Behemoth Bible Study

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Meaning of the word Behemoth in Hebrew

The word behemoth has its root in the Hebrew Language.  It is the Hebrew word b’hemah meaning beast.  Behemoth means “colossal beast”.

The Behemoth Bible Verses and surrounding context

The Behemoth Bible account is found in Job chapter 40 but like every other place in the Bible, context is important. 

In the Book of Job, we find a man who undergoes a huge test and loses everything dear to him.  It looks like God is hidden from him.  Even his friends accuse Job of sinning and causing trouble.  

But God challenges Job to consider His greatness.  Behemoth is mentioned in a long list of God’s creations.  The whole book of Job is a great read, but to grasp the contents of the Behemoth Bible account, consider reading the following chapters in Job.

Job 38 – God speaks with Authority to Job through a storm

Job 39 – God lists the majesty of His animal Kingdom

Job 40 – God rebukes Joel and points to Behemoth and Leviathan

Play Video about behemoth bible

Want to see a great video on the Behemoth Bible Account?  Check out the “Did You Know?” segment with Evangelist Jason D’Ambrosio at the Sound of Heaven Church on Long Island

Behemoth in Job 40:15-24

Here are the specific Behemoth Bible verses in Job 40:15-24.  We find a very specific description of the animal.

15 “Look at Behemoth, which I made along with you and which feeds on grass like an ox.

16 What strength it has in its loins, what power in the muscles of its belly!

17 Its tail sways like a cedar; the sinews of its thighs are close-knit.

18 Its bones are tubes of bronze, its limbs like rods of iron.

19 It ranks first among the works of God, yet its Maker can approach it with his sword.

20 The hills bring it their produce, and all the wild animals play nearby.

21 Under the lotus plants it lies, hidden among the reeds in the marsh.

22 The lotuses conceal it in their shadow; the poplars by the stream surround it.

23 A raging river does not alarm it; it is secure, though the Jordan should surge against its mouth.

24 Can anyone capture it by the eyes, or trap it and pierce its nose?

What type of animal is Behemoth?

Over the years, there have been varying points of view as to what type of animal the behemoth Bible account is talking about.   What we do know is that whatever it represents it is meant to be more than impressive, verse 19 says of behemoth that it “ranks first among the works of God”.  That is quite the statement.

Some believe that it was not a real animal at all but a mythical creature.  Others have said that it must be the devil, an elephant, or a hippopotamus.  Perhaps the most controversial claim is that Behemoth is actually a dinosaur.  

Are dinosaurs mentioned in the Bible?  It’s certainly a claim that goes against or traditional viewpoint of these “prehistoric beasts”.  Let’s look at the options mentioned.

Was the Behemoth Bible passage about a mythical creature?

One viewpoint is that Behemoth was not a real creature .  Some say the bible verses are talking about a mythical beast that symbolized the greatness of God.  

This theory would align the language in Job with that of the symbolic text in the Book of Revelation.  In Hebrew, there is what we know as apocalyptic language.  Apocalyptic language uses deep imagery to drive home its point and was the style John used when Revelation was written. 

There is a challenge worth noting with this theory.  Starting in Chapter 39, only animals that we know to exist are listed.  Behemoth is mentioned alongside the likes of mountain goats, deer, bears, oxen, horses, locusts, hawks and the ostrich.  

The point is, the mention of behemoth in the Bible with real animals.  This strengthens the argument that it actually existed.  Also, in ancient times mythical creatures were usually described as terrible beasts.  Behemoth is described as a grass-eating animal that lies peacefully in the shadow of the river plants. 

Also, consider this question.  Of all of God’s creation, does He have to make up a creature to show His Might?  Of course not.  The universe from its vast expanse to the most minute details screams of His majesty!

Behemoth Bible Elephant

Is Behemoth the devil symbolically described as an Elephant | St. Thomas Aquinas

Another interpretation of the Bible’s Behemoth is that the beast was describing an elephant.  The elephant is the largest land animal in the world today and possesses many majestic qualities.  You can find elephant parables and images of elephants as deities in polytheistic religions, like Hinduism.  

