Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, July 13th, 2024
the Week of Proper 9 / Ordinary 14
For 10¢ a day you can enjoy StudyLight.org ads
free while helping to build churches and support pastors in Uganda.
Click here to learn more!

Bible Commentaries
Job 40

Barnes' Notes on the Whole BibleBarnes' Notes

Verse 1

Moreover, the Lord answered Job - The word “answered” is used here as it is often in the Scriptures, not to denote a reply to what had been immediately said, but to take up or continue an argument. What God said here was designed as a reply to the spirit which Job had so frequently manifested.

Verse 2

Shall he that contendeth with the A mighty instruct him? - Gesenius renders this, “Contending shall the reprover of God contend with the Almighty?” Prof. Lee, “Shall one by contending with the Almighty correct this?” On the grammatical construction, see Gesenius on the word יסור yissôr, and Rosenmuller and Lee, in loc. The meaning seems to be this: “Will he who would enter into a controversy with the Almighty now presume to instruct him? He that was so desirous of arguing his cause with God, will he now answer?” All the language used here is taken from courts, and is such as I have had frequent occasion to explain in these notes. The reference is to the fact that Job had so often expressed a wish to carry his cause, as before a judicial tribunal, directly up to God. He had felt that if he could get it there, he could so argue it as to secure a verdict in his favor; that he could set arguments before the Almighty which would secure a reversal of the fearful sentence which had gone out against him, and which had caused him to be held as a guilty man. God now asks whether he who had been so anxious to have a legal argument, and to carry his cause himself before God - a man disposed to litigation before God (רוב rûb) - was still of the same mind, and felt himself qualified to take upon himself the office of an instructor, a corrector, an admonisher (יסור yissôr) of God? He had the opportunity now, and God here paused, after the sublime exhibition of his majesty and power in the previous chapters, to give him an opportunity, as he wished, to carry his cause directly before him. The result is stated in Job 40:3-4. Job had now nothing to say.

He that reproveth God - Or rather, “He that is disposed to carry his cause before God,” as Job had often expressed a wish to do. The word used here (יכח yâkach) is often employed, especially in the Hiphil, in a “forensic sense,” and means “to argue, to show, to prove” anything; then “to argue down, to confute, to convict;” see Job 6:25; Job 13:15; Job 19:5; Job 32:12; Proverbs 9:7-8; Proverbs 15:12; Proverbs 19:25. It is evidently used in that sense here - a Hiphil participle מוכיח môkiyach - and refers, not to any man in general who reproves God, but to Job in particular, as having expressed a wish to carry his cause before him, and to argue it there.

Let him answer it - Or rather, “Let him answer him.” That is, Is he now ready to answer? There is now an opportunity for him to carry his cause, as he wished, directly before God. Is he ready to embrace the opportunity, and to answer now what the Almighty has said? This does not mean, then, as the common version would seem to imply, that the man who reproves God must be held responsible for it, but that Job, who had expressed the wish to carry his cause before God, had now an opportunity to do so. That this is the meaning, is apparent from the next verses, where Job says that he was confounded, and had nothing to say.

Verse 4

Behold, I am vile: what shall I answer thee? - “Instead of being able to argue my cause, and to vindicate myself as I had expected, I now see that I am guilty, and I have nothing to say.” He had argued boldly with his friends. He had, before them, maintained his innocence of the charges which they brought against him, and had supposed that he would be able to maintain the same argument before God. But when the opportunity was given, he felt that he was a poor, weak man; a guilty and miserable offender. It is a very different thing to maintain our cause before God, from what it is to maintain it before people; and though we may attempt to vindicate our own righteousness when we argue with our fellow-creatures, yet when we come to maintain it before God we shall be dumb. On earth, people vindicate themselves; what will they do when they come to stand before God in the judgment?

I will lay mine hand upon my mouth - An expression of silence. Catlin, in his account of the Mandan Indians, says that this is a common custom with them when anything wonderful occurs. Some of them laid their hands on their mouths and remained in this posture by the hour, as an expression of astonishment at the wonders produced by the brush in the art of painting; compare Job 21:5, note; Job 29:9, note.

Verse 5

Once have I spoken - That is, in vindicating myself. He had once spoken of God in an irreverent and improper manner, and he now saw it.

But I will not answer - I will not now answer, as I had expressed the wish to do. Job now saw that he had spoken in an improper manner, and he says that he would not repeat what he had said.

Yea, twice - He had not only offended once, as if in a thoughtless and hasty manner, but he had repeated it, showing deliberation, and thus aggravating his guilt. When a man is brought to a willingness to confess that he has done wrong once, he will be very likely to see that he has been guilty of more than one offence. One sin will draw on the remembrance of another; and the gate once open, a flood of sins will rush to the recollection. It is not common that a man can so isolate a sin as to repent of that alone, or so look at one offence against God as not to feel that he has been often guilty of the same crimes.

But I will proceed no further - Job felt doubtless that if he should allow himself to speak again, or to attempt now to vindicate himself, he would be in danger of committing the same error again. He now saw that God was right; that he had himself repeatedly indulged in an improper spirit, and that all that became him was a penitent confession in the fewest words possible. We may learn here:

(1) That a view of God is fitted to produce in us a deep sense of our own sins. No one can feel himself to be in the presence of God, or regard the Almighty as speaking to him, without saying, “Lo I am vile? There is nothing so much fitted to produce a sense of sinfulness and nothingness as a view of God.

