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415. Concluding the Description of Leviathan

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.

 

Verses 22-25 describe Leviathan’s neck, heart and awesome effect on others.  As we see immediately in this passage, he language changes from flames and smoke to images of solidity and firmness. That change is captured in the threefold use of the adjective yatsuq in verses 23-24. It is derived from the 51x-appearing verb yatsaq, which comes from the practice of pouring or casting metallic figures. Yatsaq can either emphasize the process (i.e., “pouring”)  or result (something “solid”) of casting. In these verses it is the latter that is in view, yielding a creature that is “cast” or “solid.” Both uses of the term are evident in the earlier chapter of Job. Whereas Zophar could speak of “steadfastness” using yatsaq (the actual form is mutsaq, 11:15), Eliphaz uses the the term to refer apparently to a liquid state (22:16). But both Elihu (37:18) and God (38:38) use yatsuq in its “solid” connotation.  

 

Yet, even in the midst of Leviathan’s solid neck (verse 22), firm folds of flesh (verse 23), and adamant heart (verse 24), there is an image of dancing. Let’s move directly to that (verse 22):

 

    “Strength lodges in his neck; and dread dances before him.”

 

Though we are no doubt supposed to be terrified of Leviathan, we now are strangely ensorcelled. We can easily enough understand how “strength” (the common oz, similar in meaning to geburah in verse 12) is in his neck. In fact, the strength is said to “lodge” or “take up its abode” (the common lun) there. The verb lun usually is used in terms of “spending the night” (Genesis 19:2; Exodus 23:18), though it has a secondary meaning of “grumble” (Exodus 16:2).  

 

Lodging is something secure and fixed, but then the second clause takes us on a delightful little journey into dancing. The verb is the hapax duts, perhaps used to complement the dud (pot) of verse 20. We think it means “to spring, leap, dance” based on Syriac and Arabic parallels, but the KJV, followed by several more modern versions, render the second half, “and sorrow is turned into joy before him.” The final word of the verse, deabah (also a hapax), is no doubt derived from daeb (3x), which means “to languish” or “waste away” (e.g., Jeremiah 31:12, 25). Thus, a translation of “sorrow” or “dismay” is probably justified here. But the reality is that we have the unusual situation of consecutive hapaxes. Because God is a great poet and shows Himself skillful at alliteration here, He just uses duts deabah rather than more accessible and common words either for dancing or dismay. If indeed the duts is best rendered as “dancing” or “springing up,” we have God talking about how “dismay dances” away from Leviathan. “Terror trembles” away from him. Duts deabah (even though the verb “duts” begins with a “t” sound here because it is in a feminine form). We can simply get lost in the sound.


Leviathan’s neck is firm; and dismay dances or terror trembles before him. Verse 23 is unclear mostly because the part of Leviathan’s body being referred to is also a hapax, mappel. We have the possibly unprecedented situation, then, of three consecutive hapaxes, two at the end of verse 22 and one to begin verse 23. (Numbers 11:5 has four hapaxes, though they are just a list of various vegetables). Here the reference is to the “mappel of his flesh,” which “cling” (dabaq, which we have just seen in verse 17, and which goes nicely with duts deabah) or “are firm” (the first of three appearances in two verses of yatsuq). Most scholars see the mappel as “folds” or “flakes” or “hanging parts,” as if Leviathan was covered with unattractive dewlaps. Clines wants to avoid the problem of the phrase by just rendering it as “underbelly.” But if we stay with the “folds” image for a bit, we have the stunning picture that these features, which normally flap in an unsightly fashion in cows (or even some people) are just as firm as the neck.  Indeed, they are double-firm, with both dabaq and yatsuq being predicated of these flaps. As if to illustrate the principle that a threefold cord is not quickly broken, verse 23 concludes with one other image of solidity: “they are not moved.” The verb so rendered (mot, 38x) is beloved in the Psalms. More than half of the Bible’s uses of the term appear in the first 100 Psalms alone (e.g., 13:4; 15:5).

 

We move to Leviathan’s heart in verse 24, though some scholars say that the common word for heart (leb) ought to be rendered “chest,” since the rest of the description of Leviathan is about external/visible bodily parts. Whether it is heart or chest, it too is “firm” (yatsuq) like a stone, “firm” (yatsuq for a third time) as a “lower millstone.” We could take a fascinating mini-detour on millstones (palach) now, but suffice it to say that the “lower” millstone (literally the “millstone underneath”) is immovable, while the “upper millstone” (literally, the “millstone of riding,” Judges 9:53; II Samuel 11:21) moves. We can see in the name of the upper millstone the means of locomotion—a person on a horse. So firm is the heart or chest of Leviathan that it can be likened to a stone or the lower millstone. We wonder, when God was reciting these words, whether He felt that Leviathan’s solidity approached His own. The language used to describe Leviathan is language of respect; Leviathan is meant to be seen as a most formidable creature.

 

Though there is no clear break in the text at this point I will conclude this section with  mention of verse 25. The remainder of the chapter (vv 26-34) speaks of the physical feats or strength of Leviathan; verse 25 acts as a kind of transition between those physical feats and his impressive description of verses 12-24.

 

Despite being only five Hebrew words, verse 25 is difficult to translate and often takes a dozen or more English words to render it.  Let’s go one phrase at a time.  

 

    “When he raises himself, the gods/heroes/mighty stand in awe.”

 

The first word is derived from the common verb nasa, “to lift up.” “His raising” is the literal meaning. But the verb in the second clause is problematic. It is the easily-recognizable Hebrew verb gur (98x), which means “to dwell/sojourn” in more than 90 of its appearances.  A secondary meaning, very lightly attested, is “to stand in awe” (Psalm 22:23; 33:8). Let’s go with that here. But who are those who “stand in awe?” They are the “gods” (word is el). But because God wouldn’t be speaking of other Gods here, we have to demote these figures to either small cap “gods” or, preferably, “heroes.”

 

When Leviathan shows himself, then, bringing himself up to his full height, even heroes are awed. The idea behind God’s language is somewhat similar to Job’s description of the honor accorded him in his prior life (Job 29:8-9), where the young men withdrew and the older men fell silent at his approach. But what do the heroes do when they see this wonderful and magnificent creature? The final two words of the verse tell us, though they are difficult to render. Literally we have:

 

    “They sin from their shatterings.”

 

This translation won’t get us very far. Better is the NRSV:  “At the crashing they are beside themselves.” The NASB, above, has “Because of the crashing they are bewildered.” But the verb is chata, the typical verb for “sin” or “go wrong.” It is never elsewhere rendered “to be beside themselves” or “be bewildered,” even though that seems to be the agreed-upon translation in the Job-establishment. It appears in the hithpael or reflexive form, so it is, literally “they sin upon themselves.” If we take the “shatterings/crashing” as an indication of their mental upset (i.e., they are “shattered/overwhelmed”), upset because of the awesome size and splendor of Leviathan, then a more natural translation points to the bodily reaction to the overwhelming sight of Leviathan. In a word, they “They are so overwhelmed they shit on themselves.” I don’t think you will see that translation suggested in the next Bible Translation Society meeting. . .