The behemoth elephant claim was made in the 1200s by St. Thomas Aquinas, who makes some rather interesting personal observations with some bizarre comparisons.  

“Consider that just as the angels who remain in their dignity have a certain excellence above the dignity of men, and so they appear to men in a very brilliant light, so also the demons have a certain excellence and primacy in evil over men, and so they are described using the figures of certain extraordinary and almost monstrous animals. 

Among all land animals, the elephant excels in size and strength… So the Lord describes the devil using the metaphor of an elephant…Thus the name Behemoth, which means “animal,” is referred to the elephant, which among other land animals, who are more commonly called animals, has a certain preeminence because of the size of his body.
St. Thomas Aquinas Job Commentary, Chapter 40  – The Command of God over the Powers of Evil

If you read this portion of the Aquinas commentary of Job, he seems to not believe that God is talking about a literal elephant but a metaphor for the devil.  In fact, he reads the entire list of animals with the idea that they represent qualities and not actual beasts.  

From chapter 38 on, God is definitely putting Job in his place.  God is bringing to attention the wonders of His creation to humble him in his struggles.  You could also say that He is looking to strengthen Job.  To humble ourselves before the Father by admiring God’s attributes is an act of worship that will replenish us in times of struggle.

Could God be using the characteristics of the animals mentioned as mere examples?  Maybe.  But, St. Thomas Aquinas goes down deep into some real rabbit holes of comparison that could be called a stretch through the lens of his own personal beliefs.

To compare the behemoth bible description to a metaphorical elephant would require the very details mentioned in chapter 40 to line up with the attributes of that animal.  If you go down the list, as impressive as an elephant is, a direct comparison is not so obvious.  

Does its rather unassuming tail swing like a cedar?  Can people trap and pierce it?  There is a case to be made that the elephant can be hunted.  Nevertheless, Aquinas goes to great lengths, even quoting Aristotle. 

That brings us to the examination of the Aquinas devil claim.  Is it the devil through a description of an elephant?  St. Thomas Aquinas thinks so and takes some liberties in his commentary.  

When referring to the bold statement of Behemoth being “ranked first among God’s works”, he argues that satan was among the first of things that God creation.  

If this refers to the works or creation, it is because Satan was created among the first creatures, or also because according to some commentators he was more excellent than the other creatures.
St. Thomas Aquinas Job Commentary, Chapter 40  – The Command of God over the Powers of Evil

That is a “hot take” for sure. Notice every other statement in the behemoth bible account is a compliment to the beast’s might.  To claim the text concerns the devil in this manner is certainly open to scrutiny.  

The description does not line up perfectly with an elephant nor does the edification of satan as an animal that is a great work of God who lies peacefully beneath lotus trees seem plausible.

behemoth in the bible as a hippo

Is Behemoth a Hippopotamus ?

In the 17th century, another claim arose about the identity of behemoth. Samuel Bochart declared that the behemoth bible account must be the hippopotomus.  This can be found Bocharts two-volume work Hierozoicon, sive bipertitum opus de animalibus Sacrae Scripturae published in 1663.

Since then, many scholars have jumped on board and echoed the claim with a high level of certainty.  Even some Bible versions note that behemoth is a literal hippopotamus.  

There are many more modern statements that the behemoth bible account is a hippo, but all fall short to really explain why.  Does a hippopotamus line up with the description found in Job 40?  You probably could make a better case for the elephant as behemoth in the bible.

Edgar Gibson, the 31st Bishop of Gloucester, wrote:

there can be little doubt that” behemoth corresponds with the hippopotamus
(1905, p. 223)

Little doubt?  Let’s compare a few.  The challenges are similar to the elephant.

First the tail of a hippo is nothing like a cedar tree (v17).  This 5 – 8 inch appendage is more like the tail of a pig.  Some commentators have tried to dodge the comparison by stating that it should be a “branch” or even that God was referring to the genitals of the hippo.  Talk about a stretch!

Next, it says in scripture that no man can approach behemoth with a sword/  Yet, in ancient Egypt there were festivals dedicated to harpooning and killing hippopotamus.  