(2) The world will be mute at the day of judgment. They who have been most loud and bold in vindicating themselves will then be silent, and will confess that they are vile, and the whole world “will become guilty before God.” If the presence and the voice of God produced such an effect on so good a man as Job, what will it not do on a wicked world?

(3) A true penitent is disposed to use but few words; “God be merciful to me a sinner,” or, “lo, I am vile,” is about all the language which the penitent employs. He does not go into long arguments, into metaphysical distinctions, into apologies and vindications, but uses the simplest language of confession, and then leaves the soul, and the cause, in the hands of God.

(4) Repentance consists in stopping where we are, and in resolving to add no more sin. “I have erred,” is its language. “I will not add to it, I will do so no more,” is the immediate response of the soul. A readiness to go into a vindication, or to expose oneself to the danger of sinning again in the same way, is an evidence that there is no true repentance. Job, a true penitent, would not allow himself even to speak again on the subject, lest he should be guilty of the sin which he had already committed.

(5) In repentance we must be willing to retract our errors, and confess that we were wrong - no matter what favorite opinions we have had, or how tenaciously and zealously we have defended and held them. Job had constructed many beautiful and eloquent arguments in defense of his opinions; he had brought to bear on the subject all the results of his observation, all his attainments in science, all the adages and maxims that he had derived from the ancients, and from a long contact with mankind, but he was now brought to a willingness to confess that his arguments were not solid, and that the opinions which he had cherished were erroneous. It is often more difficult to abandon opinions than vices; and the proud philosopher when he exercises repentance has a more difficult task than the victim of low and debasing sensuality. His opinions are his idols. They embody the results of his reading, his reflections, his conversation, his observation, and they become a part of himself. Hence, it is, that so many abandoned sinners are converted, and so few philosophers; that religion spreads often with so much success among the obscure and the openly wicked, while so few of the “wise men of the world” are called and saved.

Verse 6

Then answered the Lord unto Job out of the whirlwind - See the notes at Job 38:1. God here resumes the argument which had been interrupted in order to give Job an opportunity to speak and to carry his cause before the Almighty, as he had desired, see Job 40:2. Since Job had nothing to say, the argument, which had been suspended, is resumed and completed.

Verse 7

Gird up thy loins now like a man - An expression taken from the ancient mode of dress. That was a loose, flowing robe, which was secured by a girdle when traveling, or when one entered upon anything requiring energy; see the notes at Matthew 5:38-41. The meaning here is, “Prepare thyself for the highest effort that can be made. Put forth all your strength, and explain to me what will now be said;” compare the notes at Isaiah 41:21.

I will demand of thee - Hebrew “I will ask of thee.” That is, I will submit some questions to you to be answered.

And declare thou unto me - Hebrew “Cause me to know.” That is, furnish a satisfactory answer to these inquiries, so as to show that you understand the subject. The object is to appeal to the proofs of divine wisdom, and to show that the whole subject was far above human comprehension.

Verse 8

Wilt thou disannul my judgment? - Wilt thou “reverse” the judgment which I have formed, and show that it should have been different from what it is? This was implied in what Job had undertaken. He had complained of the dealings of God, and this was the same as saying that he could show that those dealings should have been different from what they were. When a man complains against God, it is always implied that he supposes he could show why his dealings should be different from what they are, and that they should be reversed.

Wilt thou condemn me, that thou mayest be righteous? - Or, rather, probably, “Wilt thou show that I am wrong because thou art superior in justice?” Job had allowed himself to use language which strongly implied that God was improperly severe. He had regarded himself as punished far beyond what he deserved, and as suffering in a manner which justice did not demand. All this implied that “he” was more righteous in the case than God, for when a man allows himself to vent such complaints, it indicates that he esteems himself to be more just than his Maker. God now calls upon Job to maintain this proposition, since he had advanced it, and to urge the arguments which would prove that “he” was more righteous in the case than God. It was proper to demand this. It was a charge of such a nature that it could not be passed over in silence, and God asks, therefore, with emphasis, whether Job now supposed that he could institute such an argument as to show that he was right and his Maker wrong.

Verse 9

Hast thou an arm like God? - The arm is the symbol of strength. The question here is, whether Job would venture to compare his strength with the omnipotence of God?

Or canst thou thunder with a voice like him? - Thunder is a symbol of the majesty of the Most High, and is often spoken of as the voice of God; see Psalms 29:1-11. The question here is, whether Job could presume to compare himself with the Almighty, whose voice was the thunder?

Verse 10

Deck thyself now with majesty and excellency - That is, such as God has. Put on everything which you can, which would indicate rank, wealth, power, and see whether it could all be compared with the majesty of God; compare Psalms 104:1, “O Lord my God, thou art very great; thou art clothed with honor and majesty.”

Verse 11

Cast abroad the rage of thy wrath - That is, as God does. Show that the same effects can be produced by “your” indignation which there is in his. God appeals here to the effect of his displeasure in prostrating his foes as one of the evidences of his majesty and glory, and asks Job, if he would compare himself with him, to imitate him in this, and produce similar effects.

And behold every one that is proud, and abase him - That is, “look” upon such an one and bring him low, or humble him by a look. It is implied here that God could do this, and he appeals to it as a proof of his power.

Verse 12

And tread down the wicked in their place - Even in the very place where they are, crush them to the dust, as God can. It is implied that God was able to do this, and he appeals to it as a proof of his power.

Verse 13

Hide them in the dust together; - compare Isaiah 2:10. The meaning seems to be, that God had power to prostrate the wicked in the dust of the earth, and he calls upon Job to show his power by doing the same thing.

