Matthew Poole's Commentary
Canst thou draw out leviathan with an hook? or his tongue with a cord which thou lettest down?God’s kingly power and authority above all the children of pride seen in the leviathan.
Canst thou take him with a hook and a line, as anglers take ordinary fishes? Surely no.
Quest. What is this
Answ. This is granted on all hands, that it is a great and terrible monster, living in the sea or rivers, as behemoth is a land monster. It is the general and received opinion that it is the whale, which is unquestionably called the leviathan, Psalm 104:25,26; which having been discovered in the seas next bordering upon Arabia, probably was not unknown to Job, who was a very inquisitive person, and well studied in the works of God, as this book manifests. But some later and very learned interpreters conceive that it is the crocodile; which was very well known in Egypt, and all the parts adjacent to it. And this is evident, that the Hebrew thannin (which is parallel to this word leviathan, these two words being synonymous, and the one promiscuously used for the other, as appears from Psalm 74:13,14 Isa 27:1 Ezekiel 32:2) is used of the crocodile, Ezekiel 29:3,4 32:2,3. But I shall not positively determine this controversy, but only show how far the text may be understood of both of them, and then submit it to the reader’s judgment; this being a matter of no great moment, wherein Christians may vary without any hazard. Only this I will say, that whatever becomes of the behemoth of the former chapter, whether that be the elephant, or the hippopotamus, that doth not at all determine the sense of this leviathan; but leaves it indifferent to the whale or the crocodile, as the context shall determine, which I confess seems to me to favour the latter more than the former. To which may be added, that it seems more probable that God would speak of such creatures as were very well known to Job and his friends, as the crocodile was, than of such as it is very uncertain whether they were known in those parts, and in Job’s time. This verse, noting either the impossibility, or rather the great and terrible difficulty, of taking this monster with his hook or line, or such-like instruments, may agree to either of them. For the whale there is no doubt; nor much doubt as to the crocodile; the taking whereof was generally esteemed by the ancients to be very difficult and perilous, whatsoever peculiar virtue or power from nature or art the Tentyritae had against them, as the Psylli were said to have against serpents. Some indeed object, that the last clause cannot agree to the crocodile, because that hath no tongue, as is affirmed by Aristotle, Pliny, and other ancient authors. But that is a mistake, and the ground of it is plain, because their tongues are but small in proportion to their vast bodies, and withal fastened to their under jaws, as the selfsame authors note. And that the crocodile hath a tongue is positively affirmed by the said ancient authors, and by the Hebrew writers, and by the Arabians, to whom this creature was best known, and by later authors.
Canst thou put an hook into his nose? or bore his jaw through with a thorn?An hook, Heb. a bulrush, i.e. a hook like a bulrush, with its head hanging down, as is expressed, Isaiah 58:5.
Into his nose, to hang him up by it for sale, or to carry him home for use, after thou hast drawn him out of the sea or river, of which he spake in the former verse.
With a thorn; or, with an iron hook or instrument as sharp as a thorn, wherewith thou usest to carry little fishes.
Will he make many supplications unto thee? will he speak soft words unto thee?Doth he dread thine anger or power? or will he humbly and earnestly beg thy favour, that thou wouldst spare him, and not pursue him, or release him out of prison? It is a metaphor from men in distress and misery, who use these means to them to whose power they are subject.
Will he make a covenant with thee? wilt thou take him for a servant for ever?A covenant, to wit, to do thee faithful service, as the next words explain it. Canst thou bring him into bondage, and force him to serve thee?
Wilt thou play with him as with a bird? or wilt thou bind him for thy maidens?As with a bird; as children play with little birds kept in cages, or tied with strings, which they do at their pleasure, and without any fear?
For thy maidens; for thy little daughters; which he mentions rather than little sons, because such are most subject to fear.
Shall the companions make a banquet of him? shall they part him among the merchants?Thy companions; thy friends or assistants in the taking of him.
Make a banquet of him, i.e. feed upon him. Or, for him, i.e. for joy that thou hast taken him.
