Behemoth

Job 40:15-24

At the end of the book of Job, God takes Job on a ‘tour’ of creation, showing him the wonders of the natural world: the mountain goats, the wild donkey and wild ox, the ostrich, the horse and the birds of prey. And after this, God describes two further creatures: Behemoth and Leviathan.

What are they? Some think that they are the hippopotamus and the crocodile; others suggest that they are dinosaurs. But they are in a totally different league to the animals that have gone before. The descriptions are fantastical (Leviathan is a proper dragon, breathing fire!), quite unlike the naturalistic and easily recognisable creatures depicted earlier. In both strength and size, Behemoth is massive; even its tail is like a tree! It is so huge as to have no natural predators, and no force on earth can overcome it – not even a mighty river in flood. I therefore suspect that ’Behemoth’ is not a real animal at all, but a monster. Like the beasts in Daniel’s visions, it is not meant to be taken literally; it represents something else.

At the very beginning of Job’s story, he suffers a string of unpredictable and overwhelming disasters. He knows from bitter experience that there are things in life that are beyond both his comprehension and his ability to cope with. And we all have deep fears lurking in the undergrowth of our minds (verses 21,22); they consume our energy and resources as we try (often in vain) to appease them (verse 20).

When I qualified as a doctor, nearly forty years ago, cancer was one of these monsters. The ‘big C’ was feared so much that people tried to avoid even mentioning it; if a diagnosis of terminal cancer was made on the ward, the staff would go to great lengths to conceal it from the patient. I remember one man who was so horrified by his diagnosis of leukaemia that he went into a decline and died (unnecessarily) within a week. Thankfully things are very different now; not only has cancer treatment improved beyond all recognition, but there is a culture of openness which has done a lot to reduce the fear.

Yet as one threat recedes, others take its place. War, suicide bombers, HIV, dementia… God permits these things to exist, and He will not remove them from the world. Whatever your personal ‘Behemoth’, it is here to stay; nevertheless, as part of God’s creation, it is under God’s authority (verse 19), and He will deal with it in His own time and in His own way. Let Him.

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