Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Job 40


God waits for Job to answer. A short, sharp question elicits from him the admission of his worthlessness, while in few and humble words he declines the attempt to answer God. Then follows the most remarkable challenge ever uttered to man: — let him who, for the vindication of his own righteousness, condemns God, take upon himself the majesty and attributes of Deity. If he knows how the wicked should be punished let him take the bolts of divine vengeance into his hands — let him tread down the wicked and bind them in sheol. If he can do all this, God will confess to Job that his self-righteousness rests on a proper basis, and that he has power to save himself. But, first, behold behemoth! Behold the creature before you aspire to be Creator or Saviour. He who knows the heart still sees in Job the elements of self-sufficiency and self-righteousness, both of which are implied in the idea of self-saviour. Such a one must be brought deeper down into the valley of humiliation and self-abhorrence. Two hideous monsters are brought before his view. They, as well as Job, were made by God. Herder calls behemoth and leviathan “pillars of Hercules at the end of the book, the non plus ultra of another world.” Their hidden meaning still defies our power to decipher. They may stand as carved obelisks of the purport of the preceding challenge to Job — subjugate the hippopotamus and crocodile — both of which Plutarch (De Iside, Sec. 50) calls “most fierce and untamable” — before he essays the government of the universe. Or they may serve as representatives of evil, or the evil forces of nature, for both the hippopotamus and crocodile were regarded by the ancient Egyptian as Typhonian — types of evil. (Ibid. ) See Excursus VIII, pages 279-281. Job has prided himself upon his knowledge of evil, and more especially the manner in which it should be punished. Here are monsters, types of evil; master these, comprehend these, then master and comprehend the evil of the universe. Very possibly they may be, as Zockler thinks, symbols, not merely of the power but of the justice of God. “Job is compelled to see that there cannot be — and least of all in the administration of the Most High — a bare omnipotence disjoined from justice and love.”

Verse 2


After a suitable pause, that the impression of the discourse may be deepened, during which humbled Job ventures no response, Jehovah makes a pointed application of the preceding discourse to Job himself, Job 40:2.

2.Shall he that contendeth Will the censurer contend with the Almighty? Murmuring over the doings of God is nothing less than faultfinding with God himself. The censurer is summoned from his long-protracted silence by this terse and pungent, but kindly call, to answer the appeals of the Almighty. Job ought to be as ready to reason as he was to reprove; at least, to answer some one of the questions out of nature’s catechism. It is significant that the last words in this address. “let him answer,” are, in the original, the very verb that rang out so defiantly at the close of Job’s protracted defence (Job 31:35,) “Let the Almighty answer.” Compare Job 13:22; Job 23:5. He that reproveth , a hiphil form, is used in a forensic sense, and signifies to argue, (Proverbs 30:6,) prove; thence, in an offensive sense, to argue down, reprove, chastise. See note, Job 16:21; and for other forms of the verb, Job 6:25; Job 13:15; Job 19:5; Job 22:4; etc. Job, who at the outset bore the title in heaven of “God fearing,” (Job 1:1,) now hears the humiliating designation of “God’s accuser,” (Hitzig,) or “one that sets God right.” (Dillmann.)


Verse 4


Job confesses that he is base, and that he has been foolish in his repeated speeches; and, finally, retracting his arrogant challenges of God, covenants with him that he will no longer contend with Deity, 4, 5.

“From the marvellous in nature, Job now divines that which is marvellous in his affliction. His humiliation under the mysteries of nature, is at the same time humiliation under the mystery of affliction; and only now, when he penitently reverses the mystery he has hitherto censured, is it time that its inner glory should be revealed to him. The bud is mature, and can now burst forth in order to disclose the blended colors of its natural beauty.” — Delitzsch.

4.Behold, I am vile — In the sense of mean, despicable: ; a word Job had in part applied to the wicked — “light ( ) is he on the face of the waters.” (Job 24:18.) Job’s sense of shame is quickened. He feels his folly; but is not yet sufficiently sensible of his spiritual deformity. Hence the necessity that God should speak again. The conciseness of the reply points to trouble within; deep conviction is never wordy. It is thus with the cry “God be merciful to me, the sinner.” Luke 18:13. Hand upon my mouth — See Job 21:5; Job 29:9.


