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416. Job 41:26-34, Leviathan the Terrifying


26 “The sword that reaches him cannot avail,

Nor the spear, the dart or the javelin.

27 He regards iron as straw,

Bronze as rotten wood.

28 The arrow cannot make him flee;

Slingstones are turned into stubble for him.

29 Clubs are regarded as stubble;

He laughs at the rattling of the javelin.

30 His underparts are like sharp potsherds;

He spreads out like a threshing sledge on the mire.

31 He makes the depths boil like a pot;

He makes the sea like a jar of ointment.

32 Behind him he makes a wake to shine;

One would think the deep to be gray-haired.

33 Nothing on [r]earth is like him,

One made without fear.

34 He looks on everything that is high;

He is king over all the sons of pride.”


Leviathan’s awesome physical attributes are now coupled with examples of its strength and graceful movement.  We might further divide this section into verses 26-30, Leviathan’s untouchability, verses 31-32, Leviathan’s graceful movement, and verses 33-34, a brief summary. Though the last word on Leviathan in both the Hebrew and English translation is that it/he is “proud” (v 34, using shachats, a word only found in Job), there is very little emphasis in the description of Leviathan of what one might call its moral character or its relationship to humans. Absent also is any reference to a primeval battle between God and Leviathan, even though I have suggested at points that such a granular or minute description of Leviathan, as we have in Job 41, could have arisen from God’s experience not simply in creating the monster but in close physical contact (i.e., a fight) with it. Yet God’s emphasis here is on describing its strength, grandeur and unique character. As verse 33 will tell us, “On earth it has no equal.”


Verses 26-30, Leviathan’s Untouchability. I use “untouchable” in the sense of something/someone who is invincible and strong. The opening clause of verse 26 can be translated a few different ways, with Leviathan being the object of the clause: either “If one approaches him with the sword…” or “When the sword approaches him” or “The sword of him that approaches him..” It is a niggling point, and it makes little difference in meaning. Because there is no preposition in the Hebrew before “sword,” I tend to favor a translation where “sword” (the common chereb) is the subject.  The verb for “approaching” is the common nasag, though it may have a more specialized meaning here of “strike.” Thus, “If the sword strikes/strikes at him. . .” is a serviceable rendering of the first phrase.


We continue with allusive speaking in the next clause, for it says, literally, “He shall not rise” (the common qum). But qum can also mean “to stand,” and so our meaning most likely is that if one attacks Leviathan with a sword, the attacker can’t stand or, as we say, it will avail him not at all. It matters not what instrument you are using, whether spear (chanith, 47x), dart (massa, 2x) or javelin (shiryon, 9x). Though the first is unquestionably a “spear,” the other two are not universally rendered as dart and javelin.  The only other appearance of massa, for example, is in I Ki 6:7, where it describes stone in a quarry. Thus, do we have some kind of unidentified stone weapon here?  Likewise, it is disputed whether the word rendered “javelin” (shiryon) really is the same word as a word that looks like it in eight other places, where it is translated a “coat of armor” (e.g., 3 times in I Sa 17 to describe Goliath’s vestiture). The more common word for “javelin” is kidon (9x), a word that God uses twice in the divine speeches (Job 39:23; 41:29). You would think that the shiryon would be a different weapon. . .


In any case, whether we have darts and javelins here (the KJV has the unlikely “habergeon” for shiryon), we have Leviathan able to parry the thrusts of these weapons.


Just as we had repeated use of yatsuq or other words in the last passage, so now we will have two appearances of “stubble” (qash, 16x) and one of a synonym, “straw” (teben, 17x) in vv 27-29. These emphasize the flimsiness to Leviathan of the most solid and potent materials known to humans. Note that the verb chashab (“to consider/esteem”) appears in verses 27 and 29, acting as a kind of inclusio for various things that Leviathan considers flimsy. A list of those fragile and insubstantial things includes “iron” (barzel), “brass” (nechushah), the “arrow" (qesheth), “slingstones” (the unusual phrase ebney-qela), more “darts” (totach in this case) and “javelins” (the more common kidon).  


But God doesn’t just give a list of these things and say that they are as nothing to Leviathan. Drawing on impressive poetic skill, Leviathan considers (chashab) the first as straw and the second as “rotten wood” (using the hapax riqqabon, derived from the 2x-appearing verb raqab, meaning “to decay/rot”—Prov 10:7; Is 40:20). Rather than most people, who would flee or duck for cover when the arrows start flying, the arrows cannot make Leviathan flee (the common barach). The slingstones (a word I may never have used in speaking) become chaff (v 28, qash). While on the concept of chaff, then, verse 29 tells us that totach are also considered (chashab) as chaff (qash). We don’t really know what totach is/are; translations as various as “darts” or “clubs” or “spears” have appeared. Perhaps that is why one recent translation gives up and just calls them “weapons.”


The final phrase of verse 29 brings back the verb sachaq, to laugh, which God uses in the divine speeches six times (out of a total of 36 in the Bible). Now Leviathan is laughing at the shaking or rattling of the javelins. The word for “rattling” is raash (17x), which God used in 39:24. In fact, as we look more closely at verse 29, we see also that the word for javelin (kidon) was used by God in 39:23. Both raash/kidon thus appear in the most eloquent of God’s poetic flights—on the war horse (39:18-25). God is searching for that same literary acme, and rather successfully here. Note also, that with the use of kidon here, we have the mellifluous sounds of kedud/kidod/kidon in the previous several verses. Words repeat, similar sounds cluster together, and memorable verbs make this description of Leviathan’s untouchability memorable.  

Verse 30, though grouped with vv 26-29, is really an independent thought as it further describes Leviathan’s body.  We are again in the realm of rare words, even though the picture of Leviathan is clear—and awe-inspiring.  


    “His underbelly is the sharpness of potsherds, its pointed marks are like a         threshing sledge in the mire.”


We looked previously at his neck, mouth, nose and eyes, but now there is a brief mention of Leviathan’s undersides.  The English phrase “weak underbelly” captures what our general experience is—that the “undersides” even of fierce animals or those with terrifying surfaces is vulnerable.  But not so for Leviathan.  The first word can either be “underbelly/undersides” or “underneath him.”  But the focus is on the “sharpness of the potsherds/earthenware.”  The word for “sharp” (chaddud) is another hapax, perhaps selected by God because the ch sounds are now starting to predominate (chasab in vv 27, 29; cheres for “potsherd” and charuts for “threshing floor” in this verse).  It is derived from chadad (6x, “to be sharp/keen”), five of whose six appearances are in two passages (Prov 27:17; Ezek 21:9-11).  The word translated “potsherd” (cheres) can either be an intact or shattered earthenware vessel; the latter fits our context better.  Note that it is the phrase chaddudey cheres to describe those potsherds; I would be careful not to cut my hands on them too!


The second half of verse 30 isn’t fully clear.  It seems that Leviathan is “spreading” his “threshing marks” in the mire, but we have to work pretty hard to get there.  The verb translated “spread” is raphad (3x), which also means to “make one’s bed” in Job (17:13), but has a completely different meaning in Song of Solomon 2:5.  Clines tells us it is a byform of rabad, “to spread” (2x).  The thing that he is spreading out is a charuts (18x), which normally describes “fine gold” (Prov 8:19), but also is rendered “diligent” or “moat” or other things that make us suspect that maybe more than one word is involved that is spelled identically.  Yet, “threshing sledge” is attested as good translation in Is 28:27.   The “mire” is the common tit (13x), a word that will no doubt be easy for most males to remember (though pronounced “teet”).

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