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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary

Job 40



Verses 1-24


Job . "Behold turn behemoth." Various opinions as to what is meant by the term "behemoth." According to GESENIUS, בְּהֵמוֹת (behemoth) is the plural of בְּהֵמָה (behemah, from the unused Root בָהַס baham = بهم in the Xth conjugation, "to be dumb"), a quadruped of the larger sort, living on the land; here the plural of majesty, denoting a large quadruped: the hippopotamus. So BOCHART: the river-horse or hippopotamus; like the Leviathan, an inhabitant of the Nile: the termination וֹת (oth) however, being, according to Bochart, not the sign of the plural, but of Egyptian singular, the animal being Egyptian. The SEPTUAGINT has: "Beasts." TARGUM: "The animal." The VULGATE, SYRIAC, and ARABIC, like the English Version, leave the word untranslated. MERCER, CASTALIO, and COCCEIUS, like Gesenius, consider the plural to be used on account of the great size of the animal. GROTIUS thinks it equivalent to "the animal of animals;" i.e., the most excellent animal. According to MAIMONIDES, the term includes all land animals of monstrous size. So apparently the Septuagint. DR. LEE, in like manner, renders it "the beasts." The term, however, generally regarded as denoting a distinct species of animal, as—

(1) distinct species are described in the former chapter;

(2) It is here compared with other species;

(3) The description is not suitable to all beasts of the field. The animal intended formerly regarded very generally as the elephant. So most of the earlier interpreters, both Catholic and Reformed, and all the Hebrew expositors. So the Geneva and Dutch versions, and the Italian of Diodati. According to MERCER: "Some animal larger and more monstrous than the elephant. Modern interpreters generally consider the hippopotamus, or river-horse, as especially intended. Bishop PATRICK says: "Not the elephant, which never lies among the reeds, but an animal of that region—the hippopotamus. CONANT: "The river-ox, the appropriate name of the animal commonly known as the hippopotamus, or river-horse, the word being probably its Egyptian name. ROBINSON and CALMET derive the name from the Egyptian "pe" (the definite article "the"), "ehe," an ox, and "mouth," water; the water or river-ox, the name being modified like other foreign words. According to KITTO, the word is the plural of excellence; denoting the chief and most powerful of herbivorous animals known to Job, and living in his neighbourhood. GOOD thinks neither the elephant nor the hippopotamus exactly intended, but an animal now extinct. So A. CLARKE. FAUSSET thinks the description agrees partly with the elephant and partly with the hippopotamus, but exactly in all the details with neither; and that it is rather intended as a practical personification of the great Pachydermata or Herbivora, the idea of the hippopotamus being predominant. According to REISKE and BYTHNER, the word indicates "beasts" in general; the peculiar name not being here given, as unnecessary, from the description. COCCEIUS, FRY and others, view the animal, called "the beast" by way of eminence, as one and the same with Leviathan. SAMUEL WESLEY queries whether it is not the animal alluded to by the Psalmist (Psa ): "Rebuke the company of the spearman;" Margin: "The beasts of the reeds;" BOOTHROYD: "The wild beasts of the reeds."


A pause in the Almighty's address apparently indicated in the commencement of the present chapter. The language in which it is resumed, together with the reply of Job immediately following, implies also a suspension of the argument, which seems only to be taken up at the fifteenth verse—when the Almighty spoke a second time out of the whirlwind. This is usually explained on the ground that Job's conviction and repentance, though expressed in Job in reply to the Almighty's appeal in Job 40:2, were not yet sufficiently deep, and that the argument and means of correction are on that account resumed. It is conjectured, however, by some that an accidental dislocation of the parts has taken place, and that the first fourteen verses of the chapter originally followed the description of Leviathan and the first six verses of the succeeding chapter. In this way the narrative is believed better to correspond with the seventh verse of the forty-second chapter, which seems to make the Almighty the last speaker; while the fourteenth verse of the present chapter forms a manifestly appropriate and impressive conclusion to the Divine address. Taking the narrative, however, as it stands in the text, we have—

I. The application of the preceding address. Job .—"Moreover the Lord answered Job and said: Shall he that contendeth with the Almighty instruct Him (or, ‘will the corrector of the Almighty still contend with Him?' Or, ‘is the disputer with the Almighty yet instructed')? He that reproveth God, let him answer if" (viz., the questions just proposed). Observe—

1. A sin most offensive to God, to contend with Him by disputing the equity of His government and the reasonableness of His providential dispensations. This Job's sin. The sin to which fallen human nature, even in believers, is always liable. The sin into which Asaph felt himself falling (Psa ). Conspicuously the sin of Jonah.

