In Chapter 40 of Job God begins His final discourse, here focusing on His creation of the demonic realm (Behemoth) and man’s complicity with evil.
Now that Job has been “put in his place,” God essentially asks Job to repent by reproving Him (Job 40:2). Job answers, “Behold, I am insignificant; what can I reply to You?…I will add nothing more” (Job 40:5-6).
If the book ended here, Job’s repentance would be sufficient. He understood that he was not fit to question God. Man’s lack of fitness in this regard was God’s whole point in chapters 38 and 39. So, even if he did not understand the relationship between God and the existence of evil, acknowledging his own limitations would suffice.
Liberal commentators are not very big fans of Job’s response. J. Gerald Janzen writes, “Job’s response at first glance seems disappointingly submissive…a retreat from the honesty of the dialogues” (Interpretation of Job, p. 242). He then posits that the term “behold” in Hebrew means “if.” So, Job would actually be responding to God like a sarcastic child: “If I am so insignificant, like you say, why should I bother even talking to you?”
Without an expertise in Hebrew, context alone rules out such a conclusion. First, God’s response in the next two chapters would make no sense. Why would God respond to Job saying he’s supposedly too insignificant to take part in this dialogue with Him with a response that revolves around His mastery over Satan? There would be no way to reconcile God’s response to Job’s charge in a literary sense if we went with the alternate Hebrew meaning to “behold.” Second, Job repents again in chapter 42 displaying an explicit understanding of God’s sovereignty over the forces of evil. The traditional interpretation, that the responses reflect a humbling of Job, therefore make the most sense.
Job’s response is one of fear. He is recanting and is afraid of judgment. Job has every reason to be afraid, because as we find out later God’s anger burned against those who spoke wrongly about him, which Job was not entirely innocent of.
The reason he responds this way instead of with the more emphatic response he gives in chapter 42 is because Job does not understand why he is suffering yet. He simply knows that God is in control of everything and that he is insignificant in comparison. Job does not understand the role of evil in the world.
Before God gets into detail about this, He gives a very strongly worded repudiation of Job’s questioning of His justice. It appears that God uses the opportunity of Job’s repentance to correct him in the strongest possible terms. Job’s increased humility has put him in the position to accept what God has to say. The thrust of it in Job 40:7-14 is that man is not in his capacity capable of questioning God’s righteousness. Essentially it is a conclusion to God’s points in chapters 38 and 39 before He moves onto explaining His role in regulating evil.
Now gird up your loins like a man; I will ask you, and you instruct Me (Job 40:7).
Here, God begins correcting Job for questioning His righteousness by implying that Job is too insignificant to instruct Him. He had already done this in Job 38:3. God obviously does not presume Job can instruct Him, for He says later “[w]ho has given to Me that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is Mine” (Job 41:11). Asking Job to instruct Him is like asking God to repay man. It implies that God is in man’s debt and in want of knowledge. Obviously, God is not compelled to pay us back because He is not in our debt, for all things are His and it is His prerogative to do what He see fit with them. In the same way, we are not in the position to teach God.
“Will you really annul My judgment? Will you condemn Me that you may be justified” (Job 40:8)?
This question is God’s “comeback” to Job’s questioning of His motives and methods throughout the book. “Why does God allow the wicked to thrive? Why does he take people who are living faithfully and thrust them into suffering?” God’s response is essentially, “Who are you, by your dissatisfaction in My decrees, to seek to have them annulled?”
This rhetorical question essentially seconds what the narrator said Elihu felt earlier in the book: “[H]is anger burned because he justified himself before God” (Job 32:2). As we have seen, Job had resorted to condemning God’s decree, so that he may maintain his right (Job 27:6) and say that God was wrong in His actions. This is tantamount to saying that he is more righteous than God. God’s response? “Does your dissatisfaction make Me any less right?” Looking at history, man does not have the track record to begin questioning God. Nor does he have the foresight or understanding to do better.
Or do you have an arm like God and can you thunder with a voice like His (Job 40:9)?
Job cannot snap his fingers and make things happen. God can. This is what He means when He speaks of His arm and voice. God creates with His spoken world in Gen 1. This is why Christ, who through the whole universe was created, is called the Word made flesh (John 1:14). Further, God redeems with an “outstretched arm” (Ex 6:6). The arm connotes power to make things happen.
Man is impotent. He cannot make things right in the world. Like a 12 year old back seat driver, he likes to tell the man at the wheel what to do but knows nothing about what he speaks of. God can save with His arm. He has creative and sustaining power by His Word. Man is totally depraved and cannot even do good (Rom 3:10). Unless Job can show this to not be the case, God says, “Then I will also confess to you that your own right hand can save you” (Job 40:14).
