigidly upright or swing it about like a tree.
How the mighty hippo exemplifies God’s power! He created it; he gave it its power. Who can approach such a creature with a sword to take its life? So great is the hippo’s power in its jaw and teeth that it has bitten men clean through the torso. With its recurved canines and pointed incisors, the hippo can shear through a native dugout canoe like cardboard and bite through the metal plates of a riverboat. Little wonder an ancient Egyptian inscription going back to the time of Thutmose III reads: “The hippopotamus, the lord of terrors in the water, which man cannot approach unto.”* Concerning this behemoth Jehovah said to Job:
“The mountains themselves bear their produce for it, and all the wild beasts of the field themselves play there. Under the thorny lotus trees it lies down, in the concealed place of reeds and the swampy place. The thorny lotus trees keep it blocked off with their shadow; the poplars of the torrent valley surround it. If the river acts violently, it does not run in panic. It is confident, although the Jordan should burst forth against its mouth. Before its eyes can anyone take it? With snares can anyone bore its nose?”—Job 40:20-24.
The mighty behemoth, being amphibious, climbs out of the river, ascending steep riverbanks to enjoy the produce that the mountains bear for it. Yes, “green grass” is its food, and because of its enormous appetite, it seems that the greenery of whole mountains is required to sustain it. The teeth cut the grass and a cavernous mouth scoops up the feed, the jaws crushing the mass. Some 200 to 400 pounds of greenery go into its mammoth stomach every day. Yet when the hippo leaves the water to feed where green grass grows, the other animals have no need to fear, since the monster does not attack them.
When its appetite has been assuaged, the hippo lies down under the thorny lotus trees or conceals itself in a swampy place, beneath the shade of the poplars. It is of little concern to the hippo if the river in which it dwells rises and overflows its banks. It can still keep its head above the level of water and swim against the force of the deluge.
Seeing the behemoth is so mighty and has a mammoth mouth equipped with formidable tusks in the lower jaw, would Job have the audacity to confront such a monster before its eyes and try to pierce its nose with a hook?
Humbled by God’s description of the power of the grass-eating behemoth, Job is next asked about another amphibious creature, which, unlike the hippo, is meat-eating and ferocious in disposition:
“Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook, or with a rope can you hold down its tongue? Can you put a rush in its nostrils, or with a thorn can you bore its jaws? Will it make many entreaties to you, or will it say soft words to you? Will it conclude a covenant with you, that you may take it as a slave to time indefinite? Will you play with it as with a bird, or will you tie it for your young girls? Will partners barter for it? Will they divide it up among tradesmen? Will you fill its skin with harpoons, or its head with fish spears? Put your hands upon it. Remember the battle. Do not do it again.”—Job 41:1-8.
From the description Jehovah gives of leviathan in the book of Job, it is thought that this creative marvel must be that giant among reptiles, the crocodile. Thus a number of Bible translations of the book of Job such as J. Smith and Moffatt use the word “crocodile” in the main text for the Hebrew word liw-ya-than. The etymology of this word is uncertain, and it has been variously defined as meaning “a wreathed animal,” “one spirally wound” and “a twisted animal.” The word itself is believed to be nonspecific, so that the term could apply to any such great sea monster or reptile; however, because of the description Jehovah gives in Job chapter 41, the term there applies to a mighty reptile with armor and scales and formidable teeth. The crocodile fits that description.
Though Job may not have seen a crocodile, he would have heard about this creative marvel not only because of his long life but because the Nile River abounded with crocodiles. Job could have heard about the limber leviathan, for his home was not far from the Gulf of Aqaba. From what Job heard about this leviathan monster, he knew that it was far too formidable for him to use it as an object on which to demonstrate fishing ability. Its disposition is wild and fierce, so could Job make leviathan serve him just as his domestic animals did? Or could Job even put leviathan to use as a plaything? Would it cooperate as a plaything for children? Will fishermen take leviathan with their hooks? Will traders bargain over this creature, and will they divide him among merchants? Suppose men lay their hands on this creative marvel that Jehovah evidently describes as the most formidable species of crocodile, then what? The ensuing struggle will be such a terrifying experience they will never forget it nor will they do it again!
WHAT, THEN, OF ITS CREATOR?
If a fisherman entertains expectations of taking leviathan with his ordinary fishing equipment, he is in for a surprise. Jehovah continues speaking to Job:
“Look! One’s expectation about it will certainly be disappointed. One will also be hurled down at the mere sight of it. None is so audacious that he should stir it up. And who is it that can hold his ground before me? Who has given me something first, that I ought to reward him? Under the whole heavens it is mine.”—Job 41:9-11.