And bind their faces in secret - The word “faces” here is probably used (like the Greek πρίσωπα prisōpa to denote “persons.” The phrase” to bind them,” is expressive of having them under control or subjection; and the phrase “in secret” may refer to some secret or safe place - as a dungeon or prison. The meaning of the whole is, that God had power to restrain and control the haughty and the wicked, and he appeals to Job to do the same.

Verse 14

Then will I also confess unto thee ... - If you can do all this, it will be full proof that you can save yourself, and that you do not need the divine interposition. If he could do all this, then it might be admitted that he was qualified to pronounce a judgment on the divine counsels and dealings. He would then show that he had qualifications for conducting the affairs of the universe.

Verse 15

Behold now behemoth - Margin, “or, the elephant, as some think.” In the close of the argument, God appeals to two animals as among the chief of his works, and as illustrating more than any others his power and majesty - the behemoth and the leviathan. A great variety of opinions has been entertained in regard to the animal referred to here, though the “main” inquiry has related to the question whether the “elephant” or the “hippopotamus” is denoted. Since the time of Bochart, who has gone into an extended examination of the subject (“Hieroz.” P. ii. L. ii. c. xv.), the common opinion has been that the latter is here referred to. As a “specimen” of the method of interpreting the Bible which has prevailed, and as a proof of the slow progress which has been made toward settling the meaning of a difficult passage, we may refer to some of the opinions which have been entertained in regard to this animal. They are chiefly taken from the collection of opinions made by Schultens, in loc. Among them are the following:

(1) That wild animals in general are denoted. This appears to have been the opinion of the translators of the Septuagint.

(2) Some of the rabbis supposed that a huge monster was referred to, that ate every day “the grass of a thousand mountains.”

(3) It has been held by some that the wild bull was referred to. This was the opinion particularly of Sanctius.

(4) The common opinion, until the time of Bochart, has been that the elephant was meant. See the particular authors who have held this opinion enumerated in Schultens.

(5) Bochart maintained, and since his time the opinion has been generally acquiesced in, that the “riverhorse” of the Nile, or the hippopotamus, was referred to. This opinion he has defended at length in the “Hieroz.” P. ii. L. v. c. xv.

(6) Others have held that some “hieroglyphic monster” was referred to, or that the whole description was an emblematic representation, though without any living original. Among those who have held this sentiment, some have supposed that it is designed to be emblematic of the old Serpent; others, of the corrupt and fallen nature of man; others, that the proud, the cruel, and the bloody are denoted; most of the “fathers” supposed that the devil was here emblematically represented by the behemoth and the leviathan; and one writer has maintained that Christ was referred to!

To these opinions may be added the supposition of Dr. Good, that the behemoth here described is at present a genus altogether extinct, like the mammoth, and other animals that have been discovered in fossil remains. This opinion is also entertained by the author of the article on “Mazology,” in the Edinburgh Encyclopaedia, chiefly for the reason that the description of the “tail” of the behemoth Job 40:17 does not well accord with the hippopotamus. There must be admitted to be some plausibility in this conjecture of Dr. Good, though perhaps I shall be able to show that there is no necessity for resorting to this supposition. The word “behemoth” (בהמות behêmôth), used here in the plural number, occurs often in the singular number, to denote a dumb beast, usually applied to the larger kind of quadrupeds. It occurs very often in the Scriptures, and is usually translated “beast,” or collectively “cattle.”

It usually denotes land animals, in opposition to birds or reptiles. See the Lexicons, and Taylor’s “Hebrew Concordance.” It is rendered by Dr. Nordheimer (Heb. Con.) in this place, “hippopotamus.” The plural form is often used (compare Deuteronomy 32:24; Job 12:7; Jeremiah 12:4; Habakkuk 2:17; Psalms 50:10), but in no other instance is it employed as a proper name. Gesenius supposes that under the form of the word used here, there lies concealed some Egyptian name for the hippopotamus, “so modified as to put on the appearance of a Semitic word. Thus, the Ethiopian “pehemout” denotes “water-ox,” by which epithet (“bomarino”) the Italians also designate the hippopotamus.” The translations do not afford much aid in determining the meaning of the word. The Septuagint renders it, θηρία thēria, “wild beasts;” Jerome retains the word, “Behemoth;” the Chaldee, בעיריא, “beast;” the Syriac retains the Hebrew word; Coverdale renders it, “cruelbeast;” Prof. Lee, “the beasts;” Umbreit, ”Nilpferd,” “Nile-horse;” and Noyes, “river-horse.” The only method of ascertaining, therefore, what animal is here intended, is to compare carefully the characteristics here referred to with the animals now known, and to find in what one these characteristics exist. We may here safely “presume” on the entire accuracy of the description, since we have found the previous descriptions of animals to accord entirely with the habits of those existing at the present day. The illustration drawn from the passage before us, in regard to the nature of the animal, consists of two parts:

(1) The “place” which the description occupies in the argument. That it is an “aquatic” animal, seems to follow from the plan and structure of the argument. In the two discourses of yahweh Job 38–41, the appeal is made, first, to the phenomena of nature Job 38:0; then to the beasts of the earth, among whom the “ostrich” is reckoned Job 39:1-25; then to the fowls of the air Job 39:26-30; and then follows the description of the behemoth and the leviathan. It would seem that an argument of this kind would not be constructed without some allusion to the principal wonders of the deep; and the fair presumption, therefore, is, that the reference here is to the principal animals of the aquatic race. The argument in regard to the nature of the animal from the “place” which the description occupies, seems to be confirmed by the fact that the account of the behemoth is immediately followed by that of the leviathan - beyond all question an aquatic monster. As they are here grouped together in the argument, it is probable that they belong to the same class; and if by the leviathan is meant the “crocodile,” then the presumption is that the river-horse, or the hippopotamus, is here intended. These two animals, as being Egyptian wonders, are everywhere mentioned together by ancient writers; see Herodotus, ii. 69-71; Diod. Sic. i. 35; and Pliny, “Hist. Nat.” xxviii. 8.