Indeed, “He has done mighty deeds with His arm.” He redeems His people, but He is righteous and had already “scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart” (Luke 1:51). Man cannot thunder with such a voice. God can do it, has done it, and will continue to will such things in His righteousness.
Adorn yourself with eminence and dignity and clothe yourself with honor and majesty (Job 40:10).
This is essentially a continuation of verse 9. Man is depraved, the inclinations of his heart continually towards evil. Terminally selfish and walking through darkness, man in his inability to save himself has no majesty or dignity. Man cannot clothe himself with honor or majesty, for all his deeds and thoughts are unrighteous.
There is a necessary connection between being righteous personally (as Job is) and therefore being able to create righteousness (something only God can do). By Job’s admission, “I put on [God’s] righteousness, and it clothed me; my justice was like a robe and a turban” (Job 29:14). He had to put God’s righteousness on, so he could not clothe himself with his own honor and majesty.
Therefore, if man is not righteous apart from the grace of God, how can a depraved being know how the world ought to be if he cannot make himself what he ought to be? To clothe the world righteously, one must be able to clothe himself righteously. Because God makes men righteous by His Son Jesus Christ, then it stands to reason He runs the world righteously.
Pour out the overflowings of your anger and look on everyone who is proud, and make him low. Look on everyone who is proud, and humble him and tread down the wicked where they stand. Hide them in the dust together, bind them in the hidden place (Job 40:11-13).
Man who is proud in his sin closes his “unfeeling heart” (Ps 17:10). Job cannot correct this any more than David who prayed for deliverance from such men. God, unlike these impotent and insignificant men, can make things right.
“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6). He lays low those whose eyes are haughty and binds them in Hell. This is why the Scripture says, “Everyone who is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord, assuredly, he will not be unpunished” (Prov 16:5).
And so God has concluded chapters 38 and 39 by contrasting man’s impotence with His mighty hand. He saves and He humbles. He sustains and He ordains what will be. God is though all and in all. Meanwhile, man can do none of these things.
All of this is sort of a “might makes right” argument. Man is less mighty than God, so God is right and man cannot question Him. This is not exactly wrong, but it does not explain why in His righteous order of things there is evil. God finally answers this question definitively in His discussion of Behemoth and Leviathan.
First, let’s introduce ourselves to what these beasts are all about. Aquinas offers us a good overview of the two:
Since he already expressed the victory of man over the devil using the image of the elephant hunt, to preclude one from believing that man by his own power can overcome the devil, he begins to exclude this in the image of Leviathan…[B]ecause he has such great power that he cannot be held by a fishhook, and to show this he says, “and will you bind his tongue with cord?” For fish which are caught with a hook are bound by the line which is attached to the hook. This means that no man can take the devil away from his malice or even bind him to keep him from doing this evil (Commentary on Job, Chapter 40).
To sum Aquinas up, he equates Behemoth and Leviathan to worldly beasts. Behemoth is an elephant and Leviathan is a whale. These different beasts are supposed to offer us a picture of our inability to combat Satan apart from God’s grace. This is why Behemoth is an Elephant that man cannot hunt, but God can: for man by his own power cannot overcome the devil. Further, Leviathan cannot be caught fishing by a man, for no man can bind him from doing evil. However, God can bind the strongman (Matt 12:29).
Therefore, man is totally impotent and cannot defend himself against Satan. However, God has mastered the demons and it is man who therefore must rely upon the One who can bind the strongman and not his own righteousness. So, the logic goes, God is righteous because He actually actively thwarts evil while man does not.
Concerning Behemoth (בּהמות), the word literally means “beasts” (yes, it is a plural) in Hebrew. The term only occurs once in Scripture (Job 40:15), while its singular form beast or “behema” (בּהמה) occurs 172 times. Usually the term in its singular form refers to a beast or “cattle.” This makes the plural usage somewhat odd and in context of the chapter where the beast is referred to singularly, some believe it to be an Egyptian loanword for the hippopotamus.
Commentators such as Aquinas, Caryl, and Gregory the Great who take the view that Behemoth and Leviathan are satanic view them as one of the same: They are personifications of Satan. By God’s grace, we would like to add the possibility that Behemoth is a personification of the entire demonic realm and Leviathan is the Prince of the World, Satan himself. Remember, Satan is not omnipresent. So, he must work with other demons to cover more ground.
Why do we take this view? First, being that it is a plural of “beast” this means that the reference may be to those in league with the Beast. So, even though the term “Beasts” (i.e. Behemoth) is used in the singular throughout the remainder of the chapter, it would not be the only time in Scripture a plurality of demons is personified in the singular.
When Christ spoke to the Gerasene Demoniac he asked for the demon’s name. The possessed man responded, “My [singular] name is Legion, for we [plural] are many” (Mark 5:9). Later in the passage, Legion refers to himself as a plural (Mark 5:12).
