Job 41


God's great power in the leviathan, of which creature he gives

a very circumstantial description, 1-34.


Verse 1. Canst thou draw out leviathan] We come now to a subject

not less perplexing than that over which we have passed, and a

subject on which learned men are less agreed than on the

preceding. What is leviathan? The Hebrew word livyathan is

retained by the Vulgate and the Chaldee. The Septuagint have,

αξεισδεδρακοντα; "Canst thou draw out the DRAGON?" The Syriac

and Arabic have the same. A species of whale has been supposed to

be the creature in question; but the description suits no animal

but the crocodile or alligator; and it is not necessary to seek

elsewhere. The crocodile is a natural inhabitant of the Nile, and

other Asiatic and African rivers. It is a creature of enormous

voracity and strength, as well as fleetness in swimming. He will

attack the largest animals, and even men, with the most daring

impetuosity. In proportion to his size he has the largest mouth of

all monsters. The upper jaw is armed with forty sharp strong

teeth, and the under jaw with thirty-eight. He is clothed with

such a coat of mail as cannot be pierced, and can in every

direction resist a musket-ball. The Hebrew levi ten

signifies the coupled dragon; but what this is we know not, unless

the crocodile be meant.

With a hook] That crocodiles were caught with a baited hook, at

least one species of crocodile, we have the testimony of

Herodotus, lib. ii., c. 70: επεαννωτονσυοςδελεασηπερι

αγκιστρονμετιειεςμεσοντονποταμονκτλ "They take the

back or chine of a swine, and bait a hook with it, and throw it

into the midst of the river; and the fisherman stands at some

distance on the shore holding a young pig, which he irritates, in

order to make it squeak. When the crocodile hears this he

immediately makes towards the sound; and, finding the baited hook

in his way, swallows it, and is then drawn to land, when they dash

mud into his eyes, and blind him; after which he is soon

despatched." In this way it seems leviathan was drawn out by a

hook: but it was undoubtedly both a difficult and dangerous work,

and but barely practicable In the way in which Herodotus relates

the matter.

Or his tongue with a cord] It is probable that, when the animal

was taken, they had some method of casting a noose round his

tongue, when opening his mouth; or piercing it with some barbed

instrument. Thevenot says that in order to take the crocodile they

dig holes on the banks of the river, and cover them with sticks.

The crocodiles fall into these, and cannot get out. They leave

them there for several days without food, and then let down nooses

which they pitch on their jaws, and thus draw them out. This is

probably what is meant here.

Verse 2. Canst thou put a hook onto his nose?] Canst thou put a

ring in his nose, and lead him about as thou dost thine ox? In the

East they frequently lead thy oxen and buffaloes with a ring in

their noses. So they do bulls and oxen in this country.

Bore his jaw through with a thorn?] Some have thought that this

means, Canst thou deal with him as with one of those little fish

which thou stringest on a rush by means of the thorn at its end?

Or perhaps it may refer to those ornaments with which they

sometimes adorned their horses, mules, camels, &c.

Verse 3. Will he make many supplications] There are several

allusions in these verses to matters of which we know nothing.

Verse 4. Will he make a covenant] Canst thou hire him as thou

wouldst a servant, who is to be so attached to thy family as to

have his ear bored, that he may abide in thy house for ever? Is

not this an allusion to the law, Ex 21:1-6?

Verse 5. Wilt thou play with him] Is he such a creature as thou

canst tame; and of which thou canst make a pet, and give as a

plaything to thy little girls? naarotheycha; probably

alluding to the custom of catching birds, tying a string to their

legs, and giving them to children to play with; a custom execrable

as ancient, and disgraceful as modern.

Verse 6. Shall thy companions make a banquet] Canst thou and thy

friends feast on him as ye were wont to do on a camel sacrificed

for this purpose? Or, canst thou dispose of his flesh to the

merchants-to buyers, as thou wouldst do that of a camel or an

ox? It is certain, according to Herodotus, lib. ii. c. 70, that

they killed and ate crocodiles at Apollonople and Elephantis, in


Verse 7. Canst thou fill his skin with barbed irons?] This

refers to some kind of harpoon work, similar to that employed in

taking whales, and which they might use for some other kinds of

animals; for the skin of the crocodile could not be pierced.

Herrera says that he saw a crocodile defend itself against

thirty men; and that they fired six balls at it without being

able to wound it. It can only be wounded under his belly.

Verse 8. Lay thine hand upon him?] Mr. Heath translates, "Be

sure thou strike home. Mind thy blow: rely not upon a second

stroke." Mr. Good translates:-

"Make ready thy hand against him.