2. The contemplation of the greatness and sovereignty of God as Creator and Ruler of the universe, fitted to silence all questionings and complainings in regard to His providential procedure. This the object of the Almighty's address, and of the reference made by Him to His power, wisdom, and goodness as seen in the creation, preservation, and government of the earth, with all the tribes of its inhabitants, as well as of the worlds above and around us, and of all the various forces and phenomena of nature. Such a Being can require no instruction from any of His creatures; and for even the highest of them to think to reprove Him for any of His doings can only be the summit of presumption and folly. All ground of complaining against God on the part of His creatures removed by His infinitely glorious perfections. Those perfections sufficient foundation for our most assured confidence in the Divine procedure. A Being possessed of such perfections able only to do what is wise, and just, and good. Enough to hear in the darkest dispensations: "Be still, and know that I am God" (Psa ).

II. Job's Confession. Job .—"Then Job answered the Lord and said: Behold, I am vile (mean and contemptible): what shall I answer Thee (either as to these questions or Thy conduct and procedure)? I will lay mine hand upon my mouth (in token of silence and conviction). Once have I spoken, but I will not answer: yea twice, but I will proceed no farther." In this confession observe—

1. The discovery. "I am vile." Abraham's acknowledgment—"Am but dust and ashes." All flesh grass. Man a worm. His days on earth as a shadow. But of yesterday, and knowing nothing. Even the nations less than nothing, and vanity. The question appropriate and becoming: "What is man that thou art mindful of him?" Vile in his origin, and creature-nature; much viler still in his character as a sinner. His proper place therefore in the dust, with his hand upon his mouth. Murmurings and complainings against God's procedure monstrous in any creature, but especially so in one so vile as man. Note—

(1) God made man in his own image, but sin has made him vile. The character of sin to debase; that of righteousness to exalt. Sin renders man rebellious against his Creator, injurious to his neighbour, brutish in himself. Sin, the abominable thing which God hates.

(2) Repentance changes men's views of themselves as well as of God. Job's former language: "I am not wicked." "I would go as a prince before God;" Now it is: "Behold, I am vile." The language of Saul, the Pharisee: "God, I thank thee that I am not as other men are;" that of Paul, the penitent: "I am the chief of sinners."

(3) Job's discovery a blessed one. The result of Divine teaching and of God's revealing himself to the soul. Isaiah's acknowledgment when he beheld the glory of the Lord in the temple: "Woe is me! for I am undone, because I am a man of unclean lips." That of Peter on the discovery of Christ's divinity in the fishing boat: "Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord." This discovery the first step to Job's exaltation, and the exaltation of any sinner. "He giveth grace to the lowly." "He that humbleth himself shall be exalted." Pride and self-righteousness the greatest hindrances to a man's peace.

2. Job's silence. "What shall I answer thee? I will lay mine hand upon my mouth." No plea to offer (chap. Job ; Jude 1:18, Jude 1:19). A Divinely taught self-knowledge the effectual cure of a murmuring spirit. God's government of his creatures of such a character as to stop the mouth of every objector. A day at hand when every mouth will be shut, and all the world become guilty before God. The immediate result of the Spirit's work in conviction. Examples: The thief upon the Cross; Saul of Tarsus.

3. His resolution. "Once have I spoken, but I will not answer," &c. The proof of repentance to resolve not to repeat the offence. "If I have offended, I will not offend any more." "He that confesseth and forsaketh his sin shall obtain mercy." "Go and sin no more." Complete and unconditional surrender, the aim of the Holy Ghost in the sinner's conviction. Note—Job's sin that of his lips, and especially in relation to God. Sins of the lips to be repented of as well as sins of the life. Unbecoming thoughts and words in regard to God at least as punishable as injustice towards our neighbour. "Uprightings of judgment towards God as much a duty as uprightness of conduct towards man."—Kitto.

III. The Almighty's Challenge. Job .—"Then answered the Lord unto Job out of the whirlwind, and said: Gird up thy loins now like a man (a hero or mighty man, as thou imaginest thyself to be—spoken in irony): I will demand of thee, and declare thou unto me. Wilt thou also disannul my judgment (judicial sentence, or justice in governing the world)? wilt thou condemn me, that thou mayst be righteous (in order to establish thy innocence—which Job appeared on the point of doing)? Hast thou an arm like God? or canst thou thunder with a voice like Him? Deck thyself now with majesty and excellency, and array thyself [like a God] with glory and beauty. Cast abroad (manifest on every side, or dart forth as lightnings) the rage (or overflowings) of of thy wrath [against the ungodly for their destruction]: and behold [with a withering glance] every one that is proud, and abase him. Look [with omniscient eye from the throne of the universe] on every one that is proud, and bring him low (by the infliction of condign punishment, and for the manifestation of thy power and justice); and tread down the wicked in their place (on the spot, however high in power and station). Hide them in the dust [of the grave], and bind their faces in secret (without public process, or in the darkness of a prison, like so many doomed malefactors—Est 7:8). Then will I also [as well as others] confess unto thee [with praise], that thine own right hand can save thee."