Shall they part him among the merchants? as is usual in such cases, that all who are partners in the labour amid hazard may partake of the profit also, and divide the spoil.
Canst thou fill his skin with barbed irons? or his head with fish spears?This may be understood, either,
1. Of the whale. And whereas it is objected that the whales at this day are taken in this manner, and therefore this cannot be understood of them; it may be replied, both that this art and way of taking whales is a late invention, and was not known in Job’s time; and that he doth not speak of the absolute impossibility, but of the great difficulty of taking them. Or,
2. Of the crocodile, whose skin is so hard that an iron or spear will not pierce it, as we shall see hereafter.
Lay thine hand upon him, remember the battle, do no more.Lay thine hand upon him; either,
1. In a familiar and friendly manner, that thou mayst catch him by deceit, when thou canst not do it by force. Or rather,
2. In way of hostility, seize upon him and take him by a strong hand, if thou darest do so.
Remember the battle; but ere thou do attempt that, consider what thou art doing, and how hazardous thy enterprise is, and with whom and with what disadvantage thou art going to fight, and, as it follows, do no more, proceed no further, draw back thy hand, and be thankful for so great a deliverance. Or the verse may be rendered thus, If (which particle is oft understood) thou offerest or attemptest to lay violent hands on him, thou wilt have cause to remember (the imperative being put for the future, which is frequent in the Hebrew language) the battle, and thou wilt do so no more; if thou dost escape, thou wilt never forget thy danger, nor attempt any thing of like nature for the time to come.
Behold, the hope of him is in vain: shall not one be cast down even at the sight of him?The hope of him; either,
1. Of the fish, i.e. the hope of taking or conquering him. Or rather,
2. Of the man who laid hands upon him, as hoping to take him by force, but in vain.
Shall not; the prefix he being put for halo, as it is ofttimes in the Hebrew text, as Genesis 27:36 1 Samuel 2:28 Jeremiah 3:6 Jeremiah 31:20 Ezekiel 20:30.
Even at the sight of him; not only the fight, but the very sight of him is most frightful. Such is the sight of the whale to mariners, who fear the overturning of their vessel. And such is the sight of the crocodile, by which alone some have been affrighted out of their wits.
None is so fierce that dare stir him up: who then is able to stand before me?That dare stir him up, when he sleepeth or is quiet. None dare provoke him to the battle.
To stand before me; to contend with me his Creator, as thou, Job, dost, when one of my creatures is too hard for him.
Who hath prevented me, that I should repay him? whatsoever is under the whole heaven is mine.Who hath prevented me, to wit, with offices or service done for me, by which he hath laid the first obligation upon me, for which I am indebted to him? Who can be beforehand with me in kindnesses, since not only the leviathan, but all men, and, as it follows, all things under heaven, are mine, made by my hand and enriched with all their endowments by my favour, without which, O Job, thou wouldst not have had either reason or such to use so perversely to reproach my providence. Having now said and largely proved that man could not contend with God in power, he now adds, that he cannot do it in justice, because God oweth him nothing, nor is any way obliged to him; which having briefly hinted to prevent an objection, he returns to his former argument, the description of the leviathan.
That I should repay him; that I should be engaged to requite his favours.
Whatsoever is under the whole heaven is mine; created by my power and favour, and wholly in my possession, and at my dispose, and therefore cannot possibly prevent me, as was now said.
I will not conceal his parts, nor his power, nor his comely proportion.i.e. I will particularly speak of them. Here is a meiosis, as there is Job 14:11 15:18, and oft elsewhere.
His parts, Heb. His bars, i.e. the members of his body, which are strong, like bars of iron.
His comely proportion, which is more amiable and admirable in so vast a bulk.
Who can discover the face of his garment? or who can come to him with his double bridle?Discover, or, uncover, or take off from him.
The face of his garment; the upper or outward part of his garment, or the garment itself; the word face being oft redundant, as Genesis 1:2 23:3, and oft elsewhere. And by the garment is meant the skin, which covers the whole body, and may be taken off from the body like a garment. Who dare attempt to touch his very outward skin? much less dare any venture to approach him to give him a deep or deadly wound.