Verse 6



Strophe a. Preliminary questions to Job, by implication demonstrating the reasonableness and justness of the challenge God is about to make to Job, the representative grumbler against the divine government, Job 40:7-9.

6.Whirlwind Storm, as before, (chap. Job 38:1,) but now without the article.


Verse 7

7.Gird up’ man — Same as chap. Job 38:3. The objects contemplated by the following discourse, are similar to those of the preceding discourses, and on this account begin with a like appeal to Job, whose condition is not yet that demanded by the grace of God in order to its complete work. Job’s robes of righteousness hang in tatters, but he is not yet ready to cast them aside as “filthy rags.” Isaiah 64:6.


Verse 8

8.Wilt thou also disannul my judgment — The word , judgment, means also right; “the right I exercise in the government of the world, is equivalent to my righteousness in the same.” — Hirtzel. As used by Elihu, and the Almighty also, the term involves both moral and physical power, for the ideas of might and right have been closely blended in the Elihuistic section, and thus far in the Jehovistic section. Elihu, it will be remembered begins his third discourse (Job 35:2) with the significant question, “Thinkest thou this to be right, , [third word of first clause,] that thou saidst,” etc., and now the third address of the Almighty opens with the question, “Wilt thou altogether annul my right?” in which this word appears in the same order as in Elihu. Wilt thou “reduce to nothing my right?” “altogether destroy it?” , from parar, “to break in pieces,” “crush;” a word which corresponds to καταργεω, to “make void,” (Romans 3:31,) to “destroy,” to “do away,” — a word used twenty-five times in Paul’s epistles. The word mishpat, “judgment,” “right,” appearing frequently in Job, (for varied meanings, see Job 8:3; Job 9:32; Job 13:18; Job 23:4; Job 27:2, etc.,) furnishes a key, we think, to the mystery of the monsters soon to be exposed to our view, viz: — instead of questioning my right (moral power) in the moral world, as implied in the challenge, try your right (mental or physical power) in the natural world. To both appeals Job has no reply to make; see further on Job 40:15.

That thou mayest be righteous — Self justification under the chastening of the Almighty arraigns the judgment and justice of God. It calls in question the righteousness of the divine ways, and thereby virtually condemns God. It assumes to know more than Jehovah, and justifies the challenge he now makes to Job. If Job be wiser than Deity, he must possess all the attributes of God — for instance, he must be almighty, he must have “an arm like God.”


Verse 9

9.An arm like God — The arm of the Lord is the symbol of omnipotence, as in Isaiah 51:9, in which, in sublime strains, Jehovah is represented as personifying his own omnipotence.


Verse 10

Strophe b. Job’s practical denial of God’s righteousness, and presumptuous readiness to supersede the righteousness of God by that of his own, leads to a challenge without parallel in all literature: that once and for all, instead of indulging in chimerical schemes of divine government, man should array himself in the attributes of Deity, and assume the summary punishment of the wicked in this and in the next world, Job 40:10-14.

The nearest classical approach to the sublime conception of the text is the fatal aspiration of Phaethon to drive the chariot of his father, Helios, the sun. OVID, Metamor., 2. 1-337.

10.Array’ glory and beauty — The Hebrew words re-appear in the same order as attributes of Deity in Psalms 104:1, that short but magnificent prelude to what has been called the “inspired oratorio of creation.” If Job be equal to God in righteousness and wisdom, let him attire himself in the essential splendour and glory of Deity.


Verse 11

11.Cast abroad’ thy wrath — Literally, Let the outbreakings of thy wrath pour forth. A solemnly prominent thought in this personification of Job as deity is this, that wrath belongs to God.

And abase him — A constantly recurring conception in Oriental and classical literature represents the work of Deity to be, the abasement of the proud. The answer of AEsop to Chilon, who asked, “What is God engaged, in doing?” — that “He is abasing the high and lifting up the low,” Bayle calls “the epitome of human history,” and says that a book might be written “concerning the centre of moral oscillation.”


Verse 12

12.In their place — Same as Job 36:20. See note.


Verse 13

13.The dust is used for the grave, as in Job 17:16. Compare Psalms 22:15; Psalms 30:9.