Second, when Leviathan is spoken of in chapter 41, there appears to be an increased emphasis on this figure when compared to Behemoth. The description is much longer and Leviathan is referred to as causing fear amongst the “gods” when “he raises himself up” (Job 41:25). The “gods” are likely the “sons of pride” in whom Leviathan is “king over” (Job 41:34).
For this reason, we will differentiate between God’s sovereignty over the legion of the sons of pride personified in Behemoth and the singular Satan personified in Leviathan.
The first important point about Behemoth is that he does not exist by accident. God made it, in fact, among the first of His creative acts (Job 40:15, 19). We know this because Christ and the Spirit are uncreated, so the angelic realm was obviously first.
The separation of the waters in Gen 1 is the first creative act and this is a reference to God defeating Leviathan. Being that God separated the waters, He made order out of the chaos and separated the angels and the demons, casting the demons to Earth.
This begs the question: why? Why make a world where there will be demons in it? Even in the beginning the serpent was in the Garden of Eden. As Gen 3:1 says, “[T]he serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made.” God created Leviathan and Behemoth, this we can know. The Book of Job does not give a direct answer other than they help fulfill God’s purpose, which is His glory. We will get more into this in a bit.
The sons of pride eat grass like an ox (Job 40:15). Just as sinful people wither and fade into death like the grass according to the Psalmist (Ps 37:2), the demonic realm feeds upon grass such as this. The wicked are conflated with grass elsewhere, such as in Ps 90:5, Ps 92:7, Is 40:6-7, Luke 12:28, and James 1:10. Further, the picture of the wild oxen who oppose Jesus in Ps 22:21 may also clue us into Behemoth’s demonic character. Like an ox that can eat almost limitless grass for hours, so do the demons work away at devouring wicked men.
Behemoth is powerful and seemingly impervious to attack (Job 40:16-18). However, God is the master of Him. We know this because only “his maker bring[s] near his sword” (Job 40:19). This means, as Aquinas observes:
To preclude one from thinking that he is the first of the ways of God [Job 40:19] because he has the power to harm from himself alone, he says, “He (God) who made him will direct his sword,” that is, his injurious act. The will to do harm comes from the devil in himself, and because of this he is called his sword. But the effect of harming can only come from the divine will or divine permission (Commentary on the Book of Job, Chapter 40).
Just as we referred to before concerning God creating the demons and casting them out of heaven as part of His divine purpose, here the Lord minces no meat about it. Even from God comes Behemoth’s power to wield his sword and sow discord in the world. Behemoth does it from his own desire to effect harm, but just as God has a purpose for the light /darkness and fortune/calamity He has created (Is 45:7), so does God for the existence of evil.
The last five verses speak to how man, apart from God’s grace protecting man, is easily in the hands of evil. It is our opinion that Job 40:20 refers both to the world being in the hand of Satan (mountains pay homage bringing him food) and to men in their sin rejoicing in it (the beasts of the field “playing”). According to Brown-Driver-Briggs’ definition of the term saw-khak’ (שׂחק) here translated “play,” its chief definition is “to laugh (usually in contempt or scorn)” i.e. evil laughing. It is not hard to imagine, men in an orgy of violence, alcohol, and sex paying homage to Satan laughing in pride enjoying their sin.
The men/beasts during all of this do not notice Behemoth hiding (Job 40:21-22). The sons of pride have infected this whole sinful world, hiding in every crevice, used by Satan to assist in the devouring of men’s souls. Just as a mighty elephant or hippopotamus is not alarmed by the rushing of the Jordan’s waters (Job 40:23), the demons pay no mind even when men are in the promised land in the present life, “raised us up with Him, and seated…in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:6). They sit right outside the border, looking for every opportunity to pounce on believers who can still so easily do the deeds of the flesh.
The demons can so easily encourage a man to walk according to the flesh and sin, because like the massive beast Behemoth they cannot be captured or mastered (Job 40:24). Man can wait for the opportunity to capture the Behemoth “when he is on watch,” but man will miss it. He cannot ever get the right opportunity, because man lacks the wisdom or power to get the job done. Man further does not have the strength or the tools to “pierce his [Behemoth’s] nose.” How can man, who could not master evil and fall prey to it so easily, question God who we may infer from these rhetorical questions can?
Essentially, the discussion about Behemoth tells us this: man falls prey to Behemoth. He cannot master the creature[s] and even pays homage to the Beast. Man is a willing participant in evil and cannot stop himself from living in such a depraved fashion.
How does any of this glorify God? Why does God permit demons to stroke the sinful passions of sinful men? We will have to wait for God’s answer in the next chapter.