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411. Job 41 Meeting Leviathan

 

I will follow the English text here. Though one could suggest several outlines for Job 41, I will divide the chapter as follows:

 

41:1-11, Leviathan’s Elusiveness

41:12-24, Leviathan’s Impressive Physical Characteristics

41:25-32, Leviathan’s Fear-inducing Character

41:33-34, A Concluding Coda on Leviathan

 

Job 41:1-11, Leviathan’s Elusiveness

 

“1 Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook?

Or press down his tongue with a cord?

2 Can you put a rope in his nose

Or pierce his jaw with a hook?

3 Will he make many supplications to you,

Or will he speak to you soft words?

4 Will he make a covenant with you?

Will you take him for a servant forever?

5 Will you play with him as with a bird,

Or will you bind him for your maidens?

6 Will the traders bargain over him?

Will they divide him among the merchants?

7 Can you fill his skin with harpoons,

Or his head with fishing spears?

8 Lay your hand on him;

Remember the battle; you will not do it again!

9 Behold, your expectation is false;

Will you be laid low even at the sight of him?

10 No one is so fierce that he dares to arouse him;

Who then is he that can stand before Me?

11 Who has given to Me that I should repay him?

Whatever is under the whole heaven is Mine.

 

We are startled by the return of all the divine questions here. The first two verses probe Job’s skill at capturing Leviathan; the next three gently mock Job’s inability to control and tame it; then the author talks about selling it, capturing it again and finally the futility of even thinking of confronting it. While most of the questions in the first seven verses are clear, we begin to lose some clarity in verses 8-11. The point, however, is to show Job’s inability to capture, control or stand up to this most fearsome aquatic creature. We can break down this section into smaller subsections:  this essay will only treat of capturing Leviathan (vv 1-2) and controlling or taming Leviathan (vv 3-5).

 

Verses 1-2 describe the difficulty of capturing Leviathan. The connection between Behemoth and Leviathan in 40:24 and 41:1 is established by reference to methods of capturing them. Job was seemingly unable to “take” (the common laqach) Behemoth with a snare (moqesh) or pierce (naqab) its nose (40:24). Can he do any better with Leviathan? God asks in 41:1, 

 

    “Can you draw/drag out Leviathan with a hook; can you lower his lips with a cord?"

    a cord?”

 

The verb for drawing out is mashak (36x) which has a range of meanings from the sound of the ram’s horn being “drawn out” (Exodus 19:13) to the “drawing/pulling” of a yoke (Deuteronomy 21:3) to the action of moving on a march (Judges 4:6), to the “drawing up” or “deploying” troops for an ambush (Judges 20:37). Its two other appearances in Job are in the obscure 21:33 and in the clear verse describing dragging off the mighty people from power (24:22). A second Hebrew verb meaning to “draw out” is the similar mashah (3x), whose most famous appearance was on the lips of Pharaoh’s daughter, when she talked about “drawing” (mashah) Moses out of the water (Exodus 2:10).

 

The “hook” here is the rare chakah (3x), which is probably derived from the word chek, the “roof of the mouth.” Its other appearances, in Habakkuk 1:15 and Isaiah 19:8, show that it was used in an aquatic context. We understand immediately how an instrument or tool someone might use to hook a fish by the mouth might sound like the word for “mouth” or, in this case, “roof of the mouth.”

 

The second part of the verse is parallel to the first, with the only potentially unclear idea being the “lowering” of the lips of Leviathan with a cord. In view no doubt is the function of the hook, perhaps pressing the tongue down and securing itself in the tongue. The verb for this action is shaqa, which generally means “to sink” or “to settle down” (Jeremiah 51:64; Ezekiel 32:14). Though Job doesn’t answer the question, we are on good grounds for concluding that he certainly didn’t possess the skill to capture Leviathan.

 

God continues with the theme of Leviathan’s capture in 41:2. God’s next question literally reads:

 

    “Can you place a bulrush in his nose; or can you pierce his jaw with a ring/hook?"

 

God spoke of the “tongue” in verse 1; now we will be moving to other bodily parts, though still in the facial area. Since the meaning of the two verbs is relatively clear (sim is the common verb for “put/place” and one of the prominent meanings of naqab is “to pierce” (e.g., II Kings 18:21; Job 40:24)) and the two parts of the body are clear (the common aph for “nose” and lechi for “jaw”), we just have to focus on the items that God uses in this verse. They are the agmon and choach. Both of these describe wooden things, but it makes sense that the earliest hooks or lures for fish would have been made of tough wood.  

