Lecture 33: Behemoth as the “beginning of the ways of God”
Course: The Book of Job
In our last lecture we introduced behemoth and talked about that he was a composite animal. We saw parallels in Daniel and saw in Daniel where the
composite animals represent the imperial powers with their multitude of nations and races and languages, and also represent the ways that they exercise their powers. So also behemoth in God’s speech is probably some kind of composite representation of the powers of the earth, the empires, the kingdoms, the wealthy, the powerful, and kind of the beings, the heavenly beings that stand above them.
I. Behemoth as the Beginning of the Ways of God
Now consider what we have in Job 40:19, just specifically looking at this verse and what the verse implies. The verse says of behemoth: “He was the beginning of the ways of God, the One who made him must bring his sword.” The second line of this verse tells us something significant. Behemoth is in some way dangerous, it is in some way a power to be reckoned with; and God must reckon with it. God must bring his sword to get behemoth under control, if not slay behemoth. That much is pretty plain. What is not so plain is, what does it mean by saying he was the beginning of the ways of God? How was behemoth the beginning of God’s ways? There are various ways people explain it.
A. Some explain this as an allusion to Genesis 1:24
Some explain it from Genesis 1, verse 24 where we read in the account of the creation: “And God said, ‘Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds, the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground and the wild animals according to its kind.’ And it was so. And God made the wild animals according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds and all the creatures that move along the ground, according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.”
Here clearly we have God creating what the Israelites would have called the behemoth, the beasts, the animals. There is no question that that is the topic of Genesis 1:24. Is that what God is alluding to when he says that behemoth is the beginning of all his ways?
In my opinion, despite the fact that these are a multitude of animals and God makes them in the creation, I don’t think it is an allusion to this passage. Why
not? First of all, because the behemoth of this passage are simply literal animals and no more than that. They are just real oxen and real eagles and real snakes and real dogs and real cats and real sheep, etc., whereas behemoth in Job is clearly something more than that. Behemoth is something that is more like a sentient being. It is a kind of power that is much more pervasive and much more dangerous than just literal animals. God would not say of just ordinary literal animals that God must bring his sword against them.
Furthermore, the creatures that are made in Genesis 1:24 are clearly not the beginning of all God’s ways. A great deal of creation has taken place before God gets around to making the animals. He makes the light, he causes the dry land to appear, he separates the waters below from the waters above and creates the heavens. He creates the great bearers of light – the sun, moon and the stars -- and he creates the birds of the air and the fish of the sea. Finally he gets around to creating the beasts. These are far from being the beginning of his ways.
Finally, the beasts of Genesis 1:24 are good. God looks upon all that he has made and declares that it is good. He doesn’t see it as some kind of evil thing. He doesn’t see it as some representation of the powers that rule the world or anything like that. They are simply declared to be good. In that way, I would say clearly the behemoth of Job is not the literal animals of Genesis 1:24.
B. Possibly alludes to “Lady Wisdom”
There is another possibility, that behemoth as the beginning of the ways of God somehow alludes to Lady Wisdom in the book of Proverbs. We have talked about this before. In the book of Proverbs Lady Wisdom is a personification of the teaching of the book of Proverbs and she desires to teach men her ways so that they may not go astray, that they may not fall into folly and destroy themselves. Again, we have looked at this, but we will take a quick look at it again. Proverbs chapter 8, verse 22: “The Lord brought me forth as the first of all his works.” There you go, “the first of his works.” That sounds a lot like the beginning of his ways. “…before his deeds of old; I was formed long ago at the very beginning when the world came to be. When there were no watery depths, I was given birth, when there were no springs overflowing with water; before the mountains were settled in place, before the hills, I was given birth, before he made the world or its fields or any of the dust of the earth. I was there when he set the heavens in place…”
So Lady Wisdom clearly claims to be there at the beginning. Before the watery depths, before the hills, before anything, God made wisdom. We talked about this and we have seen how Lady Wisdom is the wisdom that God has in effect built into creation, so that when God made the world, you could say wisdom was the blueprint, wisdom was the pattern.
