Behold, Behemoth!

In the concluding portion of the book of Job, God introduces, as an example of his power, the great creature, Behemoth. What was this great creature? Wayne Jackson discusses the various theories offered by way of identification.
By Wayne Jackson | Christian Courier

No narration available

In the second phase of the concluding encounter between God and Job (see Job 38:1ff), the Almighty said to the patriarch: “Behold, now behemoth, which I made...” (Job 40:15). The Lord then described a monstrous creature that was beyond man’s ability to control and thus a wonderful example of the superiority of Heaven’s power compared to man’s.

Earlier in this marvelous book, the famous patriarch of Uz had become the victim of a series of devastating blows that would have crushed most men. He had lost his material prosperity (which was considerable), his children (all ten of them) were killed, his health failed (he was afflicted with a loathsome disease), and there was the disdain of his wife and friends. All in all, he felt this was a punishment quite out of proportion to any weaknesses he had.

He complained, therefore, that his Maker was mismanaging the affairs of this earth. Time and again, he challenged the Lord to meet with him, in order to debate this matter. The noble patriarch felt sure he could prevail in the event of such an encounter.

Finally, after Job had “rattled on” for a sufficient time, Jehovah issued a response to his frustrated servant. He began by asking Job a series of penetrating questions (roughly sixty) — first, relative to the inanimate creation (38:4-38), and then with reference to the animate world (38:39-39:30).

Eventually, God paused in his intensive interrogation (which the man of Uz royally “flunked”), and gave the patriarch opportunity to respond (40:1-2). But Job could say nothing, choosing, rather, to “rest his case” on the arguments previously introduced (40:5). The patriarch had made some progress, but he had not come as far as he needed to. And so the Lord brings him to “Round Two.”

In effect Jehovah said to his servant: “Job, by your criticism of me, you seem to think you are qualified to ‘be God.’ Very well, why don’t you adorn yourself with the apparel of deity (excellency, dignity, honor, and majesty — v. 10)? When you have demonstrated your ability to act as God, I stand ready to listen to you” (cf. v. 14).

This appears to be the Lord’s argument: If one exalts himself to the status of God (asserting his right to criticize his Maker), then he also must be as powerful as God. The Creator’s plenitude in wisdom and power are co-equal. If Job is as wise as he apparently thinks he is, he should be exceedingly strong as well — but is he?

The Lord then proceeded to introduce two terribly powerful creatures — one of the land, behemoth (40:15-24), and the other of the sea, leviathan (41:1-34). Neither of these massive creatures is subject to control by man — including Job. Consequently, the irresistible conclusion that must follow is this: Man is not qualified to criticize God’s moral operation of the earth.

With this brief background sketch, we will henceforth focus upon behemoth. Is it possible to identify this monstrous creature?

Behemoth, Chief of the Ways of God

The English word “behemoth” is an anglicized, plural form of the Hebrew behema (found nine times in the Old Testament). The word basically means “beast,” and the term commonly is used generically (cf. Gen. 6:7). In Job 40:15ff, however, the description provided by the inspired writer clearly indicates that a specific animal is in view. The plural format is generally regarded as a device to intensify, i.e., “great beast.” As one writer notes, the significance is “super beast,” i.e., “the noblest and strongest beast” (Hartley, 523). T.K. Cheyne suggested the meaning of “a colossal beast” (I.519).

Exactly what sort of creature was this “behemoth,” to which the Lord so powerfully appealed in his humbling examination of Job? Let us note what the text actually says.

“Behold now, behemoth, which I made as well as you; he eats grass like an ox. Look, his strength is in his loins. And his force is in the muscles of his belly. He moves his tail like a cedar: The sinews of his thighs are knit together. His bones are as tubes of brass; his limbs are like bars of iron. He is the chief of the ways of God: only He who made him gives him his sword. Surely the mountains bring forth food for him — where all the beasts of the field do play. He lies under the lotus-trees, in the covert of the reeds and the marsh. The lotus trees cover him with their shade; the willows of the brook surround him. Behold, if a river overflows, he does not tremble; he is confident, though a Jordan [swift river] swell even to his mouth. Shall any take him when he is on the watch, or pierce through his nose with a snare?”

Over many years numerous attempts have been made to identify this awesome creature. The purpose of this discussion is to the weigh the merits of the most prominent ideas, thus attempting to arrive at a reasonable conclusion.