Egyptian pharaohs took pride in slaying a hippopotamus. There are numerous pictures in which the pharaoh, hunting a hippopotamus from a papyrus boat, is poised to hurl his harpoon into the animal’s opened mouth, thereby inflicting a fatal blow.
(Hartley 1988, p.524
)

This is the unapproachable behemoth?

Lastly, behemoth in the bible is supposed to be the “chief of God’s creation”.  Again, an elephant is twice the size and when you include the large extinct reptiles we know as dinosaurs, the hippo is not even close. Hard to imagine that as impressive as a hippo is that God would call it His best.

So let’s actually talk about those dinosaurs…  

Is behemoth a dinosaur

The Behemoth Bible account as a dinosaur

At this point, you may be thinking “I’ve read this far and all that’s left is behemoth in the Bible is a dinosaur?”.  That may not be all that’s left, but there is a compelling case to be made that behemoth was actually a Sauropod dinosaur.

Perhaps this sounds crazy.  Of course it does in the shadow of what we are taught today.  You wouldn’t be the first to select another option over this, but I hope you keep reading.  

As we’ve done before, let’s look at the very detailed descriptions of behemoth in the bible and compare it line by line.

Job 40:15 – It “feeds on grass like an ox.”

Until recent times, Scientists claimed grass, as we know it, evolved a long time after dinosaurs.  But in 2005, they found grass in Sauropod Coporlites which to drove calls for a complete reinvestigation into the “evolution of dinosaurs”.

Sauropods were grass eaters just as described with Behemoth.

Job 40:16 “Strength in his loins and power in the muscles of his belly”

There are many animals with strong hips, including both the Hippo and elephant, but not a creature in existence who had a stronger hip structure then a Sauropod.  

The entire weight, in some cases believed to be a high as 72 tons, rested on a Sauropod’s hips as a core.  Scientists believe the  Diplodocus could stand up on its hind legs and balance on its tail like a tripod supporting the whole body.

This required ENORMOUS strength in its hip and stomach muscles.  

Job 40:17 – “Tail like a cedar tree… sinews of thighs knit together”

Where the elephant and hippo fail miserably a sauropod is a perfect match!  A Cedar tree can now over 100 feet.  A Sauropods tail was massive and footprints found show huge imprints from the feet, but in most cases not the tail.

The muscles of the hips of Sauropod were so tight that when it walked its huge tail would swing back and forth, like a cedar tree in the wind.

Job 40:18 – “Bones like tubes of bronze… Limbs like iron”

A Sauropod’s bones are actually hollow!  Its ribs were one solid bone!  In fact, the vertebrae were not filled with marrow, but shaped like a honeycomb and filled with air.  This made them light but extremely strong.  You could carry Sauropod vertebrae while a mammal bone of similar size would require a forklift.  It was a true marvel.  Which leads us to the next verse.

Job 40:19 – “It ranks first among the works of God”

This colossal beast was a marvel of biological engineering.  The fact that something that size could even walk is amazing. The alignment of muscle and bone needed to be perfect for it not to pinch nerves and blood vessels.  Was it, as described, God’s best?  All animals mentioned in the behemoth bible account, including the elephant and the hippo, can’t compare. 

What about habitat?  Consider the remaining verses…

21 “Under the lotus plants he lies down,

In the covert of the reeds and the marsh.

22 “The lotus plants cover him with shade;

The willows of the brook surround him.

23 “If a river rages, he is not alarmed;

This describes a Sauropod dinosaur exactly and consider this, could a river sweep it away?  Of course not.  Even the Jordan at its height was no match for a beast that size.

What do you think Behemoth was?

Whether you believe behemoth in the bible was a figurative or actual creature, a hippo, elephant, dinosaur or other beast, the greatness of God’s creation is all around us. 

What we can learn from the Book of Job is that God wants to reveal His greatness to us not to boast, but so that we can be confident in Him.  Like Job, understanding that the God that created the universe cares for us is a discovery that will change your life.

As always, we at Sound of Heaven church encourage you to study this and all topics out for yourself.  We want to be here as a resource to you in your quest to know more about God.  

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