Bind their faces — Clarke and Carey think there is here an allusion to the bandaging of mummies. Pettigrew (in his work on Mummies, p. 89) speaks of such, in whose preparation more than one thousand yards of cloth were used. The bandaging of the head prior to burial was quite common among Oriental nations, so that there is no need of confining the allusion to the mummy. Job is challenged to exert the power of death as God exerts it; to send forth that unseen, baleful, and omnipresent spirit of destruction which is ever removing our race to the hidden realms of the dead.

In secret — Some suppose to refer to sheol. Job must have been reminded of his outrageous charge against Deity, that he “covereth the faces of the judges” of the earth, Job 9:24.


Verse 14

14.Confess unto — The Hebrew also means praise, and is thus rendered by Ewald, Delitzsch, etc. If Job can do all this which God has suggested, then God will acknowledge that he is not only great in speech and faultfinding, (Hirtzel,) but that he is mighty to “save himself,” and able to carry into execution his inflated ideas of justice.


Verse 15



These and similar contrarieties, which Job 40:15 in brief sets forth, and which also antedate Job’s puny arrival in the world, he may enter side by side with his perplexities of providence, and first attempt their solution.

a. A physical description of this wonderful animal, Job 40:15-18.

15.Behold now behemoth — See Excursus VIII, page 274. The transition is easy, as even Dillmann acknowledges, notwithstanding he doubts the authenticity of the entire section. Delitzsch thus links it with the preceding appeal: “Try it only for once — this is the collective thought — to act like me in the execution of penal justice, I would praise thee. That he cannot do it, and yet ventures with his short-sightedness and feebleness to charge God’s rule with injustice, the following pictures of foreign animals are now further intended to make evident to him.” There is, we think, a deeper spiritual relationship between the solemn challenge and the behemoth-leviathanistic section, than Delitzsch recognises. That Job is not mighty to save, but helplessly impotent in spiritual matters, God proceeds forcibly to impress upon his mind by a view of two monsters of the brute creation, who despise and defy the power of man. Before Job makes himself bold to take the moral government of the world into his hands, he might better try his strength upon the controlling and subduing of some of the creatures God has made. Let him first take a view of himself in the mirror of the animal creation — “a mirror of morals, now warning, now encouraging and shaming us; a gallery of pictures, ethical and hortatory, collected for men by God himself.” — Zockler. The fathers, and some moderns, have given a spiritual interpretation to these lengthened descriptions, and found in behemoth and leviathan a figurative representation of our ghostly enemy himself. The most of recent commentators, however, see in this divine portraiture of these two creatures a setting forth of God’s infinite power to carry out the purposes of his providence. If the power and wisdom blended together in the creation of such ugly, huge, and repulsive beings, are infinitely beyond Job’s comprehension, how much more that providence which embraces all earthly creatures, all existence, and every grade of being, superhuman and angelic.

Made with thee — A similar form of expression appears in Ecclesiastes 2:16; How dieth the wise? with the fool! i.e., as well as the fool. A pertinent rebuke to Job’s pride. This monster is God’s creature no less than Job, and in some respects vastly Job’s superior.

He eateth grass — The marvel is, that so powerful an animal, instead of being carnivorous, should be strictly graminivorous. In his frequent inland excursions at night he makes sad havoc among the rice-fields and the cultivated grounds along the Nile. “At every turn,” says Gordon Cummings, p. 297, “there occurred deep, still pools, and occasionally sandy islands, densely clad with lofty reeds. Above and beyond these reeds stood trees of immense age, beneath which grew a rank kind of grass on which the sea-cow [hippopotamus] delights to pasture.”


Verse 16

16.Navel Sinews; “The loins and the belly are mentioned because they immediately call up to the imagination the form of the beast’s huge circumference, and of the mighty pillar-like feet, the whole assuming a wonderful and almost quadrangular aspect.” — Schlottman.


Verse 17

17.Like a cedar — Short and firm though the tail may be, it is swayed by the volition of the vast animal like a cedar bough by the wind. The interpretation turns on , moveth, the fundamental meaning of which is “to will,” “move at pleasure.” The name for cedar, , “has been handed down on the spot [Lebanon] intact throughout all the changes of language, and the name arz is never applied by the natives to any tree but the true cedar.” — Tristram. See farther his Land of Israel, 40:628-632.

