Who or what is ‘Leviathan’?

After Job had endured immense losses – deprived of his loving family, his successful businesses and his robust health – God then reminded him of how tiny he appeared to be among some other living creatures, especially when compared to ‘Leviathan’ (see Job 41:1-34).

On visiting that poetic speech of the Almighty the other day I thought I recognised this monster as the Nile crocodile about which I’d just been reading in a chapter of ‘The Secret Language of Animals’ written by biologist Janine M. Benyus. That was until I got to a four-verse paragraph in the Creator’s poem at Job 41:18-21 (in the New Living Translation): there I  discovered ‘lightning’ and ‘smoke’ belching out of this mammoth’s ‘nostrils’ as if it were a species of the mythical dragon!

So, how did God describe this beast?

Leviathan’s other features

  1. Its body armour:

– You can’t ‘catch’ it with ‘hook’, ‘noose’, ‘rope’, ‘spike’, ‘spear’ or ‘harpoon’. You’ll never ‘make it a pet’ so ‘it is useless to try to capture it’ (Job 41:1-9).

‘Its scales are like rows of shields tightly sealed together. They are so close’ to one another ‘that no air can get between them. Each scale sticks tightly to the next. They interlock and cannot be penetrated’ (Job 41:15-16).

  1. Its tremendous strength:

Leviathan shows ‘enormous strength’ in its ‘limbs’ and yet it has ‘graceful form’. You can’t prise its jaws open ‘for its teeth are terrible’ (Job 41:12, 14).

  1. ‘It strikes terror wherever it goes.’

‘When it rises, the mighty are . .  gripped by terror.’ No sword can stop it, nor spear, dart or javelin. ‘Leviathan makes waters boil with its commotion’ when it is on the move. Hence the draconian legend: ‘It is the king of beasts’ (34).

The Nile crocodile’s characteristics

  1. Its menu:

Although the Nile crocodile seems to be downright lethargic in the zoo, and nearly motionless most of the day, a basking crocodile is actually busy keeping itself alive, soaking up the sun’s warmth to power its metabolism, and is all eyes and ears, alert to any potential prey that it can suddenly surprise – in the meantime it is conserving energy.

  1. Its motion:

– Growing to a large size enables it to eat anything from frogs to water buffaloes and grants them immunity from most predators too.

– While swimming they lash their tails for power and press their legs flush against their body to create a fish-like figure. One partly-webbed foot extended like a rudder can help them turn on a sixpence.

  1. Its massacre:

They are ‘the top predators in the rivers and lakes of Africa’ where ‘they live in harmony with their environment, and their place at the top of the aquatic food chain was unchallenged by any reptile, fish or mammal.’ That was until human hunger for their skin and ‘our desire to make the waters “safe” for people came close to eliminating this reptilian success story. Some were killed for their skins, but most were killed for just being themselves’ – due to fear for domestic herds and flocks.

Well, humans eventually conquered crocs; and where on earth today can you find any fire-spewing beasts? ‘In the end, whether it’s with guns or silt or chemicals or propellers, it looks as if we’re getting at the [so-called] “man-eating” crocodile after all. One can only wonder if the species that outlasted the dinasaurs can survive the [human] onslaught as well’ (Janine M. Banyus).

How different things were in Job’s lifetime!

So let’s be clear in our thoughts and our behaviour: God, who is ‘for us’, exceeds in strength all sharks, crocs, lions and panthers etc – indeed any creature, whether mammal or demon. And ‘if God is for us, who can ever be against us?’ (Romans 8:31).

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