Take part in TGC’s Read the Bible initiative, where we’re encouraging Christians and churches to read together through God’s Word in a year. Content taken from Job: The Wisdom of the Cross by Christopher Ash, ©2014. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, crossway.org.
G. K. Chesterton suggests that as Job listens to God’s speeches, “he feels the terrible and tingling atmosphere of something which is too good to be told. The refusal of God to explain his design is itself a burning hint of his design.”
What is conveyed to Job—and to us—in the Behemoth and Leviathan descriptions is indeed almost too good to be told.
And yet it’s true.
Leviathan and Behemoth—Figures of Darkness
It seems Behemoth may be the storybook embodiment of the figure of death. And the Leviathan in biblical imagery is the archenemy of God. In the Leviathan we see the embodiment of beastliness, of terror, of undiluted evil. When, at the climax of his description, we read “he is king over all the sons of pride” (41:34), we’re reading of the one who elsewhere is called “Beelzebul, the prince of demons” (Matt. 12:24).
This second divine speech to Job addresses the problem of supernatural evil in the created order. This is clear in Job 40:8–14. Job has questioned God’s justice (40:8). So God challenges him to do the job of judging all the earth (40:11)—that is, to bring low the proud and to tread down the wicked (40:12). “If you can do that,” says the Lord, in essence, “then I will admit that you can save yourself. But you can’t” (40:14).
If we thought evil was bad, when we come face to face with the Leviathan we realize it’s infinitely more frightening than we had thought.
So the figures of Behemoth and Leviathan come not as an anticlimax, but rather use the language of well-known stories to make the point that only the Lord can keep evil on a leash. The Leviathan is “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31), “the prince of the power of the air”—that supernatural region that lies above us but below God’s heaven (Eph. 2:2).
So here’s a creature that’s the ruler of all the proud. “If you can tame him, Job, then we may be sure you can tame all the proud. But you can’t, Job, can you?” Indeed we see in Job 19 that it’s precisely this monster who’s been savaging Job and making his life such utter misery all this time. Job can’t take him on. The point of Job 41 is to make us tremble at the awesome and full power of the prince of evil.
If we thought evil was bad, when we come face to face with the Leviathan we realize it’s infinitely more frightening than we had thought. “You cannot begin to take on the problem of evil, Job. And you know that.”
The Devil Is God’s Devil
“But I can!” says the Lord. That’s the point.
This awesome monster is “a creature” (41:33), a created thing. “I made him too, and I can tame him. And he is on my leash, even if he cannot be on yours” (cf. 41:5). We see similar deprecating comedy in Psalm 104:26, with its calm description of Leviathan as placed in the sea to frolic, as a parent might put an unruly child in a secure playpen to play.
Here’s the point. A walker enters a farmyard and is terrified by wild dogs, snarling and snapping around his ankles. He’s scared. The question he’s bound to ask is, Are these dogs restrained in any way? Are they on a leash? Is there an owner around who can call them off? As Job suffers, his greatest and deepest fear is that the monster who attacks him is unrestrained, that the attacks will go on forever, with unrelieved ferocity, and that the monster has been given a free hand—unlimited access to Job and his life. He’s afraid there exists no sovereign God who has evil on a leash.
But there is. And when Job grasps that, he’s filled with awe (42:2). We, the readers, have already seen this in chapters 1 and 2, in which it’s clear Satan is restrained (1:12; 2:6). On both occasions he obeys to the letter. Satan, the Leviathan, is a horrible monster. But he can’t go one inch beyond the leash on which the Lord keeps him.
Satan, the Leviathan, is a horrible monster. But he can’t go one inch beyond the leash on which the Lord keeps him.
Now this doesn’t answer our questions. It doesn’t give us a philosophically tidy schema that can explain the problem of suffering and evil. But it does something deeper: it opens our eyes to who God is. He’s the only God, without rival. Even the mystery of evil is his mystery. Even Satan, the Leviathan, is God’s Satan—God’s pet, if we dare put it so.
This means that as we suffer, and as we sit with others who suffer, we may, with absolute confidence, bow down to this sovereign God—knowing that while evil may be terrible, it cannot and will not ever go one fraction beyond the leash on which God has put it. And it will not go on forever, for the One to whom we belong is God.
It’s not until the New Testament that we learn what it cost God to win this victory over the Leviathan. Neither the Behemoth nor the Leviathan can finally be defeated by the imposition of a greater force of the same kind; evil can’t be defeated by evil, but only by the redemptive suffering of pure goodness. This was no Olympian victory won from a great height by a tyrannical and remote god.
At the climax of the book of Job is the assurance that both death (the Behemoth) and the one who holds the power of death (the Leviathan) are creatures entirely under the control of the sovereign God who is our Savior.
On the contrary, this victory was won, paradoxically, on the cross of Christ. As the writer of the letter to the Hebrews explains, the reason God’s Son became a fully human being was so that “through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14). The reason the Leviathan monster has a hold over human beings is because we’ve surrendered to his cruel sovereignty by rebelling against God. “The sting of death is sin” (1 Cor. 15:56). We owe this evil monster our dark allegiance and can’t escape his clutches until our debt is paid. And yet that debt was paid at the cross:
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Col. 2:13–15)
Our God deals in scars, for he bears them in the person of his only Son. When the darkness of the Leviathan’s presence overwhelms us, we may turn with confidence to this Savior alone.
Comfort for Sufferers and Sinners
Evil frightens me. It’s meant to. I’m meant to be humbled by supernatural evil so that I know—deeply know—that it’s too strong for me, that I can’t resist it on my own. Death and the one who hold the power of death—that is, the Devil—are too strong for me. But my response isn’t meant to end in terror. For at the climax of the book of Job is the assurance that both death (the Behemoth) and the one who holds its power (the Leviathan) are creatures entirely under the control of a sovereign Savior.
The assurance that he can do all things, that no purpose of his can be thwarted, is the comfort I need in suffering and the encouragement I crave when terrified by evil. He doesn’t merely permit evil but commands, controls, and uses it for his good purposes. The most evil deed in the history of the human race—the moment when the Leviathan and the Behemoth seemed ultimately victorious—was the moment brought about by “the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23). This was the moment of the Behemoth’s and the Leviathan’s definitive defeat.
This God who knows how to use supernatural evil to serve his purposes of ultimate good can, and will, use the darkest invasions into my own life for his invincible plans for my good in Christ. Hallelujah! What a Savior!