Bible Question:

Who or what is the Behemoth in Job 40:15-24?

Bible Answer:

What is the Behemoth in Job 40:15? Some think Behemoth refers to a hippopotamus, a dinosaur, or an elephant. Discover why the best answer is hippopotamus.

What is the Behemoth in Job 40:15?

Description of Behemoth

The description of Behemoth are given in Job 40:15-24. The Hebrew word for Behemoth means “beasts.” The word is plural. The plural from may imply emphasis. The word refers to a large land animal that walked on four feet.[1]

The passage can be divided into two sections. Verses 15-18 reveal the animal’s physical characteristics.

Behold now, Behemoth, which I made as well as you;
He eats grass like an ox.
Behold now, his strength in his loins
And his power in the muscles of his belly.
He bends his tail like a cedar;
The sinews of his thighs are knit together.
His bones are tubes of bronze;
His limbs are like bars of iron.
Job 40:15-18 (NASB)

First, the animal eats grass or vegetation or is an herbivorous animal (v. 15). The animal has incredible strength in its loins and stomach muscles (v. 16). The Hebrew word for “bends” is better translated as “stiffens.”[2] Some think it means “sways.” The bones of the animal are like huge metal bars. That is, they are very strong.

Verses 19-24 is the second section. It describes Behemoth’s habitat.

He is the first of the ways of God;
Let his maker bring near his sword.
Surely the mountains bring him food,
And all the beasts of the field play there.
Under the lotus plants he lies down,
In the covert of the reeds and the marsh.
The lotus plants cover him with shade;
The willows of the brook surround him.
If a river rages, he is not alarmed;
He is confident, though the Jordan rushes to his mouth.
Can anyone capture him when he is on watch,
With barbs can anyone pierce his nose?
Job 40:19-24 (NASB)

Now we are told Behemoth feeds on the mountains (v. 20). If we combine the fact that he eats grass, we are to understand that he eats vegetation on the mountains. Verses 21-22 says he is under the lotus plants. That is, he is a water animal who lives in the water and marshes. Next, we are told he is at home in the rivers (v. 23). So, Behemoth is both a land and a water animal. The last verse reveals that he is very difficult to capture.

Possible Animals That Were Behemoth

There are a variety of opinions about the identification of the Behemoth. Some think the animal is some type of dinosaur: a brontosaurus, a diplodocus, an apatosaurus, or a sauropod. But these animals do not fit the description of Behemoth’s habitat. The major issue with these animals is that they are too tall to be covered by lotus plants in the water. (v. 21-22). For example, it is believed the lotus plant is of the species Ziziphus lotus. This tree grew in the “swampy area thick with reeds or on the bank, concealed by lotuses and poplars.”[3] The height of these trees is about 5 feet (1.5 m). This helps us to understand that the dinosaurs could not fit under the lotus plants described in verses 21-22. That is, the brontosaurus was 28 feet (8.5 m), diplodocus was 16 ft (5 m), apatosaurus was at least 30 ft  (9.1 m)), and the sauropod (considered the tallest of the dinosaurs) are all eliminated as being the behemoth..

The more common view is that the animal is a hippopotamus, a water buffalo, a rhinoceros, or an elephant.What is the Behemoth?  The descriptions of Behemoth best fit the hippopotamus. Therefore, the following section will demonstrate why the hippopotamus is most likely the Behemoth.

Description of the Hippopotamus

The opinion of most scholars is that Behemoth is a hippopotamus. The Greek word literally means “horse of the river.”[5]

Physical Characteristics of the Hippopotamus

The National Geographic states that the hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibious), is a mammal which has a a lifespan of about forty years. They can weigh from 3,000 lbs (1,360 kg) to 8,000 lbs (3,629 kg). They can be as long as 14 feet (4.3 m). Their tail is about 1.5 feet (46 cm).[6]

San Diego Wildlife Alliance Library states the bones of the hippo are dense (osteosclerotic).[7] This means its bones are very strong. In addition, the Animal Fact Guide states this about the hippo’s tail. He sways it.

Male hippos mark their territory with their poop. He wags and spins his tail around, flinging the poop far and wide. Watch a video of the tail spinning, poop flinging behavior in action.[8]

Habitat of the Hippopotamus

The hippopotamus’ habitat is summarized by the National Geographic, which states,

Hippopotamuses love water, which is why the Greeks named them the “river horse.” Hippos spend up to 16 hours a day submerged in rivers and lakes to keep their massive bodies cool under the hot African sun. Hippos are graceful in water, good swimmers, and can hold their breath underwater for up to five minutes.

. . .

At sunset, hippopotamuses leave the water and travel overland to graze. They may travel 6 miles in a night, along single-file pathways, to consume some 80 pounds of grass.[9]

These quotes demonstrate that the hippo is both a land and water animal, and it is a vegetarian. It is a herbivore.

Conclusion:

Verse 19 tells us that Behemoth was the chief animal that God made. Who or what is Behemoth in Job 40:15-24? Most biblical scholars agree that Behemoth is a hippopotamuses.

 

References:

1. Wilhelm Gesenius and Samuel Prideaux Tregelles, Gesenius’ Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament Scriptures (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2003), 105.
2. Walvoord & Zuck. Old Testament. The Bible Knowledge Commentary. Chariot Victor Publishing. 1984.pp. 771-772.
3. John Hartley. The Book of Job. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Eerdmans Publishing. 1988. p. 526.
4. Ibid., p. 527.
5. Robert L Alden. Job, New International Version The New American Commentary.  B&H Publishing. 1993. vol. II. p. 396.
6. Hippopotamus (www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/facts/hippopotamus).
7. Hippopotamus.  Physical Characteristic. San Diego Wildlife Alliance Library. (ielc.libguides.com/sdzg/factsheets/hippopotamus/characteristics)
8. Hippopotamus. Animal Fact Guide (animalfactguide.com/)
9. Hippopotamus (www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/facts/hippopotamus).

 

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