Behemoth:  Real or Mythological?

If you have ever used the word “Behemoth” to describe something that is extremely large, then you know the concept behind Behemoth.  We might use synonyms like “gargantuan,” “humongous,” or “colossal.”  I’m sure that you can come up with a few more.

Of all God’s creation, there are a few which many believe to be mythical.  Among them is the Behemoth.  

Bible scholars are divided when it comes to its identity.  Some suggest that a Behemoth was either a hippopotamus or an elephant.  Others believe that it was an ancient dinosaur.  Then there are those who believe the Behemoth to be mythological creature, a metaphor  that God uses to impress His point on Job.  

If you study the Bible carefully where the Behemoth is described, you will find that a Behemoth in the Bible is a large animal that has become extinct.    

Bible scholars are divided when it comes to the identity of the Behemoth.  Is it a hippopotamus?  An elephant?  A dinosaur?  

What is a Behemoth?

The word “Behemoth” translates a Hebrew word that simply means “beast.”  If you read from Vine’s Dictionary, you would find this definition…

“beast; animal; domesticated animal; cattle; riding beast; wild beast”

This is a word that does not describe any animal specifically.  It is the general term for any kind of animal, and is usually translated as “beast.”

Only one time in all of the Bible is it ever translated as “Behemoth.”     

Job 40.15:  “Look now at the behemoth, which I made along with you; He eats grass like an ox.”

If you look at the context in which this word is used, you will discover that “Behemoth” is referring to a very specific animal.  But what animal is this passage describing?  

If you have the New International Version of the Bible, you may have a footnote that says, “Possibly the hippopotamus or the elephant.” 

If you look at the description found in our verse of interest, you will find some similarities between the Behemoth and the hippo or elephant.  But you will also find some characteristics which are very different from these animals.

There are others who suggest that the Behemoth is a mythological creature which God invented as a metaphor to make a point.    

In my New King James Version, I have a footnote that says, “A large animal, exact identity unknown.” 

It is my studied opinion that the Behemoth was a dinosaur-like creature that is now extinct.  

The Bible Description of the Behemoth

If you read through Job 40.15-24, there are a number of characteristics that help us understand the nature and character of this beast.  

  • Job 40.15:  “Look now at the behemoth, which I made along with you.”  Whatever it is, it was created and existed along with mankind.
  • John 40.15:  “He eats grass like an ox.”  This Behemoth was an herbivore.
  • Job 40.16:  “See now, his strength is in his hips, and his power is in his stomach muscles.”  The massive strength and size of the hips and stomach muscles ought to bring us to be impressed by the size and power of this beast.
  • Job 40.17:  “He moves his tail like a cedar; the sinews of his thighs are tightly knit.” 

Why compare the tail of the Behemoth to a cedar? 

Cedars were among the largest trees in the region  (Ezek. 31.3-5).  To make the comparison is to emphasize that this was a massive creature.  When you examine the tiny tails of hippos and elephants, it seems obvious that these are not the animals that God was referencing.  

  • Job 40.18:  “His bones are like beams of bronze, His ribs like bars of iron.”  

The skeletal structure of the Behemoth was strong and study. 

A hippo weighs about four tons.  An elephant weighs about seven tons.  But a large dinosaur weighs about eighty tons.  Such a creature would need a strong and study skeletal structure to support its weight and movement.

  • Job 40,19:  “He is the first of the ways of God”; Only He who made him can bring near His sword.”  

The word translated as “first” is a Hebrew word that refers to size and strength.  The idea is that this was one of largest and most powerful of all of God’s creation.  As such, only God was capable to subduing it.  

  • Job 40.20-22:  “Surely the mountains yield food for him, And all the beasts of the field play there. He lies under the lotus trees, In a covert of reeds and marsh.  The lotus trees cover him with their shade; The willows by the brook surround him.”  

These describe his natural food source and habitat.

  • Job 40.23,24:  “Indeed the river may rage, Yet he is not disturbed; He is confident, though the Jordan gushes into his mouth, though he takes it in his eyes, Or one pierces his nose with a snare.” 

So large and powerful is this Behemoth that it cannot be brought down even by gouging out his eyes or piercing his nose.  

Is the Behemoth Real?

To read about these attributes in the Bible has led some to conclude that this was a mythical creature.  I can certainly understand such a conclusion consider its fantastical description.

The Description came from the Bible

 The Bible is the very word of God.  This is the book in which God communicates to man.  In this book God reveals a variety of wonders.  To suggest that the Behemoth and the Leviathan are mythological is to also suggest that other biblical accounts are mythological.

  • Was the global flood mythological or did it really happen  (Gen. 6-9)?
  • Was the parting of the Red Sea through Moses mythological or did it really happen  (Ex. 14)?
  • Was the opening of the earth mythological or did it really happen  (Num. 16)?
  • Then consider all the miracles that Jesus performed.  The people who witnessed them “were all amazed and glorified God saying, ‘We never saw anything like this!’”  (Mark 2.12)

If we can accept that God can do these wonderous miracles, why is it so hard to accept that God can create such creatures as the Behemoth and Leviathan?  

The Context Indicates that the Behemoth is Real

If you look at the context carefully, you will find that this was a real animal.  

God uses a number of animals to make His point.  In fact, God makes reference to nine different animals prior to the description of the Behemoth.

