Job 40-41 — Yahweh’s Second Speech

Why a second speech? One might think that one speech from Yahweh would be enough.

Perhaps it is a literary device.  The two speeches may reflect the two council scenes in the Prologue–a “prologue” (1:1-5) heads the two council scenes and an “epilogue” (42:7ff)  follows the two Yahweh speeches.

That may be true, but it seems like something more is afoot. There appears to be movement from the first to the second speech as there is certainly movement from Job’s first response (40:4-5) to his second response (42:2-6). However we may interpret Job’s second response (repentance? comfort? rejection?), it provides some “resolution;” it is a climatic ending.

The second speech, then, provides the context in which the Yahweh-Job dialogue finds its “resolution.” There is something new, something climatic, about this speech. Consequently, the question is what does this speech offer that was not present in the first speech so that it moves beyond it in some sense.

The first speech surveys a well-ordered creation that exhibits divine wisdom and care (Job 38-39). God is active within the creation setting the boundaries of chaos (seas) and feeding the wild animals. The creation is functional and fruitful.

However, the first speech focuses on two animals, the Behemoth and Leviathan. Of the two, the Leviathan gets the most attention (34 verses of Job 41 vs. only 9 verses for the Behemoth in chapter 40). Unlike the first speech, this discussion is prefaced by a lengthy introduction. This introduction functions as a hermeneutical key for reading the rest of the speech, and the Leviathan section serves as the highlight (it is the most lengthy treatment of any of God’s creatures in all the Yahweh speeches)–the climatic point of the Yahweh speeches.  The speech may be outlined in this fashion.

  • God challenges Job (40:7; parallel to 38:3)
  • Introduction:  the Wicked (40:8-14)
  • Land Animal: the Behemoth (40:15-24)
  • Water Animal:  the Leviathan (41:1-34)

Each section grows in length, and each provides a context for the next.  What would Job do with the wicked? What would Job do with the Behemoth? What, then, would Job do with the Leviathan? Job is powerless before them all. But God is not.

First Section (40:8-14)

The topic is no loner simply management of the creation or how God has ordered the cosmos. Now the topic is about justice; it is about the problem of evil.

Will Job put God in the “wrong” (misphat; justice) so that Job might be in the “right” (zadaq; righteousness)? Job had accused God of denying him justice (misphat; Job 27:2) and had claimed his own “rightness” (zadaq; Job 9:20). Yahweh questions whether Job’s rightness and divine justice are incongruent. Can Job discern this mystery? Can Job figure out how God’s justice and Job’s righteousness work in the circumstance of his own experience of chaos and suffering?

In particular, Yahweh is concerned with the question of the prosperity of the wicked. Job has raised this question on several occasions (cf. 21:7-16; 24:1-12; “there is no justice” [misphat] in 19:7).  Yahweh’s challenge is to question Job about what he will do with the wicked. Would Job pour out his wrath on the proud? Would Job trample the wicked where they stand? How would Job handle the wicked? Decked out in his own glory and splendor, can Job solve the problem of justice and equity in the world? If Job has a solution, God wants to hear it.

Yahweh’s response to his rhetorical questions cannot be overestimated (41:14). Yahweh will acknowledge (yada; know) Job if his own “hand” can save him from the wicked. The use of the word “hand” is important as it recalls the prologue and the significant Yahweh confession by Job in 12:9.  The “hand” of Yahweh released the chaotic powers upon Job, both the moral acts by human agents and natural disasters. Job acknowledged that it was the “hand” of Yahweh that did it and reigns in the cosmos.

Whose “hand” can control the wicked? Whose “hand” can best deal with evil in the world? Whose “hand” is sovereign over the chaos in the world? Is it Job’s “hand” or is it Yahweh’s?

Yahweh’s exhibits A & B, the Behemoth and Leviathan, are evidence that only Yahweh’s hand can control evil; only Yahweh is sovereign over the chaos in the world.

Behemoth (40:15-24)

Behemoth (a transliteration of Hebrew word) is the plural of the normal word for “beast, animal.” But the plural here is majestic in character, that is, it the “beast of beasts.” Indeed, it is the “first of the great acts of God” (40:19). It is the beast par excellence–incomparable to other beasts or land animals.

Yet, the description of this beast is very different from Yahweh’s depictions in Job 39. There are no mythic or hyperbolic embellishments of the wild animals in Job 39 but they abound here for both the Behemoth and the Leviathan. Further, Job 39 utilizes the normal names of the animals, but these two natures are not “normal” zoological descriptions. These are no mere description of another animal–if it is, then it does not amount to much more than what chapter thirty-nine did. Something more is going on here, especially regarding Yahweh’s relation to evil (the wicked).

Many identify the Behemoth with the hippopotamus just as they identify the Leviathan with the crocodile. There are some reasons to do this as the descriptions do seem rooted in those two animals to some degree. However, neither description fits a mere naturalistic understanding of these animals. Rather, the descriptions have mythic proportions.