(2) The character of the animal may be determined from the “particular things” specified. Those are the following:

(a) It is an amphibious animal, or an animal whose usual resort is the river, though he is occasionally on land. This is evident, because he is mentioned as lying under the covert of the reed and the fens; as abiding in marshy places, or among the willows of the brook, Job 40:21-22, while at other times he is on the mountains, or among other animals, and feeds on grass like the ox, Job 40:15, Job 40:20. This account would not agree well with the elephant, whose residence is not among marshes and fens, but on solid ground.

(b) He is not a carnivorous animal. This is apparent, for it is expressly mentioned that he feeds on grass, and no allusion is made to his at any time eating flesh, Job 40:15, Job 40:20. This part of the description would agree with the elephant as well as with the hippopotamus.

(c) His strength is in his loins, and in the navel of his belly, Job 40:16. This would agree with the hippopotamus, whose belly is equally guarded by his thick skin with the rest of his body, but is not true of the elephant. The strength of the elephant is in his head and neck, and his weakest part, the part where he can be most successfully attacked, is his belly. There the skin is thin and tender, and it is there that the rhinoceros attacks him, and that he is even annoyed by insects. Pliny, Lib. viii. c. 20; Aelian, Lib. xvii. c. 44; compare the notes at Job 40:16.

(d) He is distinguished for some unique movement of his tail - some slow and stately motion, or a certain “inflexibility” of the tail, like a cedar. This will agree with the account of the hippopotamus; see the notes at Job 40:17.

(e) He is remarkable for the strength of his bones, Job 40:18,

(f) He is remarkable for the quantity of water which he drinks at a time, Job 40:23; and

(g) he has the power of forcing his way, chiefly by the strength of his nose, through snares by which it is attempted to take him, Job 40:24.

These characteristics agree better with the hippopotamus than with any other known animal; and at present critics, with few exceptions, agree in the opinion that this is the animal which is referred to. As additional reasons for supposing that the “elephant” is not referred to, we may add:

(1) that there is no allusion to the proboscis of the elephant, a part of the animal that could not have failed to be alluded to if the description had pertained to him; and

(2) that the elephant was wholly unknown in Arabia and Egypt.

The hippopotamus Ἱπποπόταμος hippopotamos or “river horse” belongs to the mammalia, and is of the order of the “pachydermata,” or thick-skinned animals To this order belong also the elephant, the tapirus, the rhinoceros, and the swine. “Edin. Ency.,” art. “Mazology.” The hippopotamus is found principally on the banks of the Nile, though it is found also in the other large rivers of Africa, as the Niger, and the rivers which lie between that and the Cape of Good Hope. It is not found in any of the rivers which run north into the Mediterranean except the Nile, and there only at present in that portion which traverses Upper Egypt; and it is found also in the lakes and fens of Ethiopia. It is distinguished by a broad head; its lips are very thick, and the muzzle much inflated; it has four very large projecting curved teeth in the under jaw, and four also in the upper; the skin is very thick, the legs short, four toes on each foot inverted with small hoofs, and the tail is very short.

The appearance of the animal, when on land, is represented as very uncouth, the body being very large, flat, and round, the head enormously large in proportion, the feet as disproportionably short, and the armament of teeth in its mouth truly formidable. The length of a male has been known to be seventeen feet, the height seven, and the circumference fifteen; the head three feet and a half, and the mouth about two feet in width. Mr. Bruce mentions some in the lake Tzana that were twenty feet in length. The whole animal is covered with short hair, which is more thickly set on the under than the upper parts. The general color of the animal is brownish. The skin is exceedingly tough and strong, and was used by the ancient Egyptians for the manufacture of shields. They are timid and sluggish on land, and when pursued they betake themselves to the water, plunge in, and walk on the bottom, though often compelled to rise to the surface to take in fresh air.

In the day-time they are so much afraid of being discovered, that when they rise for the purpose of breathing, they only put their noses out of the water; but in rivers that are unfrequented, by mankind they put out the whole head. In shallow rivers they make deep holes in the bottom to conceal their bulk. They are eaten with avidity by the inhabitants of Africa. The following account of the capture of a hippopotamus serves greatly to elucidate the description in the book of Job, and to show its correctness, even in those points which have formerly been regarded as poetical exaggerations. It is translated from the travels of M. Kuppell, the German naturalist, who visited Upper Egypt, and the countries still further up the Nile, and is the latest traveler in those regions (“Reisen in Nubia, Kordofan, etc.,” Frankf. 1829, pp. 52ff). “In the province of Dongola, the fishermen and hippopotamus hunters form a distinct class or caste; and are called in the Berber language Hauauit (pronounced “Howowit.”) They make use of a small canoe, formed from a single tree, about ten feet long, and capable of carrying two, and at most three men.

