August 14th, 2011
Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
Pastor Timothy Smith
The Leviathan is one of those things in the Bible that we hear about out in the world as well as encounter in the pages of Scripture. Along with his companion in Job, the Behemoth, we don’t know exactly what Leviathan is. Some people think that the crocodile is the closest thing they can imagine to Leviathan’s tough hide and powerful tail, and other people have set out the elephant as their idea of this creature who lurks below the water, waiting for prey to devour. It’s not my duty today to define this creature perfectly for you, but it is my task to explain what God is saying to you and to me through the poetry of Job, and it is your task to meditate with me on the warning God gives us through the Leviathan, and the gospel promise that is made more bright and clear than ever when set against the murky darkness of this terrifying creature in the book of Job. Let’s let King David give us a thought for a theme: The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear?
Let’s very quickly bring us to this point in Job. The devil himself, Satan the Accuser, has proposed to God that he could get Job to curse God if he afflicted him with a disease and took away all his possessions. The Lord, confident of Job’s faith, permitted this test, as long as the devil spared Job’s life. Three (or, we learn later, four) friends arrive to console Job and to accuse him of hiding some sin that brought on this attack, which they think is from the Lord, although the reverse is true: Job is not attacked by God for a sin, but he has been attacked by the devil because of his faith. Job friends are quiet companions for a week, but then, if I read the clues in the text correctly, for three days and nights they torment their friend with accusations, during which a storm approaches and finally silences them all with its terrifying thunder and lightning. Then the Lord speaks from the storm—if you read back through Job, you will note that the Lord had been approaching the whole time; he had never left Job at all.
When the Lord arrived, he picked up on the conversation of Job’s friends, and he challenged them to tell whether any of them could say where the rain and snow come from, or the wind, or the stars. Then the Lord questioned Job about seven ordinary animals, like the hawk and the wild ox, the horse and the lioness. After asking whether Job or any of his friends were there when he created the world or any of these seven ordinary creatures, the Lord turns to two extraordinary creatures. First came Behemoth—a beast which God describes in chapter 40, and Leviathan, the monster before us today.
In the New Testament, there are references to the Beast and the Dragon which sound very much like an application of Behemoth and Leviathan. Should we think the same way?
Whom should I fear?
The Leviathan is pictured as destructive, as terrifying, as unbeatable—this is something Job and you and I should fear, and respect, and we should make plenty of room for him. The word leviathan in Hebrew seems to come from a root word meaning “bend” or “twist.” And although an ordinary animal could fit most of the description, nothing on earth today and nothing we know of that’s extinct fits the description we have here of the leviathan.
So before we apply this mysterious creature to our lives, let’s notice—please indulge me—let’s notice just one more thing. The book of Job is one of the Bible’s great Wisdom Books, which means that as in Proverbs, we expect that there will be some symbolism in the words, especially things like colors, numbers and even minerals in Job. The Lord mentioned seven ordinary creatures, and just two extraordinary creatures as he questioned his servant. But that’s only nine. In a book like Job, we would expect there to be a round ten examples, as long as the Lord through the poet is teaching us something here. But all through the book of Job, there has been a creature of God who has gone unmentioned, and virtually unnoticed by Job and his friends—and that’s the devil himself.
In the description of Leviathan, God has left room for something unmentioned and even more fearsome for us to consider. And so rather than trying to identify this monster—which cannot be identified—we should take the next step, and recognize the unnamed terror underlying everything in the book, and responsible for all of the sin, the pain, the loss, the trouble and the temptation in our lives.
Would you try to catch the monster Leviathan with a fishhook? Well, would you ever dare to go fishing for the devil himself? Would you want to keep Lucifer in the back field with a ring through his nose like your uncle’s prizewinning bull? Will you beg the devil for mercy? Will evil—the evil that tempted Eve with the slightest pinprick of a lie—will evil be merciful with you? Will evil be gentle with you? Will you make a bargain with the devil and agree to be in his debt? To become his slave?
Be careful with your faith. We get angry with the world, and we get angry with sinfulness, and we get angry that our plans fall through. Who are we angry with? Are we angry with God ? If we’re angry with God, who will we turn to for help? Who is really looking after us? If we listen to the hissing lies of the devil, we will be tempted to lay our troubles at God’s door instead of laying our sins down at the foot of the cross.
Remember what John said about the Great Dragon in Revelation:
The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ!” (Rev. 12:9-10).
