The Point Amidst the Myth

Who has a claim against me that I must pay?
    Everything under heaven belongs to me.
Job 41:11 (NIV)

The description God gives of the great Leviathan in today’s chapter is one of the most intriguing passages in all of God’s story. Having just watched The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies in 3D a few weeks ago, I have to tell you that Leviathan appears to be a dead ringer for Smaug, the dragon who destroys Lake Town (watch the video, above):

Who can strip off its outer coat?
    Who can penetrate its double coat of armor?
Who dares open the doors of its mouth,
    ringed about with fearsome teeth?
Its back has rows of shields
    tightly sealed together;
each is so close to the next
    that no air can pass between.
They are joined fast to one another;
    they cling together and cannot be parted.
Its snorting throws out flashes of light;
    its eyes are like the rays of dawn.
Flames stream from its mouth;
    sparks of fire shoot out.
Smoke pours from its nostrils
    as from a boiling pot over burning reeds.
Its breath sets coals ablaze,
    and flames dart from its mouth.
Strength resides in its neck;
    dismay goes before it.
The folds of its flesh are tightly joined;
    they are firm and immovable.
Its chest is hard as rock,
    hard as a lower millstone.
When it rises up, the mighty are terrified;
    they retreat before its thrashing.
The sword that reaches it has no effect,
    nor does the spear or the dart or the javelin.
Iron it treats like straw
    and bronze like rotten wood.
Arrows do not make it flee;
    slingstones are like chaff to it.
A club seems to it but a piece of straw;
    it laughs at the rattling of the lance.
Its undersides are jagged potsherds,
    leaving a trail in the mud like a threshing sledge.

I have heard this passage interpreted many different ways. As John mentioned in his comment on yesterday’s post, we sometimes get so darned literal these days that we fail to appreciate the nature of poetry when we see it. In the spirit of poetic device, which we discussed yesterday, perhaps Leviathan is simply hyperbole layered over a description of an actual beast (i.e. crocodile, komodo dragon, or etc) and used for dramatic effect. We must remember that the epic poem of Job comes out of early human history which was very different than our post-enlightenment age of advanced science and modernity. Mythical beasts in epic poems were threads in the fabric of ancient society (i.e. Grendel in Beowulf). Perhaps there are extinct creatures that resemble the description more aptly than we know or can appreciate. It’s certainly fodder for spirited discussion over a pint.

Amidst the fun debate over the description of Leviathan, however, I don’t want to lose sight of the point of today’s chapter. I am constantly finding that people like to debate the jots and tittles of obscure textual references (e.g. prophecy, the Nephilim, Eden, angels, demons, heaven, hell and etc.) while ignoring the larger point of the overarching story. Let’s make sure we essentially get the point, and then I’ll buy you a pint and we can haggle over the non-essential question of what Leviathan actually is.

I found “the point” of  today’s chapter in verse 11 (pasted at the top of this post). God’s point to Job in His description of behemoth and leviathan were that these great beasts were created by Him and were under His dominion, which by contrast reveals how impotent Job’s authority and dominion are. God declares that everything, from mythical beasts to Job himself, belong to Him.

Today, I thinking about dragons and unicorns and Pegasus. I’m thinking of Grendel and Smaug and Faery. I’m mulling the intersection of human myth and spiritual reality, and how beautifully layered it all is across history with imagination and meaning.

One thought on “The Point Amidst the Myth”

  1. I really appreciate your post today Tom. It helped bring depth to the passage for me. As I read the chapter, thinking about facing a monster, it led my mind to those bigger than life obstacles we face sometimes in life. All of the questions about how to attack or tame, ultimately leading me to the question, “How are you going to face THIS problem?”. I love how Scripture speaks to us!

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