Leviathan (Part 3)

God and Job: A Philosophical Dispute

However, a simply physical description of Leviathan misses the philosophical dispute at play. Certainly, the author uses poetic forms and descriptive terms to display his point, but YHWH’s goal is to show Job’s utter incompetence at summoning the Leviathan creature. In a mocking tone, YHWH says in Job 41:3-6, “Will he make many supplications to you, or will he speak to you soft words? Will he make a covenant with you?Will you take him for a servant forever? Will you play with him as with a bird, or will you bind him for your maidens? Will the traders bargain over him? Will they divide him among the merchants?” YHWH shows Job that his attempts to separate himself from YHWH are impossible; will the Leviathan bother to speak to Job, like YHWH is responding right now? Leviathan does not bring a covenant – Leviathan, the prideful creature, brings destruction to human beings who cannot even hope to fight him. YHWH continues in v. 8-11: “Lay your hand on him; remember the battle; you will not do it again! Behold, your expectation is false; Will you be laid low even at the sight of him? No one is so fierce that he dares to arouse him; Who then is he that can stand before Me? Who has given to Me that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is Mine.” YHWH makes it clear to Job that he cannot win the fight against the primordial creature; such a task is beyond human reckoning. Job can certainly try, if he wants, to bring the enemy of YHWH out to the playing field, but his attempts will be for naught – YHWH has already tamed the beast! Job cannot hope to bring Leviathan to awakening when YHWH, who owns all under heaven, resides as ruler of the universe. Furthermore, YHWH compares Job with the Leviathan as a haughty and prideful creature; in the same way that Leviathan was laid low by the superior force of YHWH the creator, so Job would also fall under YHWH’s might if YHWH was not merciful towards Job’s apparent blasphemy. YHWH’s utter superiority in power and knowledge, here, finds a full expression.

Job’s Leviathan and Contextual Use: Creature, Metaphor, Context

However, what remains unclear here is exactly the sense in which Leviathan find use. Is Leviathan simply a large creature that exists in today’s world, or was it an extinct beast similar in style to a sea serpent or dragon? Does Job’s author hope to relay the idea of YHWHs conquest over creation at the beginning of time, or are these simply metaphors that use other creation myths in new, creative ways? Does the author of Job want to hearken back to Isaiah’s interpretation? Given the lack of a solid dating for the book of Job, from around 800 B.C.E. to near the time of the Maccabean rebellion in 198, it is difficult to say with any reliability what the author’s intention really was without any kind of retrojection. Regardless of this hermeneutical problem, anyone can agree that Job provides an incredibly descriptive and philosophical recollection of this ancient beast, both as physical creature and concept, that will become normative in time.

Psalm 74:14

There are still two other direct references to the Leviathan creature, both of which are found in Psalm 74:14 and Psalm 104:24-26. Psalm 74 begins with a superscription that states “An Appeal against the Devastation of the Land by the Enemy.” This idea sets the tone for the rest of the psalm, wherein the psalmist wishes for God to remember his chosen people and defend them from their enemies (v. 1-2). The invaders are not only destroying the land, but are destroying God’s places of worship (v. 4, 6-8); the psalmist asks for a prophet to come and bring a message from the Lord, for Israel has waited and no answer has come (v. 9). The psalmist wonders how long Israel must wait for deliverance from the enemy (v. 10-11), “Yet God is my king from of old, who works deeds of deliverance in the midst of the earth” (v. 12). The psalmist relies on precedent that YHWH will redeem Israel from suffering; he remembers, in Psalm 74:14 and in reference to YHWH, the time that “You divided the sea by Your strength; You broke the heads of the sea monsters in the waters. You crushed the heads of Leviathan; You gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness.” Interestingly, Leviathan has gained several heads, and here is directly associated with the sea monsters, implying that Leviathan is not the only terrible creature lurking in the depths. Whether or not this reference exists in reference to an actual metaphysical conflict at the beginning of time, or is simply seen as a metaphor against foreign gods is difficult to discern.

Problems in Dating: To What Event Does Psalm 74 Refer?

No official dating can be given for Psalm 74 as a whole that has reached any level of consensus; however, literary analysis can be a productive tool here. Alec Basson, in his book Divine metaphors in selected Hebrew Psalms of Lamentation, defines Psalm 74 as a psalm of lamentation: that is, they reflect the struggles and afflictions of both individuals and the Israelite community Thus, as the psalmist laments about God’s supposed absence in the face of Israel’s destitute situation, he remembers God and his promises and hopes God will follow through on his covenantal promises. Here, Besson, along with most scholars, believe this to be a communal lament about the destruction of the Temple. Furthermore, Besson believes that v. 12-17 specifically praise God’s work in creation. For the psalmist, the present in itself is a time of chaos and uncertainty; YHWH’s fight with Leviathan was a similar circumstance, and God should be able to act in the same way now. Furthermore, Besson believes that the mention of multiple heads of Leviathan, the drying up of the waters (v. 15) and the limiting of the universe’s boundaries (v. 16-17) show the results of God’s previous actions against chaos: YHWH wins. The psalmist uses the metaphysical past as an appeal to YHWH to intervene in the current historical situation, whatever it might be. As YHWH can be seen in both mythical and historical terms within the Hebrew Bible canon, such an interpretation should be no surprise. Even without a specific time period for Psalm 74’s meaning, the Leviathan reference’s usage here retains no ambiguity in reflecting the psalmist’ religious convictions.

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.