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In his second speech to Job, God says “I made behemoth when I made you” (Job 40:15 paraphrased). Behemoth, as we have noted, represents the mighty beast of human rebellion. Asaph echoes this, “When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was behemoth before you,” (Psa. 73:21).

In the first part of this study, we looked at Behemoth, as well as other beast words, Rahab, and Leviathan. Even without going into Daniel or Revelation, we saw how the rest of the Bible uses the concept of mighty beasts as a metaphor for human empires and the arrogant spirit behind them — prideful rebellion against the authority of God, which shows itself by subjugating other people.

In this concluding part, we focus in on God’s second speech to Job. We shall see that God uses the beast metaphor consistently with its use in the rest of the Bible. God is not simply talking about another couple of animals, He has a much deeper answer for Job to appreciate.

Deep issues of salvation

Some commentators, who do not recognize the metaphorical nature of the titles Behemoth and Leviathan, criticize God’s second speech, even going so far as to describe it as the greatest non sequitur of the book. They comment, “how does God get from talking about pride, judgment and wickedness (Job 40:14), to talking about two more creatures??” — or they claim that God’s speeches gradually peter out — and so they would, if they miss the real meaning behind these beast words.

In contrast, when we understand the general biblical interpretation of these words, God’s second address becomes a stunning treatise on salvation and judgment. Job has already been humbled and ashamed by an awareness of God’s work in the natural creation. What about God’s greater work of salvation and judgment? This is what Job must now understand.

Job had criticized God

God starts His second speech by challenging Job personally and directly: Would you discredit My justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself? (Job 40:8).

As his frustration with the friends had grown to the bursting point, Job had snapped, coming to declare that God was punishing him unjustly (Job 19:6). The prevailing doctrine of the friends is that disaster is God’s punishment for specific sins, yet Job knows he is blameless of blatant transgression. He moves in the right direction by rejecting the doctrine, but as the discussions continue, he finds he has nothing better to replace it with.

God’s challenge now helps him to see the stark consequences of where he was headed. “Would you discredit my justice?” asks God. Of course not, not when God puts it like that. And at the start of Job 42, Job provides his answer of humility and acceptance.

There is an important principle here. It is very easy for us to try to pretend that sin isn’t sin, that destructive behavior is not so bad after all; that God was wrong when He said that coveting is sin, for example, or failing to honor our parents. When David confesses his sin in Psalm 51:4, he says: “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge.” In other words, I confess in order to declare that you, O God, are true and right. Paul quotes this verse and goes on to say, “Let God be true and every man a liar” (Rom. 3:4). Our protestations of innocence almost automatically impugn God’s righteousness. In contrast, our acceptance of God’s standards constitute a declaration of His righteousness.

Job can’t save himself

God continues to Job:

Job 40:9-14. Do you have an arm like God’s, and can your voice thunder like his? Then adorn yourself with glory and splendor, and clothe yourself in honor and majesty. Unleash the fury of your wrath, look at every proud man and bring him low, look at every proud man and humble him, crush the wicked where they stand. Bury them all in the dust together; shroud their faces in the grave. Then I myself will admit to you that your own right hand can save you (NIV).

This isn’t simply “might is right.” God is saying that someone who has power to bring righteous judgment on the world also has the power to bring salvation, and in particular that he could then save himself. But Job cannot, and this is what he must now appreciate. To paraphrase God’s words: “Job,” God says, “if you can bring true justice to the world, then you also have the power to save yourself. But consider what the challenge is. Just consider what a mighty beast I made when I made mankind….”

Difficulty of subjecting human pride

In the creation of mankind, the dragon of human rebellion was formed. FromEden onwards, the pride of mankind asserts itself in opposition to God. Free will, by definition, contains the opportunity to choose against God, so the potential for rebellion is an essential part of what makes us human. God asks for an amazing thing — the freely-given choice to serve Him and each other — but He has to confront the beast of pride in the process. So now God begins to describe the nature of His struggle with the Pride of Man, the mighty beast, using a masterful collage of symbols and metaphors later picked up and used throughout Scripture. Here are some of the highlights.

Behemoth feeds on grass like an ox (Job 40:15). Grass is a symbol of people (Isa. 40:6-8), especially the wicked (Psa. 37:2, 90:5). The mighty beast lives and grows by feeding on the people. Nebuchadnezzar learned this lesson very personally. In his madness, he lived with the beasts of the field, and ate grass, until he finally understood that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men (Dan.4:25).

His tail sways like a cedar (Job 40:17). This image is picked up in Revelation, where the dragon’s tail sweeps a third of the stars out of the sky (Rev. 12:4).

