The Pursuit of God

Serious Topics for Serious Christians

What kind of animal was Leviathan?

What kind of animal was Leviathan?

In Job 41, we find God boasting at great length about a creature referred to as Leviathan. Many translations suggest that this amazing beast is a crocodile. Many translations are wrong. There is only one creature we know of who can possibly fit the very detailed description that God supplies here, and that is a dragon. For those of us who grew up believing dragons were fictional beings that only appear in children’s fairytales, this might seem a bit hard to accept. Yet God is not describing a mythical being when He speaks of a giant, scaly monster who breathes fire from its mouth and smoke from its nostrils. He is talking about a very real creature who was on the earth at the time that Job lived. If you can accept the idea that dinosaurs were real just because some large bones have been unearthed, then you should be all the more willing to accept God’s claim that fire breathing monsters once coexisted with humans. Let’s take a look at Job 41 and learn more about the features this Leviathan creature had:

“Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook? Or press down his tongue with a cord?
Can you put a rope in his nose or pierce his jaw with a hook?… Can you fill his skin with harpoons, or his head with fishing spears? Lay your hand on him; Remember the battle; you will not do it again!”

In a long mocking speech, God challenges Job to try and take down His fierce beast. The point is that Job can’t. According to God, no man can go up against Leviathan and win. The animal is simply too well equipped. In the above passage, God lists off the obvious ways that man might try to attack such a beast: getting a hook in its nose, lassoing it with rope, stabbing it with harpoons and spears. We get the feeling that all of these methods have been tried at some time, only to fail miserably. Anyone who tries to attack Leviathan learns a very painful lesson. By the way God speaks in this passage, we realize that by Job’s time, men have learned to give dragons a wide berth. God capitalizes on this by saying: “If you’re too weak and wimpy to rile up Leviathan, how dare you try and provoke Me—the Creator of the universe?”

“No one is so fierce that he dares to arouse him; Who then is he that can stand before Me?
Who has given to Me that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is Mine.”

Now that God has put things in perspective, He goes on to boast about more of the dragon’s impressive features.

“I will not keep silent concerning his limbs, Or his mighty strength, or his orderly frame. Who can strip off his outer armor? Who can come within his double mail? Who can open the doors of his face? Around his teeth there is terror. His strong scales are his pride, shut up as with a tight 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.”

God spends a lot of time telling us about the dragon’s thick coat of scales that make it impervious to being injured by man’s feeble weapons. He now goes on to describe the animal’s fire breathing abilities:

“His sneezes flash forth light, and his eyes are like the eyelids of the morning. Out of his mouth go burning torches; sparks of fire leap forth. Out of his nostrils smoke goes forth as from a boiling pot and burning rushes. His breath kindles coals, and a flame goes forth from his mouth.”

This is where we really have to say goodbye to the crocodile theory. God is describing an animal with fire coming out of its mouth. Why are our Bible translators trying to shuffle the crocodile off on us when it’s so obviously not a fit. Because no one wants to use the word “dragon”. Well, this is silly. God has made all kinds of fantastic creatures since the beginning of this world. Just because there are no dragons around today doesn’t mean they never existed. It’s quite clear from Scripture that dragons once roamed the earth with man. Perhaps there is more truth to the stories of medieval knights battling dragons than we realize. Who knows how long dragons were around before God finally drove them into extinction? We know they were around in Job’s day, and scholars estimate he lived sometime after Abraham and before the days of Exodus. Later on in Psalm 74 and Psalm 104, we find more references to Leviathan. Then Isaiah mentions the beast in Isaiah 27:1. It’s no good referring to things that no one’s ever heard of. The people of Isaiah’s time were obviously familiar with what Leviathan was.

“In that day the Lord will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, With His fierce and great and mighty sword, Even Leviathan the twisted serpent; and He will kill the dragon who lives in the sea.” (Isa. 27:1)

Here at last we get a clear reference to a dragon, which confirms our theory of what Leviathan was. Then in Nehemiah 2:13, we read:

“So I went out at night by the Valley Gate in the direction of the Dragon’s Well and on to the Refuse Gate, inspecting the walls of Jerusalem which were broken down and its gates which were consumed by fire.”

