‘Look at Behemoth, which I made just as I made you; it eats grass like an ox. Its strength is in its loins, and its power in the muscles of its belly. It makes its tail stiff like a cedar; the sinews of its thighs are knit together. Its bones are tubes of bronze, its limbs like bars of iron.‘It is the first of the great acts of God— only its Maker can approach it with the sword. For the mountains yield food for it where all the wild animals play. Under the lotus plants it lies, in the covert of the reeds and in the marsh. The lotus trees cover it for shade; the willows of the wadi surround it. Even if the river is turbulent, it is not frightened; it is confident though Jordan rushes against its mouth. Can one take it with hooks or pierce its nose with a snare?
‘Can you draw out Leviathan with a fish-hook, or press down its tongue with a cord? Can you put a rope in its nose, or pierce its jaw with a hook? Will it make many supplications to you? Will it speak soft words to you? Will it make a covenant with you to be taken as your servant for ever? Will you play with it as with a bird, or will you put it on a leash for your girls? Will traders bargain over it? Will they divide it up among the merchants? Can you fill its skin with harpoons, or its head with fishing-spears? Lay hands on it; think of the battle; you will not do it again! Any hope of capturing it will be disappointed; were not even the gods overwhelmed at the sight of it? No one is so fierce as to dare to stir it up. Who can stand before it? Who can confront it and be safe? —under the whole heaven, who?
‘I will not keep silence concerning its limbs, or its mighty strength, or its splendid frame. Who can strip off its outer garment? Who can penetrate its double coat of mail? Who can open the doors of its face? There is terror all around its teeth. Its back is made of shields in rows, shut up closely as with a seal. One is so near to another that no air can come between them. They are joined one to another; they clasp each other and cannot be separated. Its sneezes flash forth light, and its eyes are like the eyelids of the dawn. From its mouth go flaming torches; sparks of fire leap out. Out of its nostrils comes smoke, as from a boiling pot and burning rushes. Its breath kindles coals, and a flame comes out of its mouth. In its neck abides strength, and terror dances before it. The folds of its flesh cling together; it is firmly cast and immovable. Its heart is as hard as stone, as hard as the lower millstone. When it raises itself up the gods are afraid; at the crashing they are beside themselves. Though the sword reaches it, it does not avail, nor does the spear, the dart, or the javelin. It counts iron as straw, and bronze as rotten wood. The arrow cannot make it flee; slingstones, for it, are turned to chaff. Clubs are counted as chaff; it laughs at the rattle of javelins. Its underparts are like sharp potsherds; it spreads itself like a threshing-sledge on the mire. It makes the deep boil like a pot; it makes the sea like a pot of ointment. It leaves a shining wake behind it; one would think the deep to be white-haired. On earth it has no equal, a creature without fear. It surveys everything that is lofty; it is king over all that are proud.’
These are the last words God addresses to Job. Much has been written about whether the beasts should be understood as a hippopotamus and a crocodile, or mythical creatures; and you are entitled to wonder how these descriptions of powerful beasts contribute to the effectiveness of God’s speech. We can agree with George Bernard Shaw who once noted, “If I complain that I am suffering unjustly, it is no answer to say, “Can you make a hippopotamus?”This is true and yet the author of Job has chosen to end the divine speech in this abrupt way. Job is forced to contemplate Behemoth, one of the creatures made by God, just as God made Job (40:15). It is described in the same way as wisdom as the first of God’s creative acts (compare 40:19 with Prov.8:22) and only God can control it. Leviathan was understood as a fearful mythical monster that inhabited the deeps (Job 3:8; Isa.27:1); but through a rhetorical question to Job (41:11) and the following verses, God claims control of it too (see also Ps.74:14).
Is a parallel being made between Job and these wondrous creatures? All are under the control of God and capable of being subdued? And yet God chooses to give Job the freedom to challenge God, to do more than simply admire God’s majestic power from afar. Job has the choice to keep silent and turn away from God or to make a response as God had demanded.
Understood in this way all that these verses say to Job is said also to us. They challenge us to make a decision about God. Will we walk away if God hasn’t given us the answers we want? Or will we realise that the God who has made Behemoth, Leviathan and us is so amazing that nothing could be more important than being in an ongoing real relationship with this God?
I could never walk away; and I praise God for all that has been revealed in Jesus of God’s love for me. I still have many, many questions about God’s ways but I rejoice in the knowledge that God will never refuse to listen to them if I have the faith to take them to God in prayer.
Thank you, God, for creating me and setting me to live in such a wondrous universe. Thank you for giving me the freedom to respond, or not, to your invitation to live in covenant relationship with you. Thank you for showing yourself to me, in Jesus, and in all your marvellous acts of creation. Thank you for strengthening my faith as I grapple with you in a search for truth. May my walk of faith be an encouragement to others to put their trust in you. In the name of Christ, Amen
The Rev’d Dr Janet Tollington is a retired minister and member of Emmanuel URC in Cambridge.