Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary

Job 40:15

"Behold now, Behemoth, which I made as well as you; He eats grass like an ox.
New American Standard Version

Bible Study Resources

Nave's Topical Bible - Behemoth;   Elephant;   God;   Hippopotamus;   Thompson Chain Reference - Animals;   Torrey's Topical Textbook - Beasts;   Ox, the;  
American Tract Society Bible Dictionary - Behemoth;   Leviathan;   Easton Bible Dictionary - Behemoth;   Grass;   Leek;   Fausset Bible Dictionary - Behemoth;   Holman Bible Dictionary - Animals;   Behemoth;   Hippopotamus;   Job, the Book of;   Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible - Behemoth;   Morrish Bible Dictionary - Elephant;   People's Dictionary of the Bible - Behemoth;   Leek;   Smith Bible Dictionary - Be'hemoth;   Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary - Leek;  
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia - Behemoth;   Elephant;   Grass;   Ivory;   Kitto Biblical Cyclopedia - Behemoth;  

Adam Clarke Commentary

Behold now behemoth - The word בהמות behemoth is the plural of בהמה behemah, which signifies cattle in general, or graminivorous animals, as distinguished from חיתו chayetho, all wild or carnivorous animals. See Genesis 1:24. The former seems to mean kine, horses, asses, sheep, etc., and all employed in domestic or agricultural matters; the latter, all wild and savage beasts, such as lions, bears, tigers, etc.: but the words are not always taken in these senses.

In this place it has been supposed to mean some animal of the beeve kind. The Vulgate retains the Hebrew name; so do the Syriac and Arabic. The Chaldee is indefinite, translating creature or animal. And the Septuagint is not more explicit, translating by θηρια, beasts or wild beasts; and old Coverdale, the cruell beaste, perhaps as near to the truth as any of them. From the name, therefore, or the understanding had of it by the ancient versions, we can derive no assistance relative to the individuality of the animal in question; and can only hope to find what it is by the characteristics it bears in the description here given of it.

These, having been carefully considered and deeply investigated both by critics and naturalists, have led to the conclusion that either the elephant, or the hippopotamus or river-horse, is the animal in question; and on comparing the characteristics between these two, the balance is considerably in favor of the hippopotamus. But even here there are still some difficulties, as there are some parts of the description which do not well suit even the hippopotamus; and therefore I have my doubts whether either of the animals above is that in question, or whether any animal now in existence be that described by the Almighty.

Mr. Good supposes, and I am of the same opinion, that the animal here described is now extinct. The skeletons of three lost genera have actually been found out: these have been termed palaeotherium, anoplotherium, and mastodon or mammoth. From an actual examination of a part of the skeleton of what is termed the mammoth, I have described it in my note on Genesis 1:24.

As I do not believe that either the elephant or the river-horse is intended here, I shall not take up the reader's time with any detailed description. The elephant is well known; and, though not an inhabitant of these countries, has been so often imported in a tame state, and so frequently occurs in exhibitions of wild beasts, that multitudes, even of the common people, have seen this tremendous, docile, and sagacious animal. Of the hippopotamus or river-horse, little is generally known but by description, as the habits of this animal will not permit him to be tamed. His amphibious nature prevents his becoming a constant resident on dry land.

The hippopotamus inhabits the rivers of Africa and the lakes of Ethiopia: feeds generally by night; wanders only a few miles from water; feeds on vegetables and roots of trees, but never on fish; lays waste whole plantations of the sugar-cane, rice, and other grain. When irritated or wounded, it will attack boats and men with much fury. It moves slowly and heavily: swims dexterously; walks deliberately and leisurely over head into the water; and pursues his way, even on all fours, on the bottom; but cannot remain long under the water without rising to take in air. It sleeps in reedy places; has a tremendous voice, between the lowing of an ox and the roaring of the elephant. Its head is large; its mouth, very wide; its skin, thick and almost devoid of hair; and its tail, naked and about a foot long. It is nearly as large as the elephant, and some have been found seventeen feet long. Mr. Good observes: "Both the elephant and hippopotamus are naturally quiet animals; and never interfere with the grazing of others of different kinds unless they be irritated. The behemoth, on the contrary, is represented as a quadruped of a ferocious nature, and formed for tyranny, if not rapacity; equally lord of the floods and of the mountains; rushing with rapidity of foot, instead of slowness or stateliness; and possessing a rigid and enormous tail, like a cedar tree, instead of a short naked tail of about a foot long, as the hippopotamus; or a weak, slender, hog-shaped tail, as the elephant."

