Tuesday, 27 October 2020

What are the Behemoth and the Leviathan in Job 40-41?

In this section of the book of Job (38:1–41:34), God is explaining that his heavenly perspective is infinitely greater that Job’s very limited view of things, prompting Job to confess, “I have uttered what I did not understand” (42:3a).1 The point of chaps. 40-41 is that God is mightier than the greatest land creature and sea creature imaginable. It is debated, however, whether the behemoth (40:15) and the leviathan (3:8; 41:1) are actual animals known to the people of Job’s day, or fictitious creatures imagined by the people of Job’s day.2 


Earlier in the discourse real animals are alluded to (38:39–39:30), but much more space is given to these two. God created all land creatures and sea creatures (Gen. 1:21, 24-25), yet symbolic imagery drawn from God’s creation is employed throughout scripture, including the book of Job (e.g. 3:9; 4:7-10; 5:22-23; 6:5; 9:9, 26; 12:7-8; 13:28; 14:2, 7-9, 18-19; 19:10; 20:14-17; 24:5-8; etc.).


The Behemoth


The Hebrew term בְ֭הֵמוֹת [behēmôt] in Job 40:15a is plural, giving intensive force to how this magnificent beast is described. Some commentators, unconvinced by anti-theistic evolutionary theories, have identified the creature as the brontosaurus. Other suggestions include the elephant or the buffalo, while the more popular proposal is the hippopotamus, whose “tail like a cedar” is understood to be a euphemistic allusion to genitalia. God, who created it along with man, is much more capable than any of Job’s fellow humans of overpowering this mighty creature (vv. 15b, 19).


The Leviathan


The term לִוְיָתָ֣ן [liwyātān] is typically a poetic expression. If it is a mythical sea monster, the point is that God is greater than the strongest and fiercest invention of the human imagination. It would be comparable to saying to a child, “God is stronger than Superman!” This does not suggest Superman is real but the imagery is something the child is familiar with and can understand. The leviathan could also be a fictitious serpentine sea creature that is emblematic of evil forces (cp. Psa. 74:13-14; Isa. 27:1), similar to the metaphoric depictions of the Roman Empire as a seven-headed sea beast and Satan as a seven-headed dragon (Rev. 13:1-8; 12:3-9). If the leviathan is a literal animal (cf. Psa. 104:24-26), the whale or more likely the crocodile could be in view, although hyperbolic poetic imagery is involved in the description. Some have suggested an aquatic, dinosaur-like reptile. Whatever the leviathan is supposed to be, God is so much greater!  


Conclusion


While human curiosity may prefer more definitive answers, we often miss the forest for the trees. The purpose of mentioning the behemoth and the leviathan in the biblical text is to demonstrate, by comparison, how incredibly awesome God is. No doubt Job more clearly understood the allusions than we do, so if we are “without knowledge,” it is a helpful reminder of the essential message of the book of Job (cf. 42:2-3). There are many things we do not understand, but God does. He is far superior to all he has created. He is in control, so let us therefore be humble, submissive, trusting, and grateful.  


--Kevin L. Moore


Endnotes:

     1 Unless noted otherwise, scripture quotations are from the NKJV.

     2 “Realistic, detailed descriptions keep the portrait from becoming purely mythical. Nevertheless, into the factual description the author skillfully blends fanciful metaphors drawn from mythic accounts of monsters in order that these beasts may represent both mighty terrestrial creatures and cosmic forces” (J. E. Hartley, The Book of Job 521-22).

 

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Related articles: On the dating of the book of Job, see Matthew J. Phillips, Development of the Ancient Israelite Belief in Satan as a Schema for Dating OT Passages, M.A. Thesis (Charles Town, WV: American Public University System, 2015): 86-88 <Link>.

 

Image credit: https://www.themorgan.org/collection/William-Blakes-World/32

Tuesday, 20 October 2020

How Many Times Can Egyptian Cows Die?

During the 10 plagues sent against Egypt, prior to the Israelites’ liberation from bondage, “all” the Egyptians’ livestock reportedly died of disease (Exodus 9:6), then died again from the hailstorm (9:22-25), but were still around to lose their firstborn in the final plague (11:5; 12:29). Is this apparent discrepancy in the biblical record resolvable?

The Hebrew word miqneh, often rendered “cattle” or “livestock,” is a generic term applicable to any or all domestic animals, such as the ones listed in Exodus 9:3, though with the qualifier “in the field.” When the statement is made in v. 6, “and all the livestock of Egypt died,” this would contextually have reference to those in the field at the time (assuming some were sheltered) and exclude other domestic animals not listed in v. 3. This is the natural conclusion since there were a number of animals still alive afterwards (vv. 9, 19-25). 


Accordingly, the word “all” is not to be understood in the absolute and unqualified sense but as a hyperbolic description of the enormous devastation and loss (cp. 15:15; 16:2). Throughout these episodes reference is repeatedly made to what was happening in “all” the land of Egypt (7:19, 21; 8:6, 16, 17; 8:24; 9:9, 22-25; 10:14-15), even though there were noted exceptions (e.g. 9:25-26; 11:6-7). The animals that died in the hailstorm were also unsheltered “in the field” (9:19-21, 25), leaving the remnant to face the final plague (11:5; 12:29).


The integrity of the biblical record remains intact. Any alleged discrepancy is more apparent than real.


--Kevin L. Moore

 

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Image credit: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/553168766712082657/

Tuesday, 13 October 2020

The Bizarre Animal-Breeding Technique of Jacob (Gen. 30:37-39): Does It Work?