The sinews, etc. — Rather, The sinews of his thighs.

Are wrapped together . Better, knit together. According to Gesenius and Delitzsch the cognate noun , signifies “vine branches;” the speaker evidently choosing this word on account of its beautiful appropriateness for expressing complex and delicate intertwining of texture.


Verse 18

18.His bones’ strong pieces of brass, etc. — Although he eat grass, his bones are as tubes of brass — are like hammered bars of iron. The second word rendered bones , may mean “ribs,” in contrast with the hollow bones before spoken of.


Verse 19

β. A description of the strange life and habits of this powerful beast, which, though undaunted by the river flood, is easily captured and destroyed by the guile of man, Job 40:19-24.

19.The chief of the ways of God — He is a chief, , a firstling, perhaps masterpiece of God’s creative energy. The allusion seems to be to the immense bulk, possibly to his type as being that of the earliest of the extinct pachydermata. Jewish and patristic commentators found on this expression, “firstling of God’s ways,” a symbolic representation of Satan.

Can make his sword to approach — Rather, Furnished [him] his sword. Thus, essentially, Bochartus, Umbreit, Schlottmann, Renan, Zockler, etc. Dillmann’s rendering, “which was created so as to attach thereon a sword,” gives a sense weak and clumsy, which by no means satisfies his proposed pointing. The utterly irreconcilable renderings of the Septuagint, “made to be mocked at (εγκαταπαιζεσθαι) by the angels;” and of Ewald, “Yet his Maker blunts his sword,” serve only to show the contrariety of views that have been taken of this vexed passage. Delitzsch well says, “It is not meant that he reached his sword to behemoth, but (on which account is intentionally wanting) that he brought forth, i.e., created, its (behemoth’s) peculiar sword, viz.: the gigantic incisors ranged opposite one another.”’ The happy paraphrase of the elegant poet Sandys, early (1638) embodied the true sense:

Of God’s great works the chief, lo! he who made

This behemoth, hath armed him with a blade.

He feeds on lofty hills; lives not by prey,

About this gentle prince the subjects play.


The lower jaw of this animal is provided with enormous ripping, chisel-like canines. (Tristam.) “With these apparently combined teeth the hippopotamus can cut the grass as neatly as if it were mown with the scythe, and is able to sever a tolerably stout and thick stem.” — WOOD, Mammalia, p. 762. He also states that in anger it has been known to bite a man completely in two. (Bib. Animals, page 322.) Ruppel, the German naturalist, captured one of these animals measuring from the snout to the end of the tail fifteen feet; his tusks, from the roots to the point, along the external curve, being twenty-eight inches in length. It is an interesting coincidence that the sword should appear as a characteristic of this animal, in its hieroglyphic name inscribed on Egyptian monuments in an age prior to that of Moses. The third figure from the left is a good representation of the ancient Egyptian scythe or reaping-hook, as depicted on the monuments, and at the same time of the tusk of the hippopotamus. See Excursus VIII, p. 275. Nicander, a Greek poet who lived in the second century B.C., treating of the hippopotamus, speaks of his “destructive sword, or scythe.” κακηναρπην. — Theriaca, 566. Divinely equipped with a sword, he bears the insignia of a warrior; brought to the test, he proves to be a peaceful grazer of the fields; his sword he wields, not that he may destroy life, but that he may reap the tender and succulent growths of the marsh. Labelled a warrior for nature’s battlefield, he appears simply a successful forager. Other interpreters, (T. Lewis and Canon Cook,) accept the authorized version, and understand that the monster is impenetrable by the sword of man. The latter cites a very ancient Egyptian inscription: “The tepi, (i.e., hippopotamus,) the lord of terrors in the water, which man can not approach unto.”




Verse 20

20.Surely Yet; used adversatively.

The mountains — Ezekiel (Ezekiel 43:15) calls the altar a , “mountain” of God. The word may also mean “hills.” In the Praeneste pavement, hippopotami are pictured on eminences. “Not only do these animals visit the margin of the river,” says Sir Samuel Baker, “but they wander at night to great distances from the water, attracted by good pasturage; and, although clumsy and ungainly in appearance, they clamber up steep banks and precipitous ravines with astonishing power and ease. In places where they are perfectly undisturbed, they not only enjoy themselves in the sunshine by basking half asleep upon the surface of the water, but they lie upon the shore, beneath the shady trees, upon the river’s brink. I have seen them when disturbed by our sudden arrival during the march, take a leap from a bank, about twenty feet perpendicular depth, into the water below.”’ — Nile Tributaries of Abyssinia, page 342. The mountain ranges that skirt the Nile in some places approach the river very closely.