The mammoth, for size, will answer the description in this place, especially Job 40:19; : He is the chief of the ways of God. That to which the part of a skeleton belonged which I examined, must have been, by computation, not less than twenty-five feet high, and sixty feet in length! The bones of one toe I measured, and found them three feet in length! One of the very smallest grinders of an animal of this extinct species, full of processes on the surface more than an inch in depth, which shows that the animal had lived on flesh, I have just now weighed, and found it, in its very dry state, four pounds eight ounces, avoirdupois: the same grinder of an elephant I have weighed also, and found it just two pounds. The mammoth, therefore, from this proportion, must have been as large as two elephants and a quarter. We may judge by this of its size: elephants are frequently ten and eleven feet high; this will make the mammoth at least twenty-five or twenty-six feet high; and as it appears to have been a many-toed animal, the springs which such a creature could make must have been almost incredible: nothing by swiftness could have escaped its pursuit. God seems to have made it as the proof of his power; and had it been prolific, and not become extinct, it would have depopulated the earth. Creatures of this kind must have been living in the days of Job; the behemoth is referred to here, as if perfectly and commonly known.

He eateth grass as an ox - This seems to be mentioned as something remarkable in this animal: that though from the form of his teeth he must have been carnivorous, yet he ate grass as an ox; he lived both on animal and vegetable food.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Bibliographical Information
Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Job 40:15". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". 1832.

Albert Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

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; Psalm 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 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.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Job 40:15". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". 1870.

Coffman Commentaries on the Bible


"Behold now, behemoth, which I made as well as thee;

He eateth grass as an ox.

Lo now, his strength is in his loins,

And his force is in the muscles of his belly.

He moveth his tail like a cedar:

The sinews of his thighs are knit together.

His bones are as tubes of brass;

His limbs are like bars of iron.

He is the chief of the ways of God:

He only that made him giveth him his sword.

Surely the mountains bring him forth food,

Where all the beasts of the field do play.

He lieth under the lotus-trees,

In the covert of the reed, and the fen.

The lotus-trees cover him with their shade;

The willows of the brook compass him about.

Behold, if a river overflow, he trembleth not;

He is confident, though a Jordan swell even unto his mouth.

Shall any take him when he is on the watch, or pierce through his nose with a snare?"

"Behold now, behemoth, which I made as well as thee" (Job 40:15). Both "behemoth" in this passage and "leviathan" in Job 41 are creatures which God has made; and therefore they may not be identified as mythological creatures. We confess that it is difficult to understand just what God intended by this extensive presentation of these two strange animals. All kinds of explanations have been attempted, identifying behemoth as a mythological creature, a prehistoric beast now extinct, an elephant, a rhinoceros, or a hippopotamus. The general consensus is that the hippopotamus is the animal spoken of. Still, there are things mentioned here that do not fit that animal at all, for example, the statement that, "He moves his tail like a cedar" (Job 40:17), the tail of a hippopotamus being, in fact, a somewhat insignificant and minor member of his body.

There are many strange and inexplicable things about any of God's creatures, just as there are of the huge beast mentioned here. That his great strength should come from eating grass appears early in the description, reminding us of the childhood mystery of how a red horse, a yellow cow, a black sheep, and a white goose could all be feeding on a field of green grass, and making diverse colored coverings for themselves out of the same diet, and how the cow produced milk, the sheep wool, and the goose feathers!