  • Job 38.39-41:  “Can you hunt the prey for the lion.”
  • Job 39.1-4:  “Do you know the time when the wild mountain goats bear young…the deer gives birth?"
  • Job 39.5-8:  “Who will set the wild donkey free?”
  • Job 39.9-12:  “Will the wild ox be willing to serve you?”
  • Job 39:13-18:  “The wings of the ostrich wave proudly, But are her wings and pinions like the kindly stork’s?"
  • Job 39.19-25:  “Have you given the horse strength?”
  • Job 39.26-30:  “Does the hawk fly with your wisdom?”

These were not mythological creatures.  God refers to real animals that Job would have recognized. 

After describing His command of these nine animals, God then continues in Job 40.15 and says, “Look now at the Behemoth, which I made along with you.”  Consider two thoughts.

First, God says to Job, “Look now at the Behemoth.”

Whatever creature is being referenced, it was something Job would have recognized. He was familiar with such a creature. 

If he had not been familiar with the Behemoth or the Leviathan described in chapter 41, then the point that God was making would not make sense.  God has command over mythical creatures?  Really?  

Throughout the passage, God uses increasingly powerful and dangerous animals all of which were real.  He was pointing out to Job who was questioning God’s wisdom and power that God is capable of seeing the larger picture and being in control.  

  The point was that nature (Job 38.4-38) and the animal kingdom (Job 38.39-41.34) were all under God’s control.  If the Behemoth were mythical or if the characteristics of the Behemoth were exaggerated, the point would have ben lost on Job.

Second, God says to Job, “which I made along with you.”

The Behemoth was part of God’s creation just as Job was part of God’s creation. 

Was Job mythical?  If God created both the Behemoth and man, then they are either both real or both mythical.  

What is the Lesson God was Teaching Job and Us?

To understand the lesson God was teaching, we need to understand what was going on that led God to say what He did.  

The book of Job begins with Job suffering tremendous loss including losing his possessions, his family, and even his health.  

Job Accuses God of being Unfair

Throughout the book, he seeks to understand his suffering and begins to question God.

  • He tells God, “I am pure, without transgression; I am innocent, and there is no iniquity in me”  (Job 33.9).
  • He tells God, “Oh, that I knew where I might find Him, That I might come to His seat! I would present my case before Him, and fill my mouth with arguments”  (Job 23.3,4).
  • Job “contends with the Almighty”  (Job 40.2).
  • Job tries to “correct Him”  (Job 40.2).
  • Job “rebukes God.”  (Job 40.2).
  • Job tried to “annul My judgment”  (Job 40.8).
  • Job tried to “condemn Me that you may be justified”  (Job 40.8).

God Responds to Job's Accusation

From chapters 38 to 42, God responds to Job’s bitter accusation.  

He asks Job, “Who is this who darkens counsel with words without wisdom”  (Job 38.2)?

God essentially says, “Who do you think you are questioning Me?”  

God then begins to ask Job a series of questions.  If Job is so wise and powerful, then can he create and operate this universe?  Where was Job when God formed the land and the sea?  Where was Job when God designed the natural laws which determine how the waves reach the shore? 

In fact, God asks Job these questions in reference to two areas.

  • Can Job establish and control of the forces of nature as God does?  (Job. 38.4-38)
  • Can Job create and control the animal kingdom as God does?  (Job 38.39-41.34)

If Job is so powerful and wise that he can challenge God, the One who brought all things into existence and maintains all things, God says…

  • “Then adorn yourself with majesty and splendor, And array yourself with glory and beauty"  (Job 40.10).
  • “Disperse the rage of your wrath; Look on everyone who is proud, and humble him”  (Job 40.11).
  • “Look on everyone who is proud, and bring him low; Tread down the wicked in their place"    (Job 40.12).
  • "Hide them in the dust together, Bind their faces in hidden darkness”  (Job 40.13)
  • Then I will also confess to you that your own right hand can save you”  (Job 40.14).

Concluding Thoughts

The Behemoth was used as one example of many to make a powerful point to Job. 

This powerful and magnificent creature known as the Behemoth could not be created by Job.  Job could not bring it into existence, and Job could not bring it under his control.

God is the One who created the Behemoth.  God is the One who determines where it can go and what it can do.  

Job needed to understand that God is the Almighty.  He is the Creator of all things.  He knows what He is doing. 

Job as part of God’s creation had no right to challenge God and question His wisdom.  

It reminds me of what was said in Isaiah 29.16:  “Surely you have things turned around! Shall the potter be esteemed as the clay; For shall the thing made say of him who made it, “He did not make me”? Or shall the thing formed say of him who formed it, “He has no understanding”?

Like Job, you may go through some very difficult and challenging times.  Like Job, you may be tempted to challenge, rebuke, and correct God.  But you and I are limited in our understanding. 

God is the Creator.  We are the created.  We do not have the ability to see the big picture.  There are reasons why God allows us to suffer that we do not have the ability to see. 

  • Maybe God allows hardships into our lives to make us stronger.  
  • Maybe God allows us to suffer to test our faithfulness.
  • Maybe your suffering is part of a larger plan.  

Whatever the reason, instead of questioning God and accusing Him of being unfair, perhaps we should learn to trust that God knows what He is doing.

The next time you are struggling with life and feel tempted to challenge God, think of the Behemoth, and remember the words of the apostle Paul in Romans 11.33.

Romans 11.33:  “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!”

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