In this sermon, we cover the significance of the allegorical interpretation of the 40th and 41st chapters on the Book of Job. God, in speaking of His sovereignty over Satan, shows that He is sovereign over all of creation.
Note: This article was written before the author’s conversion to Orthodoxy.
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God, please give us the grace to understand the conclusion to your response to Job! Therein is your answer to why we experience suffering. Therein we peer into the most difficult, deep mysteries in which you care to give us explanation. Give us the grace to understand such inimitable wisdom!
The last time we touched on this issue back when we were discussing the third chapter, there was a great deal of controversy. Let me say this from the on-set. I am not worthy to teach through this response that God gives to Job. In fact, no one in all of history has been or ever will be worthy of exegeting words straight from God’s mouth addressing this most mysterious response in the book.
However, God works through the unworthy people who make up His Church. The historical testimony of the Church can be wrong, or off, on many issues. Why? We are fallible. However, His Church is given His Holy Spirit. It is very unlikely that we only figured something out the last two centuries that the Church was unaware of for the previous 18. We think highly of Thomas C. Oden when he said that he hopes his tombstone says, “He made no new contribution to theology.”
So, I seek to make no new contribution here. We are about to unwrap God’s final response to Job where He dwells upon His sovereignty over two beasts: Behemoth and Leviathan. Who exactly are they? The following brothers in the faith all concluded that both are analogues for Satan: Gregory the Great, the first commentator on Job; Thomas Aquinas, the greatest raw genius in Church History; John Calvin, the greatest systematic theologian in Church History, Joseph Caryl, writer of the longest commentary on Job in Church History, Matthew Henry, Jonathan Edwards, Silas Durand, and A.W. Pink.
Many will point out that God’s description of Leviathan sounds an awful lot like a real, living breathing beast. Even if this is the case, John Calvin writes in his commentary on Isaiah:
“The word ‘leviathan’ is variously interpreted; but in general it simply denotes either a large serpent, or whales and sea-fishes, which approach the character of monsters on account of their huge size…For my part, I have no doubt that he speaks allegorically of Satan and his whole kingdom, describing him under the figure of some monstrous animal…”
So, for our intents and purposes here we will presume great beasts of some sort are being described. However, the interpretation I will present here will explore the significance of what these beasts represent–the imposing nature of the prince of darkness and our inability to resist him.
First, let’s discuss chapter 40. 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, because he did not have the power or intellect to control all of creation’s minutia as we saw in chapters 38 and 39. However, God wants him to add something more… God wants him to know that He works all-in-all in the heavens and the Earth.
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? Perhaps if we held to a completely literal view, God might be saying, “If being sovereign over those little animals does not make you feel insignificant, then I am going to really wow you now with the big ones!” Again, I just think this interpretation is found too wanting.
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. So much for the liberal interpretation.
Before God gets into Behemoth and Leviathan, God gives a very strongly worded repudiation of Job’s questioning of His justice in verses 7 to 14. 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.
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 is being sarcastic, because He is not in man’s debt and in want of knowledge. We are not in the position to teach God what is just.
“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. This should undo all of those who think Job was not condemning God. “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, “Does your dissatisfaction make Me any less right? Will you condemn me in order to justify yourself?” 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 word in Gen 1. Further, God redeems with an “outstretched arm” (Ex 6:6). So, Job cannot create or redeem like God, so how can he be in the right?
Adorn yourself with eminence and dignity and clothe yourself with honor and majesty (Job 40:10).
What is God saying? Job might be dignified and righteous by men’s standards but by Job’s own 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?
Man is impotent. 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. Man is totally depraved and cannot even do good (Rom 3:10). If Job can show this is not the case, God says, “Then I will also confess to you that your own right hand can save you” (Job 40:14).
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).
The point is simple. God can and does exact justice. Men, like Job, can only do so much. By Job’s admission the wicked prosper. Job’s a judge and he can’t stop it. But God can.
Now, onto Behemoth and Leviathan! First, let’s introduce ourselves to what these beasts are all about. Interpreters conflate the two, so the following two descriptions of Leviathan give us an idea concerning how we should approach reading about them.
Concerning Leviathan Silas Durand writes:
If this wonderful description were applied merely to the whale [i.e. Leviathan], some parts of it would hardly seem appropriate, though the fearful admiration with which he inspires the mind is fully expressed through this highly figurative language. But there is more than a literal fish or serpent, be he never so great, presented here. This is “that old serpent, which is the devil and Satan,” whose abode is in the deep; the great source of all the various manifestations of evil; “the prince of darkness.” Here is innate wickedness, considered in its own essential being, as a separate thing, unaffected by human interests or affections, which seems to soften or partially cover its hideous fearfulness as it is manifested in the world.
[T]o preclude one from believing that man by his own power can overcome the devil…[God uses]…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).
Behemoth may be an elephant and Leviathan may be a dragon. 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. Leviathan cannot be caught by a fisherman, for no man can bind him from doing evil. However, God can bind the strongman (Matt 12:29).
