Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Moreover the LORD answered Job, and said,
Shall he that contendeth with the Almighty instruct him? he that reproveth God, let him answer it.XL.
(2) Shall he that contendeth with the Almighty instruct him?—Rather, Can he that reproveth (e. g., Job) contend with the Almighty? or, Can the contending with the Almighty instruct Him? “Art thou prepared still to dispute and contend with God? or, if thou dost, is there any hope that thou wilt instruct (i.e., convince) Him in argument? Let him that argueth with God (i.e., Job) answer this question.” It might, perhaps, tend to make these verses (Job 40:4-5) more effective if we transposed them after Job 42:6, and regarded them as the very climax of the poem, as some have done. But this is not necessary, and is an arrangement that has no support from external evidence. If, however, it were adopted, Job’s resolution, “Once have I spoken; but I will speak no more: yea, twice; but I will not again” (Job 40:5), would not be literally inconsistent, as it now is, with what he says in Job 42:1-6.
Wilt thou also disannul my judgment? wilt thou condemn me, that thou mayest be righteous?(8) Wilt thou also disannul my judgment?—Comp. what Job said in Job 19:6-7; Job 27:2. God is about to show Job his inability to govern the world and administer judgment among men, so as to rule them morally, from his acknowledged inability to govern the more formidable animals of the brute creation. If he cannot restrain them, how is it likely that he will be able to tread down the wicked in their place? And if he cannot hold the wicked in check and compel them to submission, how, any more, can he protect himself from their violence? how can he save himself from the outbursts of their fury? or, if not save himself from them, how much less can he deliver himself from the hand of God? If he cannot hide them in the dust together, and bind them (i.e., restrain the threatenings of their rage in the hidden world) in the secret prison-house, how much less can he save himself, and be independent of the help of a saviour?
Behold now behemoth, which I made with thee; he eateth grass as an ox.(15) Behemoth.—The identification of behemoth has always been a great difficulty with commentators. The word in Hebrew is really the natural plural of behēmāh, which means domestic cattle; and this fact would suggest the idea that more than one animal may be meant in the description (Job 40:15-24), which scarcely seems to answer to one and the same. In this way the Job 40:15-20 would describe very well the elephant, and Job 40:21-24 the hippopotamus. The objection to this is, that behēmāh is commonly used of domestic cattle in contrast to wild beasts, whereas neither the elephant nor the hippopotamus can come under the category of domestic animals. There is a word in Coptic (p-ehe-emmou, meaning water-ox), used for the hippopotamus, which may, perhaps, lie concealed in behemoth. Then the difficulty is to make the description answer throughout to the hippopotamus (e.g., Job 40:20), since the hippopotamus does not frequent mountains, neither does it exactly eat grass like an ox (Job 40:15).
Which I made with thee.—Fellow-creatures of thine, to inhabit the world with thee: thus skilfully reminding him that he had a common origin with the beasts.
Lo now, his strength is in his loins, and his force is in the navel of his belly.(16) In the navel.—Rather, in the sinews, or muscles.
He moveth his tail like a cedar: the sinews of his stones are wrapped together.(17) The sinews of his stones.—Rather, of his thighs.
His bones are as strong pieces of brass; his bones are like bars of iron.(18) Strong pieces.—Or, perhaps, tubes. His limbs are like bars of iron.
He is the chief of the ways of God: he that made him can make his sword to approach unto him.(19) He is the chief of the ways of God.—This is surely more applicable to the elephant than the hippopotamus, considering the great intelligence and usefulness of the elephant. The last clause is very obscure. Some render, “He only that made him can bring his sword near unto him;” or, “He that made him hath furnished him with his sword.” Others, “He that would dress him (as meat) let him come near him with his sword !” indicating the inequality of the contest. Perhaps a combination of the first and last is best—“Let his Maker (but no one else venture to) approach him with His sword.”
He lieth under the shady trees, in the covert of the reed, and fens.(21) He lieth under the shady trees.—If this description applies to any one animal, it seems on the whole more appropriate to the elephant than the hippopotamus. No doubt the judgment of critics has been biased by their pre-conceived notions about the circumstances under which they suppose the Book of Job to have been written; and the author was more likely, it is thought, to have been acquainted with the river-horse of Egypt than with the elephant of India, though, to be sure, elephants abound also in Africa, and may very well have been known to the writer of Job from that quarter, if the other is less likely.
Behold, he drinketh up a river, and hasteth not: he trusteth that he can draw up Jordan into his mouth.(23) Behold, he drinketh up a river.—This verse is better rendered, Behold, if a river overflow (or, is violent), he trembleth not (or, hasteneth not); he is confident, though Jordan swell up to his mouth.
He taketh it with his eyes: his nose pierceth through snares.(24) His nose pierceth through snares.—Some render, “Shall any take him with snares? while he is looking, shall any pierce through his nose?” The sense seems to be rather, Let one take him by his eyes: i.e., by allurements placed before him, as elephants are taken. By means of snares one may pierce his nose. The Authorised Version seems to be less probably right.