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Bible Commentaries
Job 41

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries



“Here we have the crowning description of a natural wonder, the leviathan (crocodile), with an elaboration to which there is no parallel in the rest of the Scriptures, forming a fitting climax to the gradually more and more elaborate descriptions in Job 39-41.”(F1) Yes, “Leviathan is the name of a seven-headed sea-dragon in the old Canaanite myths current prior to the Israelite occupation; but that does not prove that Leviathan in the Book of Job is a mythological creature.”(F2) “Once again the general features of the picture point to an actual animal, in this case, the crocodile.”(F3) There is a consensus of practically all scholars on this. “Most scholars hold the view that it is the crocodile which is described.”(F4)

Of course, “It must be admitted that there are many expressions here that a modern scientist would not use in describing a crocodile; but the Book of Job is neither modern nor scientific, but ancient and poetic.”(F5) D. G. Stradling tells us that, “Leviathan is mentioned in six Old Testament passages: Psalms 74:14; Psalms 104:26; Isaiah 37:2; Ezekiel 29:3-5; and twice in the Book of Job.”(F6) The other reference in Job is Job 3:8.

Verses 1-11

“Canst thou draw out Leviathan with a fishhook? Or press down his tongue with a cord? Canst thou put a hook into his nose? Or pierce his jaw through with a hook? Will he make many supplications unto thee? Or will he speak soft words unto thee? Will he make a covenant with thee? That thou shouldest take him for a servant forever? Wilt thou play with him as a bird? Or wilt thou bind him for thy maidens? Will the bands of fishermen make traffic of him? Will they part him among the merchants? Canst thou fill his skin with barbed irons, Or his head with fish-spears? Lay thy hand upon him; Remember the battle, and do so no more. Behold, the hope of him is in vain: Will not one be cast down even at the sight of him? None is so fierce that he dare stir him up; Who then is he that can stand before me? Who hath first given unto me, that I should repay him? Whatsoever is under the whole heaven is mine.”

“Will he make supplications unto thee” There was an ancient tale that crocodiles shed tears over the creatures they devoured,(F7) from which came the modern expression “crocodile tears,” i.e., insincere, or hypocritical tears. There seems to be a sarcastic reference to that here. “Will he make supplications unto thee”? might very well mean, “Will the crocodile cry over you”?

“Wilt…thou take him for a servant” “Here the impossibility of domesticating the crocodile is indicated.”(F8)

Heavenor described the import of these verses as God’s questions of Job: “Could Job consider the crocodile as a suitable object upon which to demonstrate his fishing ability (Job 41:1)? or as a domestic servant (Job 41:4)? or as a plaything (Job 41:5)”?(F9)

“Lay thy hand upon him; remember the battle, and do so no more” To paraphrase this, “Meddle with him (the crocodile) in any of the above ways, and you will rue the day.”(F10)

“Will not one be cast down at the sight of him” “Any man who would lay hands on Leviathan is warned not to do it, or he will regret it, since he will collapse as soon as he sees him.”(F11)

“Who then is he that can stand before me” The big point of the whole chapter is right here. If Job cannot vanquish a fellow-creature, such as either behemoth or leviathan, such a fact, “Contradicts Job’s claim of any right or claim against God.”(F12) Another thought that arises from this verse is, “If even the most courageous man would not be so insane as to stir up leviathan,”(F13) how could anyone be so foolish as to contend with God? “If one of God’s creatures is too formidable to assail, what must be thought of the Creator of all things”?(F14)

Verses 12-17

“I will not keep silence concerning his limbs, Nor his mighty strength, nor his goodly frame. Who can strip off his outer garment? Who shall come within his jaws? Who can open the doors of his face? Round about his teeth is terror. His strong scales are his pride, Shut up together as with a close seal. One is so near to another, That no air can come between them. They are joined one to another; They stick together so that they cannot be sundered.”

“His mighty strength… etc.” Driver, and other scholars, have complained that the text here is corrupt;(F15) but one thing is clear, the mighty strength of the crocodile is stressed. Moreover, the crocodile of the Old Testament was a full 18 feet in length,(F16) contrasting with the American crocodile some four feet shorter.