Dare the contest: be firm."

He is a dangerous animal; when thou attackest him, be sure of thy

advantage; if thou miss, thou art ruined. Depend not on other

advantages, if thou miss the first. Kill him at once, or he will

kill thee.

Verse 9. Behold, the hope] If thou miss thy first advantage,

there is no hope afterwards: the very sight of this terrible

monster would dissipate thy spirit, if thou hadst not a positive

advantage against his life, or a place of sure retreat to save

thine own.

Verse 10. None is so fierce that dare stir him up] The most

courageous of men dare not provoke the crocodile to fight, or even

attempt to rouse him, when, sated with fish, he takes his repose

among the reeds. The strongest of men cannot match him.

Who then is able] If thou canst not stand against the crocodile,

one of the creatures of my hand, how canst thou resist me, who am

his Maker? This is the use which God makes of the formidable

description which he has thus far given of this terrible animal.

Verse 11. Who hath prevented me] Who is it that hath laid me

under obligation to him? Do I need my creatures? All under the

heavens is my property.

Verse 12. I will not conceal his parts] This is most certainly

no just translation of the original. The Vulgate is to this

effect: I will not spare him: nor yield to his powerful words,

framed for the purpose of entreaty. Mr. Good applies it to


"I cannot be confounded at his limbs and violence;

The strength and structure of his frame."

The Creator cannot be intimidated at the most formidable of his

own works: man may and should tremble; GOD cannot.

Verse 13. Who can discover the face of his garment?] Who can rip

up the hide of this terrible monster? Who can take away his

covering, in order to pierce his vitals?

Verse 14. The doors of his face?] His jaws which are most


Verse 15. His scales are his pride] They are impenetrable, as we

have already seen.

Verse 16. One is so near to another] It has already been stated,

that a musket-ball fired at him in any direction cannot make a

passage through his scales.

Verse 18. By his neesings a light doth shine] It is very likely

that this may be taken literally. When he spurts up the water out

of his nostrils, the drops form a sort of iris or rainbow. We have

seen this effect produced when, in certain situations and state of

the atmosphere, water was thrown up forcibly, so as to be broken

into small drops, which has occasioned an appearance like the


The eyelids of the morning.] It is said that, under the water,

the eyes of the crocodile are exceedingly dull; but when he lifts

his head above water they sparkle with the greatest vivacity.

Hence the Egyptians, in their hieroglyphics, made the eyes of the

crocodile the emblem of the morning. ανατοληνλεγοντεςδυο

οφθαλμουςκροκοδειλουζωογραφουσι-HORAPP. Egypt. Ieroglyph., lib.

i., c. 65. This is a most remarkable circumstance, casts light on

ancient history, and shows the rigid correctness of the picture

drawn above.

The same figure is employed by the Greek poets.


"The eyelid of the golden day."

Soph. Antig. ver. 103.


"The darksome eyelid of the night."

Eurip. Phaeniss. ver. 553.

Verse 19. Out of his mouth go burning lamps] Dr. Young, in his

paraphrase, has a sensible note on this passage:-"This is nearer

the truth than at first view may be imagined. The crocodile,

according to naturalists, lying long under water, and being there

forced to hold its breath, when it emerges, the breath long

repressed is hot, and bursts out so violently, that it resembles

fire and smoke. The horse does not repress his breath by any means

so long, neither is he so fierce and animated; yet the most

correct of poets ventures to use the same metaphor concerning him,

volvit sub naribus ignem. By this I would caution against a false

opinion of the boldness of Eastern metaphors, from passages ill


Verse 22. In his neck remaineth strength] Literally, "strength

has its dwelling in his neck." The neck is the seat of strength of

most animals; but the head and shoulders must be here meant, as

the crocodile has no neck, being shaped nearly like a lizard.

And sorrow is turned into joy before him.]

ulephanaiv taduts deabah; "And destruction exulteth before him."

This is as fine an image as can well be conceived. It is in the

true spirit of poetry, the legitimate offspring of the genie

createur. Our translation is simply insignificant.

Verse 23. The flakes of his flesh] His muscles are strongly and

firmly compacted.

Verse 24. Hard as a piece of the nether millstone.] Which is

required to be harder than that which runs above.