The harpoon which they use in hunting the hippopotamus has a strong barb just back of the blade or sharp edge; above this a long and strong cord is fastened to the iron, and to the other end of this cord a block of light wood, to serve as a buoy, and aid in tracing out and following the animal when struck. The iron is then slightly fastened upon a wooden handle, or lance, about eight feet long. The hunters of the hippopotamus harpoon their prey either by day or by night; but they prefer the former, because they can then better parry the ferocious assaults of the enraged animal. The hunter takes in his right hand the handle of the harpoon, with a part of the cord; in his left the remainder of the cord, with the buoy. In this manner he cautiously approaches the creature as it sleeps by day upon a small island, or he watches at night for those parts of the shore where he hopes the animal will come up out of the water, in order to feed in the fields of grain.

When he has gained the desired distance (about seven paces), he throws the lance with his full strength; and the harpoon, in order to hold, must penetrate the thick hide and into the flesh. The wounded beast conmmonly makes for the water, and plunges beneath it in order to conceal himself; the handle of the harpoon falls off, but the buoy swims, and indicates the direction which the animal takes. The harpooning of the hippopotamus is attended with great danger, when the hunter is perceived by the animal before he has thrown the harpoon. In such cases the beast sometimes rushes, enraged, upon his assailant, and crushes him at once between his wide and formidable jaws - an occurrence that once took place during our residence near Shendi. Sometimes the most harmless objects excite the rage of this animal; thus; in the region of Amera, a hippopotamus once craunched in the same way, several cattle that were fastened to a water-wheel.

So soon as the animal has been successfully struck, the hunters hasten in their canoe cautiously to approach the buoy, to which they fasten a long rope; with the other end of this they proceed to a largo boat or bark, on board of which are their companions. The rope is now drawn in; the pain thus occasioned by the barb of the harpoon excites the rage of the animal, and he no sooner perceives the bark, than he rushes upon it; seizes it, if possible, with his teeth; and sometimes succeeds in shattering it, or oversetting it. The hunters, in the meantime, are not idle; they fasten five or six other harpoons in his flesh, and exert all their strength, by means of the cords of these, to keep him close alongside of the bark, in order thus to diminish, in some measure, the effects of his violence. They endeavor, with a long sharp iron, to divide the “ligamentum lugi,” or to beat in the skull - the usual modes in which the natives kill this animal.

Since the carcass of a fullgrown hippopotamus is too large to be drawn out of the water without quite a number of men, they commonly cut up the animal, when killed, in the water, and draw the pieces ashore. In the whole Turkish province of Dongola, there are only one or two hippopotami killed annually. In the years 1821-23, inclusive, there were nine killed, four of which were killed by us. The flesh of the young animal is very good eating; when full grown, they are usually very fat, and their carcass is commonly estimated as equal to four or five oxen. The hide is used only for making whips, which are excellent; and one hide furnishes from three hundred and fifty to five hundred of them. The teeth are not used. One of the hippopotami which we killed was a very old male, and seemed to have reached his utmost growth. He measured, from the snout to the end of the tail, about fifteen feet, and his tusks, from the root to the point, along the external curve, twenty-eight inches.

In order to kill him, we had a battle with him of four hours long, and that too in the night. Indeed, he came very near destroying our large bark, and with it, perhaps, all our lives. The moment he saw the hunters in the small canoe, as they were about to fasten the long rope to the buoy, in order to draw him in, he threw himself with one rush upon it, dragged it with him under water, and shattered it to pieces. The two hunters escaped the extreme danger with great difficulty. Out of twenty-five musketballs which were fired into the monster’s head, at the distance of five feet, only one penetrated the hide and the bones near the nose; so that every time he breathed he snorted streams of blood upon the bark. All the other balls remained sticking in the thickness of his hide. We had at last to employ a small cannon, the use of which at so short a distance had not before entered our minds; but it was only after five of its balls, fired at the distance of a few feet, had mangled, most shockingly, the head and body of the monster, that he gave up the ghost.

The darkness of the night augmented the horrors and dangers of the contest. This gigantic hippopotamus dragged our large bark at will in every direction of the stream; and it was in a fortunate moment for us that he yielded, just as he had drawn the bark among a labyrinth of rocks, which might have been so much the more dangerous, because, from the great confusion on board, no one had observed them. Hippopotami of the size of the one above described cannot be killed by the natives, for want of a cannon. These animals are a real plague to the land, in consequence of their voraciousness. The inhabitants have no permanent means of keeping them away from their fields and plantations; all that they do is to make a noise during the night with a drum, and to keep up fires in different places. In some parts the hippopotami are so bold that they will yield up their pastures, or places of feeding, only when a large number of persons come rushing upon them with sticks and loud cries.”

The method of taking the hippopotamus by the Egyptians was the following: “It was entangled by a running noose, at the extremity of a long line wound upon a reel, at the same time that it was struck by the spear of the chasseur. This weapon consisted of a broad, flat blade, furnished with a deep tooth or barb at the side, having a strong rope of considerable length attached to its upper end, and running over the notched summit of a wooden shaft, which was inserted into the head or blade, like a common javelin. It was thrown in the same manner, but on striking, the shaft fell and the iron head alone remained in the body of the animal, which, on receiving the wound, plunged into deep water, the rope having been immediately let out. When fatigued by exertion, the hippopotamus was dragged to the boat, from which it again plunged, and the same was repeated until it became perfectly exhausted: frequently receiving additional wounds, and being entangled by other nooses, which the attendants held in readiness, as it was brought within their reach.” Wilkinson’s “Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians,” vol. iii. pp. 70, 71.