He ranks first among the works of God yet his Maker can approach him with his sword (Job 40:19). The kings of Babylon (Isa. 14) andTyre (Ezek. 28) are described in similar grand language, yet one day God will call the nations to account. Here’s what Isaiah says about it: In that day, the LORD will punish with his sword, his fierce, great and powerful sword, Leviathan the gliding serpent, Leviathan the coiling serpent; he will slay the monster of the sea (Isa. 26:21-27:1). God is not going fishing. At least not for fish!

The hills bring him their produce, and all the wild animals play nearby (Job 40:20). Knox translates this: “whole mountainsides — the playground of his fellow beasts — will he lay under tribute.” It is a very descriptive picture of empires, and the way they gather wealth from other countries.

Under the lotus plants he lies, hidden among the reeds in the marsh (Job 40:21). He looks so peaceful, so comforting, but he’s lying in wait. The same image is used in the Psalms: Rebuke the beast among the reeds, the herd of bulls among the calves of the nations… Scatter the nations who delight in war (Psa. 68:30).

When the river rages, he is not alarmed (Job 40: 23). Floodwater is used earlier in Job as a symbol of armies coming to destroy (Job 20:27-28). Isaiah, again picking up on the symbols used in Job, says, Therefore the Lord is about to bring against them the mighty floodwaters of the River — the king of Assyria with all his pomp (Isa. 8:7).

We could go on but the point is made. The symbols God uses so powerfully here in his second speech are used again and again by later writers to describe the interplay between empires and especially God’s ultimate judgment upon them.

Leviathan continues the point

In Job 41, God uses the name Leviathan. Traditionally Behemoth and Leviathan are seen as distinct creatures, but the text doesn’t require it. As we saw in Part 1, Behemoth isn’t a name per se — it is more of a description: the mighty beast. The link established above between Job 40:19 and Isaiah 27:1 shows that the mighty beast is none other than Leviathan. Ultimately, there is only one serpent, the same predisposition to rebellion against God’s love.

Through Job 40, God has been describing the mighty beast. Now he makes it personal to Job himself, “Can you, Job, draw out leviathan?” (Job 41:1). The challenge to Job — and us — asks whether we can really hope to have control over sin and its effects? We struggle to control ourselves! How much less are we able to domesticate the power of the mob. But God can:

Isa. 37:24-29. By your messengers you have heaped insults on the LORD. And you have said, ‘… I have cut down [Lebanon’s] tallest cedars, the choicest of its pines. I have reached its remotest heights, the finest of its forests’… Because you rage against me and because your insolence has reached my ears, I will put my hook in your nose and my bit in your mouth, and I will make you return by the way you came.

Knox’s translation of Job 41:9-11 is powerful in this regard: It is in mercy that I forbear to make [Leviathan] a plague for mankind. But indeed there is no resisting me, nor can any deserve my thanks for lending me the aid I lacked; Everything on earth is at my disposal. I give him no quarter, for all his boastful, all his flattering words.

The solution is coming

Throughout his ordeal, Job hadn’t been able to understand why he had faced terrible suffering even though he had been a good man. He seems to have been starting to grasp the truth, but hadn’t gone far enough. He knew that terrible things happened to righteous people, but he couldn’t understand why.
God gives insight into the reason. He cannot both allow and suppress sin at the same moment. Not even God can sustain a logical contradiction. To give us free will, God has to permit sin, and because He has permitted it, it affects other people also. Job, like so many others through history, bore the consequences of the sinful envy of the satan (Job 1-2). He bore the sin of his enemy.

This creation has been bound over to frustration, in the hope that we will look up and see our need. But it won’t always be like this. A time is coming, says God in Malachi, when you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not (Mal.3:18).

Developing Job’s character

But there is more for Job. Even though he was blameless (Job 1:1), Job wasn’t complete. He had not been perfected. Knox again:

He [Leviathan] has not his like among the strong things of earth, that fearless nature, that heaven-confronting eye. Over all the pride of earth he reigns supreme (Job 41:33-34).

The spirit of rebellion in the world was there in Job too. The marvel of God’s work was that He was able to use the sinfulness of Job’s enemy as a means of developing Job’s character. Job would look back on his suffering as a terrible and painful ordeal, but also one of great personal growth.

The same tendency to rebel was present even in Jesus, who likewise shared in [our] humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil (Heb. 2:14). When Jesus allowed himself to be murdered, he explicitly rejected flesh. He destroyed the Leviathan tendency within himself. I will obey my Father, he says. And so God was able to use the sinfulness of sinful mankind for the perfecting of His son.

Now perfected, our captain and leader encourages us to recognize the Behemoth spirit within ourselves. He guides and leads us, calling on us to reject arrogant rebellion. He calls us to take up our cross, and to follow him.

John Launchbury

Suggested Readings
Jewish tradition attributes the Book of Job to Moses, making it the oldest book in the Bible. Yet it offers no hint of the Red Sea crossing, the giving of the Law, or the Israelites’ wilderness wanderings. This suggests Job’s trials and their dramatic retelling took place before Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt.
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