"He moveth his tail like a cedar: the sinews of his stones are wrapped together" (Job 40:17 in KJV). We have selected the King James rendition here, because it supports a radical interpretation of this passage by Van Selms:

"The hippopotamus is a creature of mine, just like you, but really not made for your sake! It is only an animal that feeds on grass; but, unlike cattle, it will never be tamed by you. Its being of no benefit to you does not mean that it has no value for me. Just look at it, and marvel! Just notice, for example, (and this is the part that interests you human beings the most), how the hippo contrives to raise that extraordinary weight of his when the male is about to impregnate the female. What concentrated power there is in his underbelly ... and that sexual organ itself, thick and hard like a cedar-tree! No human being could ever construct anything like that. It is my masterpiece. And just look at those enormous teeth, like swords"![20]

We have included this interpretation because it is supported by two things: (1) It is supported by the KJV rendition of the word `stones' (Job 40:17), which is translated "testicles" in the Douay Version of the Bible and (2) the fact the comparison to a cedar-tree does not fit a hippopotamus' tail at all.

"For he is the chief of the ways of God" (Job 40:19). "This suggests that God's masterpiece was the hippopotamus. However, the passage bears the translation that, `He is the beginning of the ways of God,' indicating that, as a grass-eater, the behemoth belonged to the creative category of cattle, which were mentioned ahead of the beasts in Genesis 1:24."[21] Andersen also agreed with this[22]

"Shall any take him when he is on the watch" (Job 40:24)?

This is perhaps the key as to why God gave this description of behemoth. If Job, like all other humans, cannot either tame or contend against one of his fellow-creatures, how could he possibly presume to pass judgment upon the justice of the Eternal? Whatever God's purpose might have been in these accounts of behemoth and leviathan (Job 41). they had the desired effect upon Job.

Copyright Statement
Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Job 40:15". "Coffman Commentaries on the Bible". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

John Gill's Exposition of the Whole Bible

Behold, now behemoth,.... The word is plural, and signifies beasts, and may be used to denote the chiefest and largest of beasts, and therefore is commonly understood of the elephant; and certain it is that a single beast is described in the following account, and so the word is rendered, Psalm 73:22; The word is here rendered by the Septuagint θηρια, "beasts"; which is the word used by the GreeksF3Suidas in voce θηρια. Plutarch in Eumenc. for elephants as "belluae", a word of the same signification, is by the LatinsF4Terent. Eunuch. Act. 3. Sc. 1. Plin. Nat. Hist. l. 8. c. 3. : and so the Sabines called an elephant "barrus", and the Indians "barro"F5Isidor. Origin. l. 12, c. 2. Vid. Horat. Epod. 12. v. 1. , בער, a "beast"; and it may be observed, that ivory is called "shenhabbim", 1 Kings 10:22; that is, "shenhabehim", "behem" or "behemoth"F6Hiller. Oaomastic, Sacr. p. 434. , the tooth of the beast: and it may be also observed, that SenecaF7Nat. Quaest. l. 4. c. 2. says, that the Nile produces beasts like the sea; meaning particularly the crocodile and hippopotamus. Bochart dissents from the commonly received opinion of the elephant being meant; and thinks the "hippopotamus", or river horse, is intended so called from its having a head like a horse; and is said to have a mane, and to neigh like one, and to bear some resemblance to it in its snout, eyes, ears, and backF8Vid. lsidor. Origin. l. 12. c. 6. Plin. Nat. Hist. l. 8. c. 25. Aristot. Hist. Animal. l. 2. c. 7. . And the reasons that celebrated author has given for this his opinion have prevailed on many learned men to follow him; and there are some things in the description of behemoth, as will be observed, which seem better to agree with the river horse than with the elephant. It is an amphibious creature, and sometimes lives upon the land, and sometimes in the water; and by variousF9Herodot. Euterpe, sive, l. 2. c. 71. Plin. ib. Ammian, Marcellin. l. 22. Leo African. Descript. African, l. 9. p. 758. writers is often called a beast and four footed one:

which I made with thee; or as well as thee; it being equally the work of my hands, a creature as thou art: or made on the continent, as than art, so Aben Ezra; and made on the same day man was made; which those observe, who understand it of the elephant; or, which cometh nearest to thee, the elephant being, as PlinyF11Nat. Hist. l. 8. c. 1. says, the nearest to man in sense; and no beast more prudent, as CiceroF12De Natur. Deor. l. 1. affirms. But the above learned writer, who interprets it of the river horse, takes the meaning of this phrase to be; that it was a creature in Job's neighbourhood, an inhabitant of the river Nile in Egypt, to which Arabia joined, where Job lived; which is testified by many writersF13Solin. Polyhist. c. 45. Aelian. de Animal. l. 5. c. 53. Philo de Praemiis, p. 924. Plin. Afric. ut supra. (Nat. Hist. l. 8. c. 1.) : and therefore it is thought more probable that a creature near at hand, and known should be instanced in, and not one that it may be was never seen nor known by Job. But both Diodorus SiculusF14Bibliothec. l. 2. p. 136. & l. 3. p. 173, 174, 175. and StraboF15Geograph. l. 16. p. 531, 533. speak of herds of elephants in Arabia, and of that as abounding: with them; and of various places called from them, and the hunting of them, and even of men from eating them;

he eateth grass as an one; which is true both of the elephant and of the river horse: that a land animal should eat grass is not so wonderful; but that a creature who lives in the water should come out of it and eat grass is very strange and worthy of admiration, it is observed: and that the river horse feeds in corn fields and on grass many writersF16Diodor. Sic. l. 1. p. 31. Aelian. Plin. Solin. Ammian. ut supra. assure us; yea, in the river it feeds not on fishes, but on the roots of the water lily, which fishermen therefore use to bait their hooks with to take it. Nor is it unlike an ox in its shape, and in some parts of its body: hence the Italians call it "bomaris", the "sea ox"; but it is double the size of an oxF17Ludolf. Ethiop. Hist. l. 1. c. 11. . Olaus MagnusF18De Ritu Septent. Gent. l. 21. c. 26. speaks of a sea horse, found between Britain and Norway; which has the head of a horse, and neighs like one; has cloven feet with hoofs like a cow; and seeks its food both in the sea and on the land, and grows to the bigness of an ox, and has a forked tail like a fish.

(See Definition for 0930. Editor)

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Gill, John. "Commentary on Job 40:15". "The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible". 1999.

Geneva Study Bible

Behold now e behemoth, which I made f with thee; he eateth g grass as an ox.

(e) This beast is thought to be the elephant, or some other, which is unknown.

(f) Whom I made as well as you.

(g) This commends the providence of God toward man: for if he were given to devour as a lion, nothing would be able to resist him, or content him.

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Beza, Theodore. "Commentary on Job 40:15". "The 1599 Geneva Study Bible". 1599-1645.

Wesley's Explanatory Notes

Behold now behemoth, which I made with thee; he eateth grass as an ox.

Behemoth — Very learned men take the leviathan to be the crocodile, and the behemoth to be the river-horse, which may fitly be joined with the crocodile, both being well known to Joband his friends, as being frequent in the adjacent parts, both amphibious, living and preying both in the water and upon the land. And both creatures of great bulk and strength.

Made — As I made thee.

Grass — The river-horse comes out of the river upon the land to feed upon corn, and hay, or grass, as an ox doth, to whom also he is not unlike in the form of his head and feet, and in the bigness of his body, whence the Italians call him, the sea-ox.

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Scofield's Reference Notes


Or, the elephant, as some think.

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Scofield, C. I. "Scofield Reference Notes on Job 40:15". "Scofield Reference Notes (1917 Edition)". 1917.

John Trapp Complete Commentary

Job 40:15 Behold now behemoth, which I made with thee; he eateth grass as an ox.

Ver. 15. Behold now behemoth, which I made with thee] i.e. The elephant, called behemoth, that is, beasts, in the plural, for his size; as if he were made up of many beasts, Vocatur Bellua per antonomasiam, et θηρ Graec. So David, aggravating his own brutishness, saith, "So foolish was I and ignorant: I was as a beast" (Heb. Behemoth, beasts in the plural) "before thee," Psalms 73:22, that is, as a great beast; his sin swelled in his eyes, as a toad; he befools and bebeasts himself, as reason required; for nothing is more irrational than irreligion.