Both the hippopotamus and crocodile appear in Egyptian mythology. There the evil Lord Seth is associated with both in mythic stories as Seth battles Horus. Seth is the god of chaos. In addition, Ugarit Canaanite myths may form something of the background here as well. In those myths Mot, the god of death, battles Baal. Many of the descriptions of the Behemoth correspond with language describing Mot (Fyall, Now My Eyes Have Seen You, pp. 131-137) and the Leviathan reflects the mythology of the great battles of creation mythology where the Seas (Leviathan as chaos monster) contest creation. The Behemoth is a land monster and the Leviathan is a sea monster (perhaps even similar to the two beasts in Revelation 13).

The Behemoth is beyond Job’s ability. “Only the Maker,” Yahweh says, “can approach it with the sword.” Unlike other wild animals, only God can do battle with the Behemoth. Yahweh announces the inability of humanity to deal with chaos.

Job cannot crush the Behemoth, so how could he ever hope to crush the wicked? If Yahweh can capture and tame the Behemoth whose ferocity frightens all other creatures, can not Yahweh deal with the evil and chaos in Job’s life?

But did God create the Behemoth, a chaos animal? Did God create chaos? The prophet Isaiah confesses that Yahweh creates both good and evil (disaster; Isaiah 45:7), and Job has already confessed that humans receive both good and evil from Yahweh (Job 1:20). The point is that Yahweh is sovereign over chaos; it does not have an autonomous reign within the world. God reigns over the chaos, manages it, and utilizes it for his own purposes.

Leviathan (41:1-34)

This mythic animal is associated with the water (41:1-2)  and breathes fire (41:19-21). Apparently, it depicts the mythic sea monster that generates chaos and rules over the chaos–the Leviathan is a prince in the world (41:34). Job himself referred to the Leviathan in his opening lament (Job 3:8). In that poem Job hoped that the Leviathan would reverse creation and destroy the day of his birth.

The Leviathan is a princely figure (and some even identify him with the satan). He has no equal in all creation and “is king over all that are proud” (40:33-34). Chaos (and evil) reigns within the creation–nothing under heaven can compete with the Leviathan (41:11). But he does not reign over the creation because Yahweh can rein in the Leviathan. Chaos fills the earth but it is limited, controlled, and managed by Yahweh as everything belongs to Yahweh (41:11).

Job cannot crush the Leviathan, so how could he ever hope to crush the wicked? If Yahweh can tame the Leviathan who crushes the proud, can Yahweh not crush the chaos and evil in Job’s life?


It is important to note that God does not, as yet (but will, cf. Isaiah 27:1), destroy these monsters of chaos. Chaos still exists within creation, but God manages, controls and limits it. Job is powerless before chaos, but Yahweh is not. Yahweh is sovereign over chaos.

The reign of God over the chaotic cosmos is the primary theme of God’s speeches to Job. Whether it is the gracious power of God to create and sustain his universe (as in Job 38-39), or whether it is the power of God to control and tame the chaotic forces in nature like the Leviathan and the Behemoth (as in Job 40-41), the point is the same. Job cannot claim to control or even know about these forces, but God does. God reigns over nature, and while there is chaos, it is not beyond his control. On the contrary, that chaos is at God’s command. It will do his bidding. The Behemoth is one whom no one can capture, but his maker can tame him (Job 40:19,24). The Leviathan is one whom no one can bridle, but he belongs to his maker (Job 41:11,13). No one but God can control the chaotic forces of nature, and we must confess with Job, “I know you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted” (42:2).

4 Responses to “Job 40-41 — Yahweh’s Second Speech”

  1.   rich constant Says:

    and blessings to you and yours
    as you bless us with your life of the Spirit
    boy oh boy

  2.   Rich constant Says:


    I’m hoping you consider this a mixed metaphor.
    Would chaos,( evil), be a process of unraveling god’s Very good
    Because of the possibilities inherent in the ability to love and honor god as god?.
    If this speaks to a mixed metaphor…
    Does not chaos and evil, in god’s very good creation, Stem from a clear cut act of rebellion, as spoken of here in the narrative
    ( God’s story to us) .
    I would say creation started out as being perfect. Although the possibilities of the act of love.(Gods goodness)
    Brings about choice.
    As an inherent necessity?
    ? thanks john mark

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      I address some of this in my creation lecture. But chaos was not eliminated at creation. The sea remained, the darkness remained, but they were bounded and limited. God is still sovereign over chaos, but the creation was good though not perfect. Chaos still remained and God used the chaos for divine purposes within history. Moral evil is, I think, the result of choice.

  3.   Joseph Porter Says:

    John Mark,

    Thank you so much for this series on Job. It’s been very thought-provoking and comforting to help me understand the role of lament in the faith.

    Joseph Porter

    (One tiny note: I think, when you write, “However, the first speech focuses on two animals, the Behemoth and Leviathan,” that you meant “the second speech.”)

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