The third chapter of the Book of Job reveals for us the nature of Leviathan and how, during suffering, the moral fabric of existence becomes apparent.
By chapter three Job’s friends have arrived and seven days have passed. Needless to say, after seven days Job loses his cool and wishes he’d never been born (Job 3:1, 3). He asks a very pertinent question that we all ask during an intense period of suffering: Why did God put us on this Earth to feel such anguish?
With all of these painful thoughts rushing through Job’s head, he is understandably confused. This may explain some of his responses further in the dialogue where he seems to contradict himself. Nonetheless, the main theme here is that he’d be better off dead than alive.
It is important to observe that Job did not curse God. He was a faithful man, so in its place he “cursed the day of his birth” (Job 3:1). Between Job 3:3-10, it is apparent that Job is invoking creation when cursing the day of his birth. This is apparent in the mention of “darkness” (Job 3:4-7) as opposed to “light” (Gen 1:3-5) and the lack of “joyful shouts” (Job 3:7) instead of “shouting for joy” at creation (Job 38:7; see also Psalm 19:5 where the sun rejoices when shedding its light on the world). What is the connection?
It is our contention that the foundations of Job’s view of God’s nature have been shaken by his suffering and as a result, Job cannot make sense of his world anymore. In other words, creation now appears to him chaotic instead of orderly and sensible.
This is hard to think of in the modern day, because when we think of “creation” scientific precepts concerning natural laws and such dominate our thoughts. However, to a man like Job and to anyone who suffers and thinks “something’s not right in the world” there appears to be a moral component to existence. After all, if there was not such a component, it really would not matter whether or not people suffer. Being that almost no one even to this day takes this position, whether people say it or not, they do believe there is a moral fabric in our existence.
Because there is a moral fabric, many want to hold God to some sort of moral standard. We would like God to be good and not malicious. The thought of there being a malevolent, all-powerful god is terrifying. We can either live in fear of it or deny its existence in order to feel more comfortable.
It is with this background that Job views his existence as miserable chaos. The God He knew that exists was acting completely against how he expected Him to. This idea pains him so much, he wishes that he never existed.
The reason why we take this interpretation is because it makes sense both of Job’s wishing God never did His creative acts and his invoking of “Leviathan.” “Leviathan” is a mysterious character in the Scripture. Leviathan is simply a sea monster in the ocean in Psalm 104:26. In Isa 27:1 he appears to be the satanic dragon from the Book of Revelation. However, our most complete description outside of the Book of Job is Psalm 73:13-14:
You divided the sea by Your strength;
You broke the heads of the sea monsters in the waters.
You crushed the heads of Leviathan;
You gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness.
Leviathan, ultimately, pertains to creation as other ancient near-eastern religions attest to a similar story where one of their chief gods slays a primordial dragon. Instead of explicitly becoming food for creatures in the wilderness, its body becomes the land in which the Earth is populated. The sense of such stories is clear: the god took some adversarial chaotic force, mastered or slayed it, and by doing so made the world a better place.
Critical theologians have observed more succinctly, and probably correctly, that the Biblical (as well as pagan) take on such stories pertains to God creating order out of chaos in the act of creation itself.
In philosophy there has been debate over the ages whether God created the universe out of nothing (creatio ex nihilo) or out of something. To be perfectly frank, this is not a matter the the Bible weighs in conclusively, nor does it need to, as the answer to the question does not affect our faith. The “sacred writings … are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 3:15), not address every single possible question that exists.
The Scripture instead addresses what God did do: He certainly made an orderly creation. In Gen 1:2-4,7 and 9 it states:
The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light day, and the darkness He called night…God made the expanse, and separated the waters which were below the expanse from the waters which were above the expanse; and it was so…Then God said, “Let the waters below the heavens be gathered into one place, and let the dry land appear”; and it was so…
God took a formless and void mass, where water was not differentiated from air or land and neither light was distinct from darkness, and He made sense of them by making them separate. It is impossible to even imagine what darkness combined with light, or water combined with land, looks like. God’s control over these chaotic waters is made clear in Psalm 104:9 (“You set a boundary that they may not pass over, so that they will not return to cover the earth,”) as well as in Job 38:10-11, Prov 8:29, and Jer 5:22. It would appear that the water can jump it’s tidal boundaries and plunge the world back into a chaotic, formless void if it were not for God’s intercession.\
So, Leviathan the sea monster is the personification of the chaos of the Earth before God mastered the sea monster by setting boundaries for the waters.
There is something more to this chaotic sea monster. In light of Is 27:1, there is something demonic about Leviathan. We have a clue about this in another section of the Book of Isaiah where it invokes the mythical sea monster “Rahab,” which is a personification of Egypt:
Awake, awake, arm of the Lord, clothe yourself with strength!
Awake, as in days gone by, as in generations of old.
Was it not you who cut Rahab to pieces, who pierced that monster through?