Which I made with thee] Thy fellow creature, made to serve thee. He is in the Chaldee called פיל Pil; that is, wonderful; because the wonders of God’s glory do so marvellously appear in him. Made he was the same day with man, and hath a kind of familiarity and love to him, if brought up with him, doing him great good service in peace and war, and may be taught to adore kings.

He eateth grass like an ox] He is not ravenous nor carnivorous; neither eateth he daily the grass upon a thousand hills, as the Hebrews foolishly fable, and that he is to be killed at the resurrection to feast the saints, as being a creature of a monstrous size (Lyra). As the ox licketh up grass, Numbers 22:4, so doth the elephant; yet not with his tongue (which for so great a beast is but little, neither read we here anything at all of his voice, to teach great men, saith one, not to speak big swollen words), but with his trunk or great snout, called his tail, Job 40:17, as Beza thinketh, because it bears the resemblance of a tail, and is of most marvellous and necessary use to him (Arist. de Nat. Anim. l. 2, c. 4,6). With this he grazeth, and with this he overthroweth trees, and then feedeth upon them. But he doth not proudly abuse the mightiness of his limbs to the hurt of other cattle. Yet he will not be wronged, and is of so great strength that no one man dare assault him.

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Trapp, John. "Commentary on Job 40:15". John Trapp Complete Commentary. 1865-1868.

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible

Job 40:15. Behemoth The Hebrew word בהמות behemoth expresses that animal which eminently partakes of the bestial or brutish nature. Bochart seems to have proved to a demonstration, that the behemoth is the hippopotamus, the sea-horse, or, more properly, the river-horse. The Sieur Thevenot, saw one of these animals at Cairo. "This animal," says he, "was of a tan colour; its hind parts resemble those of an ox or buffaloe, excepting that its feet were shorter and thicker; in size it is equal to a camel; its snout, or nose, is like that of an ox, and its body twice as big; its head resembles that of a horse, and is of the same size; its eyes are small; its crest is very thick; its ears are small; its nostrils very wide and open; its feet are very thick, pretty large, and have each four toes, like those of a crocodile; its tail is small, without any hair, like that of an elephant; its lower jaw has four large teeth, about half a foot long, two of them crooked, and as thick as the horns of an ox, one of which is on each side of the throat; besides these, it has two others, which are straight, of the same thickness as those which are crooked, and project forwards." The river-horse shelters himself among the reeds; and the behemoth is said to be in the coverts of the reeds and fens, and to be compassed about with the willows of the brook. The river-horse feeds upon the herbage of the Nile; and the behemoth is said to eat grass as an ox. No creature is known to have stronger ribs than the river-horse; and the bones of the behemoth are as strong pieces of brass, like bars of iron. See Lowth's Notes on his 6th Prelection, 8vo. Edit.

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Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible

That some particular beast is designed by this word is evident from Job 40:15, and from the peculiar characters given to him, which are not common to all great beasts. But what it is is matter of some dispute amount the learned. The generality of them are agreed that this is the elephant, and the following leviathan the whale; which being two of the goodliest and vastest creatures which God made, the one of the land, the other of the sea, and withal such to whom the description here given for the most part manifestly agrees, and the like is presumed concerning the rest, may seem to be here intended. And the difficulty of reconciling some few passages to them, may arise either from our ignorance of them, or from the different nature and qualities of creatures of the same general kind in divers parts. But some late and very learned men take the leviathan to be the crocodile, and the behemoth to be a creature called the hippopotamus, which may seem fitly to be joined with the crocodile, both being very well known to Job and his friends, as being frequent in the adjacent parts, both amphibious, living and preying both in the water and upon the land, and both being creatures of great bulk and strength. I shall not undertake to determine the controversy, but shall show how each part of the following description is or may be applied to them severally. And this being no point concerning faith or a good life, every one may take the more liberty to understand the place of one or other of them.

