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Leviathan: None Like Him on Earth

While not the most frequently cited animal in Scripture, the one with the longest and most complete description is the leviathan. All of Job chapter 41 is devoted to it. Why does this mysterious animal deserve such biblical attention? One must look at the story of Job to understand the leviathan’s significance.

God describes Job as “a perfect and upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil.” But his wealth, family, and health have been stripped from him. In pain he sits in ashes and desires to ask God why he is suffering. God does not directly answer. Instead, He gives a lengthy lecture, citing many object lessons from nature. Ultimately, He arrives at the large, strong behemoth and then climaxes with the mighty, fearsome leviathan. It appears that leviathan was chosen to represent the ultimate mystery of God’s power in creation.

God describes the leviathan as having rows of sharp teeth and covered with strong, tight scales. It lives in water and when riled, he “maketh the deep to boil like a pot … When he raiseth up himself, the mighty are afraid … He esteemeth iron as straw, and brass as rotten wood … The arrow cannot make him flee … Darts are counted as stubble: he laugheth at the shaking of a spear.”

Job is asked if he can “draw out leviathan with a hook?” Can he butcher a leviathan for meat? Can he domesticate a leviathan for work or have it as a pet for his children? The answer is no. But God has claimed, “Whatsoever is under the whole earth is mine.” The leviathan is a ferocious beast, but God is its maker and master.

Other than the description in Job, leviathans are mentioned three times in Scripture (Psalm 74:14, 104:26; Isaiah 27:1) and are always described as aquatic. Translators chose not to pick an animal which approximated the description, but to transliterate the Hebrew word used in these passages. Commentators have suggested an alligator or crocodile as the leviathan.

Much of God’s description of the leviathan may fit a crocodilian mold, but Job 41:19-21 presents an uncrocodilian characteristic. “Out of his mouth go burning lamps, and sparks of fire leap out. Out of his nostrils goeth smoke, as out of a seething pot or caldron. His breath kindleth coals, and a flame goeth out of his mouth.”

Liberals and fire-breathing

Most people deem fire-breathing animals a fantasy. “It would need a pilot light but the flame would cook the animal. If it went out, how does it get rekindled? What fuel is it burning? Since fire-breathing defies logic and the laws of nature, fire-breathing dragons are myths. Leviathans are alligator-like animals, and we must somehow allegorize the sparks and flames.” With that mindset, liberals have a field day with leviathans.

For some liberals the whole book of Job is a fairy tale—made more exciting by added monsters of which the leviathan is the icing on the cake. For them the God of Truth becomes a God of “frequent truths” with an occasional exaggeration for emphasis. In the past some have questioned whether the book of Job, containing such “obvious untruths”, should even be in the Bible. But there are lessons about who God is and His relationship with Satan and humans that are learned most clearly in Job. Without a biblical Job, our understanding of God and His ways would be significantly lessened.

Other liberals claim that since Job was not overly impressed with the previously cited examples, God decided to stretch the truth to win Job’s admiration. In other words, God told made-up stories in order to convince Job of His power. To them God is not omnipotent, and He can lie when necessary. No! Others seek to explain away the fire- breathing bit. Job is a poetical book. Perhaps God was using some elaborate literary device to describe the “mist” of a warm breath into cold air, like a whale breathing out its blowhole. Or perhaps God was describing “acidic vomit” the animal can wretch up when it is threatened and thus “burn” its attacker. There are animals that spit venom.

A “like” or “as” in a brief fire reference might make it possible to write it off as a poetic device. But it is a several- verse-description directly using “sparks of fire”, “kindleth coals,” and “flame … out of his mouth.” Is it reasonable to dismiss all that? Leviathan is also the climax of the whole line of reasoning. If this is a minor or common characteristic that is being over-stated for emphasis, the argument is weakened. Job must be familiar with leviathans as God describes them or God’s arguments are faulty.

Fire-breathing possibilities

The burning bush, crossing the Red Sea, feeding the five thousand were miraculous events—where God set aside what we would call the laws of nature and did something beyond a natural happening to suit His purpose. Some claim that God miraculously made a fire-breathing leviathan (like He prepared the great fish to swallow Jonah) just for the occasion of Job’s lesson. God does not claim a miraculous leviathan. The examples in God’s object lesson are all normal parts of the creation.

It appears that Job is being asked to consider the “regular workings” of God’s creation, which actually makes His argument stronger. Recently the bombardier beetle has been cited to defend the leviathan’s fire-breathing. The beetle makes two different, harmless chemicals in glands in its abdomen. When the chemicals meet in the presence of air they become a hot, irritating gas which explodes from the bug’s posterior. The beetle effectively uses this chemical reaction to ward off attackers. Some dinosaurs have large chambers in their skulls.

In the past, scientists speculated these sinuses served as resonating chambers, increasing the vocal abilities of the animal. But perhaps they contained glands producing unknown chemicals. You can see where this is going. From a chemical “pop” to fire that kindles coals is a pretty big step. Would it be too big for God?

In the previous article we dealt with the possibility of Job living during the antediluvian period and the behemoth being a sauropod dinosaur. We also dealt with Job living in the postdiluvian patriarchal period and still being familiar with sauropod- behemoths. (They were on the Ark and became extinct sometime following Job’s experience with them.) These arguments equally apply to a leviathan being what we would call a dinosaur, although as some form of aquatic animal, it might not have needed a place on the Ark.

Learning Job’s lesson

God repeatedly recognized that Job had done all in his power to live a God-pleasing life. Job wanted to ask God the reason for his suffering and probably expected a brief answer.

Instead God responded with a lengthy description of the wonders of creation and other of His works. Then Job was asked what he had done that compared to what God had done.

This teaches Job, and us, about God. His ways are beyond our ways; His understanding is beyond our comprehension. We often do not or cannot understand what He is doing, but what He is doing is good and right, no matter what we may think about it. To the God who spoke an entire universe into existence, a fire-breathing dragon is no big deal. Such an animal may not be understandable to Job and may not make sense to us. So?

After God described the leviathan, Job declared, “I know that thou canst do every thing …[and I have] uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not.” In other words, following the ordeal Job had a better understanding of the incomprehensibleness of God. He got what God had been teaching. God then puts Job’s “friends” in their place, and in a few verses, ends the book.

Liberals may seek to limit God, bringing Him down to the explainable or being capable of exaggerating His attributes. Bible-believing Christians must accept an all-powerful, all-knowing, just, and righteous God.

Both behemoths and leviathans need to be real animals; Job needs to be familiar with them; and they must live up to their descriptions to be appropriate culminations of God’s lesson for Job. Anything less would be ungod-like. To liberals I say, “Get over it!” We do not have to understand how God did it, and He does not have to reveal how it was done for it to be true. After all, He is God. And that is the point.

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William Pinkston

By William Pinkston

Mr. William Pinkston teaches science at Bob Jones Academy in Greenville, South Carolina. He is a member of Faith FPC.