Where all the beasts of the field play — All authorities attest the peaceable disposition of this animal, except when hunted by man. The distinguished traveller above quoted remarks: “Although the hippopotamus is generally harmless, the solitary old bulls are extremely vicious, especially when in the water. I have frequently known them charge a boat, and I have myself narrowly escaped being upset in a canoe by one of these creatures, without the slightest provocation. The females are extremely shy and harmless, and they are most affectionate mothers. The only instances I have known of a female attacking a man have been those in which the calf had been stolen.” — Ibid., page 340.


Verse 21

21.Shady trees Lotus trees. The lotus silvestris, a thorny shrub, bearing fruit-like plumes, growing abundantly in Syria, Arabia, and along the banks of the upper Nile.

The reed — Hebrews, kaneh; Greek and Latin, canna, from which probably comes our own word cane. It is a shrub plant, with a knotty root, out of which spring many long, hollow stems; the arundo donax of Linnaeus, which was common on the banks of the Nile. Several species of reed still grow along the Jordan as well as the Nile. According to Rosenmuller, (Biblical Botany, p. 185,) the Hebrews used the word kaneh for reeds in general, and agmon for rushes, as in Job 41:2, which see; also Job 41:20.

And fens Bitsah, rendered mire in Job 8:11. Wilkinson gives a pictorial representation from the monuments, of this animal lying among tall reeds and beneath the shade of the lotus. (Ancient Egyptians, 3:71.)


Verse 22

22.The willows — A kind of weeping willow, (salix Babylonica,) same as in Psalms 137:2. Of the new Israel, Isaiah tenderly says, they shall spring up as “willows (ibid.) by the water courses.” Chap. Job 44:4.


Verse 23

23.Behold, he drinketh’ Jordan into his mouth Behold the river swelleth, he trembleth not: he trusteth, though a Jordan rush to his mouth. By making the river the object rather than the subject of the verb , oppress, (margin,) “do violence,” “swell,” the A.V. obscures the true sense. The word ha-shak, “swell,” is now by almost universal consent admitted to be used of the river metaphorically, and to indicate the violence that comes from a flood. With this agrees the Septuagint, “should there come a flood he would not regard it.” In like manner the Syriac and Arabic.

Trusteth — Is confident; partly from the fact that the water is his habitat.

That , though; thus Noldius. Being amphibious, he is at home in the water as well as on the land, and is not driven away by any flood. His comparative serenity at the sight of a flood arises rather from his natural sluggishness than from his innate courageousness. With this agree Dr. Livingstone’s observations: “The rapids in that part of the river [the Leeambye] are relieved by several reaches of still, deep water, fifteen or twenty miles long. In these, very large herds of hippopotami are seen, and the deep furrows they make in ascending the banks to graze during the nights, are everywhere apparent. They are guided back to the water by the scent, but a long continued pouring rain makes it impossible for them to perceive, by that means, in which direction the river lies, and they are found bewildered on the land. The hunters take advantage of their helplessness on these occasions to kill them. It is impossible to judge of the numbers in a herd, for they are almost always hidden beneath the waters; but as they require to come up every few minutes to breathe, when there is a constant succession of heads thrown up, then the herd is supposed to be large. They love a still reach of the stream, as in the more rapid parts of the channel they are floated down so rapidly that much exertion is necessary to regain the distance lost, by frequently swimming up again. Such constant exertion disturbs them in their nap. They prefer to remain by day in a drowsy, yawning state, and, though their eyes are open, they take but little notice of things at a distance. The males utter a long succession of snorting grunts which may be heard a mile off.’ In the rivers of Londa, where they are in much danger of being shot, even the hippopotamus gains wit by experience.”’ (Trav. in South Africa, 261, 262.) “They spend most of their time in the water, lolling about in a listless, dreamy manner. When they come out of the river by night they crop off the soft, succulent grass very neatly. When they blow, they puff up the water about three feet high.” — Ibid., 284. With greater particularity Sir Samuel Baker remarks: “Although the animal is amphibious, he requires a large and constant supply of air; the lungs are of enormous size, and he invariably inflates them before diving. From five to eight minutes is the time that he usually remains under water. He then comes to the surface and expends the air by blowing; he again refills the lungs almost instantaneously, and, if frightened, he sinks immediately. In places where they have become exceedingly shy from being hunted or fired at, they seldom expose the head above the surface, but merely protrude the nose, to breathe through the nostrils. It is then impossible to shoot them.” — Nile Tributaries, p. 341. Jordan — Here used generically for any turbulent river, whose sudden overflow is an occasion of fear to the wild beasts along its banks. Dr. Tristram says of a sudden rise of the Jordan: “By measurement, we found that the river had been lately fourteen feet higher than its present margin, and yet it was still many feet above its ordinary level.’ Everywhere are traces of wild boar, hyena, and jackal, washed probably out of their usual lairs, and taking refuge in the higher grounds.” — Land of Israel, page 223. The original family relationship of the Hebrew Yarden (Jordan) to the Egyptian Jor or Aur, words used for the Nile, may have possibly led to its appearance in the text. See on Job 28:10.