Verse 25. By reason of breakings they purify themselves.] No

version, either ancient or modern, appears to have understood this

verse; nor is its true sense known. The Septuagint have, "When he

turns himself, he terrifies all the quadrupeds on the earth." The

original is short and obscure: mishshebarim

yithchattau. Mr. Good takes the plural termination im,

from the first word, of which he makes the noun yam, the sea,

and thus translates it, "They are confounded at the tumult of the

sea." In this I can find no more light than in our own. Mr. Heath

has, "For very terror they fall to the ground." The translations

of it are as unsatisfactory as they are various. I shall give both

the verses from Coverdale:-

His herte is as harde as a stone; and as fast as the stythye

(anvil) that the hammer man smyteth upon: when he goeth the

mightiest off all are afrayed, and the waives hevy. The dull swell

in the waters proclaims his advance; and when this is perceived,

the stout-hearted tremble.

Verse 26. Habergeon.] The hauberk, the Norman armour for the

head, neck, and breast, formed of rings. See on Ne 4:16.

Verse 29. Darts are counted as stubble] All these verses state

that he cannot be wounded by any kind of weapon, and that he

cannot be resisted by any human strength.

A young crocodile, seen by M. Maillet, twelve feet long, and

which had not eaten a morsel for thirty-five days, its mouth

having been tied all that time, was nevertheless so strong, that

with a blow of its tail it overturned a bale of coffee, and five

or six men, with the utmost imaginable ease! What power then must

lodge in one twenty feet long, well fed, and in health!

Verse 30. Sharp stones are under him] So hard and impenetrable

are his scales, that splinters of flint are the same to him as the

softest reeds.

Verse 31. He maketh the deep to boil like a pot] This is

occasioned by strongly agitating the waters at or near the bottom;

and the froth which arises to the top from this agitation may have

the appearance of ointment. But several travellers say that the

crocodile has a very strong scent of musk, and that he even

imparts this smell to the water through which he passes, and

therefore the text may be taken literally. This property of the

crocodile has been noticed by several writers.

Verse 32. He maketh a path to shine after him] In certain states

of the weather a rapid motion through the water disengages many

sparks of phosphoric fire. I have seen this at sea; once

particularly, on a fine clear night, with a good breeze, in a

fast-sailing vessel, I leaned over the stern, and watched this

phenomenon for hours. The wake of the vessel was like a stream of

fire; millions of particles of fire were disengaged by the ship's

swift motion through the water, nearly in the same way as by the

electric cushion and cylinder; and all continued to be absorbed at

a short distance from the vessel. Whether this phenomenon takes

place in fresh water or in the Nile, I have had no opportunity of


The deep to be hoary.] By the frost and foam raised by the

rapid passage of the animal through the water.

Verse 33. Upon earth there is not his like] There is no creature

among terrestrial animals so thoroughly dangerous, so exceedingly

strong, and so difficult to be wounded or slain.

Who is made without fear.] Perhaps there is no creature who is

at all acquainted with man, so totally destitute of fear as the


Verse 34. He is a king over all the children of pride.] There is

no animal in the waters that does not fear and fly from him. Hence

the Chaldee renders it, all the offspring of FISHES.

Calmet says, that by the children of pride the Egyptians are

meant; that the crocodile is called their king, because he was one

of their principal divinities; that the kings of Egypt were called

Pharaoh, which signifies a crocodile; and that the Egyptians were

proverbial for their pride, as may be seen in Eze 32:12. And it

is very natural to say that Job, wishing to point out a cruel

animal, adored by the Egyptians, and considered by them as their

chief divinity, should describe him under the name of king of all

the children of pride.

Houbigant considers the livyathan, the coupled dragon,

to be emblematical of Satan: "He lifts his proud look to God, and

aspires to the high heavens; and is king over all the sons of

pride." He is, in effect, the governor of every proud, haughty,

impious man. What a king! What laws! What subjects!

Others think that MEN are intended by the sons of pride; and

that it is with the design to abate their pride, and confound them

in the high notions they have of their own importance, that God

produces and describes an animal of whom they are all afraid, and

whom none of them can conquer.

AFTER all, what is leviathan? I have strong doubts whether

either whale or crocodile be meant. I think even the crocodile

overrated by this description. He is too great, too powerful, too

important, in this representation. No beast, terrestrial or

aquatic, deserves the high character here given, though that

character only considers him as unconquerably strong, ferociously

cruel, and wonderfully made. Perhaps leviathan was some extinct

mammoth of the waters, as behemoth was of the land. However,

I have followed the general opinion by treating him as the

crocodile throughout these notes; but could not finish without

stating my doubts on the subject, though I have nothing better to

offer in the place of the animal in behalf of which almost all

learned men and critics argue, and concerning which they generally

agree. As to its being an emblem either of Pharaoh or the devil, I

can say little more than, I doubt. The description is extremely

dignified; and were we sure of the animal, I have no doubt we

should find it in every instance correct. But after all that has

been said, we have yet to learn what leviathan is!

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