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The Book of Job - Lesson 32

The Identity of Behemoth (Job 40.15-24)

Behemoth is the plural form of a Hebrew word that refers to animals in general also specifically to wild animals. In Job, it’s also used as a metaphor representing the composite forces of the powers of the earth that are against God.

Duane Garrett
The Book of Job
Lesson 32
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The Identity of Behemoth (Job 40.15-24)

I. Behemoth is not a Description of a Specific Animal

II. Behemoth is Plural of a Hebrew Word, Meaning Beast or Animal

A. In the singular it often refers to a large land animal

B. In the plural, it may refer to animals in general or specifically to wild animals

C. The plural indicates that it is a composite description

D. Composite animals described in Daniel

E. Behemoth is a metaphor for evil that is against God

F. God says that no one can put an end to oppression and bring about utopia except God


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  • When you see what you would describe as evil and injustice in the world, how does that affect your view of God? When someone is suffering, do you assume that it’s because they are getting what they deserve? This lecture gives you an overview of book of Job by describing his situation, how he interacts with his friends and God, and what we can learn about how God is managing the world.

  • Because there is nothing specific in the text that tells you when the book of Job was written, the sections in Job that allude to other passages of scripture give you some helpful clues. The structure of the book of Job focuses your attention on the main subject of the book which is God’s wisdom.

  • Other cultures in the ancient near east created literature with themes that are similar to the book of Job. The book of Job is unique because of his character and the answer that the book provides for the situation he is in.

  • Job is one of the wisdom books of the Old Testament. It covers more “advanced” topics than Proverbs and uses a variety of literary genres and allusions to other Biblical passages to explain and illustrate profound truths about God’s nature and his involvement in the world.

  • There is limited information in the book of Job about its geographical and historical background. However, it can be helpful to understand general information about the geography and history of the area to give you a context for reading and studying the book of Job. The author of the book of Job was a Hebrew poet who had an extensive vocabulary. Being uncertain about history and geography is good because the message is timeless.

  • Job contains literary elements that are similar to what you find in other Biblical books that are Apocalyptic. These elements include depictions of events in heaven and on earth, the emphasis on specific numbers and persevering in your faith in God, the references to mythological animals and God’s supernatural control of all events. 

  • Satan appears before God with an accusation against Job. Even though Job is described as, “upright and blameless,” Satan accuses Job of serving God only because Job is prosperous. God allows Satan to take away Job’s possessions, children and health. The remainder of the book is the dialogue of Job and his friends attempting to determine why this is happening.

  • Job curses the day he was born. When you carefully examine what he is saying, you realize that it is more intense than just saying that he wished he had never lived.

  • Eliphaz begins tactfully in his remarks to Job. He did not intend to do harm. However, he thinks God is causing Job to suffer because of a sin Job committed. He speaks accurately of the justice of God, but in Job’s case he misapplies it. He also gives a message he received from the, “night spirit.”

  • Eliphaz considers the message of the, “night spirit” a revelation from God. However, at it’s core, this message is inconsistent with God’s attitude toward Job, and creation in general.

  • Job’s theological worldview has fallen apart because he knows he doesn’t deserve to suffer. Eliphaz calls Job to repent. Job responds questioning why he is suffering, because according to his worldview, he hasn’t done anything to deserve it.   

  • Bildad is direct is his rebuke and admonition of Job. He uses metaphors to get his point across.

  • When Job’s friends describe God as all powerful in an attempt to comfort Job, he becomes terrified because he sees God as causing his suffering and there is nothing that can stop it.

  • Zophar assumes that Job is being punished because he sinned and accuses him of mocking God. Job's three friends move from tactful suggestions to open hostility. As Job is searching for answers, he becomes disappointed in his friends.

  • Job agrees with his friends that God is causing his suffering, but disagrees with them about why it’s happening. Job believes that God will eventually vindicate him.

  • Eliphaz appeals to the night spirit and the tradition of the elders to tell Job that he is a babbling and blaspheming fool.

  • Job begins by criticizing what his friends are saying to him and then professes his faith in God. Bildad responds harshly to Job.

  • Even though Job’s friends have criticized him, he has grown in his faith in God. Job is worn out and begs for compassion. When he gets nothing but contempt and hostility instead, he confesses his faith and hope in God. The messianic theology of Job is different from any other book of the Bible.  

