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413. Job 41:12-25, Describing Leviathan

 

12 “I will not keep silence concerning his limbs,

Or his mighty strength, or his orderly frame.

13 Who can strip off his outer armor?

Who can come within his double mail?

14 Who can open the doors of his face?

Around his teeth there is terror.

15 His strong scales are his pride,

Shut up as with a tight seal.

16 One is so near to another

That no air can come between them.

17 They are joined one to another;

They clasp each other and cannot be separated.

18 His sneezes flash forth light,

And his eyes are like the eyelids of the morning.

19 Out of his mouth go burning torches;

Sparks of fire leap forth.

20 Out of his nostrils smoke goes forth

As from a boiling pot and burning rushes.

21 His breath kindles coals,

And a flame goes forth from his mouth.

22 In his neck lodges strength,

And dismay leaps before him.

23 The folds of his flesh are joined together,

Firm on him and immovable.

24 His heart is as hard as a stone,

Even as hard as a lower millstone.

25 When he raises himself up, the mighty fear;

Because of the crashing they are bewildered.

    

After describing Job’s inability to capture or control Leviathan, as well as Leviathan’s formidable power, God now turns to a bodily description of this beast. Surprisingly, and delightfully, this text presents one of the most beautiful and imaginative poetic texts in Scripture. I say “surprisingly” because usually Job 41:12-25 is on no one’s list of favorite Bible passages. I say “delightfully” because the road has been long and the trek arduous in trying to understand this great classic, and it is as if the author has had mercy on his readers and decided here to present an awe-inspiring glimpse of the surrounding countryside for a weary mountain climber.  


But the passage is long, it doesn’t break up into easily-identifiable units, and occasionally the imagery is unclear.  We might further subdivide this section into verses 12-14, Leviathan’s surface; verses 15-17, Leviathan’s serrated back; verses 18-21, Leviathan’s breath from mouth and nose; verses 22-25, Leviathan’s neck, heart and awesome effect on others. The subdivision is only approximate though it does give us some handholds as we are scaling this awe-inspiring mountain.

 

Let's begin with verses12-14, Leviathan’s surface. God returns to clarity in this passage, though verse 12 has been subject to a variety of readings. Literally, we have:

 

    “I shall not keep silent concerning his sides/parts/limbs, as well as the matter of his might and

     the grace of his array.”

 

Its most controverted translation issue relates to the word I render “sides/parts/limbs” above (the common word bad).  Bad normally means to be “alone” or “apart” from others, though it also has a secondary usage to describe “poles” of the Tabernacle furnishings. This doesn’t make much sense, and so scholars have searched a bit further. Another word spelled the same is translated “empty boasting” or “idle talk.”  The word occurs 5x, one of which is earlier in Job (11:3). Yet, the word bad also appears in Job 18:13 with the meaning of “limbs,” and that is what I will adopt here. It is a translation that also fits the context since God will continue by focusing on the limbs or parts of Leviathan.

 

Those who go down the road of “boastings” for bad then read the rest of the verse in that context. The “word/matter of might” becomes the “word of pride”/“proud talk” and the final words on the grace of array then become the “fair array of his words.” Thus our rendering of bad makes all the difference in the meaning of the verse. Though the “boasting” angle is alluring, I stay with “limbs,” both because of Zophar’s double use of it to describe “members” of the body in 18:13 as well as the context of 41:13-25. 

 

Seen in this light, the second part of the verse gives us the attractive phrases “word/matter of his might” and “grace of his array.” Leviathan’s “might” is his geburah (61x) one of the many g-a or g-b words in Biblical Hebrew that centers on the concept of “might” or “strength” or “pride.” The word also appears a few other times in Job, once to describe God’s might (12:13), once to describe the war horse’s strength (39:19). The “grace of his array” picks up on a hapax, chin (“grace”) which no doubt is derived from chanan, “to be gracious,” and the familiar and important word arak, “to arrange in formation.” Here it is a noun. Rather than just telling us He will now describe Leviathan’s bodily parts, God calls them the “matter of might” and “grace of array.” It prepares us for an awesome literary fireworks to come.

 

The next two verses (vv 13-14) speak of Leviathan’s outer covering or skin, even though the common word for “skin” (or) doesn’t appear. We are charmed, and we go slowly when it is described in verse 13 as follows:

 

    “Who can roll away the face of his garment? Who can come within/upon the double fold of 

     his bridle?”

 

The “face of his garment” is not some pooch-cover that owners of puppies put on so that the little creature won’t get cold in the winter. It is described as something that is “double” (kephel, 3x), a word derived from the verb kaphal (5x, “to fold double/double over”). “Bridle” is resen (4x), and is something that restrains the mouth of a horse or donkey. We don’t know if this is a restraining bit put in his mouth by God (you would think that God might take credit for it if it was), or simply a kind of mask that, along with tough skin, protects his face. It would then be sort of like wearing a football helmet as Leviathan goes out to work.

 

That the last image is not too far-fetched is confirmed by verse 14, where we remain in the facial region:

 

    “The doors of his face—who can open them? All around his teeth is terror.”

 

The word deleth (88x) is the usual word for “door” or “gate.” Usually it appears without a qualifier, but it can sometimes be the “doors of your house” (Joshua 2:19) or the “doors of a roof chamber” (Judges 3:23). But this is the only time that “doors of the face” appears.  Do we imagine some kind of fantasy monster, with facial covering? “Terror around the teeth” is also arresting. Emah (“terror) only occurs 17x in the Bible, six of which are in Job (e.g., 9:34; 13:21; 20:25, etc). Job truly is the “book of terror.” The most skilled martial artists know that despite a powerful frame, a creature’s most vulnerable feature is often its face. A few blows delivered at crucial places of the face can neutralize the most powerful foe. But Leviathan seems to be fully protected there. The face has coverings; the eyes emit terror; it appears invulnerable.