What exactly is the Leviathan mentioned in Scripture? Crocodile, dragon, or ancient sea serpent (the Loch Ness Monster?) — it depends which theologian you ask.
In this article, we’ll dive into the various verses that mention the Leviathan and possible literary devices used in those passages. We’ll also uncover some of the interpretations scholars have surmised about the true nature of this beast and why it ultimately matters to us believers today.
What Bible Verses Mention the Leviathan?
We run into a handful of verses in the Bible that discuss this creature, quoted below:
May those who curse days curse that day, those who are ready to rouse Leviathan (Job 3:8).
Can you pull in Leviathan with a fishhook or tie down its tongue with a rope? (Job 41:1).
It was you who crushed the heads of Leviathan and gave it as food to the creatures of the desert (Psalm 74:14).
There the ships go to and fro, and Leviathan, which you formed to frolic there (Psalm 104:26).
In that day, the Lord will punish with his sword — his fierce, great and powerful sword — Leviathan the gliding serpent, Leviathan the coiling serpent; he will slay the monster of the sea (Isaiah 27:1).
From all these verses, we can surmise the Leviathan lived in the sea, or a body of water, and was a creature to be reckoned with. It appears to have a large size and if you dive further into the Job 41 passage, we learn about its massive size, its double-plated armor, sharp teeth, and seeming ability to spit fire from its mouth.
I will not fail to speak of Leviathan’s limbs, its strength and its graceful form. Who can strip off its outer coat? Who can penetrate its double coat of armor? Who dares open the doors of its mouth, ringed about with fearsome teeth? Its back has rows of shields tightly sealed together; (Job 41:12-15).
That doesn’t really sound like any creature that we have roaming around the earth now, so what interpretations have scholars brought forth?
What Other Creatures Are Like the Leviathan in Scripture?
Do we run into any other animals in Scripture with similar descriptions? Or is this an outlier case? As it turns out, we have another creature in the Bible that seems to have almost out-of-this-world descriptions. Many of us have heard the name of this creature before but may not know to what the Bible is referring to.
Introducing the behemoth. If we haven't read it in Scripture, we've likely encountered this name in some pop culture media reference. Scripture introduces this creature right around the time it does for the leviathan. Let's take a look to see what the Bible says about this animal.
Job 40:15-24: "Behold, Behemoth, which I made as I made you; he eats grass like an ox. Behold, his strength in his loins, and his power in the muscles of his belly. He makes his tail stiff like a cedar; the sinews of his thighs are knit together. His bones are tubes of bronze, his limbs like bars of iron. He is the first of the works of God; let him who made him bring near his sword! For the mountains yield food for him where all the wild beasts play. Under the lotus plants he lies, in the shelter of the reeds and in the marsh. For his shade the lotus trees cover him; the willows of the brook surround him. Behold, if the river is turbulent he is not frightened; he is confident though Jordan rushes against his mouth. Can one take him by his eyes, or pierce his nose with a snare?"
Let's break down what these verses illustrate in terms of this mighty creature. First, it mentions this creature eats grass and has strong leg muscles. Some theologians have suggested this is describing a hippo, but I don't think the language really matches the animal described.
Secondly, the verses talk about how this animal has a long, strong tail and strong bones and sinews to match. A lot of the descriptions remind me of an underwater dinosaur or more prehistoric creature. Archeological finds have dug up massive creatures who lived alongside human civilizations, so this really isn't much of a stretch.
Finally, the creature appears to live near or by lotus plans in the Jordan River. And we get a final hint from the text that it has some sort of tough armored skin. Perhaps, as suggested by theologians, this is hyperbole for a hippo. But something tells me that we have not yet identified the true nature of this creature. Just like we haven't quite figured out the true nature of the leviathan.
Possible Interpretations of the Leviathan
The scholars who see themselves as realists and maybe a little more skittish around the explanations of the Leviathan as a dragon or fire-breathing sea serpent have suggested the leviathan was a crocodile, and that the fire-breathing language in Job served more as a hyperbole or metaphor in literary terms.
Although, the description of the Leviathan in Scripture doesn’t seem to match a crocodile to a T.
Other theologians have suggested that the Leviathan was a large reptile in the sea, perhaps one of the species of dinosaurs that roamed the earth before they went extinct.
Many have suggested it’s an unknown creature that went extinct centuries ago, but those from the Old Testament period would have witnessed it in action, as we only see references to this creature in the first half of the Bible.
No matter what the case, the Bible presents this creature to illustrate God’s strength. Similar to Israel’s enemies, the Leviathan posed a massive threat, and Israel (and humanity) alone could not subdue it. But as mentioned in the verses above, only God can wield control over such a powerful beast.
Why Should We Know about the Leviathan?
Apart from the fascinating descriptions, we read in Job 41, why should we know about this ancient creature? After all, when we get in a canoe on the ocean, we don’t have to fear that some fire-breathing serpent might come and devour us.
Nevertheless, we should know about the Leviathan (and the behemoth, for that matter) for a number of reasons.
First, if the creature does come from some subspecies of dinosaur, the Bible shows that humans and dinosaurs may have interacted with one another. And if not, then at least we know that people from millennia before dealt with creatures that we probably could not fathom.
Second, God often uses illustrations from the natural world to explain his power.
This further goes to show that all creation does indeed proclaim the glory of the Lord. And through the example of the Leviathan, God shows that he can overpower anything, even Israel’s daunting enemies.
Whether poetic or literal, God knew the illustration of this animal would remind the listener that no powers on earth, whether in the natural world or in man-made kingdoms, can stand the might and glory of our Lord.
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Елена Бабенкова
Hope Bolinger is an acquisitions editor at End Game Press, and the author of almost 30 books. More than 1500 of her works have been featured in various publications. Check out her books at hopebolinger.com for clean books in most genres, great for adults and kids.
The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Salem Web Network and Salem Media Group.
These verses serve as a source of renewal for the mind and restoration for the heart by reinforcing the notion that, while human weakness is inevitable, God's strength is always available to uplift, guide, and empower us.
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