Who or what is the Leviathan in Job 41:1? By Jack Kettler
“Canst thou draw out leviathan with a hook? or his tongue with a cord which thou lettest down?” (Job 41:1)
Is the leviathan a real creature or mythical? Some scholars think the leviathan to be a crocodile or a large whale. There is much scholarly disagreement. In addition, Job also mentions Behemoth, a powerful land animal whose “bones are tubes of bronze, his limbs like bars of iron” (Job 40:18). However, Leviathan will be the focus of this study. In this study, other passages that mention leviathan will be consulted along with lexical, commentary encyclopedic entries.
From Strong’s Lexicon:
Noun - masculine singular
Strong's Hebrew 3882: 1) leviathan, sea monster, dragon 1a) large aquatic animal 1b) perhaps the extinct dinosaur, plesiosaurus, exact meaning unknown ++++ Some think this to be a crocodile, but from the description in Job 41:1-34 this is patently absurd. It appears to be a large fire breathing animal of some sort. Just as the bomardier beetle has an explosion producing mechanism, so the great sea dragon may have an explosive producing mechanism to enable it to be a real fire breathing dragon.
“May those curse it who curse the day, those who are ready to arouse Leviathan.” (Job 3:8 NKJV)
“None is so fierce that dare stir him up: who then is able to stand before me?” (Job 41:10)
In Job 41:10, the imagery of the leviathan is descriptive of the authority and power of God.
Matthew Poole's Commentary comments on Job 41:10 explain this passage correctly:
“That dare stir him up, when he sleepeth or is quiet. None dare provoke him to the battle.
To stand before me; to contend with me his Creator, as thou, Job, dost, when one of my creatures is too hard for him.” (1)
Other passages that mention the leviathan:
“Thou brakest the heads of leviathan in pieces, and gavest him to be meat to the people inhabiting the wilderness.” (Psalm 74:14)
In Psalms 74:14, God's authority is displayed by destroying the leviathan.
“There go the ships: there is that leviathan, whom thou hast made to play therein.” (Psalm 104:26)
In Psalms 104:26, the leviathan is seen to be created by God.
“In that day the LORD with his sore and great and strong sword shall punish leviathan the piercing serpent, even leviathan that crooked serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea.” (Isaiah 27:1)
In Isaiah 27:1, the leviathan is descriptive of powerful and wicked kings.
Leviathan from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia:
“le-vi'-a-than (liwyathan (Job 41:1-34), from [~lawah, “to fold”; compare Arabic
name of the wry neck, Iynx torquilla, abu-luwa, from kindred lawa, “to bend”):
(1) The word “leviathan” also occurs in Isa 27:1, where it is characterized as “the swift serpent .... the crooked serpent”; in Ps 104:26, where a marine monster is indicated; also, in Ps 74:14 and Job 3:8. The description in Job 41:1-34 has been thought by some to refer to the whale, but while the whale suits better the expressions denoting great strength, the words apply best on the whole to the crocodile. Moreover, the whale is very seldom found in the Mediterranean, while the crocodile is abundant in the Nile, and has been known to occur in at least one river of Palestine, the Zarqa, North of Jaffa. For a discussion of the behemoth and leviathan as mythical creatures, see EB, under the word "Behemoth" and "Leviathan." The points in the description which may well apply to the crocodile are the great invulnerability, the strong and close scales, the limbs and the teeth. It must be admitted that there are many expressions which a modern scientist would not use with reference to the crocodile, but the Book of Job is neither modern nor scientific, but poetical and ancient. - Alfred Ely Day” (2)
KJV Dictionary Definition: leviathan:
“LEVI'ATHAN, n. Heb.
1. An aquatic animal, described in Job 41, and mentioned in other passages of Scripture. In Isaiah, it is called the crooked serpent. It is not agreed what animal is intended by the writers, whether the crocodile, the whale, or a species of serpent.
2. The whale, or a great whale.” (3)
Political implications of Leviathan. Enter John Locke and Thomas Hobbes:
Both Thomas Hobbes and John Locke believed in social contract theories. Hobbes claimed for government absolutism. He used the leviathan’s metaphorical form in his social contract theory, giving virtually unlimited power to the state, which was to be feared. In contrast, Locke believed in parliamentary constitutionalism and limited government. Locke believed that if the social contract is violated, the people have the right to cast off the government. John Locke is echoed by Thomas Jefferson later in the founding of America. In the English Civil War, Hobbes supported the king, while Locke supported Parliament. In the American War for Independence, both Lockean and Hobbesian social contract theories were in play.
