Behold, the Behemoth

“Behold, the Behemoth, which I made as I made you; he eats grass like an ox.”

Job 40:15

If the book of Job is a drama, like a stage-play, then the last long speech belongs to God. But the speech is not what you’d expect in a summation. It’s the speech God makes about the beasts, the Behemoth and the Leviathan, which are taken to be the hippopotamus and the crocodile. How does this speech advance the argument? What does it have to do with the problem of suffering?

Some scholars suggest this section of Job was not in the original. (Some even suggest the whole Elihu section was tacked on.) Original or not, what’s the thematic connection? While it’s true that the beasts are presented as dangerous to humankind, that’s not the main force of the speech; it is, rather, how wonderfully monstrous they are. They are not presented as evil things but as monsters in which God delights.

Isn’t that the point–the monstrosity of goodness? Can you account for goodness in the world? We always ask why there is evil, but who can answer why there is good? Isn’t goodness even more inexplicable than evil? Yes, yes, the book of Job is certainly about the problem of why the righteous suffer, and it wrestles mightily with the problem of evil in a world for which a good God is responsible. These problems are not denigrated by the final speech of God, though neither is any solution given that might satisfy what the philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd called “autonomous thought.” The logic of Job, of course, is dramatic, almost operatic, and the solution is this final godly solo that challenges our presumptions on goodness in the world. It seems to me the final speech of God is necessary to the book.

I write this having just read Karl Barth’s thrilling and revolutionary commentary The Epistle to the Romans, from 1928. How frequently Barth refers to Job, and, in his reading, the God of Paul sounds like the God of Job. First, the judgment, the Nein, the “who do you think you are?” And then the “impossible possibility” of justification and resurrection–that is, the monstrosity of grace, which we dare not domesticate. Even in the “Yes” of grace there is a “No”: “Can you put a rope in his nose, or pierce his jaw with a hook?”

We Christians have to confront this internally. (Barth would add, externally as well, especially in our “Christian actions and institutions,” which is why the Kuyperians didn’t like him.) I have to do it daily. I pray the Psalms as part of Morning Prayer, so again and again I pray the misery and suffering of Israel and the disaster of its history simultaneously with the impossible possibility of God’s faithfulness and goodness, in which I hope. (I get some confirmation from Mozart’s Magic Flute and Verdi’s Falstaff.) The inexplicable surprise of praying these problems with the Psalms is that my soul is satisfied. Is this a monstrous gift of God or what?

Daniel Meeter is pastor of Old First Reformed Church in Brooklyn, New York. His recent ebook is Why Be A Christian (When No One Goes to Hell)?