Which I made with thee - That is, either “I have made him as well as you, have formed him to be a fellow-creature with thee,” or, “I have made him near thee “ - to wit, in Egypt. The latter Bochart supposes to be the true interpretation, though the former is the more natural. According to that, the meaning is, that God was the Creator of both; and he calls on Job to contemplate the power and greatness of a fellow-creature, though a brute, as illustrating his own power and majesty. The annexed engraving - the figures drawn from the living animal - shows the general appearance of the massive and unwieldy hippopotamus. The huge head of the animal, from the prominency of its eyes, the great breadth of its muzzle, and the singular way in which the jaw is placed in the head, is almost grotesque in its ugliness. When it opens its jaws its enormously large mouth and tongue, pinkish and fleshy, and armed with tusks of most formidable character, is particularly striking. In the engraving hippopotami are represented as on a river bank asleep, and in the water, only the upper part of the head appearing above the surface, and an old animal is conveying her young one on her back down the stream.

He eateth grass as an ox - This is mentioned as a remarkable property of this animal. The “reasons” why it was regarded as so remarkable may have been:

(1) that it might have been supposed that an animal so huge and fierce, and armed with such a set of teeth, would be carnivorous, like the lion or the tiger; and

(2) it was remarkable that an animal that commonly lived in the water should be graminivorous, as if it were wholly a land animal.

The common food of the hippopotamus is “fish.” In the water they pursue their prey with great swiftness and perseverance. They swim with much force, and are capable of remaining at the bottom of a river for thirty or forty minutes. On some occasions three or four of them are seen at the bottom of a river, near some cataract, forming a kind of line, and seizing upon such fish as are forced down by the violence of the stream. “Goldsmith.” But it often happens that this kind of food is not found in suffient abundance, and the animal is then forced on land, where it commits great depredations among plantations of sugar cane and grain. The fact here adverted to, that the food of the hippopotamus is grass or herbs, is also mentioned by Diodorus - Κατανέμεται τόν τε σῖτον και τόν χορτον Katanemetai ton te siton kai ton chorton. The same thing is mentioned also by Sparrmann, “Travels through South Africa,” p. 563, German Translation.

Verse 16

Lo now, his strength is in his loins - The inspection of the figure of the hippopotamus will show the accuracy of this. The strength of the elephant is in the neck; of the lion in the paw; of the horse and ox in the shoulders; but the principal power of the river-horse is in the loins; compare Nahum 2:1. This passage is one that proves that the elephant cannot be referred to.

And his force is in the navel of his belly - The word which is here rendered “navel” (שׁריר shârı̂yr) means properly “firm, hard, tough,” and in the plural form, which occurs here, means the “firm,” or “tough” parts of the belly. It is not used to denote the “navel” in any place in the Bible, and should not have been so rendered here. The reference is to the muscles and tendons of this part of the body, and perhaps particularly to the fact that the hippopotamus, by crawling so much on his belly among the stones of the stream or on land, acquires a special hardness or strength in those parts of the body. This clearly proves that the elephant is not intended. In that animal, this is the most tender part of the body. Pliny and Solinus both remark that the elephant has a thick, hard skin on the back, but that the skin of the belly is soft and tender. Pliny says (“Hist. Nat.” Lib. viii. c. 20), that the rhinoceros, when about to attack an elephant, “seeks his belly, as if he knew that that was the most tender part.” So Aelian, “Hist.” Lib. xvii. c. 44; see Bochart, as above.

Verse 17

He moveth his tail like a cedar - Margin, “setteth up.” The Hebrew word (חפץ châphêts) means “to bend, to curve;” and hence, it commonly denotes “to be inclined, favorably disposed to desire or please.” The obvious meaning here is, that this animal had some remarkable power of “bending” or “curving” its tail, and that there was some resemblance in this to the motion of the cedar-tree when moved by the wind. In “what” this resemblance consisted, or how this was a proof of its power, it is not quite easy to determine. Rosenmuller says that the meaning is, that the tail of the hippopotamus was “smooth, round, thick, and firm,” and in this respect resembled the cedar. The tail is short - being, according to Abdollatiph (see Ros.), about half a cubit in length. In the lower part, says he, it is thick, “equalling the extremities of the fingers;” and the idea here, according to this, is, that this short, thick, and apparently firm tail, was bent over by the will of the animal as the wind bends the branches of the cedar.

The point of comparison is not the “length,” but the fact of its being easily bent over or curved at the pleasure of the animal. Why this, however, should have been mentioned as remarkable, or how the power of the animal in this respect differs from others, is not very apparent. Some, who have supposed the elephant to be here referred to, have understood this of the proboscis. But though “this would be” a remarkable proof of the power of the animal, the language of the original will not admit of it. The Hebrew word (זנב zânâb) is used only to denote the tail. It is “possible” that there may be here an allusion to the unwieldy nature of every part of the animal, and especially to the thickness and inflexibility of the skin and what was remarkable was, that notwithstanding this, this member was entirely at its command. Still, the reason of the comparison is not very clear. The description of the movement of the “tail” here given, would agree much better with some of the extinct orders of animals whose remains have been recently discovered and arranged by Cuvier, than with that of the hippopotamus. Particularly, it would agree with the account of the ichthyosaurus (see Buckland’s “Geology, Bridgewater Treatise,” vol. i. 133ff), though the other parts of the animal here described would not accord well with this.