In verse 14, God warns about Leviathan: Who dares open the doors of its mouth, ringed about with fearsome teeth? If that’s true of a dangerous and impossibly terrifying creature, how much more true isn’t it of the devil himself? Don’t let him open his mouth in your life. Don’t listen to his whispers, and don’t listen to the way he shouts at you through your TV set or the New York State supreme court. Keep his mouth shut. We do that spiritually by tuning the devil out when he tries to talk and by listening to God. When we hear what the Lord has to say, we will be better prepared to recognize the Adversary, the Satan, when he bares his teeth in our lives.
As the Lord describes Leviathan’s back as protected and tough, we have to remember that the devil has strong defenses, too. Doubt, fear, peer pressure, habit, tradition—all of these are trenches and battlements around the devil’s lies that cloak them in mist and fog and make them hard to recognize and even harder to pierce. And there is truly on one weapon: The Word of God, and especially the very Name of Jesus Christ himself.
The name of Jesus undoes all the lies and deceptions of Satan, and shines a bright light on the true object of our faith—not because it’s a magic word, but because what Jesus did is finished and what Jesus did is true. We trust in Christ alone, and we want his grace and his forgiveness to protect us forever.
Let’s not forget that. A temptation we face today is to think that the devil is only interested in somebody else, that he probably hasn’t got time for you today. But God wants us to think again. The devil isn’t a bunny we can frighten off by stomping our foot when we catch him nibbling in the garden. He is a fallen angel, as awesome and as powerful of any of God’s holy angels, but with none of the compassion or mercy that comes from God himself. All he wants is for you to fall.
So when we’re tempted to ignore the devil, or think that he’s napping today, if we think that we can get away with a little bitty sin that he won’t cheer about and exploit by shattering our conscience and our self-esteem, then we need to seriously recognize the devil’s lies already at work in us, and we need to run to Jesus. In Jesus alone there is forgiveness. In Jesus alone there is protection and victory over the devil and all his fury.
God tells us flat out about the devil in our text: On earth is not his equal. That’s why we rely on Jesus Christ, who is more than the devil’s equal, and we trust in Christ’s victory on the cross for us, when he crushed the serpent’s head and smashed the power of this powerful leviathan.
Through Jesus, we have eternal life. Whom shall we fear? Amen.
41 “Can you pull in the leviathan with a fishhook or tie down his tongue with a rope? 2 Can you put a cord through his nose or pierce his jaw with a hook? 3 Will he keep begging you for mercy? Will he speak to you with gentle words? 4 Will he make an agreement with you for you to take him as your slave for life? 5 Can you make a pet of him like a bird or put him on a leash for your girls? 6 Will traders barter for him? Will they divide him up among the merchants? 7 Can you fill his hide with harpoons or his head with fishing spears? 8 If you lay a hand on him, you will remember the struggle and never do it again! 9 Any hope of subduing it is false; the mere sight of it is overpowering.
10 “No one is fierce enough to rouse it. Who then is able to stand against me? 11 Who has a claim against me that I must pay? Everything under heaven belongs to me…
14 “Who dares open the doors of its mouth, ringed about with fearsome teeth? 15 His back has rows of shields tightly sealed together; 16 each is so close to the next that no air can pass between. 17 They are joined fast to one another; they cling together and cannot be parted. 18 His snorting throws out flashes of light; his eyes are like the rays of dawn. 19 Firebrands stream from his mouth; sparks of fire shoot out. 20 Smoke pours from his nostrils as from a boiling pot over a fire of reeds. 21 His breath sets coals ablaze, and flames dart from his mouth. 22 Strength resides in his neck; dismay goes before him. 23 The folds of his flesh are tightly joined; they are firm and immovable. 24 His chest is hard as rock, hard as a lower millstone. 25 When he rises up, the mighty are terrified; they retreat before his thrashing. 26 The sword that reaches him has no effect, nor does the spear or the dart or the javelin. 27 Iron he treats like straw and bronze like rotten wood. 28 Arrows do not make him flee; slingstones are like chaff to him. 29 A club seems to him but a piece of straw; he laughs at the rattling of the lance. 30 His undersides are jagged potsherds, leaving a trail in the mud like a threshing sledge. 31 He makes the depths churn like a boiling caldron and stirs up the sea like a pot of ointment. 32 Behind him he leaves a glistening wake; one would think the deep had white hair. 33 Nothing on earth is his equal– a creature without fear. 34 He looks down on all that are haughty; he is king over all that are proud.” (NIV, read from lectern)