  • Zophar uses metaphors that are found in other passages of scripture as well as Job’s own words to accuse Job of being wicked. However, Zophar made a serious error, which we need to avoid in our lives.

  • Job continues to wrestle with the presence of evil in the world and the apparent injustice of God. 

  • Eliphaz attacks Job as being wicked by twisting the meaning of what Job has said previously. The irony is that Job will be reconciled to God and will pray for Eliphaz.

  • Job wants to lay out his case before God by claiming his innocence. Job says that God is hidden and does as he chooses, but that God neither judges the guilty nor helps the righteous. Bildad responds by contrasting God’s holiness and human lowliness.

  • Job sarcastically thanks the friends for their wise words, which he doesn’t think were wise at all.

  • This is a poem about wisdom that divides the content of the book and points to a deep truth. It is inserted by the author of the book and is not attributed to Job or the friends.

  • The crisis that Job is experiencing is not just the material losses and physical suffering, but also his crisis of faith. He thought he understood what his relationship with God is all about but he feels that God has abandoned him for no apparent reason. Job laments the pain he feels from being disgraced and humiliated.

  • This is the last major statement that Job makes, other than his responses to God that come later. Job is taking a series of oaths that he has not committed any of the sins he mentions. The Bible is distinctive in declaring that all people are created equally, in the image of God. In ancient cultures, some people intrinsically have more value than others because of heritage, wealth, gender, race, etc. God looks on everyone impartially.  

  • Elihu is not mentioned either before or after his speech. He claims to be perfect in knowledge. Elihu thinks that the other three did not convince Job because they did not give a satisfactory answer, but Elihu ends up repeating what they have already said. He thinks that the doctrine of retribution is the answer to Job’s situation. Elihu is a warning to us that we don’t have all the answers.

  • The questions of the book of Job are, “How does God address the problem of evil and why do we serve God? God created a world that is stable and not chaotic. Where there was chaos, God brought in light, shape and beauty. Chaotic forces are necessary for life and God controls them.

  • People in ancient Mesopotamia lived in constant fear of the chaos, danger, ferocity of nature and they valued subduing, controlling and pushing back nature. Wilderness was something to be tamed and pushed back by civilization. In the Gilgamesh epic poem, Enkidu is transformed into a civilized man who protects the domestic animals from the wild animals. In Egypt, there were gods of the Black Land and gods of the Red Land. God sees everything in the world as entirely under his control.

  • God’s care for the animals and how this relates to the problem of Job. All of the things that we see as chaos, and out of control depend on God and thrive because he provides for them and things that he manages and glories in. God describes nature as good, unlike the night spirit that describes it with contempt and loathing. God knows how to manage the chaotic elements of creation.

  • The societies of the Ancient Near East had a high concept of justice. It was the duty of the rulers to uphold justice and protect the powerless. If you are a man who leads, you need to make sure that evil is held in check. Listen to people who come to you with a grievance. God is asking Job if he comprehends what it means to bring justice to the world. It involves both power and wisdom.

  • Behemoth is the plural form of a Hebrew word that refers to animals in general also specifically to wild animals. In Job, it’s also used as a metaphor representing the composite forces of the powers of the earth that are against God.

  • Behemoth is a dangerous power that God must reckon with. Some people think this is an allusion to animals that God created in Genesis 1:24. “Lady Wisdom” is the wisdom that God built into creation. Behemoth is dangerous and a force to be reckoned with, not the embodiment of good behavior. One aspect of principalities and powers is forces outside of the world we can see. In Revelation, God protects people from the fury and wrath of the beast, which is an oppressive power that seeks to take the place of God.  

  • Job 41 describes Leviathan. Leviathan is not a natural animal like a crocodile. Sometimes Leviathan refers to a large sea creature, and sometimes death, chaos and the embodiment of evil. Satan is present at the first of the book but he is never mentioned again. In order for God to deal with evil in the world, he must defeat Leviathan.

  • Leviathan is a ferocious creature that no human can subdue. God is saying that he is willing to oppose Leviathan and  is not frightened of Leviathan or intimidated by his boasting. God is the one who will defeat this enemy who seems unbeatable to humans. God tells Job that he will deal with Leviathan but God doesn’t tell him how he will do it. Job embraced God’s answer even though Job didn’t know how God would deal with evil.