Thomas Hobbes on government and his leviathan theory:
“For by art is created that great LEVIATHAN called a COMMONWEALTH, or STATE (in Latin CIVITAS), which is but an artificial man, though of greater stature and strength than the natural, for whose protection and defence it was intended; and in which the sovereignty is an artificial soul, as giving life and motion to the whole body; the magistrates and other officers of judicature and execution, artificial joints; reward and punishment (by which fastened to the seat of sovereignty every joint and member is moved to perform his duty) are the nerves, that do the same in the body natural; the wealth and riches of all the particular members are the strength; salus populi (the people's safety) its business; counsellors, by whom all things needful for it to know are suggested unto it, are the memory; equity and laws, and artificial reason and will; concord, health; sedition, sickness; and civil war, death.” (4)
Hobbes naively believed in the goodness of government taking the form of an absolute monarchy because of the limitations of mankind. Hobbes was a humanist of his time and not a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. In the American colonies’ fight for independence, Locke’s ideas won the day. In response to Hobbes’s use of leviathan to represent government absolutism, John Locke wrote his Two Treatises of Government.
In contrast with Hobbes, Locke was a Christian. Locke's beliefs were based upon the messianic reign of Christ. He believed that Christian doctrine must be defined by Scripture, which justifies resisting an evil absolutist monarchy.
The danger of Hobbes and his ideas about leviathan government exposed:
“Against Leviathan: Government Power and a Free Society” (5)
For those within the history of a Lockean/Jeffersonian view of history, leviathan has become synonymous with a monstrous tyrannical government.
From antiquity, Pliny the Elder’s Natural History a possible solution to the historicity of leviathan:
“The bones of this monster, to which Andromeda was said to have been exposed, were brought by Marcus Scaurus from Joppa in Judaea during his aedileship and shown at Rome among the rest of the amazing items displayed. The monster was over forty feet long, and the height of its ribs was greater than that of Indian elephants, while its spine was 1-1/2 feet thick.” (6)
Did Japanese fishermen find the remains of a plesiosaur?
“In April 1977, the Japanese fishing trawler Zuiyo-maru operating off the coast of New Zealand snagged a large carcass at a depth of about 1,000 feet. The carcass was brought to the surface and onto the ship. The dead creature was about 33 feet long and weighed about 4,000 pounds.” (7)
Crocodiles and whales do not seem to satisfy the imagery of the leviathan portrayed in Scripture. It is possible that the leviathan was a surviving dinosaur.
The image of the leviathan struck fear into the hearts of men. God used this image of a terrible sea monster to remind man of his weakness.
Christ’s Crown, His Kingship, and Covenant take this fear away.
“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)
“To God, only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28-29)
1. Matthew Poole's Commentary on the Holy Bible, Job, Vol. 1, (Peabody, Massachusetts, Hendrickson Publishers, 1985) p. 1027-1028.
2. Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor, “Entry for 'Leviathan,” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans, reprinted 1986), pp. 1868-1869.
3. The King James dictionary contains over 11,000 definitions https://av1611.com/kjbp/kjv-dictionary/kjv-dictionary-index.html
4. Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, (London, Printed for Andrew Crooke, 1651), (Introduction, 1, p.3-4).
5. David Gordon, The State Eviscerated, Mises Review 10, No. 4 (Winter 2004) by Robert Higgs, https://mises.org/library/against-leviathan-government-power-and-free-society-robert-higgs
6. As Quoted in Bill Cooper’s, The Authenticity of the Book of Jonah, Amazon Digital Services, Inc., 19.
7. Dr. Tommy Mitchell, “Didn’t a Fishing Boat Find a Dead Plesiosaur?” September 7, 2010, https://answersingenesis.org/creationism/arguments-to-avoid/didnt-a-fishing-boat-find-a-dead-plesiosaur/ Picture of the remains of the creature at web link
Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: www.TheReligionThatStartedInAHat.com