With his double bridle; to put it into his mouth, and lead him by it to thy stable and service, as thou dost by a horse. Or rather, (because he plainly seems to persist in describing the several parts of his body; of which he speaks both in the foregoing and following words,) who can come within his double bridle, to wit, his vast jaws, which have some resemblance to a double bridle; whence the Greeks call those parts of the face which reach to the jaws on both sides the bridles.
Who can open the doors of his face? his teeth are terrible round about.The doors of his face, to wit, his mouth. If it be open, none dare enter within it, as he now said; and here he adds, that if it be shut, none dare open it.
His teeth are terrible round about: this is true of some kinds of whales, though others are said to have either none, or no terrible teeth; but it is more eminently and unquestionably true of the crocodile, of which this very thing is observed by all authors who write of it.
His scales are his pride, shut up together as with a close seal.He prides and pleaseth himself in his strong and mighty scales. Heb. His strong shields (i.e. scales) are his pride. Or, (as other, both ancient and modern, interpreters render it,) his body, (or his back, as this word is used, Isaiah 38:17; which, if meant of the crocodile, is emphatical, because his scales and strength is in his back, whereas his belly is very soft, and easily pierced) is the strength of shields, i.e. fortified with scales strong as shields. This is meant either,
1. Of the whale whose skin, though it be smooth and entire, and without scales, may be said to be as (which particle is oft understood) strong shields, because it is, as Galen reports, exceeding hard and strong, and almost impenetrable, and like a shield, especially then, when shields were made of leather; and so it is not only on the back, as in the crocodile, but also in the belly all over. Or,
2. Of the crocodile, which hath scales properly so called, and those most truly such as are here described, as all authors and eye-witnesses consent.
Shut up together as with a close seal; closely compacted together, as things that are fastened together by a seal.
One is so near to another, that no air can come between them.Which plainly shows that the shields or scales are several; which agrees better to the crocodile than to the whale, whose skin is all one entire piece, unless there were a sort of whales having thick and strong scales, which some have affirmed, but is not yet known and proved.
They are joined one to another, they stick together, that they cannot be sundered.It is exceeding difficult, and almost impossible by any power of art, to sever them one front another.
By his neesings a light doth shine, and his eyes are like the eyelids of the morning.By his neesings; which may be understood either,
1. Of any commotion or agitation of the body, like that which is in neezing, as when the whale stirreth himself and casteth or shooteth up great spouts of water into the air by the pipes which God hath planted in his head for this use; which water being thin, and transparent, and illuminated by the sun-beams, casts forth a shining light. Or,
2. Of neezing properly so called, which the crocodile is said frequently to do, because it commonly turneth its eyes to the sun, as Strabo and others note; which when a man doth, he is apt to neeze.
Like the eyelids of the morning; to which they seem very fitly compared, because the eyes both of the whale and crocodile are dull and dark under the water; but as soon as they appear above water, they cast forth immediately a bright and clear light, though not like that of the sun at noon-day, which had been too great an hyperbole, yet like the morning light, suddenly breaking forth after the dark night.
Out of his mouth go burning lamps, and sparks of fire leap out.i.e. His breathings and blowings are very hot, or flaming, as the following verses explain this. This also may seem better to agree to the crocodile, which breathes (as Aristotle affirms) like the hippopotamus, of which ancient authors affirm, that his nostrils are very large, and he breathes forth a fiery smoke like that of a furnace, than to the whale, which rather casts forth streams of water, as was noted before, than flames of fire, there being no such great heat observed in whales, nor, as far as I know, in any other fishes.
Out of his nostrils goeth smoke, as out of a seething pot or caldron.Heb. pool. So a great caldron is called, because it sends forth a great smoke, as a pool doth vapours; as in like manner the great brazen laver in the temple is called a sea, for the great quantity of water which it held.
His breath kindleth coals, and a flame goeth out of his mouth.An hyperbolical expression, noting only extraordinary heat.