Which I made with thee; either,

1. Upon the earth, where thou art, whereas the leviathan is in the sea. Or,

2. As I made thee, for this Hebrew particle is oft used as a note of comparison, as Job 9:26 Psalms 143:7, and elsewhere; in the same manner, and upon the same day. Whereby he may intimate, that being equally the Creator and sovereign Lord, both of Job, and of this behemoth, he had equal right to dispose of them in such manner as he thought meet. Or, (nigh, as the particle oft signifies,) unto thee, i.e. in a place not far from thee, to wit, in the river Nile, where the hippopotamus, as well as the crocodile, doth principally abide. But although those creatures were now in the river, yet they were made elsewhere, even where the first man was made. He eateth grass as an ox: This is mentioned as a thing strange and remarkable, as indeed it is; either,

1. Of the elephant, in which God hath wisely and mercifully planted this disposition, that he should not prey upon other creatures, which if he had, being so strong and vast a creature, he must needs have been very pernicious to them, but feed upon grass as an ox doth. Or,

2. Of the hippopotamus; of whom historians relate that he comes out of the river upon the land to feed upon corn, and hay, or grass, as an ox doth, to whom also he is not unlike in the forth of his head and feet, and in the bigness of his body, whence the Italians call him the sea ox.

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Whedon's Commentary on the Bible



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.”


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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Job 40:15". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Job 40:15. Behold now behemoth — The word properly means beasts, and is so understood by the LXX., whose interpretation of the verse is, ιδου θηρια παρα σοι, χορτυν ισα βουσιν εσθιουσιν, Behold the beasts with thee, they eat grass, like oxen. According to Ab. Ezra, and the Targum, it is the name of any great beast. But R. Levi says, bestiam esse specialem, that it is an animal peculiarly called by that name. This, indeed, is probable from what follows, namely, His strength is in his loins: he moveth his tail, &c., and though the word, according to the termination oth, be strictly a plural in the feminine gender, yet we sometimes find it irregularly used for a singular. Thus, Psalms 73:22. So foolish was I, &c., I was, behemoth, a beast before thee. But the great question is, What beast it meant? The ancient and most generally received opinion has been, that it is the elephant. Thus Buxtorf, Singulariter, capitur pro elephante proper ingentem magnitudinem, It is taken in the singular number for the elephant, because of its vast greatness. “And I confess,” says Henry, “I see no reason to depart from the opinion, that it is the elephant that is here described, which is a very strong, stately creature, of a very large stature, above any other, and of wonderful sagacity, and of such great reputation in the animal kingdom, that, among so many four-footed beasts as we have had the natural history of, chap. 38. and 39., we can scarce suppose this should be omitted.” They who understand this of the elephant, take the following animal, called leviathan, for the whale; observing, that as these are two of the goodliest and vastest creatures which God hath made, the one of the land, the other of the sea, and withal such as the description here given, for the most part, manifestly agrees to, it is most probable they are here intended. But some later and very learned men take the leviathan to be the crocodile, and the behemoth to be a creature called the hippopotamus, or river-horse, which may seem to be fitly joined with the crocodile, both being very well known to Job and his friends, as being frequent in the adjacent places, both amphibious, living and preying both in the water and upon the land, and both being creatures of great bulk and strength. Dr. Dodd, who is of opinion that Bochart has proved to a demonstration that the behemoth is the hippopotamus, has presented us with two descriptions, one from the ancients, and the other from a modern, who saw the creature; which descriptions, he thinks, may serve instead of a commentary upon the passage. The ancient is Achilles Tatius, who thus describes the animal: “Some persons chanced to meet with, and take a river monster, which was very remarkable. The Egyptians call it the river-horse, or horse of the river Nile; and it resembles a horse, indeed, in its feet and body, excepting that its hoofs are cloven. Its tail is short, and without hair, as well as the rest of the body. Its head is round, but not small; its jaws, or cheeks, resemble those of a horse; its nostrils are very large, and breathe out a vapour like smoke; its mouth is wide, and extends to the temples; its teeth, especially those called the canine, are curved like those of a horse, both in their form and situation, but thrice as large. It is a very voracious animal, and would consume the produce of a whole field. It is very strongly made all over, and its skin so hard that it is impenetrable to any weapon.” The modern traveller is the Sieur Thevenot, who saw one of these animals at Cairo. “This animal,” says he, “was of a tan colour; its hind parts resembled those of an ox, or buffalo, excepting that its feet were shorter and thicker; in size it is equal to a camel; its snout, or nose, is like that of an ox, and its body twice as big; its head resembles that of a horse, and is of the same size; its eyes are small; its crest is very thick; its ears are small; its nostrils very wide and open; its feet are very thick, pretty large, and have each four toes, like those of a crocodile; its tail is small, without any hair, like that of an elephant; its lower jaw has four large teeth, about half a foot long, two of them crooked, and as thick as the horns of an ox, one of which is on each side of the throat; beside these, it has two others, which are straight, of the same thickness as those which are crooked, and project forward.” “The river-horse,” says the doctor,” shelters himself among the reeds; and the behemoth is said to be in the coverts of the reeds and fens, and to be compassed about with the willows of the brook. The river-horse feeds upon the herbage of the Nile; and the behemoth is said to eat grass as an ox. No creature is known to have stronger ribs than the river-horse; and the bones of the behemoth are as strong pieces of brass, like bars of iron.” See Lowth’s Notes on his sixth Prelection, 8vo. edit.