“Who can open the doors of his face? Round about his teeth is terror” “`The doors of his face,’ i.e., his lower and upper jaws. `Round his teeth is terror,’ in the upper jaw usually 36, in the lower jaw 20, long and terrible to look at.”(F17) Rowley, however, wrote that, “The formidable teeth of the crocodile inspire terror; in the upper jaw, there are thirty-six, and in the lower thirty”!(F18) This writer must confess that he does not know which one of these scholars is correct regarding the number of crocodile teeth in that lower jaw!

“His strong scales are his pride” “These plates are of exceeding hardness, so hard, that they were employed as armour by ancient warriors, and one may see a coat of natural scale armour in the British Museum.”(F19) “The skin (scales) of the crocodile is actually so hard that a musket ball will not penetrate it.”(F20)

Verses 18-25

“His sneezings flash forth light, And his eyes are like the eyelids of the morning. Out of his mouth goeth burning torches, And sparks of fire leap forth. Out of his nostrils a smoke goeth, As of a boiling pot and burning rushes. His breath kindleth coals, And a flame goeth forth from his mouth. In his neck abideth strength, And terror danceth before him. The flakes of his flesh are joined together: They are firm upon him; they cannot be moved. His heart is as firm as a stone; Yea, firm as the nether millstone. When he raiseth himself up, the mighty are afraid: By reason of consternation, they are beside themselves.”

“His sneezings flash forth light” “The spray breathed through the nostrils of the crocodile is luminous in the sunshine. His eyes are compared to the dawn, because they are visible from some distance under water.”(F21) “When the crocodile comes up after being submerged in the water, he blows spray into the sunlight with an effect like fireworks. That impression is enhanced by the fact that his eyes shine like coals of fire through the water.”(F22) As Kelly said, “All of this may be understood as an imaginative and exaggerated description of a crocodile, or as poetic imagery.”(F23)

“Out of his nostrils a smoke goeth” This is a reference to that spray which the monster snorts out of his nostrils following a period of being submerged in the water. “It is compared here to the steam that comes off a pot boiling with a fire made of rushes under it.”(F24)

“Terror dances before him” “This is a graphic description of the terrified movements of other creatures when the crocodile appears.”(F25)

“The flakes of his flesh are joined together” “These (literally the pendulous parts) under the neck and body, which in most animals are soft, are in the crocodile firm and hard, forming a horny, waterproof covering for the epidermis.”(F26)

Verses 26-34


“If one lay at him with the sword, it cannot avail; Nor the spear, the dart, nor the pointed shaft. He counteth iron as straw, And brass as rotten wood. The arrow cannot make him flee: Sling-stones are turned with him into stubble. Clubs are counted as stubble: He laugheth at the rushing of the javelin. His underparts are like sharp potsherds: He spreadeth, as it were, a threshing-wain upon the mire. He maketh the deep to boil like a pot: He maketh the sea like a pot of ointment. He maketh a path to shine after him; One would think the deep to be hoary. Upon earth there is not his like, That is made without fear. He beholdeth everything that is high: He is king over all the sons of pride.”

“Sling-stones are turned with him into stubble” The sling, of course, was a deadly weapon both for war and for hunting. David, it will be remembered, used this weapon in his triumph over Goliath of Gath. It is surprising that it is mentioned here; because, “There is no evidence that it was ever used in an effort to destroy a crocodile. What is meant is that no ordinary weapon of any kind was effective against the crocodile.”(F27)

“His underparts are sharp like potsherds” See quotation from Driver under Job 41:23, above.

“He maketh the deep to boil like a pot… a path to shine after him (in the deep); one would think the deep to be hoary” Barnes and other scholars remind us that “the deep” in these verses is not a reference to the ocean but to the Nile river, which in ancient times was often referred to as `the sea.’(F28) The path that the crocodile made to shine after him appears to be a reference to the wake following the crocodile’s movement through the water, reflecting the sunlight. We also have here a reference to, “Leviathan’s motion in the water, which he churns up to a foam.”(F29) “It is generally allowed that by `the sea’ here is meant `the Nile,’ as in Isaiah 19:2; Isaiah 18:5, and Nahum 3:8.”(F30)

“He is king over all the sons of pride” “The sons of pride here are the proud beasts of prey.”(F31) If one wonders why both the behemoth and the leviathan are called “kings,” it is because behemoth was king of the beasts, and leviathan was king of the reptiles.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Job 41". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/job-41.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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