In his neck remaineth strength, and sorrow is turned into joy before him.His neck is exceeding strong. This is meant either
1. Of the whale, who though he hath no neck no more than other fishes have, yet he hath a part in some sort answerable to it, where the head and body are joined together. Or,
2. Of the crocodile, whom Aristotle, (who made it his business to search out the several natures and parts of all living creatures, and had all the helps and advantages which he desired to find them out,) and Scaliger, and others affirm to have a neck, though some deny it.
Sorrow is turned into joy before him, i.e. the approach of any enemy, which usually causeth fear and sorrow in others, fills him with joy, as being desirous of nothing more than fighting. Or, sorrow rejoiceth, or danceth, or triumpheth, &c., i.e. is prevalent and victorious, and quickly invades and conquers all those men, or other creatures, which are in his way. Sorrow is his companion or harbinger, which attends upon him wheresoever he goes. This may be a poetical expression, like that of the poets, when they bring in anger and fear going along with or before Mars into the battle.
The flakes of his flesh are joined together: they are firm in themselves; they cannot be moved.The flakes, or parts, which stick out, or hang loose, and are ready to fall from other fishes or creatures.
Of his flesh: the word flesh is used of fishes also, as Leviticus 11:11 1 Corinthians 15:39.
They cannot, without difficulty,
be moved, to wit, out of their place, or from the other members of the body.
His heart is as firm as a stone; yea, as hard as a piece of the nether millstone.His heart; either,
1. That part of the body is most firm, and hard, and strong. Or,
2. His courage is invincible; he is void of fear for himself, and of compassion to others, which is oft called hardness of heart.
Hard as a piece of the nether millstone; which being to bear the weight of the upper, ought to be the harder and stronger of the two.
When he raiseth up himself, the mighty are afraid: by reason of breakings they purify themselves.When he raiseth up himself; showing himself upon the top of the waters. Or, because of his height, or greatness, or majesty; for he is represented as a king, Job 41:31. The mighty; even the stout-hearted mariners or passengers, who use to be above fear.
By reason of breakings; either,
1. Of the sea, caused by his motion, which dasheth the waves in pieces one against another. Or rather,
2. Of their mind and state; by reason of their great danger and distress; which is expressed by this very word, Psalm 60:2 Jonah 2:4.
They purify themselves; either,
1. Naturally; that being, the usual effect of great terror. See Ezekiel 7:17. Or rather,
2. Morally, as this word is generally used. Those mariners who ordinarily live in a gross and general neglect of God, and of religion, are so affrighted with this imminent danger, that they cry unto God in their trouble, as is said in like case, Psalm 107:28, and endeavour to purge their consciences from the guilt of their sins, by confessing and seemingly forsaking of them, and to make their peace with God, and obtain his favour and help, by their vows, and promises, and prayers.
The sword of him that layeth at him cannot hold: the spear, the dart, nor the habergeon.That layeth at him; that approacheth to him, and dare strike at him.
Cannot hold, Heb. cannot stand, i.e. either,
1. Cannot endure the stroke, but will be broken by it. Or rather,
2. Cannot abide or take hold of him, or be fixed in him; but is instantly beaten back by the excessive hardness of the skin, which cannot be pierced by it, as may be gathered from this and other passages before and after it. This also seems better to agree to the crocodile, whose skin no sword, nor dart, nor musket bullet (as others add) can pierce, than to the whale, whose skin is easily pierced, as experience showeth in our whales; except the whale here spoken of were of another kind, which is not impossible.
Nor the habergeon; or, breastplate. As offensive weapons cannot hurt him, so defensive weapons cannot secure a man from him. But men that go upon the design of taking either whales or crocodiles do not use to fortify themselves in that manner. Some therefore take this to be another offensive weapon, a kind of dart, as this word signifies in the Arabic language; which is but a dialect of the Hebrew, and from which the true signification of many Hebrew words must be gathered.
He esteemeth iron as straw, and brass as rotten wood.He neither fears nor feels the blows of the one more than of the other.