The sinews of his stones are wrapped together - Good renders this, “haunches;” Noyes, Prof. Lee, Rosenmuller, and Schultens, “thighs;” and the Septuagint simply has: “his sinews.” The Hebrew word used here (פחד pachad) means properly “fear, terror,” Exodus 15:16; Job 13:11; and, according to Gesenius, it then means, since “fear” is transferred to cowardice and shame, anything which “causes” shame, and hence, the secret parts. So it is understood here by our translators; but there does not seem to be any good reason for this translation, but there is every reason why it should not be thus rendered. The “object” of the description is to inspire a sense of the “power” of the animal, or of his capacity to inspire terror or dread; and hence, the allusion here is to those parts which were fitted to convey this dread, or this sense of his power - to wit, his strength. The usual meaning of the word, therefore, should be retained, and the sense then would be, “the sinews of his terror,” that is, of his parts fitted to inspire terror, “are wrapped together;” are firm, compact, solid. The allusion then is to his thighs or haunches, as being formidable in their aspect, and the seat of strength. The sinews or muscles of these parts seemed to be like a hard-twisted rope; compact, firm, solid, and such as to defy all attempts to overcome them.

Verse 18

His bones are as strong pieces of brass - The circumstance here adverted to was remarkable, because the common residence of the animal was the water, and the bones of aquatic animals are generally hollow, and much less firm than those of land animals. It should be observed here, that the word rendered “brass” in the Scriptures most probably denotes “copper.” Brass is a compound metal, composed of copper and zinc; and there is no reason to suppose that the art of compounding it was known at as early a period of the world as the time of Job. The word here translated “strong pieces” (אפיק 'âphı̂yq) is rendered by Schultens “alvei - channels,” or “beds,” as of a rivulet or stream; and by Rosenmuller, Gesenius, Noyes, and Umbreit, “tubes” - supposed to allude to the fact that they seemed to be hollow tubes of brass. But the more common meaning of the word is “strong, mighty,” and there is no impropriety in retaining that sense here; and then the meaning would be, that his bones were so firm that they seemed to be made of solid metal.

Verse 19

He is the chief of the ways of God - In size and strength. The word rendered “chief” is used in a similar sense in Numbers 24:20, “Amalek was the first of the nations;” that is, one of the most powerful and mighty of the nations.

He that made him can make his sword approach unto him - According to this translation, the sense is, that God had power over him, notwithstanding his great strength and size, and could take his life when he pleased. Yet this, though it would be a correct sentiment, does not seem to be that which the connection demands. That would seem to require some allusion to the strength of the animal; and accordingly, the translation suggested by Bochart, and adopted substantially by Rosenmuller, Umbreit, Noyes, Schultens, Prof. Lee, and others, is to be preferred - “He that made him furnished him with a sword.” The allusion then would be to his strong, sharp teeth, hearing a resemblance to a sword, and designed either for defense or for the purpose of cutting the long grass on which it fed when on the land. The propriety of this interpretation may be seen vindicated at length in Bochart, “Hieroz.” P. ii. Lib. v. c. xv. pp. 766, 762. The ἅρπη harpē, i. e. the sickle or scythe, was ascribed to the hippopotamus by some of the Greek writers. Thus, Nicander, “Theriacon,” verse 566:

Η ἵππον, τὸν Νεῖλος ύπερ Σάιν αἰθαλοεσσαν

Βόσκει, ἀρούρησιν δὲ κακὴν ἐπιβάλλεται


Ee hippon, ton Neilos huper Sain aithaloessan

Boskei, arourēsin de kakēn epiballetai.


On this passage the Scholiast remarks, “The ἅρπη harpē, means a sickle, and the teeth of the hippopotamus are so called - teaching that this animal consumes (τρώγει trōgei) the harvest.” See Bochart also for other examples. A slight inspection of the “cut” will show with what propriety it is said of the Creator of the hippopotamus, that he had armed him with a sickle, or sword.

Verse 20

Surely the mountains bring him forth food - That is, though he lies commonly among the reeds and fens, and is in the water a considerable portion of his time, yet he also wanders to the mountains, and finds his food there. But the point of the remark here does not seem to be, that the mountains brought forth food for him, but that he gathered it “while all the wild beasts played around him, or sported in his very presence.” It was remarkable that an animal so large and mighty, and armed with such a set of teeth, should not be carnivorous, and that the wild beasts on the mountains should continue their sports without danger or alarm in his very presence. This fact could be accounted for partly because the “motions” of the hippopotamus were so very slow and clumsy that the wild beasts had nothing to fear from him, and could easily escape from him if he were disposed to attack them, and partly from the fact that he seems to have “preferred” vegetable food. The hippopotamus is seldom carnivorous, except when driven by extreme hunger, and in no respect is he formed to be a beast of prey. In regard to “the fact” that the hippopotamus is sometimes found in mountainous or elevated places, see Bochart.

Verse 21

He lieth under the shady trees - Referring to his usually inactive and lazy life. He is disposed to lie down in the shade, and especially in the vegetable growth in marshy places on the banks of lakes and rivers, rather than to dwell in the open field or in the upland forest. This account agrees well with the habits of the hippopotamus. The word here and in Job 40:22 rendered “shady trees” (צאלים tse'eliym), is by Gesenius, Noyes, Prof. Lee, and Schultens, translated “lotus,” and “wild lotus.” The Vulgate, Syriac, Rosenmuller, Aben-Ezra, and others, render it “shady trees.” It occurs nowhere else in the Scriptures, and it is difficult, therefore, to determine its meaning. According to Schultens and Gesenius, it is derived from the obsolete word צאל tsā'al, “to be thin, slender;” and hence, in Arabic it is applied to the “wild lotus” - a plant that grows abundantly on the banks of the Nile, and that often serves the wild beasts of the desert for a place of retreat. It is not very important whether it be rendered the “lotus,” or “shades,” though the probable derivation of the word seems to favor the former.