Therefore, man cannot defend himself against Satan. This means, apart from God’s grace and protective hedge, we are goners! So, the logic goes, God is righteous because He actually actively thwarts evil while man cannot.
Concerning Behemoth, 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” 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.
Why? My interpretation is that Behemoth is a personification for demons while Leviathan is the Satan himself. Remember, Satan is not omnipresent. So, he must work with other demons to cover more ground.
While the term “Beasts” (i.e. Behemoth) is referred to 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).
What does the existence of Behemoth teach us?
First, Behemoth does not exist by accident, because he is first among the creative acts of God (Job 40:15, 19). Demons exist because God made them. 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.
Second, Behemoth “eats grass like an ox” (Job 40:15). The wicked are conflated with grass throughout the Scripture such as in Ps 90:5, Ps 92:7, Is 40:6-7, Luke 12:28, and James 1:10. Just as sinful people wither and fade into death like the grass according to the Psalmist (Ps 37:2), demons feed upon sinful men leading the by the hand to eternal death. Like an ox that can eat almost limitless grass for hours, so do the demons work away at devouring wicked men.
Third, Behemoth is powerful and seemingly impervious to attack (Job 40:16-18). Man cannot stop himself from being devoured.
Fourth, God is the master of Him because only “his maker bring[s] near his sword” (Job 40:19). This means, as Aquinas observes:
To preclude one from thinking that he[, that is man,] is the first of the ways of God…[God] 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).
The Lord minces no meat about it. Behemoth’s power to wield his sword and sow discord in the world comes from God. 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.
Fifth, the world is in the hands of this beast. “Surely the mountains bring him food, And all the beasts of the field play there” (Job 40:20). The world pays homage to Behemoth and men (here called “hay-yat,” or “animals”) in their sin rejoice in it. According to Brown-Driver-Briggs’ Hebrew dictionary, the related Hebrew term saw-khak’, here translated “play,” has a primary meaning of “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.
Sixth, the men/beasts during all of this do not notice Behemoth hiding in the Jordan River (Job 40:21-23). Just as the Jordan borders the promised land and beyond awaited Israel’s enemies, demons crouch right across the border, the hedge, looking to pounce on us.
Now onto Leviathan.
First, when God asks Job whether he can “draw out Leviathan with a fish hook” or “put a rope in his nose” (Job 41:1-2), we can infer that God can draw out Satan and put him to work like an ox with a rope in its nose.
How does God put him to work? “He governs the deceiver and sets bounds to his deceits, to whom, and when, and how far they shall extend” (Matthew Poole, Comments on Job 12:6).
Second, doesn’t the following sounds an awful lot like someone we know?
Will he make many supplications to you,
Or will he speak to you soft words?
4 “Will he make a covenant with you?
Will you take him for a servant forever? (Job 41:3-4)
Do we remember a conversation that went a little like this?
Oh Mr. God, what have I been up to…um….just walking around the world and stuff. Mr. God, I think you’re wrong but I can’t just go out and say it and I am not strong enough to actually prove you wrong, I cannot get past the protective hedge!
This is why God says that He “play[s] with him like a bird” in a cage in verse 5. Satan is a mere play thing to God, Satan does not like it but he knows it.
Third, just like Behemoth, man can’t beat him in battle but God can:
Can you fill his skin with harpoons,
Or his head with fishing spears?
8 “Lay your hand on him;
Remember the battle; [f]you will not do it again (Job 41:7-8)!
Fourth, Job is wrong when he said that if God turned his “gaze” away he would be better off.
Behold, your expectation is false;
Will you be laid low even at the sight of him?
No one is so fierce that he dares to arouse him;
Who then is he that can stand before Me (Job 41:9-10)?
Job thought during his speeches that if it were not for God, left to himself he could have avoided the consequential suffering. God’s response is that any expectation Job has of going out on his own and confronting evil all alone is foolish. The sight of Satan alone would be enough to subdue Job. Job, left to himself, experiences precisely the types of calamities he is presently experiencing.
Yet, God can rouse Leviathan and easily make mincemeat of him. If nothing under the sun can boast of this, than who can stand before God? No one.
Fifth, God is in the right to ordain evil and work it for His purposes:
Who has given to Me that I should repay him?
Whatever is under the whole heaven is Mine (Job 41:11).
It seems like just now, God is answering a question Job mumbled under his breath: “Why make such a thing?!?!”
We have given nothing to God in which He owes us and He would be liable to listen to our demands upon Him. People do not like that answer, but if we really meant “not our will, but your will be done” it intuitively makes the most sense. If God wills that Leviathan and the attendant evils along with him exist, then God knows best. Everything under heaven belongs to Him.
God in His wisdom reserves the right to use something evil, like Leviathan, and use him against his will to work good. Concerning the God using evil to work good Augustine writes:
For what could be said more plainly than what is actually said, “As concerning the gospel, indeed, they are enemies for your sakes?” [Rom 11:28] It is, therefore, in the power of the wicked to sin; but that in sinning they should do this or that by that wickedness is not in their power, but in God’s, who divides the darkness and regulates it; so that hence even what they do contrary to God’s will is not fulfilled except it be God’s will (On Predestination of the Saints, Chapter 33).