Verse 24

24.He taketh it with his eyes Before his eyes do they take him: literally, in his eyes, one takes him. So Ewald, Conant, Hitzig, etc. The sluggish, peaceable disposition of this beast (Job 40:20-21) exposes him to easy capture. With the same indifference with which he floated with the floods he surveys preparations made for his capture before his very eyes. Immense powers of resistance is he endowed with; but these, owing to the sluggishness of his nature, lie in abeyance.

His nose pierceth through snares His nose is pierced with snares; or, as Gesenius and Furst express it, “with hooks;” literally, one pierces the nose with hooks. The sense, therefore, is similar to that of 2 Kings 19:28, where Jehovah threatens Sennacherib, “I will put my hook in thy nose.” This interpretation is also that of the Septuagint, “In his sight, one shall take him; he shall catch him with a cord and pierce his nose.” In like manner, the Chaldee and Vulgate versions. Others (Rosenmuller, Hirtzel, Welte) read the verse as an ironical challenge, “Just catch him while he is looking, with snares let one pierce his nose,” (Delitzsch:) while others regard the passage as an interrogation, denoting the extreme difficulty of taking the animal. The older commentators were partly induced to take such a view of this verse, from the supposition that the beast is bellicose and difficult of capture, which is really the case only in exceptional instances, such as those produced by Ruppell (Reisen in Nubien, 52, seq.) and Sir Samuel Baker, (Ismalia, 37, 120;) and more specifically when the mother is robbed of her young, as in Livingstone. Ibid., p. 537. (See Job 40:20.) The latter case of offensive warfare is so unusual an occurrence, says Livingstone, that his men, when once attacked by a hippopotamus, exclaimed ‘Is the beast mad?’ Stickel, (p. 219, 220,) shows satisfactorily and at large, that neither the interrogative nor the ironical rendering of the passage is justified by the usage of Job, or by the laws of the language. In illustration of the A.V., it may be proper to cite Wood (Bible Animals, p. 327,) who says, “This faculty of detecting snares, is one of the chief characteristics of the hippopotamus, when it lives near places inhabited by mankind, who are always doing their best to destroy it.” Oddly enough, Pliny remarks of the animal, that “it enters the field backwards, to prevent any ambush being laid for it on its return.” — Nat. Hist., Job 8:39. The monuments of Egypt leave us little doubt, but that this animal was easily taken in ancient times. Wilkinson thus describes the accompanying engraving: “The chasseur is here in the act of throwing the spear at the hippopotamus, which he has already wounded by three other blades, indicated by the ropes in his left hand; and having pulled the animal towards the surface of the water, an attendant endeavors to throw a noose over its head, as he strikes it for a fourth time. Behind him is his son, holding a fresh spear in readiness; and in order that there should be no question about the ropes belonging to the blades, the fourth is seen to extend from his hand to the shaft of the spear he is throwing.” See Ancient Egyptians, 3:68-71.



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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Job 40". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.