In the covert of the reed - It is well known that reeds abounded on the banks of the Nile. These would furnish a convenient and a natural retreat for the hippopotamus.

And fens - בצה bitstsâh - “marsh, marshy places.” This passage proves that the elephant is not here referred to. He is never found in such places.

Verse 22

The shady trees - Probably the “lote-trees;” see the note at Job 40:21. The same word is used here.

The willow-trees of the brook - Of the “stream,” or “rivulet.” The Hebrew word (נחל nachal) means rather “a wady;” a gorge or gulley, which is swollen with torrents in the winter, but which is frequently dry in summer; see the notes at Job 6:15. Willows grew commonly on the banks of rivers. They could not be cultivated in the desert; Isaiah 15:7.

Verse 23

Behold he drinketh up a river - Margin, “oppresseth.” The margin expresses the proper meaning of the Hebrew word, עשׁק âshaq. It usually means to oppress, to treat with violence and injustice; and to defraud, or extort. But a very different sense is given to this verse by Bochart, Gesenius, Noyes, Schultens, Umbreit, Prof. Lee, and Rosenmuller. According to the interpretation given by them the meaning is, “The stream overfloweth, and he feareth not; he is secure, even though Jordan rush forth even to his mouth.” The reference then would be, not to the fact that he was greedy in his mode of drinking, but to the fact that this huge and fierce animal, that found its food often on the land, and that reposed under the shade of the lotus and the papyrus, could live in the water as well as on the land, and was unmoved even though the impetuous torrent of a swollen river should overwhelm him.

The “names” by which this translation is recommended are a sufficient guarantee that it is not a departure from the proper meaning of the original. It is also the most natural and obvious interpretation. It is impossible to make good sense of the phrase “he oppresseth a river;” nor does the word used properly admit of the translation “he drinketh up.” The word “river” in this place, therefore (נהר nâhâr), is to be regarded as in the nominative case to יעשׁק ya‛âshaq, and the meaning is, that when a swollen and impetuous river rushes along and bears all before it, and, as it were, “oppresses” everything in its course, he is not alarmed; he makes no effort to flee; he lies perfectly calm and secure. What was “remarkable” in this appears to have been, that an animal that was so much on land, and that was not properly a fish, should be thus calm and composed when an impetuous torrent rolled over him. The Septuagint appears to have been aware that this was the true interpretation, for they render this part of the verse, Ἐάν γέηται πλνμμύρα, κ.τ.λ. Ean genētai plēmmura, etc. - “Should there come a flood, he would not regard it.” Our common translation seems to have been adopted from the Vulgate - ”Ecceabsorbebit fluvium.”

He trusteth that he can draw up Jordan into his mouth - Or, rather, “He is confident, i. e. unmoved, though Jordan should rush forth to his mouth.” The idea is, that though the whole river Jordan should seem to pour down upon him as “if” it were about to rush into his mouth, it would not disturb him. Even such an impetuous torrent would not alarm him. Being amphibious, he would not dread what would fill a land animal with alarm. There is no evidence that the hippopotamus was ever found in the river Jordan, nor is it necessary to suppose this in order to understand this passage. The mention of the Jordan shows indeed that this river was known to the writer of this book, and that it was probably written by someone who resided in the vicinity. In speaking of this huge foreign animal, it was not unnatural to mention a river that was familiarly known, and to say that he would not be alarmed should such a river rush suddenly and impetuously upon him. Even though the hippopotamus is an inhabitant of the Nile, and was never seen in the Jordan, it was much more natural to mention this river in this connection than the Nile. It was better known, and the illustration would be better understood, and to an inhabitant of that country would be much more striking. I see no reason, therefore, for the supposition of Bechart and Rosenmuller, that the Jordan here is put for any large river. The illustration is just such as one would have used who was well acquainted with the Jordan - that the river horse would not be alarmed even though such a river should pour impetuously upon him.

Verse 24

He taketh it with his eyes - Margin, “Or, will any take him in his sight, or, bore his nose with a gin!” From this marginal reading it is evident that our translators were much perplexed with this passage. Expositors have been also much embarrassed in regard to its meaning, and have differed much in their exposition. Rosenmuller supposes that this is to be regarded as a question, and is to be rendered, “Will the hunter take him while he sees him?” - meaning that he could not be taken without some snare or guile. The same view also is adopted by Bochart, who says that the hippopotamus could be taken only by some secret snare or pitfall. The common mode of taking him, he says, was to excavate a place near where the river horse usually lay, and to cover it over with reeds and canes, so that he would fall into it unawares. The meaning then is, that the hunter could not approach him openly and secure him while he saw him, but that some secret plan must be adopted to take him. The meaning then is, “Can he be taken when he sees the hunter?”

His nose pierceth through snares - Or rather, “When taken in snares, can anyone pierce his nose?” That is, Can the hunter even then pierce his nose so as to put in a ring or cord, and lead him wherever he pleases? This was the common method by which a wild animal was secured when taken (see the notes at Isaiah 37:29), but it is here said that this could not be done to this huge animal. He could not be subdued in this manner. He was a wild, untamed and fierce animal, that defied all the usual methods by which wild beasts were made captive. In regard to the difficulty of taking this animal, see the account of the method by which it is now done, in the notes at Job 40:15. That account shows that there is a striking accuracy in the description.

Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Job 40". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bnb/job-40.html. 1870.
Ads FreeProfile