It is as if God is telling Job, “Yes, I expose you to suffering, but can’t you see that Satan is the source of it? I am master over Satan and I permit him to do his work. He will not be allowed to truly harm you. Can’t you see, though you lose everything, you did not lose your faith? In the loss of your physical blessings you may be ‘sorrowful yet always rejoicing,…poor yet making many rich,…having nothing yet possessing all things’ (2 Cor 6:10). So, ‘he who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it’ (Matt 10:39). Trust and follow me.”
Sixth, Job 41:12-34 describe Leviathan in a way that is impotent.
Some of you might say, “How can you say that, he sounds so scary! He has strong limbs (verse 12), “around his teeth there is terror” (verse 13), he is strong scales are his pride, his armor is so tight air cannot pass through it!”
Yawn! He must have some really bad gingivitis that the terrible part is around his teeth and not his teeth themselves!
“His sneezes flash forth light” (v. 18).
Having the flu sure can be scary!
“The sword that reaches him cannot avail…His underparts are like sharp potsherds.”
That’s one scary beast, hiding in his armor!
I don’t know about you guys, but this does not sound like a scary beast. None of the attributes described are aggressive. No claws, no actual teeth, no fists, no weapons. Just a cowering, sneezing, dragon hiding behind his armor scaring the weak.
Seventh, Leviathan is obviously not a beast that lived on earth abiding the laws of physics. I have heard people say, “It really sounds like God is describing a real creature that Job was acquainted with.” I really have to wonder what Discovery Channel they are watching!
“His sneezes flash forth light,
And his eyes are like the eyelids of the morning.
19 “Out of his mouth go burning torches;
Sparks of fire leap forth.
20 “Out of his nostrils smoke goes forth
As from a boiling pot and burning rushes.
21 “His breath kindles coals,
And a flame goes forth from his mouth (Job 41:18-21).
Obviously, this is a dragon. I know that in God all things are possible, but do we really think we had a dinosaur walking around covered with sharp scales blowing fire all over the place?
It makes much more sense to interpret this beast, the dragon, as an analogue for Satan, who Revelation calls a dragon.
Here is what I think the passage is saying: Satan rules over the earth for a time and terrorizes man with his intimidating qualities.
During this time he is proud as lord over the demons and wicked men. Job 41:25 says, “When he raises himself up the gods fear.” Job 41:34 says, “He is king over the sons of pride.” He sows chaos in the sea by “making the depths a boiling pot” (Job 41:31) and “behind him he makes a wake to shine” (Job 41:32) leaving a trail of destruction in his path. Though “nothing on Earth is like” Leviathan and God has “made [him] without fear” (Job 41:33), he is destined to fail in his mission.
Leviathan and his attendant evils are part of God’s plans. Man’s own self-deception in worshiping Leviathan, the Satanic Beast, is explicitly consistent with His purposes. “For God has put it in their hearts to execute His purpose by having a common purpose, and by giving their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God will be fulfilled” (Rev 17:17). As Augustine observes, God sustains even the demons and all men who commit wickedness to fulfill His righteous purposes:
But the goodness of the Creator never fails either to supply life and vital power to the wicked angels (without which their existence would soon come to an end); or, in the case of mankind, who spring from a condemned and corrupt stock, to impart form and life to their seed, to fashion their members, and through the various seasons of their life, and in the different parts of the earth, to quicken their senses, and bestow upon them the nourishment they need. For He judged it better to bring good out of evil, than not to permit any evil to exist (The Handbook on Hope, Faith, and Love, Chapter 27).
Nor can we doubt that God does well even in the permission of what is evil. For He permits it only in the justice of His judgment. And surely all that is just is good. Although, therefore, evil, in so far as it is evil, is not a good; yet the fact that evil as well as good exists, is a good. [Looks like R.C. Sproul “borrowed” that one from Augustine.] For if it were not a good that evil should exist, its existence would not be permitted by the omnipotent Good, who without doubt can as easily refuse to permit what He does not wish, as bring about what He does wish (The Handbook on Hope, Faith, and Love, Chapter 96).
God fulfills His purposes by exploiting the wickedness and power of Leviathan and man alike. He is righteous in doing so and brings about the greatest possible good so that He may work all things for good.
We may conclude from the preceding descriptions that Behemoth and Leviathan are imposing. Man is shattered when confronted with them. However, to God they are mere playthings. He can pull out Leviathan with a fishhook as if he were nothing.
So God’s answer to Job is now clear: He is sovereign over nature to suit His purposes. We can see this in God’s description of weather and the seasons. He is sovereign over the temperaments of all different sorts of men. We can see this in God’s description of the animal kingdom. Lastly, He is sovereign over the demonic realm, including Satan himself. We can see this in God’s description of Behemoth and Leviathan. Hence, there is absolutely nothing NOT under God’s control.
It is knowing this that Job’s confession in the next chapter will make sense: “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2). To Him be the glory forever. Praise be to God.