A Myth or Symbol

Liberal scholars dismiss the account as a mere mythological fantasy of antiquity (Cheyne, 520; Terrien, 1186). Such a view will be rejected summarily by the reverent Bible student. Jehovah could hardly have pressed his case with Job if the patriarch knew that behemoth was simply a fictitious creature. This theory, therefore, warrants no further attention.

Others, with an equally weak case, similarly suggest that behemoth was not a real animal, but merely a “symbolic” creature, with exaggerated features borrowed from the hippopotamus (Smick, 1048-49).

An Elephant

Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225-1274), a noted theologian of the Roman Catholic system, thought that behemoth was an elephant. This view, however, has never entertained much credibility among scholars, and for several reasons. The elephant is not by any means the “chief” of those beasts that have roamed the earth. Too, the elephant’s strength is in his neck, head, and tusks, not in his “belly.” In fact, he is most vulnerable in the abdominal region. Finally, the elephant’s tail does not remind one of a “cedar” tree — even remotely.


The New English Bible, published in the Old Testament format in 1970, presumptuously rendered behemoth by the term “crocodile.” That identification can scarcely be accurate, however, since behemoth was clearly a grass-eater, while the crocodile is carnivorous. Moreover, it hardly seems reasonable to speak of a river “swelling even to his mouth,” in contemplating the crocodile.

In addition, the Lord emphasized that only behemoth’s Maker could vanquish the creature; certainly man could not take him (vv. 19b; 24). By way of contrast, Herodotus (c. 484-425 B.C.) described how the Egyptians captured the crocodile, tamed it, venerated the beast, and even adorned it with jewelry (II.69-70).


The most popular view is that behemoth was the hippopotamus (see footnotes in ASV, RSV, ESV, etc.). But there are objections to this theory as well.

Behemoth is ranked as the “chief” of the Lord’s creatures (v. 19). The Hebrew term suggests “one of the hugest creatures” (Delitzsch, 361). Barnes observed that “chief” signified “first” in “size and strength” (250). The fact is, the hippopotamus is third in line among the larger varieties of earth’s creatures, being surpassed by both the elephant and the rhinoceros. He is not the “chief” in the modern world, much less the ancient one.

Rawlinson, who argues on behalf of the hippo, concedes this is a problem for the hippo theory — since the elephant is larger. He opines, however, that the author of Job may not have known of the elephant. A scholar as erudite as he should not need to be reminded that God was the author of this description!

It might be mentioned as well that whereas the hippo weighs a bit under three tons, some of the animals of the dinosaur kind weighed many times as much. The Brachiosaurus is estimated to have weighed about eighty-five tons, standing at the equivalent of a five-story building (see Weishampel, 206ff). The hippo is hardly “chief” compared to this gentleman!

In addition, the hippo’s tail is only about twenty inches long. It certainly does not resemble the cedar tree, the most massive tree known in the Palestinean region of old, often attaining the height of some 120 feet (see Bromiley, I.626). Though Anderson favors the hippo as the best candidate, he nevertheless admits: “It is hard to see how his tail can be compared to a cedar, for the tail of the hippopotamus is small and short” (289).

Finally, Rawlinson noted that the Egyptians, “from very early times, used to attack the hippopotamus and slay him” (642). The Greek historian Herodotus said that the ancients would dry the tough skin of the hippo and from it make javelins (II.71). There are Egyptian tile mosaics that depict the men of that country spearing the hippo from their boats. One Egyptologist states that it was a “customary thing with the old Egyptians to thus attack these animals” (sited by McClintock, IV, 279).


Why do you suppose that a dinosaur is rarely proposed as a candidate for behemoth? The answer is very simple. The common perception is that dinosaurs became extinct long before man arrived upon this planet (some 65 million years, it is alleged). Accordingly, behemoth could not be a variety of dinosaur — because the chronological disparity prohibits such. Dr. Henry Morris has addressed the matter in this fashion.

“Modern Bible scholars, for the most part, have become so conditioned to think in terms of the long ages of evolutionary geology that it never occurs to them that mankind once lived in the same world with the great animals that are now found only as fossils” (115).

But the fact of the matter is this. There is unequivocal biblical testimony that human beings and dinosaurs inhabited the same early environment of the earth, and there is not a shred of scientific evidence that proves otherwise. The following points are but an abbreviated summation of the biblical case for human and dinosaur coexistence.

  1. In the first chapter of Genesis, Moses describes the land creatures that were brought into existence on the sixth day of the initial week of Earth’s history. Three Hebrew words are employed to summarize these animals — behemah (livestock, i.e., domestic animals), remes (creeping things), and hayath-ha’ares, (beasts — literally “living creatures,” i.e., wild animals).

