Towards the end of God's speech in the book of Job, he presents to Job two seeming beasts: Behemoth and Leviathan. These two seem to be somewhat parallel to each other, the former perhaps being the greatest land beast and the latter the greatest sea beast. However, the description of Behemoth spans only ten verses (40:15-24), while the description of Leviathan spans over three times as many (41:1-34). Why does the poet spend so much more time describing Leviathan?

2 Answers 2


Great question. When considering poetic books like Job, it is good practise to consider the 'objective' of the text - indeed, you're spot-on to ask the question: "this bit is longer... why?" Similarly we could ask why both creatures appear at all (couldn't the same point be made with just one?)


The text seems to feature a natural progression of scale. We had around thirty-six chapters' worth of debate and discussion about Yahweh, how His world works and the shape of His justice, and here we see Yahweh speaking in response. His response could be described in several ways, but I see this structure:

  • Chapter 38:1-3 Intro. "Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you will answer me."
  • Chapter 38:4-39 What do you know about the natural world? Can you command it?
  • Chapter 38:40-39:30 What do you know about the wild animals? Who provides for them? Will they listen to you?
  • Chapter 40:1-14 Rejoinder. 'Will you correct Yahweh?' "Brace yourself like a man"...
  • Chapter 40:15-24 "Look at Behemoth, which I made along with you... it ranks first among the works of God." Note that 'behemoth' is just a plural word commonly used for 'cattle' and creatures of that order, but here it's something large and majestic, whose rear end swings around as if it were a tree (v17).
  • Chapter 41:1-34 "Can you pull in the Leviathan with a fish-hook? ...Nothing on earth is its equal—a creature without fear. It looks down on all that are haughty; it is king over all that are proud.”
  • Chapter 42:1-6 "I know you can do all things... I repent in dust and ashes."


It's worth noting that whilst the Behemoth seems like a short section compared to the Leviathan, it's still a longer section than the preceding animals, which are again smaller things. Poetically, there appears to be something of a progression from section to section, asking Job's wisdom and power over the world: nature, small animals, and then the biggest animals.

Looking at the structure of the texts, Leviathan would appear to be the climax or grand finale: "Nothing on earth is its equal." Whilst the Behemoth (whatever its identity) is certainly impressive for a land animal, it's a small fry compared to the final candidate, and anybody who has seen both will understand the tremendous difference in scale. Yahweh is making His might known by comparison to various creatures of various sizes, and it makes sense to take such a large chunk of text comparing His might to the greatest creature, rather than the smaller ones.


It's because their accomplishments differ. Just as Judah and Joseph, the latter was given more description in the blessings by both Jacob in Genesis 49 and Moses.

You know that when God speaks there's nothing of embellishment in what He says, so I wouldn't refer to His speech as a 'piece of poetry'. He was simply highlighting capabilities of 2 topmost higher up fallen rulers in the spirit, depicting them by the names as rendered in Job.

  • Why can't God speak in poetry? Is that a lesser form than prose? God speaks in a multitude of genres throughout the Bible, so it seems strange to isolate one particular genre as being less suited to God speaking.
    – Steve can help
    Commented Dec 20, 2016 at 8:10
  • There's a difference between poetry and dark speeches. The former is primarily meant to embellish and impress, the latter form, which is the biblical approach is meant to pack a lot of complex information often beyond human grasp in few words while masking certain of its aspects as it suits the speaker, say in Ezekiel's vision, because these are issues of life and death and there is an enemy to outwit. Ephesians 3:10-11 is for your reference.
    – Witness
    Commented Dec 23, 2016 at 9:17
  • I've never heard of 'dark speech' as a genre of biblical text. Are there any papers or sources you can give me which better explain what this means? I'm entirely sure you've understood what 'poetry' really means when talking about text genres.
    – Steve can help
    Commented Dec 23, 2016 at 10:21
  • This has nothing to do with poetry! This is life and death...What do you understand by Psalm 78:1-2 or up to verse 7 if you are really interested in what this is all about? It's not a territory for scholars but for the spirit of the Most High. Apologies as I couldn't be of help.
    – Witness
    Commented Dec 26, 2016 at 19:32
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    I think you might just not understand what 'poetry' means when talking about genre. It doesn't imply anything is false or anything like that, just that the style of the writing is poetic.
    – Steve can help
    Commented Dec 26, 2016 at 20:21

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