What Kind of Creatures Were Leviathan and Behemoth (from Job 40-41)? #72

Hello everybody, and welcome into the Bible Reading podcast. Scary times out there, right? The world is shaking right now – in fear of the unknown, and in fear of the known. Remember, brothers and sisters – we have a message of hope and salvation in Jesus. Remember that we also represent a Savior – Jesus, who is the hope for the whole world. We are not guaranteed to be protected from the illness going around, but all who are in Christ are guaranteed eternal life in Heaven, and a wonderful inheritance. Look to Jesus and be saved. Look to Jesus and be encouraged. Look to Jesus and be filled with hope. Look to Jesus and believe! So – how do we live in the midst of a deadly pandemic? Let me encourage you to turn to the Word of God on a daily basis, and invite others to join you. We will receive wisdom from the Lord on every page of the Word of God on how to be the people of God in the midst of fiery trials and tribulations. For instance, let’s just consider some of the verses we will be reading today out of Exodus 23, Job 41, John 2, and 2nd Corinthians 11:

  1. You must not spread a false report.” (Exodus 23:10)
  2. You must not oppress a resident alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be a resident alien because you were resident aliens in the land of Egypt.” Exodus 23:9
  3. So the Jews replied to him, “What sign will you show us for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it up in three days.” 20 Therefore the Jews said, “This temple took forty-six years to build, and will you raise it up in three days? 21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 So when he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the statement Jesus had made.” (John 2:18-22)
  4. Five times I received the forty lashes minus one from the Jews. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked. I have spent a night and a day in the open sea. 26 On frequent journeys, I faced dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my own people, dangers from Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers at sea, and dangers among false brothers; 27 toil and hardship, many sleepless nights, hunger and thirst, often without food, cold, and without clothing.” 2nd Corinthians 11:24-27

All of those verses, and others, will provide wisdom for us and encouragement and point us to hope in Jesus. As we walk through this valley of the shadow of death, may we fear no evil as God and His Word is with us. Today’s topic, planned out a few days ago, is all about Monsters in the Bible – Leviathan and Behemoth. These are creatures that God Himself describes in the book of Job, and are very, very puzzling creatures indeed. What in the world are they? Let’s start with Behemoth:

Look at Behemoth,
which I made along with you.
He eats grass like cattle.
16 Look at the strength of his back
and the power in the muscles of his belly.
17 He stiffens his tail like a cedar tree;
the tendons of his thighs are woven firmly together.
18 His bones are bronze tubes;
his limbs are like iron rods.
19 He is the foremost of God’s works;
only his Maker can draw the sword against him.
20 The hills yield food for him,
while all sorts of wild animals play there.
21 He lies under the lotus plants,
hiding in the protection of marshy reeds.
22 Lotus plants cover him with their shade;
the willows by the brook surround him.
23 Though the river rages, Behemoth is unafraid;
he remains confident, even if the Jordan surges up to his mouth.
24 Can anyone capture him while he looks on,
or pierce his nose with snares?

Job 40:15-24

So – here are our clues: He eats grass. He has a strong back and a powerful tail. He has strong legs and lives around swamp-like area, probably near the river. He is difficult to capture, and can survive in rapids. What sort of monster are we talking about here?! The Hebrew word is בְּהֵמוֹת behêmôwth, and there are lots of theories about what is signified by that word. The etymology is not very helpful, because the word root simply means an untalking or mute beast. Context is not helpful, because the Hebrew word is a practical hapax legomena – not appearing anywhere else in the Old Testament. Some think that it is a dinosaur that is being referred to, others point to a creature like a hippopotamus. You might think a hippo is a cuddly and cute sort of creature that doesn’t fit the mighty description of the Behemoth, but hippos are surprisingly dangerous animals. Weighing in from 3000-9000+ pounds (Toyota Camry’s weigh around 3400 pounds!) and capable of running over 18.6 miles per hour, hippos kill between 500-3000 people every year. They also have 20 inch long teeth! The only problem with the hippo=behemoth theory is explained here by Gotquestions.org:

“Some commentators identify the behemoth as a hippopotamus, a rhinoceros, or an elephant. However, the description of its cedar-like tail in Job 40:17 hardly fits the stubby or rope-like tails of those animals. Another theory is that Job 40 describes a type of dinosaur such as a diplodocus or an apatosaurus. Such sauropods were the largest of all land animals (ten times heavier than elephants), were marsh-loving plant-eaters, had tails like trees, and could truly be called “kings” of the animals.”