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Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Job 40:15". Joseph Benson's Commentary. 1857.

George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary

Play. No animal is of a milder nature. It never attacks, unless in its own defence. When a crowd of other beasts obstruct its passage, it removes them quietly with its proboscis. (Pliny vi. 9., &c.)

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Haydock, George Leo. "Commentary on Job 40:15". "George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary". 1859.

Mark Dunagan Commentary on the Bible

"Behold now, Behemoth": The word rendered "behemoth" is simply a plural Hebrew word for "beast". Apparently the plural form is meant to emphasize the superlative strength of this beast. "Which I made as well as you": Thus behemoth is not a mythical creature, but a real animal. Various views concerning what beast is under consideration include the elephant, rhinoceros, plant-eating brontosaurus, the water buffalo, and the hippopotamus. There may be a couple of points that God is making in this last statement. Behemoth is far more powerful than Job, and yet does not criticize God for the way He runs the universe. We are like the animals in the sense that we are created as well. Man needs to remember his "place" before God as a created being, and not as an advisor or critic. Certain things about behemoth do not make sense from a human perspective. Here is a beast that is basically useless to man, that is, behemoth cannot be milked, used to plow a field, and so on, so why would God create such a brute? The answer to that question is in the same category as to why God would allow the righteous to suffer. God has His reasons.

He eats grass like an ox, but he is not an ox.

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Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

(15) Behemoth.—The identification of behemoth has always been a great difficulty with commentators. The word in Hebrew is really the natural plural of behçmâh, which means domestic cattle; and this fact would suggest the idea that more than one animal may be meant in the description (Job 40:15-24), which scarcely seems to answer to one and the same. In this way the Job 40:15-20 would describe very well the elephant, and Job 40:21-24 the hippopotamus. The objection to this is, that behçmâh is commonly used of domestic cattle in contrast to wild beasts, whereas neither the elephant nor the hippopotamus can come under the category of domestic animals. There is a word in Coptic (p-ehe-emmou, meaning water-ox), used for the hippopotamus, which may, perhaps, lie concealed in behemoth. Then the difficulty is to make the description answer throughout to the hippopotamus (e.g., Job 40:20), since the hippopotamus does not frequent mountains, neither does it exactly eat grass like an ox (Job 40:15).

Which I made with thee.—Fellow-creatures of thine, to inhabit the world with thee: thus skilfully reminding him that he had a common origin with the beasts.

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Treasury of Scripture Knowledge

Behold now behemoth, which I made with thee; he eateth grass as an ox.
[b@hemowth (twmhb)] Perhaps an extinct dinosaur, maybe a Diplodocus or Brachiosaurus, the exact meaning is unknown. Some translate as elephant or hippopotamus but from the description in #Job 40:15-24|, this is patently absurd.
Genesis 1:24-26
20; 39:8; Psalms 104:14
Reciprocal: Genesis 1:22 - GeneralGenesis 1:30 - GeneralPsalm 8:8 - The fowl;  Psalm 50:10 - every

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Torrey, R. A. "Commentary on Job 40:15". "The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge".