Lecture 35: Combating Leviathan
Course: The Book of Job
Lecture: Combating Leviathan
In our last lecture we introduced Leviathan and we spoke of how Leviathan was understood in The Ancient Near East and in the Bible. We made the point that Leviathan is portrayed as though he were a sea dragon or something to that effect, a terrible, ferocious beast; but that he typically represents death and destruction and oblivion.
Now we come to how God fights Leviathan. This will be one of the more difficult lectures of this course because part of the passage I believe as generally
translated, needs to be re-translated. That is to say, I think the common translations of part of the text are not correct, so I have my own translation. Of
course, this is not a Hebrew class, so I’m not going to go through the Hebrew with you. But I believe that if you translate the text more literally, that it has in many respects a very different meaning from what you see in some of the standard English translations. That is going to require some careful reading on our part.
I. God Makes Similar Comments About Leviathan as He Did About Behemoth
In his discussion of Leviathan in verses 1-8 God kind of echoes what he says about behemoth, that behemoth is a ferocious creature and is a creature that no human can defeat. He says it much more emphatically, though, with regard to Leviathan in verses 7 and 8: “Can you fill his hide with harpoons or his head with fishing gigs. Set your hand upon him, remember that battle, you will not do it again.”
II. Translation Differences 41:9-12
Leviathan is thought of as something that no human can subdue. But the description of him in verses 9-12 is quite striking and here is where my translation will be quite different from many English translations.
Here is how it reads again in a standard translation: “Any hope of subduing it is false; the mere sight of it is overpowering. No one is fierce enough to rouse it. Who then is able to stand against me? Who has a claim against me that I must pay? Everything under heaven belongs to me. I will not fail to speak of
Leviathan’s limbs, its strength and its graceful form.” That is kind of a standard translation that you will see very frequently of Leviathan.
In this interpretation, first of all verse 9 is a simple statement that no one is able to defeat Leviathan. That is true, that is clear elsewhere in the passage; but I do not think that is the point here, as you will see in my translation.
At the beginning of verse 10: “No one is fierce enough to rouse it.” People generally take that to mean that no one should provoke Leviathan, no one should make him mad so that he fights with you. I think there is much more to it than that. In the remainder of 10 and in 11: “Who is able to stand against me? Who has a claim against me that I must pay?” In the standard translation that appears to be God speaking of Himself, that God is saying that no one can stand against me, I am powerful, etc. I do not think that is correct. I think that is a little strange for God suddenly in this discourse to talk about Himself in this way; so I don’t think that is a proper translation.
Verse 12: “I will not fail to speak of Leviathan’s limbs, his strength and graceful form.” All I can say is, I believe this is a complete mistranslation. So I will give you my own rendition.
Here as a whole is how I would translate verses 9-12: “Behold, Leviathan’s expectation is false. Should one be overthrown at the very sight of him? He is not
so deadly, should someone magically invoke him.” Now I understand these to be the words of Leviathan. He says, “And who is he that would stand before me? Who will approach me, that I should give satisfaction? Whatever exists under all of heaven is mine.” Then God says, “I will not be silent at his blathering words of boasting, at his claims of power and at his high evaluation of himself.”
You can see that my translation is quite different from what you see in the standard versions. Elsewhere in a forthcoming book I intend to defend my
translation; but for now I will just give it to you and we will talk about what I think it means.
A. Verse 9
First of all verse 9. Once again, that is normally taken to mean simply, “No person can stand before Leviathan” but I don’t think that is what the text means. Rather, it means Leviathan’s own expectation of victory is false and will fail. To put it another way, God is not dismayed by Leviathan’s power or his boasting. So I take verse 9 to be God saying of Leviathan, again, his expectation, his hope is false. “Should someone be overthrown at the sight of him?” This is God saying, “I’m not going to wither when Leviathan appears. I ‘m not going to shake and tremble. I am willing to take him on.”
V. Verse 10
Then we come to verse 10. Verse 10 again in my translation is, the first part of verse 10: “He is not so deadly should someone magically invoke him.” The
traditional translations say “rouse,” should someone rouse him. Again, the idea is provoke him, make him mad, get him irritated so that he wants to fight, or something like that. That is not what the word means. The word does not mean to arouse someone in the sense of provoking them or making them mad. It means to ritually summon them. In fact, we have the same concept in Job chapter 3, verse 8. When Job is cursing the day of his birth, Job says: “Let those who curse a day speak a spell against it, those who are prepared to magically invoke Leviathan.” This is the work of a sorcerer, a sorcerer who will call up evil spirits, who invokes the spirits to do some evil work in behalf of the sorcerer.