After 14 years of serving his father-in-law Laban and significantly increasing Laban’s wealth, Jacob requested all the speckled, striped, spotted, and black livestock as payment so that a clear distinction could be made between what was his and what was his father-in-law’s. Laban deceptively agreed, but then removed the speckled, striped, spotted, and black animals from the flocks that Jacob pastured. In response, Jacob devised an unusual breeding technique to increase his own flocks.
“Then Jacob took fresh sticks of poplar and almond and plane trees, and peeled white streaks in them, exposing the white of the sticks. He set the sticks that he had peeled in front of the flocks in the troughs, that is, the watering places, where the flocks came to drink. And since they bred when they came to drink, the flocks bred in front of the sticks and so the flocks brought forth striped, speckled, and spotted...” (Gen. 30:37-39, 41 ESV).


Whether this was a local custom or Jacob’s innovation, it is not a scientifically proven method that works. But that’s not the point of the text. Jacob understood that God was the one working behind the scenes to make this happen (Gen. 31:9-12), so the sticks, perhaps a diversionary ploy to confound Laban, merely complemented what the Lord was doing rather than causing it to happen.


God had already promised to bless, protect, and prosper Jacob and his family (Gen. 28:13-15). Sometimes miraculously, sometimes providentially, the Lord kept his word. In spite of our sometimes ridiculous schemes, that’s the kind of God we serve. 


--Kevin Moore

 

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Image credit: https://sherrycook.wordpress.com/2013/01/25/life-application-of-the-word-of-god-friday-edition-genesis-30-jacobs-bargain-with-laban/

Tuesday, 6 October 2020

What Was Ham’s Sin and the Consequent Curse? (Genesis 9:20-27)

“Noah began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside. Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned backward, and they did not see their father's nakedness. When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, he said, ‘Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.’ He also said, ‘Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant. May God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem, and let Canaan be his servant’” (Gen. 9:20-27 ESV).
     A straightforward reading of the text simply affirms that Ham “saw” his father’s nakedness and “told” his brothers. By comparing the very different reaction of Shem and Japheth, we see a clear distinction between the disrespectful behavior of Ham (perhaps including his son Canaan?) and the much more honorable actions of the brothers. Reading between the lines while trying not to speculate too much,1 the word “see” can be used in the sense of leering (Hab. 2:15), or gloating with disdain (Judg. 16:27; Ezek. 28:17), or gawking at a spectacle (1 Sam. 17:28), or other inordinate gazing (2 Sam. 11:2), which would affect how one’s observations are expressed to others.
     Noah’s awareness of what happened may simply be the result of what he overheard or was told. That the prophetic curse was pronounced on Ham’s son Canaan is probably due to paternal influence resulting in the same insolent mindset and behavior persisting and worsening in subsequent generations (cf. Lev. 18:3-7). The sin of Ham appears to have been the outward expression of a corrupt heart: a shameful gaze followed by mockery, publicizing the indignity, thus disrespecting and dishonoring his father (cf. Ex. 20:12)
     The prophetic curse was fulfilled as the descendants of Shem and Japheth later subjugated the Canaanites, descendants of Ham-Canaan (cf. Josh. 9:23-27; 1 Kings 9:20-21). From Genesis 12 onwards the spotlight focuses on the Semitic lineage of Abraham through Isaac and Jacob, therefore the history of Japheth’s descendants, who settled in Asia Minor, Caucasus, and Europe, is mostly unrecorded in the biblical record.2 Contrary to the popular assertion of 19th-century westerners, this did not involve all of Ham’s descendants (Gen. 10:6-20), particularly the darker-skinned people of Cush (Ethiopians), nor the North African lineage of Mizram (Egyptians) and Phut (Libyans).

Lessons to learn:

·      As one thinks in his heart, so is he (Prov. 23:7).

·      Parents ought to be honored by their children (Prov. 1:8-9; Eph. 6:1-2).

·      Never underestimate the influence parents have on their children (Prov. 22:6; Eph. 6:4). 

·      Decisions and actions have consequences (Num. 32:23). 

·      Our sins can have adverse effects on others, even future generations (Ex. 20:5; 34:7).  

--Kevin L. Moore

 

Endnotes:

     1 Popular theories have included castration, homosexual relations, and maternal incest, but this goes well beyond what the biblical text actually says.

     2 The Philistines, distinct from the Canaanites, were dominant in the southern region of Palestine and at times even subdued the Israelites (“dwell in the tents of Shem”?) (cf. Gen. 21:32; Ex. 13:17; Josh. 13:2-3; Judg. 3:3; 10:7; 13:1; 14:4; 15:11; 1 Sam. 4:2, 9-10; 12:9; 28:5; 2 Sam. 13:1-7; 1 Chron. 10:1-7; 2 Chron. 28:18; Isa. 9:12). While the Philistines can be traced back to the line of Ham via Mizraim (Gen. 10:14; 1 Chron. 1:8-12), there is archaeological and genetic evidence indicating immigration and intermingling of peoples from Asia Minor (Anatolia) and Southern Europe (cp. Jer. 25:19-20; 47:4; Zech. 9:6; “enlarge Japheth”?)See Ann E. Killebrew, Biblical Peoples and Ethnicity: An Archaeological Study of Egyptians, Canaanites, Philistines, and Early Israel, 1300–1100 B.C.E. (Atlanta: SBL, 2005): 230; and Michal Feldman, et al., “Ancient DNA sheds light on the genetic origins of early Iron Age Philistines,” Science Advances 5:7 (3 July 2019), <Link>.


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Image credit: Woodcut based on the drawing of Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld (1794-1872), <http://thinkgospel.com/the-sin-of-ham-and-the-curse-of-canaan>.