However, a biologist named Dr. Michael Bright has suggested that the biblical description of a ‘tail like a cedar tree’ refers more to shape, and not power, and thus a hippo’s tail could be a possibility. By the way, if you’ve never seen a hippo pooping, do yourself a favor, and check out THIS VIDEO. Often, when hippo’s poop, they rapidly spin their tail like a helicopter, and spray their poop all over the place. This apparently impresses female hippos, and also helps the male mark his territory. I have not conducted experiments, but I suspect that this will not work on human females. Please leave a comment on the blog if I’m incorrect in that assertion.

That said, my best guess is to go along with Dr. Bright, and agree that the Bible is likely describing a hippo, or something like a hippo. Aside from the poop thing, they really are amazing creatures that are probably the most dangerous land animal in Africa. Perhaps Behemoth was an extinct species of hippo (such as hippopotamus major, which would be larger than modern hippos – 10000 pounds, 14+ feet long, 7 feet high at the shoulder…maybe even a more impressive tail.) I’m not ready to say mystery solved, but I think an slightly larger than today’s hippo fits the description of behemoth pretty well. What about Leviathan?

Can you pull in Leviathan with a hook
or tie his tongue down with a rope?
Can you put a cord through his nose
or pierce his jaw with a hook?
Will he beg you for mercy
or speak softly to you?
Will he make a covenant with you
so that you can take him as a slave forever?
Can you play with him like a bird
or put him on a leash for your girls?
Will traders bargain for him
or divide him among the merchants?
Can you fill his hide with harpoons
or his head with fishing spears?
Lay a hand on him.
You will remember the battle
and never repeat it!
Any hope of capturing him proves false.
Does a person not collapse at the very sight of him?
10 No one is ferocious enough to rouse Leviathan;
who then can stand against me?
11 Who confronted me, that I should repay him?
Everything under heaven belongs to me.
12 I cannot be silent about his limbs,
his power, and his graceful proportions.
13 Who can strip off his outer covering?
Who can penetrate his double layer of armor?
14 Who can open his jaws,
surrounded by those terrifying teeth?

Job 41:1-14

This is a bit more of a formidable beast, and a bit more difficult to identify as well. The Hebrew word is לִוְיָתָן livyâthân , and this creature appears in a couple of different places in the Old Testament, including Isaiah and Psalms:

” On that day the Lord with his relentless, large, strong sword will bring judgment on Leviathan, the fleeing serpent—Leviathan, the twisting serpent. He will slay the monster that is in the sea.”

“Here is the sea, vast and wide,
teeming with creatures beyond number—
living things both large and small.
26 There the ships move about,
and Leviathan, which you formed to play there.”

Isaiah 27:1 and Psalm 104:25-26

The root of the word comes from a word meaning wreathed, or joined together, and can perhaps give the impression of a long creature, possibly with segments or ridges. Some speculate that the leviathan was a sea dragon, or perhaps a now extinct species of water-dinosaur, or perhaps an extinct or undiscovered sea-monster of some sort. Apparently its mouth is very dangerous, and its skin is very hard. Given the description in Isaiah 27:1 of a ‘twisting’ serpent, I think a saltwater crocodile is a good possibility. These creatures can reach astounding lengths and sizes, even today, and could possibly have been larger in antiquity. Salties today can grow to 20 feet long, and weigh over 2300 pounds. Nile crocodiles used to kill around 1000 people per year, and still kill hundreds of people per year, so they match the ferocity that is attributed to leviathan in this passage. Possible the leviathan was a, now extinct forebear of modern Nile and Saltwater crocodiles, or perhaps it was a now extinct sea creature that is not really included in the fossil record as of yet. Perhaps as well it was some sort of large and fierce shark – another modern animal that could fit most of the biblical description of the leviathan. I wish I could give a more definitive answer – I’m pretty strongly team hippo on the behemoth, but way more open on the leviathan. What do you think? Leave a comment, and let me know!

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