I think what God is saying in this passage when he says “He is not so deadly should someone magically invoke him,” it is not that Leviathan -- or as I
understand him, Satan -- is not a dangerous figure. It is that when God looks at Satan, or Leviathan, God is not impressed. Sorcerers can invoke him, they can invoke demonic power, they can invoke all the forces of evil; and to humans that may be really impressive; but to God it is not all that impressive.
That is what I think we have going on in the first part of verse 10. Then in the second part of verse 10 and in verse 11 you have what really seems like words of boasting, and that is what it is in my opinion.
Again, in my translation from 10b through 11, I would take it to mean: “He says” that is, Leviathan says, “And who is he that would stand before me? Who will approach me that I should give satisfaction? Whatever exists under all of heaven is mine.” I think this is Leviathan saying that “I am almighty, I am powerful. Nobody can stand up to me. I am unbeatable.”
A lot of interpreters will take verse 11 when it says, “Who will approach me that I should give satisfaction?” to be God’s rebuke of Job, as though God were saying to Job, “Job, you are not in a position to approach me and make any demands of me.” But that is really contrary to everything else we see in the text. Whenever God speaks directly to Job in this way, saying, “Okay, Job, let’ go ahead and talk,” he doesn’t rebuke Job for calling on him. He doesn’t rebuke Job for wanting to have a discussion with him. He does say things like, “Do you really want to discredit my justice?” He challenges Job, but not in these terms. And he always challenges Job at the very beginning of one of his speeches, not right in the middle of one of his speeches. So I don’t think these words are directed at Job and I don’t think they are spoken by God. That is to say, God is in this passage, quoting Leviathan. This is not God speaking in his own behalf.
Again, the tone of these statements: “Who is he that would stand before me? Who will approach me, that I should give satisfaction? Whatever exists under all of heaven is mine.” That is just not what you see in the words of God. God is aware of his power. God is aware he is the Almighty, that he is Creator, that he is Ruler of heaven and earth, etc. But he doesn’t feel the need to protest it in this way. To put it simply, he doesn’t feel the need to boast about it. So I think these really are words of boasting. To some extent, these words are hollow; but there is an element of truth in them. When he says, “Whatever exists under all of heaven is mine” there is an element of truth in this, that Satan is the prince and power of the air. And of course we know that when Jesus was being tempted, he offered everything under heaven. He offered the whole of the world to Jesus, if Jesus would just fall down and worship him. So the idea that this figure thinks that he is lord over everything under heaven is in keeping with what we see elsewhere of Satan.
Again, I think the second half of verse 10 and all of verse 11 are not to be taken as God speaking for himself, boasting of his power or something like that; nor do I think that it is God challenging Job and telling Job, “You don’t have any right to come up to me and to challenge me.” I think this is God quoting Leviathan, the boasting and the arrogance of Leviathan.
D. Verse 12
Then we come to verse 12, which in my opinion just needs to be radically re-translated. Again, this class is not a Hebrew class, so I’m not going to work
through all the Hebrew with you. But I think it has been badly mistranslated in many versions.
I think it should be translated: “I will not be silent at his blathering words of boasting.” The word that is used here, the specific word, is a word in Hebrew, the word is “badz.” The word “badz” clearly means “boast.” It is used that way in Job 11:3. It is also used that way in Isaiah 16:6 and Jeremiah 48:30. It does not mean “a limb” as in translations that say, “I will not fail to speak of Leviathan’s limbs.” It is not speaking of his body, it is not speaking of his arms or whatever. It is speaking of his bragging. The word means “boasting” but it also is similar to the English word, “babble” or the English, “blah, blah, blah.” When we think about the sound of the word, it is “badz.” It is like “badz, badz, badz.” It is just empty words that are meaningless, that are full of boasting and are full of nothing. Also, this word is used for pagan chants of divination as in Isaiah 44:25 and Jeremiah 50:36.
Again, I am arguing that God does not say, “I’m not going to be silent about his limbs” as in many translations. I think it means, “I will not be silent about his
boasting.” Where do we encounter Leviathan’s boastings? In the previous two verses where Leviathan says, “No one can stand before me. No one can demand satisfaction of me. Everything under heaven is mine.”
What God is doing here is basically saying, “I am not that impressed by Leviathan. I am not frightened of him. I don’t feel any need to restrain myself before him or pull away from him. I am not at all concerned by Leviathan.” The end of verse 12, I think should be translated, “I will not be silent at his blathering words of boasting, at his claims of power and at his high evaluation of himself.” What I translate as “claims of power” it literally says, “and the word of his strength” which means his powerful words or his words claiming to power. It is a claim that he possesses power, that God is here opposing.
So what we have in this passage I believe is God saying in a straightforward way, “I am willing to oppose Leviathan. I am not impressed by Leviathan. I am not frightened by Leviathan. I am fully prepared to deal with Leviathan and he can brag and boast all he wants, it doesn’t mean anything to me.” Why is that so important? Because God is claiming in very emphatic terms that he is the One to subdue and defeat this incredible enemy. He is an enemy who has been described in this chapter as before humans utterly unbeatable. No one can challenge him. No one can defeat him. No one can get past all of his armor and his fiery breath, etc. Only God can do this.
III. God’s Attitude Toward Leviathan is Different From How He regards the Beasts of the Field
Thus we should note that God’s attitude toward Leviathan is very different from how he regards the beasts of the field, what we saw previously.
A. God doesn’t consider animals to be evil
He does not consider animals to be evil. He doesn’t think of lions as evil, or eagles or any other animals that prey on others. He sustains them, he feeds them and he manages them. By contrast, he regards Leviathan as boastful and hostile. He does nothing to sustain Leviathan. Leviathan is the king of the arrogant and is himself completely arrogant and boastful.
B. Humans have tamed or killed a variety of beasts
Secondly, when we read about Leviathan and read about how no one can subdue him, no one can put a hook in his nose or anything like that, we know that in fact, humans have slain or tamed all kinds of beasts. In The Ancient Near East kings and rich people would routinely go on lion hunts. People have of course tamed falcons and turned falcons into domestic animals. And of course, humans have tamed and domesticated very powerful animals like donkeys and oxen, horses and every other great beast. This is how it works in the animal kingdom. By contrast, any hope of a human assault on Leviathan is fruitless. It will never happen. It will never work.
C. The chaos of the animal kingdom does not threaten the human race
The chaos of the animal kingdom, while dangerous, poses no threat to the human race or the whole of creation. God describes how powerful the animals are, how dangerous they are. God describes how they thrive in the midst of hardship. But there is no sense there that they represent any kind of danger to the human race.
By contrast, Leviathan is. He not only is the king of the sons of pride. He has a heart like stone and he instills terror in anyone who would restrain him, according to verse 13: “Who can strip off his outer coat? Who can penetrate his armor, his double coat of armor?” He is innately evil. He is a threat to the cosmos and only God can deal with him.
IV. Leviathan is Satan
Last time, in my last lecture, as we finished up our general introduction to Leviathan, and trying to identify Leviathan, I suggested to you that Leviathan is
Satan; and I would say that what we have seen today further reinforces that.
Satan is of course the king of the arrogant, the king of the boasters and as we looked at the account of him in my translation and my interpretation, I believe it is Leviathan who is saying, “Everything under heaven belongs to me. Everything under heaven is in my control.” Of course, that is the claim that Satan does actually make, again as we saw when he offered it to Jesus.
V. God Can Only Destroy Evil By Destroying Creation
Where does this bring us as we try to understand Leviathan and how God responds to Leviathan and how it relates to the book of Job? Job has challenged
the justice of God and God has responded. Only he is able to control and destroy the evil powers. Of course, God does not eliminate every moment of wrongful suffering, for this would require nothing less than eliminating creation itself. To put it in modern terms, that would be the nuclear option.
God could put an end to all injustice in the world by just destroying the world. That would be the end of all the injustice and all the evil; but of course, where would we be? Instead of simply God stepping in and attacking every single instance of injustice in the world, he deals with the one who is the agent and the source of all evil, and that is Leviathan, or Satan.
We are reminded of Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the tares where a man sowed a field with good wheat, but an enemy came and sowed tares, or weeds.
The man’s servants said, “You want us to go out there and pull up all those weeds?” And the owner said, “No, if you do that, you’re going to pull up the good
seed as well; so let them both grow until the time of judgment, then we will separate the wheat from the tares. The wheat will be gathered into the barn, the tares will be thrown into the furnace.” Here again, God is going to deal with evil and the source of evil. But he is not going to do it immediately, in Job’s own lifetime, invoking the nuclear option and judging the whole world. He is going to deal with it first and foremost by dealing with the source of evil, and that is Leviathan.
VI. God Leaves a Great Deal Unsaid
We have to say then, God leaves a great deal unsaid. The only thing he really tells Job is that “I am able to deal with Leviathan. I’m not afraid of him. I’ll take him on. I will subdue him.” I think that is the point of that whole text that I re-translated for you.
But he doesn’t say how. He doesn’t say, “Okay, Job, now you want to know the whole answer? Here it is. Here are all the steps I’m going to take to subdue
Leviathan.” He just assures Job that he is going to do it. When he subdues Leviathan, that will in great measure, or we might say at the very heart of it, deal
with the problem of evil.
VII. The Significance of Level 3 Wisdom
Now we need to go back to what we’ve talked about in Job 28 where we spoke of the three levels of wisdom and the significance of the third level. Just to remind you one more time: The first level of wisdom is basically technical skill. If you are a good weaver, if you are a good musician, if you know languages, in modern terms if you are a great computer technician, whatever it is, that is wisdom or Hebrew “hochma” on the first level. The second level of wisdom again is what we see in Proverbs. That is moral wisdom, that is knowing right from wrong, that is knowing that people ought to fear God, that is knowing how to deal with other people and knowing how to be responsible.
The third level of wisdom, however, is the secret wisdom of God. That is the wisdom no one can find. You can dig into the heart of the earth. You can search from one end of the earth to the other, you will never find this wisdom in the world because it belongs to God and to God alone.
We spoke of the counterintuitive secret wisdom of God in Jesus Christ, as illustrated from 1 Corinthians 1; and as illustrated from the fact that when Jesus
would speak of his mission to die for sin and then rise again from the grave, no one could understand it.
Where are we at this point? God has told Job, “I will deal with Leviathan,” but he doesn’t tell him how. That is still the secret wisdom of God. It is still hidden in his mind and Job doesn’t understand it, he doesn’t know how to figure it out. But God has given him assurance. God has told him that he will do this.
VIII. In Revelation 12, God Deals With the Dragon
Putting it all together as Christian readers, for whom Christ has already been revealed, here is what we can say: God did deal with Leviathan. He did deal with the source of all evil, Satan; and of course he dealt with it at the cross. What happened at the cross? Not only was our sin taken away; and at the resurrection, not only were we given victory over death, whereby we too can rise from the grave. Something else happened. For this, we need to recall one more time something we have been talking about in this context, Revelation chapter 12.
Revelation chapter 12. Remember one more time, that is where you have the great dragon. The great dragon, of course, makes us think of the traditional image of Leviathan, a dragon-like figure. We read in Revelation chapter 12 where the dragon hates the woman and hates the child she will bear; and how the dragon does a great deal of damage and evil. We will pick up at chapter12, verse 5, Revelation: “She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter. And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne.” We have mentioned this already. I think this self-evidently is Jesus after his crucifixion and resurrection, his ascension into heaven where he is seated at the right hand of the Father. Verse 6: “The woman fled into the wilderness to a place prepared for her by God where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days. Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down, that ancient serpent called the devil or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth and his angels with him. Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say ‘Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Messiah, For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. They triumphed over him by the blood of the lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death. Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows his time Is short.’”
Here we have in Revelation 12 the dragon; and after the male child is taken up to heaven, the dragon is cast down. Why is he cast down and why is that so
significant? Because he had been the accuser of our brothers and sisters day and night, and now he can no longer accuse them. The power of sin is broken.
Once again we are taken not only to the figure of Leviathan in Job 41, we are taken all the way back to Job 1 where Satan stands before God and accuses Job, saying, “Does Job fear God for nothing?”
I believe that the answer of how God will defeat Leviathan is not revealed in Job. Only the fact that God will defeat Leviathan is revealed. The means by which he will do it is the secret, hidden, counterintuitive wisdom of God. It is something Job could have never imagined; that God Himself would come to earth in the form of the Son, the second person; that God would be incarnate; that God would take on the complete power of Satan; would suffer and die under the weight of sin; and that God Himself would remove it and would also remove the sting of death.
I think that is where the book of Job finally takes us, to God’s defeat of Satan in the power of the cross, as we see revealed in the New Testament and as I think we see an echo of Job in Revelation chapter 12.
In summary, God in chapters 38 and 39 told Job that God maintains the stability in the world despite all the appearance of chaos. Under God’s rule, the earth is stable, the earth continues and the animals thrive. They all live, everything does well, even though to Job’s eyes it all appears to be chaotic and to be forces of death and destruction.
Then in chapters 40 and 41 God tells Job more specifically that he will deal with the problem of evil. He tells him in the figure of behemoth that he will deal with all the powers, principalities, both human and demonic, the power structures that control the world. And he tells him under the figure of Leviathan that he will destroy Satan, the source of all evil and the one who accuses us of sin.
Remember the night spirit with his nihilistic wisdom, that there is no virtue with his saying that there is nothing but darkness and evil and corruption.
This is the third level of wisdom, the wisdom that is God’s alone and the wisdom that comes about in the cross. Job embraced God’s answer, even though he did not know the specifics of how God would fulfill it. Because remember the ending of Job 28, the poem of God’s wisdom: “To fear the Lord – that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil, that is understanding.”
Job realizes he simply has to maintain his faith in God and his confidence that God will deal with evil.