Friday, July 18, 2008

Is Leviathan merely a metaphor?

The name, Leviathan, can be used to describe a huge oceangoing ship, or a totalitarian state having a vast bureaucracy… such usages have become common-place to illustrate anything large and formidable. But how did the word originate and is it merely a metaphor?

Webster defines it as, “…a sea monster represented as an adversary defeated by Yahweh in various Scriptural accounts.” The earliest historical writing that describes Leviathan in detail is found in the Biblical book of Job, chapter 41-

“Canst thou draw out leviathan with a hook?...Lay thine hand upon him, remember the battle, do no more…Who can open the doors of his face? His teeth are terrible…Out of his nostrils goeth smoke…His breath kindleth coals, and a flame goeth out of his mouth…When he raiseth up himself, the mighty are afraid…He esteemeth iron as straw, and brass as rotten wood…Darts are counted as stubble: he laugheth at the shaking of a spear…He maketh the deep to boil like a pot…a path to shine after him…Upon earth there is not his like, who is made without fear.”

In the Revised Version of the Bible, and also in The Torah, the creation account in Genesis, chapter one, verse 21, reads: “…God created the great sea monsters…” Was this meant to be taken figuratively? This question is asked with respect toward the inspired Word of God, those Holy Scriptures that accurately foretell the future from the past. Unless one is prepared to place himself as judge over the Bible, there is no justification in dismissing this account, or twisting its meaning as some have done with the Behemoth in Job, Chapter 40, supposing that an elephant could have a tail like a cedar tree.

The reality of Leviathan becomes clear when the writings of Job are better understood. Up until the final chapters, God had been allowing the testing of Job’s faith and was bringing him out of a condition of pride – that which Leviathan illustrated. Toward the end of the book, God was examining Job, comparing Himself with the things that He created, Leviathan being the last and most awe-inspiring of His earthly feats.

To say, then, that God was comparing His greatness with a metaphor does not consider the context in its rightful way. The great sea creature, Leviathan, had to exist in order for Job to finally admit, in chapter 42, “…I know that thou canst do everything…I have heard of thee…but now mine eye seeth thee…I repent…” The reasoning being that if the creation is awe-inspiring then how much greater must be the One who made it. If men knew it was crazy to stir up Leviathan, “…who then is able to stand before Me?” (41:10)

In the novel, The Ninth Generation, Leviathan is part of the ancient adventure. For those wondering what it might have been like to have lived in such a time of history, step back into Genesis and see. A description of the dreadful creature is found about halfway through the book as the heathen priests await its approach to their river sacrifice platform:

“The rolling movement on the surface of the Pison could be seen in the distance. A serpentine path was being traced from the inlet by the turbulent force beneath, sending swells splashing against the bank…As it neared, the long twisting shadow parted the water with a snort of smoke…a chilling roar erupted from below. The platform shook…a scream and collective gasp broke the silence…Leviathan’s head and long neck had risen to the height of the platform. Eyes like the morning sun were fixed on the basket, still swinging, and upon the apprentice, whose hand had dropped from the wooden cross member…huddled on his knees. The jaws had been shut, but suddenly they opened like iron gates. Rows of swords sent shivers through the high priest’s body. Then sparks of light within ignited a burst of flame. Jathron turned, clutching the rail with both arms. The blast of heat could be felt against his back and legs. Behind him there was a shriek, then a splintering jolt… followed by the crashing rush of water from below. Jathron slowly turned his head and looked. A jagged blackened edge was all that remained of the river side of the platform. Trembling, he returned to the temple.”

Merely a metaphor, or figure of speech? This author is one who is comforted to read in Psalm 74:13-14, speaking of God, “…thou brakest the heads of the dragons in the waters. Thou brakest the heads of leviathan in pieces, and gavest him to be meat to the people inhabiting the wilderness.” Apparently, it took the power of God to deal with such a creature in the past and it seems to have been a real historical event which resulted in the distribution of leviathan burgers. The prophet Isaiah (27:1) also states, “In that day the LORD with his sore and great and strong sword shall punish leviathan the piercing serpent, even leviathan that crooked serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea.” Has “that day” happened? Hopefully…but we would be wise to consider that spiritual counterpart – Satan, man’s adversary. From him, we all need the protection of the LORD Jesus, man’s sacrificial substitute and advocate.

Visit the Novel Discovery Site for The Ninth Generation: Surviving the Giants of the pre-flood Earth, at


Understanding Leviathan said...

Leviathan is a metaphor. As we read in Revelation17, Leviathan's ten horns represent ten kings. With study one can also comprehend its seven heads.

John L Owens said...

I agree that in Revelation 17 the "scarlet colored beast" is a metaphor and much can be prayerfully discerned from the study of it. However, the leviathan of Job 41 can be considered within a historical context - the sight of which had a profound effect upon Job (Job 42).