The arrow cannot make him flee: slingstones are turned with him into stubble.The arrow, Heb. the son of the bow; as it is elsewhere called the son of the quiver, Lamentations 3:13; the quiver being as it were the mother or womb that bears it, and the bow as the father that begets it, or sendeth it forth.
Sling-stones; great stones cast out of slings, which have a great force and efficacy; of which see on 2 Chronicles 26:14.
Are turned with him into stubble; hurt him no more than a blow with a little stubble.
Darts are counted as stubble: he laugheth at the shaking of a spear.So far is he from fearing it, and fleeing from it, that he scorns and defies it.
Sharp stones are under him: he spreadeth sharp pointed things upon the mire.According to this translation the sense is, his skin is so hard and impenetrable, that the sharpest stones are as easy to him as the mire, and make no more impression upon him. But the words are and may be otherwise rendered, as continuing the former sense, They (to wit, the arrows, darts, or stones cast at him) are or fall
under him, like (which particle is oft understood) sharp shreds, or fragments of stones;
he spreadeth sharp pointed things (to wit, the pieces of swords or darts which were flung at him, and broken upon him) upon the mire. The fragments of broken weapons lie as thick at the bottom of the water in the place of the fight as little stones do in the mire, or as they do in a field after some fierce and furious battle. Or thus, With him (or for him, i.e. for his defence) are sharp stones; he spreadeth himself like an arrow or threshing instrument (which is filled and fortified with iron)
in the mire or mud in the bottom of the water: so he doth not describe his resting-place, but rather his back, which he not unfitly compares to sharp stones or threshing instruments, because the darts or stones east at him pierce no more into him than they would do into them if they were thrown at them.
He maketh the deep to boil like a pot: he maketh the sea like a pot of ointment.The deep; the deep waters, or the sea, which is called the deep, Psalm 107:24 Jonah 2:3, as it is explained in the next clause.
To boil like a pot; to swell, and foam, and froth by his strong and vehement motion, as any liquor doth when it is boiled in a pot.
The sea; either the great sea, the proper place of the whale, Psalm 104:25; or the great river Nilus, which is called a sea, both in Scripture, as Isaiah 11:15, and in other authors, (of which see my Latin Synopsis,) as Euphrates is called the sea of Babylon, Isaiah 21:1 Jeremiah 51:36; or lakes or pools, which are most frequently called seas, both in the Old and New Testament, as every one knows. And in such lakes the crocodiles are no less than in Nilus, as it is attested by Herodotus, and Strabo, and others.
Like a pot of ointment: this clause seems to be added very emphatically, to intimate that this leviathan causeth not only a vehement commotion, but also a great fragrancy in the sea or waters where it is; which, though it was not observed by the ancients, yet is unanimously affirmed by later authors upon their own knowledge and experience, that it casts a perfume like musk; of which see the names and words of the authors in my Latin Synopsis.
He maketh a path to shine after him; one would think the deep to be hoary.When he raiseth himself to the top of the waters, he doth as it were plough it up, and make large furrows, and causeth a white froth or foam upon the waters.
Upon earth there is not his like, who is made without fear.Upon earth; either,
1. Strictly so called, as it is distinguished from the sea or rivers. There is no land creature comparable to him for strength and courage. Or,
2. Largely taken. No creature equals him in all points. Or, upon the dust, as the word properly signifies, i.e. among the things that creep in the dust, among which this may in some sort be numbered for the shortness of its feet. But this were no great honour to it, to be the chief of creeping things; and therefore the former translation seems more proper for the present design of magnifying this creature above all others.
Who is made without fear; fears no enemy, as being full of courage, and sensible of his own invincible strength. Or, so as he cannot be bruised or broken, by reason of his prodigious hardness, of which I have spoken before.
He beholdeth all high things: he is a king over all the children of pride.He doth not turn his back upon nor hide his face from the highest and proudest creatures, but looks upon them with a bold and undaunted countenance, as being without any fear of them, as was now said. He carries himself with princely majesty and courage towards the stoutest and loftiest creatures; which, though of far higher stature than himself, he striketh down with one stroke of his tail, as he commonly doth cows, and horses, and sometimes elephants.