How interesting that the Jews would use the term “dragon” to name a landmark in the city of Jerusalem. This is more confirmation of how real these animals were. And how fitting that God should later use such a fierce and undefeatable creature as a metaphor for Satan.

“And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.” (Rev. 12:9)

So it turns out that the imagery in Revelation isn’t quite as mystical as it first sounds. God uses real creatures who have a well-known history of terrifying humanity as a parallel for Satan. Now let’s continue on with Job 41 to find out more about this amazing creature.

“When he raises himself up, the mighty fear; because of the crashing they are bewildered.”

Down through the ages, dragons have been sketched and painted as winged creatures who can fly about. The description here of Leviathan raising himself up with a loud ruckus easily fits the image of a dragon hoisting himself into the air with a thunderous flapping of wings.

“The sword that reaches him cannot avail, nor the spear, the dart or the javelin. He regards iron as straw, bronze as rotten wood. The arrow cannot make him flee; Slingstones are turned into stubble for him. Clubs are regarded as stubble; he laughs at the rattling of the javelin.”

Once again God emphasizes how impossible this creature is to kill. It scoffs at spears, arrows, rocks and clubs. This thing doesn’t seem to have any weak points. Even its belly is protected with armor.

“His undersides are jagged potsherds, leaving a trail in the mud like a threshing sledge.
He makes the depths churn like a boiling caldron and stirs up the sea like a pot of ointment.
He leaves a glistening wake behind him; one would think the deep had white hair.”

Apparently these dragons primarily made their home in the sea and they liked to thrash around in the water until “the depths churn like a boiling caldron.” We can imagine a dragon whipping its tail back and forth until the water turns white with foam so that “one would think the deep had white hair.” In Psalm 104:24-26, we find more confirmation about the dragon residing in the sea.

“O Lord, how many are Your works! In wisdom You have made them all; the earth is full of Your possessions. There is the sea, great and broad, in which are swarms without number, animals both small and great. There the ships move along, and Leviathan, which You have formed to sport in it.”

Anyone want to go sailing alongside a fire breathing monster? Yikes.

“Nothing on earth is like him, one made without fear. He looks on everything that is high; he is king over all the sons of pride.” (Job 41:33-34)

Even the most brave and arrogant men tremble in the presence of Leviathan. We can start to understand why God made such a terrifying creature. We humans are quick to lose sight of just how awesome and terrifying God’s power is. It’s good for us to find ourselves at the mercy of some frightening beast now and then. Consider the terror we feel today when a giant grizzly bear comes sniffing around our campsite, or a shark takes a bite out of a surfer. If a mere animal can reduce us to a defenseless afternoon snack, what about the One who created them?

Reverence is a fear-based respect that comes from acknowledging that someone or something is superior to us in some life-threatening way. If a large snarling dog slips its collar and comes charging at you with a rabid look in its eye, you’re going to feel an instant combination of vulnerability and fear in the presence of power that you have no hope of controlling. Seeing that mass of muscles barreling towards you will make you feel extremely frail and small. In that moment, you will be acutely aware of the great difference between the dog’s fighting skills and yours. You will know beyond a doubt that if the two of you become physically engaged, the dog will win. These are all the components of reverence. In Job 41, God points out how ludicrous it is that man should be so intimidated by a sea dragon, yet at the same time dare to insult the One who created not only the dragon, but the entire universe. We should be infinitely more reverent of God than we are of the things He has made. To help us remember just how powerful He is, God creates things like dragons, tornadoes, and volcanoes. He shakes our buildings to pieces in earthquakes. He breaks our car windshields with huge hailstones. He scorches our farmlands in drought. He chases us around with large swarms of stinging insects. Not because He hates us, but because He can see that we keep losing sight of the fact that we should be revering Him. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” we’re told in Proverbs 1:7. Fearing the Lord is a major theme in the Bible—it is something that God demands of all people. And just to make it extra clear how serious the concept of reverence is to Him, He informs us that anyone who refuses to meet His minimum requirements for respect will be tormented in Hell for eternity. So then, let’s learn from the fire-breathing Leviathan and put more effort into treating God with the reverence He deserves.

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