We have also talked about what this means for the reader of the book of Proverbs and for the Bible. It means that morality, right and wrong, wise behavior,
prudence, all of these virtues, diligence, knowing how to get along with people; all of these things are built into creation and into how we are made. So that any time we do something wrong, we are in effect going against how the world is made. It is analogous to, if we are high on a cliff and we jump off, we are going to fall and we are going to hurt ourselves. That is just how the world works. If we engage in folly, if we lie to people and gain a reputation for lying, it is going to hurt us in our lives and as we try to function within our communities. If we engage in sexual immorality, it will hurt us, not just because God will punish us, but because the sin itself is against how God made the world, so it is destructive to us.
What does that have to do with behemoth? Nothing. They have nothing in common. Behemoth is clearly some kind of dangerous beast against whom God
must take his sword and that is certainly not the case with Lady Wisdom. Clearly, behemoth is not the embodiment of prudence and good behavior. Behemoth is dangerous, behemoth is some force to be reckoned with, some force that has to be tamed and brought under control, if not slain outright. So, despite the similarity of the idea of behemoth being the beginning of his ways and Lady Wisdom being there at creation, I do not see any real parallel between the two.
II. Behemoth May Have Been the Forces of Chaos Present at Creation
Can there be anything else in the Bible that might clue us into what this is? In Genesis 1:1 and 2 we read: “In the beginning God created heaven and earth. Now the earth was formless and empty. Darkness was over the surface of the deep and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” Here we are, clearly at the beginning, the beginning of creation. This passage is a very difficult passage and an enormous amount has been written about it. It is a complex issue and I am not going to try to in the course of this lecture on Job, unpack everything in Genesis 1:1 and 2 according to my understanding of it.
I will say, however, that saying that the earth is formless and empty is widely understood to say that there was a void; and it is a strange kind of void because it is also a chaos. It is also antithetical to life. These are all the forces of chaos that we have kind of talked about throughout this course and especially here at the end.
A. Before God created, there was a lifeless void
Before God made the light, before God began the process of creation, there was no possibility of life. It is all kind of paradoxical. There was emptiness, there was chaos, there was death, there was lifelessness. This is what God brooded over before he made the light and went on to make heaven and earth and then all of the things that live in heaven and earth.
That seems to me to be the closest parallel to behemoth in Job chapter 40, because behemoth does seem to be a creature of chaos and a creature of death, whom God must bring under control. In the book of Genesis when God broods over this chaotic void, the waters that are formless and empty, God begins the work of bringing forth life. So also as behemoth in some way dominates the world, in some way is the power behind the world, God must bring this under control again.
B. Principalities and powers
We have already referred to Paul’s reference to the principalities and powers. We can look at a passage or two where Paul specifically refers to it. For example, he says in Colossians 1:16: In Christ, “For in him all things were created, things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.”
Here we have one of these mysterious references to the principalities and powers in the Apostle Paul. Once again, this is a very difficult passage and a great deal has been written about it; and it is not our purpose here to fully unravel what Paul has said. But clearly Paul is teaching that there are powers beyond what we see in this world. There are the powers we do see in this world – kings and rulers, etc. -- and there are powers that are above this world; and basically that Christ is dominant over all of them. Christ can control them. They ultimately belong to him and he can do with them as he pleases. That seems to me to be pretty close to what we have in behemoth in the book of Job. It is some kind of power that dominates the earth. It is analogous to what we see in Genesis 1:1 and 2; and it is something that ultimately only God can control and can contain.
C. The vision in Revelation of the woman and the dragon
There is one other thing that we ought to look at when we consider this. This is how the book of Revelation describes the powers of this world. In Revelation chapter 12 we have the vision again of the woman and the dragon. The woman gives birth to a male child. The dragon wants to consume it, but the male child is taken up to heaven.
