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Biblical Beasts: Behemoth

Tuesday, July 12, 2011
The behemoth is an animal that only appears in the book of Job, and there is a lot of speculation as to what kind of animal the behemoth actually is. The word itself just means great beast and the description is hard to identify with any known animal – he eats grass like an ox, his tail is stiff like a cedar, and his limbs are like bars of iron. Some believe the behemoth is something like a hippopotamus, an elephant or a crocodile whereas others think it is some kind of mythical chaos monster. So it’s a bit of a puzzle. But perhaps the bigger puzzle is why this animal features in the book of Job at all.

Job is the story of the righteous man who suffers through no fault of his own, and whilst he is cursing the day of his birth, his friends tell him that he is suffering for some evil he has done. Job demands an answer from God, and when God finally does answer, He asks Job lots of questions about His creation, one of which is about the behemoth: Can one take him with hooks, or pierce his nose with a snare? (Job 40) The impression is given that God is all powerful, that God’s ways are above man’s ways, that God takes delight in the savagery and prowess of the behemoth, but that He can also tame this beast.

But what kind of comfort is this for Job? Is this even a lesson that Job needs to learn? After all, earlier on when Job is answering back to his friends he says:
But how can a man be just before God? If one wished to contend with him, one could not answer him once in a thousand times. He is wise in heart, and mighty in strength ... who does great things beyond understanding and marvellous things without number. (Job 9)
However, at the end of the book after God has spoken, one of the last things Job says is

I had heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees thee. (Job 42)
It is not enough for Job to know God second hand. By revealing Himself directly to Job, God places Job's life in context - Job is not God’s only concern, but neither is he insignificant. Rather, Job is one of countless animals, like the behemoth, who participates in the amazing wonder of God’s creation.

Robert Verrill OP


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