One of the most challenging passages in the Old Testament book of Job comes in the Lord’s second speech (40–41). The characters and the reader have waited a long time for the Lord to speak—only to read what is traditionally interpreted as a long description of a hippopotamus and crocodile (Behemoth and Leviathan). The stakes are very high: is God right to run the world in such a way that allows such terrible suffering for one of his most loyal servants? Is Job right to keep trusting God in the midst of much criticism? But it is difficult for modern readers to avoid a sense of frustrating anticlimax as the book ends.
Eric Ortlund argues that Behemoth and Leviathan are better understood as symbols of cosmic chaos and evil—that a supernatural interpretation fits better exegetically within the book of Job and within Job’s ancient Middle Eastern context. It also helps modern readers to appreciate the satisfying climax the narrator intended for the book: in describing Behemoth and Leviathan, God is directly engaging with Job's complaint about divine justice, implying to Job that he understands the evil at loose in his creation better than Job does, is in control of it, and will one day destroy it.
In this New Studies in Biblical Theology volume, Ortlund considers different interpretations of the Lord's second speech and their potential exegetical and pastoral weaknesses. He shows how a supernatural interpretation of Behemoth and Leviathan puts modern readers in a position to appreciate the reward of Job’s faith (and ours) as we endure in trusting God while living in an unredeemed creation.
Addressing key issues in biblical theology, the works comprising New Studies in Biblical Theology are creative attempts to help Christians better understand their Bibles. The NSBT series is edited by D. A. Carson, aiming to simultaneously instruct and to edify, to interact with current scholarship and to point the way ahead.
“why do Behemoth and Leviathan take up so much space in the second speech?” (Page 2)
“From his vantage point Job has lost God’s favour and come under God’s fiercest wrath, for no reason Job can think of. His curse on creation is tantamount to affirming that if he cannot live under God’s favour and within his friendship, Job sees no point ever to having lived in the first place. In other words, the blessed life of chapter 1 means nothing to him without God and God’s friendship—in fact, without God’s smile, Job cannot think of a reason for anything in creation to exist. In the light of this, we see that, for all its vociferousness, Job’s curse is something like the photographic negative of his worship from 1:21. It expresses the same high view of God, albeit in a negative way. Job would not curse so terribly if he did not value God so deeply.” (Pages 24–25)
“God’s plan for his world is to allow evil—even evil that exists in massive malevolence, which humans can grasp only through symbols. Even as this evil is revealed, however, God assures Job that it is kept within strict boundaries (38:8–11) and he will one day eradicate it (40:19; 41:8), scouring all evil from his creation.” (Pages 146–147)
“The first is that God’s world is much vaster, more complex and more mysterious than Job has recognized.” (Page 82)
Recent years have witnessed a plethora of studies on Job, but none of them is quite like this one. Most make much of God’s apparent refusal to address Job’s questions directly: on this reading, God wants us to trust the One who cast Orion into the heavens, who controls the treasures of the snow, who made the crocodile. God is to be trusted because he is incomparably greater than we are. But Eric Ortlund argues that this interpretation of the book mis-reads too many passages. Probing carefully such features as the double speeches of God, the differences between Job’s first and second responses to God’s speeches, and the meaning of Leviathan, he argues persuasively that the Book of Job is not as open-ended as many have thought, but offers a firm foundation for Job’s ultimate response.
D. A. Carson, Research Professor of New Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, USA
Eric Ortlund (PhD, Edinburgh University) is lecturer in Old Testament studies and biblical Hebrew at Oak Hill College, London. He is the author of commentaries on Esther and Malachi in the forthcoming ESV Bible Expositional Commentary series.