  • Job announces that he has changed his outlook on evil, God’s governance of the world and his own suffering. Job knew that God is all-powerful. Now Job knows something more about how God uses his power. Should God be merciful to people who will still be evil? Eschatological is an event that can only happen by a work of God. Emergence of divine power within the historical context. Job admits that he didn’t understand the complexity that is involved in God conquering evil. God forgives Job’s three friends because Job interceded for them. God is showing his approval with job by publicly restoring him.

  • Job’s suffering brought him to a new understanding of who God is and what God is doing in the world. Job’s hope, and our hope, is in a heavenly redeemer that rose from the dead. Legalism comes about often when people hold to essential teachings but they don’t know God. They substitute the rules for relationship.

  • Job mentions composite animals similar to those described in other apocalyptic passages. Job had faith that God would do a work of salvation but didn’t understand everything that Jesus would do. There is a hidden plan of God to redeem people and conquer evil that is a major theme in apocryphal books and also in Job.

  • Job tells us about the heavenly mediator. Prior to his afflictions, Job’s life was almost god-like because he was relatively free of suffering. Job through his affliction, faces the problem of evil and the enormity of suffering in the human race. Even though some people commit evil and violent acts, Job describes them in pitiful terms.

  • Should virtue, or piety, be disinterested? If it’s not done for it’s own sake, is it real? Job’s love for God is not disinterested, but it is real.

If God is good and powerful, why do you see suffering in the world? Why do you serve God even when you experience suffering? How do you respond to others when they ask these questions? How have you answered them for yourself? These are such important questions that the entire book of Job is devoted discussing only these issues in the context of the perspective of the experiences of one person. 

The theme of the book of Job is timeless and singular. There are clues about its geographical and historical setting but nothing in the book itself that identifies the place or time of its writing. However, the setting is irrelevant because the questions that are addressed in the Book of Job are ones that people have asked in all cultures, throughout time. It would be distracting and even limiting to frame the dialogue in a specific time or culture. There are enough clues in the text to give you a general idea of the culture and time it was written in to help you understand the logic and metaphors used by the main characters in their dialogue. 

The complete book of Job is composed of the dialogue of Job, his friends and God regarding the issues of God's goodness, his power, and evil in the world. No historical events. No other personal, corporate or theological issues. Since these questions are central to your understanding of God's character and how he works in the world around us throughout history, the book of Job compels you to consider this question deeply and exhaustively. The point is that by the end of the book, you can understand and articulate who God is and how he works in your life and in the world. 

The value of this class is that Dr. Garrett helps you understand what the text means, the historical and theological implications, and how you apply it to your life. Dr. Garrett's knowledge of the Bible, understanding of the Hebrew language and background in Ancient Near Eastern history and culture inform his insights into the message of the book and what it means to you. He is skilled at explaining technical linguistic and theological issues in a way that helps you comprehend them and see how they apply to your life. Whether you are just beginning in your study of the Bible or you have had training at an advanced academic level, studying the Book of Job with Dr. Garrett has the potential change the way you understand God and also how you live each day. 

Recommended Books

The Book of Job: A Biblical Answer to Pain - Student Guide

The Book of Job: A Biblical Answer to Pain - Student Guide

Course: The Book of Job

Lecture: The Identity of Behemoth

 

In this passage, God raises the issue of somebody called “behemoth.” We need to figure out what behemoth is and why God raises up the issue of behemoth. But before we do, let’s go ahead and take a look at the text. Job chapter 40 beginning in verse 15 going through 24: “Look at behemoth, which I made along with you and which feeds on grass like an ox. What strength it has in its loins, what power in the muscles of its belly! Its tail sways like cedar; the sinews of its thighs are close-knit. Its bones are like tubes of bronze, its limbs like rods of iron. It ranks first among the works of God, yet its Maker can approach it with his sword. The hills bring it their produce, and all the wild animals play nearby. Under the lotus plants it lies, hidden among the reeds of the marsh. The lotuses conceal it in their shadow; the poplars by the streams that surround it. A raging river does not alarm it; it is secure, though the Jordan should surge against its mouth. Can anyone capture it by the eyes, or trap it and pierce its nose?”

I. Behemoth is not a Description of a Specific Animal

Here we have behemoth. First of all, what is it? It is often taken to be perhaps the elephant, or perhaps the hippopotamus, or the crocodile, or some other really large animal.

In my opinion, it is not to be identified, however, with any specific animal. The description that God gives of behemoth doesn’t really match anything. It is a
composite of more than one animal. For example, it is said to be a powerful creature that dwells under the lotuses, presumably under a marsh or a lake. You could say that could be a hippopotamus, wouldn’t be an elephant, could be a crocodile. On the other hand, it eats grass, which of course crocodiles don’t do. He lives near a river. However, he takes food from the hills and grazes on grass, which hippopotamuses don’t do. So in that sense, he is kind of like cattle. He also has a gigantic and powerful tail, a tail that is like a tree, which is certainly not true of a hippopotamus or an elephant or something like that. In other words, it has certain features of many different animals, but it is no single animal.

II. Behemoth is Plural of a Hebrew Word, Meaning Beast or Animal

The word “behemoth” is simply the plural of a Hebrew word that means “beast or animal.” The word is [speaks Hebrew] in the singular, “beast, animal,” [speaks Hebrew] is the plural. Of course the description of him and the fact that he is not given a regular name indicates that there is something unusual about this creature. In other places where God is speaking of animals, he says exactly what he means. He says “a wild donkey” or “the lion” or “the eagle” or “the deer.” Here it is something he calls, “behemoth, beasts.” He gives it this plural name, “beasts, behemoth” and it is described in these strange composite terms. So, what is it?

A. In the singular it often refers to a large land animal

In the singular, “behema” the term usually refers to large land animals and often domestic cattle and sheep. There are many, many examples of this throughout the Old Testament. We have the word, “behema” singular, “beast” and it refers to typically cattle, sheep, large domestic animals; but not always domestic animals.

B. In the plural, it may refer to animals in general or specifically to wild animals

In the plural it may refer to animals generally like the whole animal kingdom, or more specifically to wild animals, to beasts that are not domesticated.

C. The plural indicates that it is a composite description

The plural name, “behemoth, beast” indicates that it is not a single species, but it is some kind of a composite animal. Of course this is something that we are familiar with from the Bible. We have a lot of composite animal-like creatures in the Bible, especially again in apocalyptic literature. We can remind ourselves of the Book of Daniel.

D. Composite animals described in Daniel

In the book of Daniel chapter 7, Daniel has a vision of four beasts and here is what he says, Daniel 7:2: “In my vision at night I looked and there before me were four winds of heaven churning up the great sea. Four great beasts, each different from the others, came up from the sea. The first was like a lion and it had the wings of an eagle. I watched until its wings were torn off and it was lifted up from the ground so it stood on two feet like a human being and the mind of a human was given to it. And there before me was a second beast, which looked like a bear. It was raised up on one side and it had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth. It was told, ‘Get up and eat your fill of flesh.’ After that I looked and there before me was another beast, one that looked like a leopard and on its back it had four wings like those of a bird. The beast had four heads and it was given authority to rule. After that in my vision I looked and there before me was a fourth beast, terrifying and frightening and very powerful. It had large iron teeth; it crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left. It was different from all the former beasts and it had ten horns.”

We also have composite animals in chapter 8. In chapter 8 he sees a vision of two animals and he says in 8:3: “I looked up and there before me was a ram with two horns standing beside the canal and the horns were long; one horn was longer than the other, but grew up later. I watched as the ram charged toward the west and the north and the south. No animal could stand against it, none could rescue from its power. It did as it pleased. And as I was thinking about this, suddenly a goat with a prominent horn between its eyes came from the west, crossing the whole earth without touching the ground. It came toward the two-horned ram I had seen beside the canal and charged it in great rage.” Then it goes on from that point to talk about the fate of the charging goat.

The point here is, you see in something like Daniel or you see in something like Revelation these composite animal creatures. What are they in Daniel? In Daniel they represent empires. So, we have the empire of Babylon first; then you have the Medo-Persian Empire; the Greek Empires of Alexander and his successors; and then the Roman Empire. They are described as composite animals and the Roman Empire in chapter 7, this monstrous creature, is not identified with any specific animal at all. It is just totally a composite of something that is terrible and frightening and monstrous with its iron teeth, etc.

Why does Daniel present these creatures as composite animals? One reason is, he is trying to describe the characteristics of the empires by comparing them to characteristics of animals. For example, a leopard with four wings would of course be extremely fast. He is not only a leopard, but he has wings. So the speed of Alexander and his armies would be implied. There is another reason as well, that the text will talk about. These empires are composites of many nations and peoples. They are made up of a multitude of cultures. They aren’t unified. We see this especially in the dream of Daniel chapter 2 where Nebuchadnezzar has this dream of this image. At the bottom of the image are legs of iron and feet of iron and clay. The text specifically tells us that this represents the fact that it is not a unified kingdom; it is a kingdom that is composite, that is composed of many nations, many languages, many cultures.

In apocalyptic literature a composite animal represents an empire that sets itself up against the Kingdom of God. It is the idea of the authority of human beings, the power of human beings, over against the Kingdom of God.

E. Behemoth is a metaphor for evil that is against God

What we have in behemoth is in my opinion a metaphor describing the nature of evil and power in the world. It is worldly power, it is worldly evil, it is worldly domination. You have the kings of the earth, you have all the different nations and tribes and languages. You have all kinds of authority structures, all kinds of armies. You have powerful and rich people in all of these kingdoms. You have poor and weak people in all these kingdoms. But it does not represent any kingdom specifically. It represents the power structures that dominate human existence.

It is something, I believe, that Paul would call “the principalities and powers.” In one sense it is a supernatural thing, it is above this world. In another sense, it is the powers that dwell within this world, it is the powers that dominate this world. When you are reading Paul, it is kind of hard sometimes to tell, is he talking about angelic beings, or is he talking about human rulers and kings and governors, etc.? I think that is basically what we have in behemoth, that he is this powerful composite being who represents, so to speak, the way the world works, with all of its power structures – those who are at the top and those who are at the bottom – and all the suffering and all the oppression that goes along with it. The fact that they are described as animals, behemoth, beasts, kind of brings in the element of chaos and destruction that we have in the animal kingdom. Of course, when God was describing the animal kingdom, he gave a great deal of attention to the chaotic powers that are there, the predators and the prey, etc. and the animals that have no wisdom like the ostrich.

Here again, when God is describing the powers of the world as “behemoth” what he is saying is, it is beast-like, it is animal-like in its lack of order, its lack of control. Let’s put it real simply: You look down at the earth and you see all these nations fighting each other, all the war, all the bloodshed, all the oppression and you think, “Obviously they are just totally out of control.” Calling the power structures of the world “behemoth” kind of again brings that out. It is chaos, it is power, it is oppression.

F. God says that no one can put an end to oppression and bring about utopia except God

What does God say to Job about this? He simply says that it is very powerful and then in verse 24 he says: “Can anyone capture it by the eyes or trap it and pierce its nose?” What is he saying there? He is saying, no one can bring this under control. No one can put an end to all the oppression that exists in the world. No one can bring about what in our terms we would call Utopia, an end of war, an end of bloodshed, an end of chaos, an end of all the strife that goes on among the powers and principalities of this world. No one can handle it. No one can change it. No one can fix it.

But there is of course an implication here. The implication is that God and God alone can fix it. He doesn’t go into any detail about it because he is going to give much more attention to Leviathan. But the implication here is yes, there is injustice and power and disorder in the world. Job cannot handle it. Job can’t fix it. But God can and God will.

There is one more thing about behemoth we will look at, but we will do that in our next lecture when we consider what it means that behemoth is the beginning of the ways of God.

Question: Could behemoth be a representation of a mythological animal from the Ancient Near East?

Dr. Garrett: I think he is related to Ancient Near Eastern mythological animals. We have seen a couple of references to Rahab in Job. Of course, earlier we have seen references to Leviathan. In the Ancient Near East they certainly did have notions of these chaos monsters. They do not have a specific chaos monster called “behemoth.” That purely is Hebrew. But the idea of such a creature is in keeping with Ancient Near Eastern thinking generally.