Pretty clearly, In the metaphor the dragon is Satan, the male child is Jesus and Jesus after his crucifixion and ascension is taken up to heaven to the right hand of God in glory. Then the dragon makes war upon the woman and all the rest of her seed, her offspring; and the dragon desires to consume her or to drown her in a flood and desires to destroy all her children. God intervenes to enable her to survive, to flee into a wilderness and to endure all of this fury from the dragon.
Again, I think the meaning of it for me is pretty straightforward. The dragon represents Satanic opposition to the people of God and to the Church. The dragon is persecuting them, seeking to destroy them. The people of God are protected by God from all this fury and all this wrath.
After the dragon has done all of this, Revelation says, he stands on the shore of the sea, Revelation 13:1: “The dragon stood on the shore of the sea and I saw a beast coming out of the sea, it had ten horns and seven heads with ten crowns on its horns and on each head a blasphemous name.” Then he gives it another one of these composite descriptions. “The beast I saw resembled a leopard and it had feet like those of a bear and a mouth like that of a lion. The dragon gave the beast his power and his throne and great authority.”
D. Behemoth becomes the Beast in Revelation 13:1
We’ll just pause right there. First of all, notice that he calls it “the beast.” That is the name that John gives to this creature that comes out of the sea. I would
suggest that the beast of Revelation 13 is analogous to behemoth the beast of the book of Job. Behemoth is grammatically a plural word. It means “behemoth beasts” plural. But in the way it is described in the book of Job, it is as if it is one single creature. It is not described as a plurality of creatures, but is one creature. Again, it is some kind of great composite creature.
Also here in Revelation he is simply called “the beast” which is singular; but he is described as a composite creature. Again, he is like a leopard, he is like a bear, he is like a lion, etc. So the meaning of Revelation 13 and following of course is going to be debated and people will have different opinions. I will give you mine: I think, again, it is fairly straightforward. I think the beast represents the powers of this earth, especially the governments of this earth, that oppose the Church.
What is Antichrist in Revelation? In my view, primarily Antichrist or the beast is human power that exalts itself, that takes all authority to itself, that in effect
seeks to become God for people; and in so doing, displaces God. As it does this, it oppresses the Church and it also is a very oppressive and cruel rulership over people. In my opinion, there are many manifestations of the beast.
Let me give you a simple example. Within my lifetime, Communist China went through a period of terrible upheaval under its first dictator, Chairman Mao.
Under Chairman Mao the Communist government brought about the deaths of millions and millions of their own people. They elevated Mao to a God-like status, calling him “the great helmsman” and wanting everybody to have a picture of him in their homes. They had people buy his book, called “the little red book” and carry that book around as though it were a Bible. His sayings became Scripture for the people. Chairman Mao in that sense displaced God. He took the place of God. He was very oppressive to his own people and of course was a severe persecutor of the Church and of missionaries.
I don’t say Chairman Mao is “the one Antichrist” or beast. I say that he is a representation of this pattern, of this type. In my opinion, that is what Revelation
is all about when it speaks of “the beast.” Mao could be one example; but you can go through human history and you can find many, many examples. What
Revelation presents as “the beast,” human authority, human power with a kind of demonic power behind it, I believe Job presents as behemoth, this strange composite figure who is in one sense a force of chaos right out of Genesis chapter 1, verse 2. On the other hand, he has parallels in passages such as Revelation 13, that he is this oppressive power that seeks to take the place of God.
Once again Job says, “Only God can handle and no human can. God must seize his sword to bring the beast down.” What we have in the beast is, in my opinion, not a single figure or person. Again, the plurality of the term “beast” may be significant here. Although behemoth is presented in one sense as one entity, he doesn’t represent one person. He represents an idea, a type; and it is the idea of this oppressive power, the idea of powers that seek to take the place of God and of tyrannical governments that behind them have demonic powers.
So that gives us a look at behemoth. Next time we will take a look at the other supernatural creature, Leviathan.