What Is Leviathan?

By Wayne Jackson

“What is the leviathan mentioned in Job, chapter 41?”

In this section of the book of Job, there is a record of God’s interrogation of the patriarch of Uz. Job had criticized Jehovah, claiming that the Lord had been mistreating him (he had, in fact, suffered much). The Lord vigorously questioned the ancient sage in an effort to demonstrate to him how very little the “wise man” knew about Heaven’s operations upon the earth.

The point being made was this: “Job, since you know so little about the environment of this planet, you are hardly qualified to pass judgment upon Him who made the entire Universe, together with its wonderful and baffling creatures.”

In connection with the marvels of the created world, mention is made of a huge land creature (Behemoth) in chapter 40, vv. 15ff. Subsequently, in chapter 41, a terrifying sea creature is introduced; it is called “leviathan.”

The precise identification of “leviathan” is shrouded in obscurity. It obviously was some sort of aquatic creature of the antique world. Some writers have suggested it was a whale, or perhaps a large a dolphin – though these animals do not appear to fit the description provided in the text.

The margin notes in some Bible versions (ASV, RSV) speculate that the creature was a crocodile – perhaps a huge variety of the long ago, when earth’s creatures were significantly larger than they now are. For a discussion of this historical reality, consult our book, “The Bible and Science”, Chapter 5. See also our “Feature” article, ""Lessons from the La Brea Tar Pits"."

Some, who are not intimidated by evolutionary presuppositions, dare to suggest that the leviathan may have been some variety of ancient dinosaur – now extinct (see Duane Gish, Dinosaurs – Those Terrible Lizards, San Diego: Creation-Life Publishers, 1977, pp. 30, 51-54). Of course evolutionists (and those under their spell) argue that dinosaurs became extinct some 65 million years before humans arrived on earth; thus, this possibility, they say, must be dismissed as unworthy of consideration.

Many expositors are inclined to identify the leviathan as a strictly “mythological” entity. In some Old Testament contexts the creature may stand as a symbol for anti-God forces (cf. Psa. 74:14; Isa. 27:1). Concerning this latter passage, Prof. Howard Vos has noted:

“The OT prophet was referring to poetic imagery known to his people just as Christian writers allude to Graeco-Roman mythology without encouraging belief in the pagan deities” (Wycliffe Bible Dictionary, Peabody, MA, 1998, p. 1028).

Such a usage is not to be transported into Job 41. The description in this section of scripture certainly appears to treat the leviathan as a real sea “monster,” with which the ancients were quite familiar. Again and again, the point is made that no one has been able to master this creature.

And so, as suggested above, the main lesson is this: since man cannot dominate this creature – issued from the Maker’s hand – puny humanity (Job in particular) is not in a position to judge God’s activity relative to the inhabitants of the earth. Many people today desperately need to learn this lesson!

For a more complete discussion of the characteristics of leviathan, see our work, {glossSub (“Courier Publications”,“The Book of Job – Analyzed and Applied”)}.

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About the Author

Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.