The Almighty's address from the storm-cloud renewed, not to explain and remove the mysteries in His providential dealings, for which there will be time enough hereafter, but still to further convince Job of his error in questioning the Divine justice, and more fully to humble him, by the exhibition of His own almightiness and man's littleness. From the challenge in the above section, observe—

1. The spirit and tendency of all murmurings against God's dealings with us is to "disannul" His decisions, and to maintain our own righteousnes as deserving better treatment.

2. Discontent and rebellion against the Divine procedure is virtually to "contend" with God, and enter the lists with the Almighty. "Let the potsherds strive with the potsherds of the earth; but woe unto the man that striveth with his Maker." A fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. "Who can abide when once he is angry." The wrath of a king like the roaring of a lion; what then the wrath of a God? The sinner must either submit by grace or be subdued by judgment. "Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way."

4. Pride the object of God's special displeasure. The sin of fallen angels.

5. Every sinner "beheld" by the omniscient eye of the Almighty. "No darkness or shadow of death where the workers of iniquity may hide themselves."

6. The proudest to be one day "brought low." Proud sinners humbled either in mercy or judgment. Those happy who willingly humble themselves before God, before they are unwillingly humbled by Him.

7. Thorough humiliation and self-abasement required, in order to the reception of full salvation and spiritual comfort. Job for a time only partially humbled. The ploughshare of conviction to be driven deeper into his soul, before the seed of Divine consolation is cast into it. The knife to be still further applied, before the wound is finally bound up. God's kindness seen in thoroughly humbling the saint as well as the sinner. A crowning blessing, to be divested of the last remains of pride and self-righteousness. God empties in order to fill; humbles in order to exalt.

8. The tendency of fallen humanity always to save itself. The essence of all infidelity, Pharisaism, and self-righteousness. The spirit of Cain with his offering of first fruits, in contrast with that of Abel with his bleeding lamb. The Pharisee in the temple, with his—"God, I thank thee I am not as other men;" in contrast with the Publican and his—"God be merciful to me a sinner." Self-salvation the aim of most of the religion in the world, whether Pagan, Mahometan, Jewish, or Christian. Much of the religion of the cloister as well as of the synagogue. Penances, prayers, almsgivings, and so-called good works, often only so many different forms of self-salvation. Self-salvation usually the first attempt of an awakened sinner. Salvation by self the great impediment to salvation by Christ.

9. Attempts to save ourselves only cured by the discovery of our own weakness. To save ourselves implies a power nothing less than Divine. To be our own Saviour we must possess the attributes of Deity. The Saviour of humanity, when fallen, must be God as truly as the Creator of humanity itself. "God our Saviour"—two ideas necessarily connected. Salvation includes—

(1) Satisfaction to Divine justice for sin;

(2) Regeneration or the renewal of a sinful nature. Satisfaction for sin, which deserves endless death, only to be made by one possessing infinite dignity. Regeneration, or the creation of a new and holy nature in a fallen man, the work of a Divine power. The power required to save ourselves, that which can punish sin anywhere and banish it from the world. The sinner made to see his inability, in order to abandon his attempts at self-salvation, and to cast himself entirely on God the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. The glory of the Gospel, that it reveals a Divine power put forth for man's salvation; and actually put forth in the case of all who believe it. Man's inability to save himself the ground of Christ's redemption. To exhibit that inability one of the objects of this book. "God, and not man, the sinner's Saviour—the substance of all revelation."—Townsend.

IV. Description of Behemoth. Job .—"Behold now Behemoth, which I made with thee (or in thy neighbourhood); he eateth grass as an ox. Lo now, his strength is in his loins, and his force is in the navel (or muscles) of his belly. He moveth (Marg., "setteth up") his tail like a cedar: the sinews of his stones (or thighs) are wrapped together (or interlaced). His bones are as strong pieces (or tubes) of brass (or copper); his bones (a different word from the preceding—probably a Syriac or Chaldaic one, and rather denoting the larger bones—his limbs) are like bars of iron. He is [in bulk and strength] the chief of the ways (or works) of God: he that made him can make his sword to approach him (or, ‘hath given to him his sword'—the weapon—probably his hooked teeth or tusks, with which he might defend himself and attack others, but which he only uses in mowing down the grass for his food). Surely the mountains bring him forth food, where all the beasts of the field play (the animal harmless and herbivorous, notwithstanding his sword). He lieth under the shady trees (or lotuses), in the covert of the reed and fens (or marshes abounding on the banks of the Nile). The shady trees (or lotuses) cover him with their shadow; the willows of the brook compass him about. Behold, he drinketh up a river (or a ‘river rages' or overflows its banks), and [he] hasteth not (to escape from fear of the consequences): he trusteth that he can draw up Jordan with his mouth. He taketh it with his eyes (or ‘will any take him before his eyes?'—instead of using stratagem): his nose pierceth through snares" (or, "will any pierce his nose with hooks?"—as 2Ki 19:28; Eze 38:4).