    Stigers has observed that these terms are very broad and are “capable of quite wide interpretation. All subclasses are included” (61).

    “[T]he threefold distinction does no more than describe the animals in accordance with the way the average person looks at these creatures. At the same time it is obvious that the intent is to include all the various kinds of land animals” (Aalders, 68).

    Later, on the same day, man and woman were created. Only a textual manipulation of the most egregious sort can evade the obvious import of the sacred narrative.

  2. Later, Moses, the author of the entire Pentateuch, supplemented his earlier record regarding the creation, with these words: “For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them” (Ex. 20:11). Since both dinosaurs and humans were created things, and inasmuch as all Earth’s creatures came into being during the same week, it follows logically that dinosaurs and human beings were companions upon the primitive planet. If not, where is the flaw in the argument?
  3. The Old Testament prophets did not subscribe to the modern view that man arrived upon this globe millions of years after its initial commencement. In a blistering rebuke of the idolatry of his day, Isaiah calls attention to man’s lack of knowledge relative to the nature of the true God. Such is inexcusable, the prophet implies, because the record of history is clear. The truth about the Creator had been available by means of testimony that extended “from the beginning,” yes, even from “the foundations of the earth” (Isa. 40:21). This places humankind at the dawn of creation.
  4. The Son of God himself contended that the human family had its genesis during the creation week. In a dispute with the Pharisees regarding the nature of the family, he pointedly declared: “But from the beginning of the creation, Male and female made he them” (Mk. 10:6).

    Cremer has shown that the expression “the creation” denotes the “sum-total of what God has created” (381; cf. Danker, 573). See also Mark 13:19.
  5. The inspired apostles repudiated the notion that humankind was a late arrival upon the earth. Paul wrote that the invisible attributes of God, since the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being perceived in the things that have been made (Rom. 1:20). There are several important points to note.

    First, there is a clear affirmation that the world (kosmos — universe) was “created,” i.e., it is not eternal, nor did it bring itself into existence from nothingness.

    Second, in this visible universe, some of the invisible attributes of the Creator are discerned, e.g., his power and wisdom. Moreover these evidences are “clearly seen.” The Greek term kathorao signifies to draw a conclusion “with the eye of reason” (Danker, 493), which is further confirmed by the present participle, “being perceived” (noeo). This term means “to grasp or comprehend something on the basis of careful thought, perceive, apprehend, understand, gain an insight into” (Danker, 674).

    These terms imply that human beings have been analyzing God’s handiwork from the very beginning of time. The language absolutely excludes the idea that the world was in existence eons before the arrival of man.


When all of the evidence is in, a compelling case can be made for the view that the “behemoth,” to which the Lord appealed as an example of his creative power, was some form of dinosaur. There is no valid argument that eliminates that idea (evolutionary assertions to the contrary notwithstanding), and there is considerable evidence in favor of it.

  • Aalders, G. Charles. 1981. Genesis. Vol. I. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
  • Anderson, Francis. 1976. Job — An Introduction and Commentary. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity.
  • Barnes, Albert. n.d. The Book of Job. Vol. II. London: Blackie & Son.
  • Bromiley, G. W. 1979. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia — Revised. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
  • Cheyne, T. K. 1899. Encyclopedia Biblica. Vol. I. London: Adam & Charles Black.
  • Cremer, Hermann. 1962. Biblico-Theological Lexicon of New Testament Greek. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.
  • Danker, Frederick William, et al. 2000. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago.
  • Delitzsch, F. 1978. The Book of Job. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
  • Hartley, John E. 1988. The Book of Job. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
  • Herodotus, 1952 edition, History. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago.
  • McClintock, John & Strong, James. 1969. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical, Literature. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker.
  • Morris, Henry. 2000. The Remarkable Record of Job. Green Forest, AR: Master Books.
  • Rawlinson, George. 1873. Historical Illustrations of the Old Testament. Boston, MA: Henry A. Young.
  • Smick, Elmer. 1988. “Job,” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Vol. 4. Frank Gaebelein, Ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
  • Stigers, Harold. 1976. A Commentary on Genesis. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
  • Terrien, Samuel. 1954. “Job,” The Interpreter’s Bible. Vol. 3. G. A. Buttrick, Ed. New York, NY: Abingdon.
  • Weishampel, David B. 2001. “Dinosaurs,” World Book Encyclopedia. Vol. 5. Chicago, IL: World Book, Inc.