Was it not you who dried up the sea, the waters of the great deep,
who made a road in the depths of the sea so that the redeemed might cross over (Is 51:9-10)?
Egypt is called “Rahab” because her “help is utterly useless” and so God “call[s] her Rahab the Do Nothing” (Is 30:7). When God saves the people of Israel from Egypt, he cut through the Red Sea and made it like dry land so the nation of Israel may cross over. God’s mastery of water invokes sea monster imagery, as it does in the full recounting of creation in Psalm 74:13-17:
You divided the sea by Your strength;
You broke the heads of the sea monsters in the waters.
You crushed the heads of Leviathan;
You gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness.
You broke open springs and torrents;
You dried up ever-flowing streams.
Yours is the day, Yours also is the night;
You have prepared the light and the sun.
You have established all the boundaries of the earth;
You have made summer and winter.
What’s going on here? There is certainly a connection between the separating and controlling of waters in creation and the slaying of Leviathan. Later in the Book of Job, the idea is invoked again when it is asked, “Am I the sea, or the sea monster, that You set a guard over me” (Job 7:12)? God’s mastery of Leviathan is the reason why the chaotic waters of the sea stay where they do at the tides. We do not think this way in the modern day, but God sustains existence at every moment, keeping a “guard” over the sea and retaining the breath in our lungs (Job 34:14-15).
It is with this understanding that Isaiah invokes similar imagery when recounting Egypt’s defeat at the Red Sea as God mastering Rahab. Implicitly, God defeating Egypt and the demonical forces behind her (Ex 12:12) by splitting the Red Sea invoked Him doing the same to Leviathan at creation.
The connection between Rahab and Egypt is similar with that of Satan and Babylon, which is described as “a dwelling place of demons and a prison of every unclean spirit” (Rev 18:2). A common theme in Scripture is the practice of using places of captivity such as Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon to serve as images of the demonic realm, which is the place of mankind’s captivity to sin (described as “slavery to sin” in Rom 6:16).
With this in mind, let’s reflect on the demonic nature of the sea monsters. In Is 26:21-27:1 it states:
For behold, the Lord is about to come out from His place
To punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity;
And the earth will reveal her bloodshed
And will no longer cover her slain.
In that day the Lord will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent,
With His fierce and great and mighty sword,
Even Leviathan the twisted serpent;
And He will kill the dragon who lives in the sea.
The terms “serpent” and “dragon” appear in Rev 20:2 where it says that God “laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan.” It is rather clear, then, that Leviathan is Satan. This interpretation is very important when understanding God’s description of the creature later.
It should be made clear that this is hardly a new conclusion. Joseph Caryl, probably the preeminent interpreter of the Book of Job because he allegedly preached through it for 40 years, makes an argument from Hebrew that the term being used in the book is not “Leviathan, that is the Devil” but rather the word “morning” (An Exposition with practical observations upon the first three chapters…, Chap 3, p. 380). For, the purposes of this commentary, being that we are not delving into the issue of manuscripts, we will leave that be. Thomas Aquinas also views Leviathan as a metaphor for Satan.
Now, let’s go back to Psalm 74:13 where Leviathan has several “heads.” Why would a singular sea monster have several heads? If the beast is indeed Satanic, it may reflect the several different names for Satan in the Book of Revelation. In the book there is a perverse trinity of the False Prophet, the Dragon, and the Beast/Anti-Christ. This is akin to Dante’s description in The Inferno where he gets a glimpse of Satan. Satan was frozen in ice and overcome by fury, with his three heads chewing on the three greatest traitors in history (Judas, Brutus, and Cassius.)
Perhaps, Satan is in some way a trinity of his own, but this is merely speculation. It is more likely the Scripture reflecting the fact that he is the antithesis of God instead of literally saying he is three different beings. In the same way, Satan is not literally a sea monster. However, as in Job’s own life, he sows chaos. Ironically, Job is wanting Leviathan to swallow up the day of his birth so he could avoid the suffering he has been dealt by Leviathan himself.
So, being that the mastery of Leviathan has to do with God’s separating of the waters, what does Satan have to do with the first day of creation?
We don’t know. There seems to be some indication that the stars and the clouds were already created when Lucifer was expelled from heaven, though the highly figurative language in the Book of Isaiah may not necessitate an understanding of Satan’s fall occurring sometime after the first day of creation:
How you have fallen from heaven,
O star of the morning [Lucifer], son of the dawn!
You have been cut down to the earth,
You who have weakened the nations!
But you said in your heart,
‘I will ascend to heaven;
I will raise my throne above the stars of God,
And I will sit on the mount of assembly
In the recesses of the north.
‘I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High (Is 14:12-14).’