 

Agmon (5x) appears here and in 41:20 both in the sense of “rushes,” and its three other appearances (all in Isaiah) confirm that usage. Yet, many translations will render agmon here as “rope” or “hook,” focusing more on its function to catch a really big aquatic creature than the material out of which it is made. The same is true for choach (12x). Choach is usually translated “briars” or “thistles” or “thorn bush” (e.g., II Chronicles 25:18; Job 31:40; Song of Solomon 2:2, etc), but here and II Chronicles 33:11 it might best be rendered as as a “hook.” In that regard choach here might have been erroneously written instead of chach, all of whose seven appearances are best translated “hook” (e.g., Ezekiel 19:4, 9; 29:4; 38:4). Hooks (chach) also appear in jaws (lechi) in Ezekiel 29:4; 38:4, though they are in the nose (aph) in II Kings 19:28; Isaiah 37:29.  Regardless of whether we translate the agmon/choach (chach) as “hooks” or “rings” or “bulrushes” or “thorns” or “thistles,” we get the point. Job can’t capture Leviathan with any kind of fishing lure.

 

Verses 3-5 ask about Job's ability to control or tame Leviathan. Just as Job has accused God of turning “cruel” to him (akzar, 30:21), so now God turns to gentle mocking of Job. Even though Job can’t capture Leviathan, God continues with several hypothetical questions that expose Job’s inability to control this beast. The first, in 41:3, plays upon Leviathan’s possible helplessness at Job’s mighty hands:

 

    “Will he make many supplications to you?  Or will he speak tenderly to you?”

 

Did you just hear God chuckle? God chooses two words here of immense importance theologically for Israel to apply to the sea creature that Job can neither capture nor tame. The word for “supplication” is tachanun (18x), which appears, not unexpectedly, most frequently in the Psalms. “Listen to the voice of my supplications (tachanun)” is a common plea of a desperate writer to God (Psalm 28:2; 31:22; 116:1; 130:2). Will Leviathan also bring those kind of desperate words to Job? (We think we just heard a divine guffaw in the background). Well, how about tender speaking (rak, 16x)? The word rak can sometimes best be rendered “delicate” or “tender” or “soft” or “weak” or “frail.” Abraham could take a “tender” (rak) sheep from the flock to prepare it for visitors (Genesis 18:7). Children who are described as rak might be said to be “frail” (Genesis 33:13). Proverbs 15:1 associates rak with words when it says that a “tender answer” or “gentle answer” turns away wrath.  

 

God’s gentle mockery continues in verse 4, where God again drenches his words in theological language:

 

    “Will he make a covenant with you, so that you will take him as a servant forever?"

 

The language is simple and brilliant. “Make a covenant” translates the well-known phrase karat berith, or “cut a covenant” in Hebrew. Cutting a covenant with God means that the people become servants of God forever. What a glorious relationship is suggested by the terminology of covenant-making and eternal servanthood!  Ah, but God is mocking Job with terms precious to the tradition.  The tone is 

 

    ‘I, God, can make covenants with people, bringing them into a relationship of father/son or of              lord/servant.  By the way, Job, can you do this with Leviathan?’

 

(More divine laughter is heard in the background). But God just won’t give up needling Job.  Whereas two verses were all it took to establish Job’s inability to capture Leviathan, three verses seem needed to speak of his inability to tame it. Verse 5, most insultingly, says:

 

    “Will you laugh at it it as with a bird, or bind him to a leash for your little girls?"

 

The first verb is the familiar sachaq, which God has now used 6x in his four chapters of speeches. Mockery and laughing, chuckling and playing is what so many of God’s creatures seem to do. God, who is the master at drawing pictures, gives us a vivid one here as we can imagine Job sitting on his ash heap trying to tame and then play with a captured bird. The Egyptians in antiquity were well-known for keeping all kinds of exotic pets. Job only has to keep one of them—a bird. The final words take the taming of Leviathan to the most extreme degree. Can Job so defang, so weaken the powerful Leviathan that it would be a plaything for little girls? Job’s humiliation is complete. He is so weak, and God is rubbing his face in it. I hear in these three verses said in a similar tone to that of 38:21, discussed above.