Uncertain what animal, if any one in particular, is intended by the description. The name "Behemoth," as a Hebrew word, simply denotes "beasts," or viewed as the plural of majesty, "the beast." So rendered in some of the ancient versions. The word, however, thought by some to be rather the Hebrew form of an Egyptian name for the animal, viz., P-ehe-moth, or the water-ox. The elephant generally understood by the older commentators to be the animal intended. Modern interpreters, however, decidedly in favour of the hippopotamus, or river-horse. The description believed to agree better with the latter; while the hippopotamus, being an inhabitant of the Nile and its banks, was much more likely to be familiary known to the patriarch and the poet than the elephant.

Both the elephant and the hippopotamus belong to the class of animals termed by naturalists Pachydermata, or thick-skinned. The elephant comprehends the largest of the living terrestrial animals that suckle their young. Its food is strictly vegetable. It is of a mild disposition, and lives in herds, which are conducted by old males. Those of the present day clothed with a rough skin, nearly destitute of hair. Are only found in the torrid zone of the eastern continents; the Indian elephant being found from the Indus to the Eastern Ocean, and in the large islands of the south of India; and the African one, from Senegal to the Cape of Good Hope. The African elephant not now tamed, although the Carthaginians appear to have employed it in the same way that the inhabitants of India do theirs. The hippopotamus has a very massive and naked body, with very short legs, so that the belly reaches to the ground, an enormous head, and a short tail. It lives in rivers and their neighbourhood, feeding on roots and other vegetable substances, and exhibits much ferocity and stupidity. Now confined to the rivers of the middle and south of Africa.—Cuvier.

The description apparently agreeing in every particular neither with the elephant nor the hippopotamus, the animal has been conjectured by some to be a now extinct genus; and by others to be rather a poetical personification of the great pachydermata—the idea of the hippopotamus being predominant. Extinct species of this class of animals found in a fossil condition. The great mastodon the type of the elephant, though of a different species—the principal distinction being in the shape and structure of the teeth; while the mastodon also possessed short tusks in its lower, in addition to those in its upper, jaw. This animal equalled the elephant in size, but with still heavier proportions. Its remains found in a wonderful state of preservation both in America and the Eastern Continent. The skeleton of one, almost entire, found in the valley of the Missouri, now to be seen in the British Museum. The animal supposed to have been more an aquatic, or swamp-hunting, quadruped than the elephant. A mammoth—a more recent animal of the same class—measuring from the fore-part of the skull to the end of the tail sixteen feet four inches, and twelve feet in height, discovered in Siberia in 1801, imbedded in ice, with its flesh, skin, and hair as perfect as if recently dead. The remains of another found, which is supposed to have been twenty-five feet high and sixty feet in length. Gigantic elephants, of nearly twice the bulk of the largest elephant of Africa or Ceylon, believed by Professor Owen, from the abundance of their remains, to have roamed in herds over the British Islands in the period immediately before the creation of man. The fossil remains of an animal discovered in the gypsum quarries of Paris and other parts of France, to which has been given the name Palœtherium, or the ‘ancient beast,' and which seems to have combined the characters of the rhinoceros, the hippopotamus, the horse, the pig, and the camel; while its external appearance, as restored by Cuvier, approaches more nearly to that of the tapir. The animal supposed to have lived in marshy ground, and to have fed on the roots and stems of trees.

The Almighty's object in the, description of Behemoth, to present to Job, in this gigantic and powerful animal, an evidence of His Divine power; and at the same time to teach him his own littleness, and the presumption of thinking to dispute with his Maker, or of questioning the justice of His procedure. The Creator, Preserver, and Governor of such creatures must be one who possesses sufficient power, wisdom, and rectitude to govern the world.


(1) Not merely do the heavens and the firmament over our head declare the glory of God, but every creature which His hands have made. The huge mammoth points to the irresistibleness of His power, while the almost invisible animalcule tells of the universality of His Providential care.

(2) The largest, as well as the least, of His creatures dependent on, and provided for by, the Creator. "He giveth the beast his food." How much more will He care and provide for His own children made after His image! He Who constantly feeds the gigantic monsters of the land and sea can be at no loss to supply the wants of His trusting people. The happiness of believers that they are able to testify with David: "He hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure" (2Sa ).


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Job 40:4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.

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