Perhaps the mastering of Leviathan occurred before the first day of creation was complete, though a literal rendering of the above text appears to preclude this. However, if Satan’s rebellion was indeed a chaotic event such as God’s quelling of the chaotic sea, there may be some sort of connection. If there is, it is not one that we can know with any certainty. Job did not grasp the concept very well either, especially because he invoked Leviathan in the desire the day of his birth would be cursed, not being aware of the satanical element that this would entail.
It is interesting that even though Job thought it better never to be born, he never considered suicide as an option. This is especially impressive of Job because he did not have much of a view of an afterlife. He didn’t fear hell, because the wicked would join him in death too Job 3:17). Nor, at this point, does he dwell too much on the reality of heaven. Instead, he asserts if he was never born but died as a miscarriage, “I would have slept then, I would have been at rest” (Job 3:13).
It is in some sense strange that Job wouldn’t just commit suicide if he faced no punishment for doing so. However, as we learn in the story, Job does not have a carrot and stick mentality. He did not offer praise and worship to God simply because God gave him material and emotional blessings. He was obedient to God out of a true devotion for Him.
So, unlike some of us, a desire for heaven or fear of hell did not factor into his thinking. Instead, he desired obedience to God no matter how much or little he was blessed. By not committing suicide, it appears that he considered suicide a sin and even still was blameless and obedient before God.
After this, Job begins making observations about how death is the great equalizer between the lofty (Job 3:14, 15) and the lowly (Job 3:17, 18). “The small and the great are there, and the slave is free from his master” (Job 3:19), he says.
Much like Solomon observes in Ecclesiastes, life itself appears vain to Job because it ends in death. In verses 14 and 15 he speaks of the company he would have in death: “…kings and with counselors of the earth, who rebuilt ruins for themselves…princes who had gold, who were filling their houses with silver.”
Simply put, Job is observing even a life well lived is vain because no matter how much one accomplishes, it is all lost it all in the end anyway. The dead kings rebuilt cities on top of the ruins of another city, only for their own life and city to waste away. Princes “had” or “were filling” their coffers, and now their wealth is no more much like their own lives. Indeed if the only point of life was self-gratification, life would indeed be vanity.
Job then wonders why he was even given such blessings to begin when he asks, “Why is light given to him who suffers and life to the bitter of soul” (Job 3:20)?
This is highly speculative, but Job may be reflecting that his wealth and family may have been a punishment, because they can be pulled away like a rug from under him. This is a concept elaborated upon by Saint Augustine, who interpreted 1 Cor 3:15 (“If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire”) to mean that a Christian with good things has more to lose and when put through a trial than a Christian with less:
In fact, wood and hay and stubble may be understood, without absurdity, to signify such an attachment to those worldly things—albeit legitimate in themselves—that one cannot suffer their loss without anguish in the soul. Now, when such anguish “burns,” and Christ still holds his place as foundation in the heart—that is, if nothing is preferred to him and if the man whose anguish “burns” would still prefer to suffer loss of the things he greatly loves than to lose Christ—then one is saved, “by fire.” (Handbook on Faith, Hope, and Love, Chapter 28).
Hence, the one who is wealthier in material goods, esteem, or whatever else will experience greater loss. This would give a literal meaning to “blessed are the poor,” wouldn’t it?
However, the term “light” in the Scripture usually reflects a spiritual (Prov 29:13; 1 John 1:7), and not material, element. Why would God give Job grace only to arbitrarily crush him? His pain in no longer feeling he knows God is so great he seeks death “more than for hidden treasures” (Job 3:21).
Just as God has made a boundary that the sea could not cross, Job believes “God has hedged [him] in” (Job 3:23). Instead of understanding that God uses the hedge to protect him from Satan, he instead believes it is used to trap him in suffering. This might be the most untrue accusation against God Job makes, as we know that God does not treat His people like enemies as He did to Leviathan. Further, we already know what the hedge really is and what it does.
However, Job is distraught and this is just one of several falsehoods he says out of his anguish. The narrator of the story states that “he justified himself before God” (Job 32:2). This is just one of several examples of Job doing just that, not understanding God’s purposes.
Job’s anguish is profound. Food does not satisfy him and he weeps incessantly (Job 3:24). Everything he held dear in the world has been torn from him. It is possible that “what I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me” (Job 3:25) is in reference to his worldly blessings. We believe it is more instructive to interpret verse 25 in reference to Job’s fears losing his relationship with God, and not his family or wealth. Job’s piety is real, unlike Satan thinks. However, his understanding of what it means to walk with God is incomplete. He only understands half what Jesus promises believers as their reward for forsaking the things of this world and following Him:
Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake, but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions (Mark 10:29-30).
Job understood the increase in children and farms, but not the persecution part. Because of this, he believes that it is possible his worst fear is realized: the God whom He loves is angry at him and does not count him as one of His children.
For this reason Job says, “I am not at ease, nor am I quiet, and I am not at rest, but turmoil comes” (Job 3:26).
He will not be silent now. He has been weeping and wondering for months. Now, amidst the confusion, Job speaks his mind.