The mere sight of a giant crocodile is enough to warn one to stay clear. Hands off! Who, then, is so audacious as to stir leviathan up? Is Job? The temperament of most giant crocodiles, whether the Nile River or the seagoing species, is not suitable for man to get too close to them and then stir them up. Zoo keepers find that some alligators get so tame they can practically walk on them, but they know the wisdom of staying clear of crocodiles. Writes Raymond Ditmars, a noted authority on reptiles, in his book Reptiles of the World:
“There is about as much difference in temper and activity between an alligator and a crocodile, as between a tortoise and a snapping turtle. An enraged alligator will throw its head from side to side, bang the jaws together sonorously and violently swish the tail, but a man with steady nerves may approach within a few feet of the animal, throw a noose over the head, tie the jaws together, push a pole toward the body—then, by successive nooses pulled backward over the head, and forward over the tail, splint the animal to the pole so it is entirely powerless.”
Doing that with a crocodile that is formidable and ferocious is something else again, says Ditmars. Even those that appear to be the epitome of good nature are to be treated with utmost respect. Reptile expert Ditmars tells how he approached a captured crocodile that appeared to be rather tame-looking:
“Standing away from what he thought to be the reach of his tail, the writer prodded the apparently sluggish brute with a stick to start it for the tank. Several things happened in quick order. With a crescentic twist of the body utterly beyond the power of an alligator, the brute dashed its tail at the writer, landing him such a powerful blow that he was lifted completely from the ground. As he left terra-firma, an almost involuntary inclination caused him to hurl his body away from a pair of widely-gaping, tooth-studded jaws swinging perilously near. Landing with a thud on one shoulder, though otherwise unhurt, the writer threw himself over and over rolling from the dangerous brute that was actually pursuing him on the run, body raised high from the ground. For an instant it seemed as if the crocodile would win. As the writer suddenly sprang to his feet and glanced backward, he beheld the brute throw itself flat on its belly, open the jaws widely, then remain motionless as a statue. Such is the average crocodile—an active, vicious and, above all, treacherous brute.”
According to Ditmars, the man-eating and most ferocious crocodiles are the Nile River and salt-water crocodiles. These giant, twisting leviathans pack tremendous power in their limber tails. Though leviathan swims mainly by twisting strokes of the tail, the tail is also an offensive weapon of devastating power. By an incredibly swift twist of the tail, leviathan captures prey by sweeping it from the riverbank or shallow water into the stream, where it is seized by frightfully teeth-studded jaws and devoured. Even young crocodiles of the salt-water variety are incredibly dangerous. Ditmars tells of opening a crate of three four-foot young ones: “The amount of ferocity crowded into those four-foot youngsters was amazing. They all but stood on their hind legs in an endeavor to bite. . . . In uncontrollable rage, one of them kept backing up and walking forward, and if a hand were moved over it, reared upward, snapping its jaws loudly.” They were positively the most vicious reptiles he had ever seen.
Not only are such crocodiles the most ferocious but they are also the giants of the reptile world. Though the average adult crocodile may be about sixteen feet long, there are a number that reach twenty feet. Perhaps very few today reach the great lengths they did before the introduction of firearms; but it should be noted that one specimen of the salt-water crocodile, of which the skull is in the British Museum, has been found to be thirty-three feet long, with a circumference of thirteen feet eight inches! Little wonder that the fisherman in Job’s day would “be hurled down at the mere sight” of a giant twisting leviathan!
If Job could not stand his ground before this limber leviathan, then how could he successfully contend with or stand his ground before Jehovah, the Creator of such reptilian marvel of ferocity and power? If a mere creation of God is too formidable to assail, what, then, must be said about the Creator of all things? How ridiculously audacious it would be for a mere man to contend with the Almighty by finding fault with the way he rules the universe! So remarkable is this living illustration of God’s power in leviathan that Jehovah declares:
“I shall not keep silent about its parts or the matter of its mightiness and the grace of its proportions. Who has uncovered the face of its clothing? Into its double jaw who will enter? The doors of its face who has opened? Its teeth round about are frightful. Furrows of scales are its haughtiness, closed as with a tight seal. One to the other they fit closely, and not even air can come in between them. Each one to the other they are stuck together; they grasp one another and cannot be separated. Its very sneezings flash forth light, and its eyes are like the beams of dawn. Out of its mouth there go lightning flashes, even sparks of fire make their escape. Out of its nostrils smoke goes forth, like a furnace set aflame even with rushes. Its soul itself sets coals ablaze, and even a flame goes forth out of its mouth. In its neck lodges strength, and before it despair leaps. The folds of its flesh do cling together; they are as a casting upon it, immovable. Its heart is cast like stone, yes, cast like a lower millstone. Due to its rising up the strong get frightened; due to consternation they get bewildered.”—Job 41:12-25.
How terrible of aspect and mighty in strength and yet how comely of proportion is the limber leviathan! Beautifully narrow and streamlined is the crocodile’s body, but its teeth and jaws are frightful. Its jaws are very extended, and, there being no lips, the teeth, long and pointed and of various sizes, present a frightful sight. What crushing power! In experiments in France a 120-pound crocodile exerted a pressure between its jaws of 1,540 pounds.
Jehovah’s poetic description is most apt; for instance, “its eyes are like the beams of dawn.” Thus the flashing eyes of the crocodile as it lifts its head out of the water at sunrise produced such a strong impression upon the ancient Egyptians that they adopted the crocodile’s eyes as the symbol of morning. “Though in a poetical form,” says one writer about God’s description of leviathan, “it is without exaggeration.” The writer relates the observations of ancient naturalists who beheld the monster rise after a long submergence in the water: “Then the breath, long suppressed, rushes out with such violence that it would seem to vomit out flames from its mouth and nostrils.”*
Its tightly closed scales are leviathan’s haughtiness; the folds of its flesh make up immovable armor. The true scales of this creative marvel are no more easily removed than human fingernails. What a masterpiece is the crocodile’s rough covering of plate and mail! Imbedded in the skin are bones, and on these are plates of horn. The bony plates set in the thick, leathery skin furnish an armor that is difficult to pierce with an ordinary bullet, which often ricochets. How useless, then, arrows and darts! Jehovah explains further to Job:
“Overtaking it, the sword itself does not prove equal, nor spear, dart or arrowhead. It regards iron as mere straw, copper as mere rotten wood. An arrow does not chase it away; the slingstones have been changed for it into mere stubble. A club has been regarded by it as mere stubble, and it laughs at the rattling of a javelin. As pointed earthenware fragments are its under parts; it spreads out a threshing instrument upon the mire. It causes the depths to boil just like a pot; it makes the very sea like an ointment pot. Behind itself it makes a pathway shine; one would regard the watery deep as gray-headedness. Upon the dust there is not the like of it, the one made to be without terror. Everything high it sees. It is king over all majestic wild beasts.”—Job 41:26-34.
To this day the warriors of some African tribes use the plated hide of a crocodile as an armor; against javelins and arrows the hide is a protection. Many creatures have a smooth and unprotected belly, but the crocodile’s belly is covered with tough, sharp-edged scales, leaving the impression upon the mud banks of “a threshing instrument.” In the water the voracious fury of the crocodile is the very stuff of which nightmares are made. Leviathan stirs up a frothy foam like the foaming mixture in an ointment pot. The furrow of the crocodile’s foam-shining track through the water is comparable to the grayness of the old ages of humans.
God’s description of the very sea in turmoil need not limit his words to the oceangoing crocodile, since the Hebrew word yam may refer not only to a sea or a large body of water but sometimes to a large river. But the seagoing crocodile is the terror of warm seas, the giant of the family and the great traveler of the family. It makes vast excursions from one shore to another, and large ones are often seen from ships when out of sight of land. From the seagoing crocodile’s nonchalant motions, it appears that it is in no danger of tiring or ultimately drowning. On the other hand, sometimes this sea monster goes far inland as a river rover, lying in wait to devour some unwary animal.
Because of its size, armor and offensive weapons at both ends, the crocodile is king of reptiles. The dangerous cobra? Just a tasty snack, an appetizer for the crocodile. It has no natural enemies in the wild state and knows no terror. After this description of leviathan, Job says to Jehovah:
“I have come to know that you are able to do all things, and there is no idea that is unattainable for you. ‘Who is this that is obscuring counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I talked, but I was not understanding things too wonderful for me, which I do not know.”—Job 42:2, 3.
Job declares God can do all things; he realizes now that whatever God does is wise, loving and just. He repeats the very question Jehovah had asked at the beginning of the series of questions about creative marvels; Job does this to admit the justice of the rebuke implied by it and to admit, ‘I was the man!’
Job had said some things he should not have uttered; but now he confesses he had argued his case without understanding. “I make a retraction,” he said, “and I do repent in dust and ashes.” As Job did, we should take this lesson to heart. Lest we find ourselves contending against God, we should think hard before we let the outward appearance of our circumstances induce us to believe or declare that God is directly responsible for our sufferings. Behold behemoth and leviathan! They and other creative marvels should impress us with God’s great wisdom and power, adding force to the inspired words: “As for the Almighty, we have not found him out; he is exalted in power, and justice and abundance of righteousness he will not belittle. Therefore let men fear him.”—Job 42:6; 37:23, 24.
The Holy Bible, with commentary, edited by F. C. Cook, Vol. IV, p. 139.
The Holy Bible, with commentary, edited by F. C. Cook, Vol. IV, p. 142.