What is the “leviathan” mentioned in the Bible? Was it a dinosaur? Was it simply a sea creature?
The Created Sea Creatures
In Genesis 1:21a it says that “God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds” but are the “great sea creatures” the same thing as the leviathan? Does the leviathan fit into the classification of “great sea creatures?” Surely when God used the word “great” He meant those with enormous size and this must have included the whales, the great white sharks and many other such sea creatures with great size, sea dinosaurs included. The first place where leviathans are mentioned is in the Book of Job. The Book of Job is possibly the oldest book in the Bible and at the very least, chronologically, it belongs in the first 1/4th of the Book of Genesis.
Job’s Observations of the Leviathan
The very first mention of a leviathan comes in Job 3:8 where it says “Let those curse it who curse the day, who are ready to rouse up Leviathan.” The Hebrew word for leviathan is “livyathan” and means “sea monster” or “dragon” and could be possibly be the extinct dinosaur, the plesiosaurus. The plesiosaurus was a genus of large marine sauropterygian reptile. The name “plesiosaurus” means “almost lizard” so clearly it could have been what Job was writing about, even if he had made observations about the skeletal remains or fossil remains of one. It was one of the largest, though not the largest by far, aquatic animals that ever lived and was about 15 feet long and weighed approximately 1,000 pounds. Job could have also been referring to the constellation Draco but the reason I don’t believe Job is referring to a constellation is because of what he writes in later chapters as we shall read.
Who can catch a Leviathan?
In Job chapter 41 and verse one I believe we see why this leviathan that Job mentions in chapter one cannot simply be a constellation because in Job 41:1 it says “Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook or press down his tongue with a cord?” If the leviathan were only a constellation, the references given in all of Job 41 would seem out of context for some star constellation. In fact, it may be more than just the extinct plesiosaurus because of the many descriptions that Job gives. In Job chapter 41 we should ask, can it be said about a 15 foot plesiosaurus or constellation or even a whale that it has razor sharp teeth like iron that can swallow its prey whole (v 14) or where the weapons of man cannot penetrate its body (v 26-29) and can destroy its prey by simply passing over it (v 30) and has absolutely no fear whatsoever of anything (v 31-34)? A surprising find in 2008 revealed by the Natural History Museum in Oslo, Norway was one of the largest dinosaur sea predators ever found. It was a Pliosaur Kronosaurus which is estimated to be over 50 feet long. The teeth that remained are still sharp enough to cut wood. Job warned that if you “Lay your hands on him; remember the battle—you will not do it again” (Job 41:8) since “No one is so fierce that he dares to stir him up” and “ Who then is he who can stand before me” (Job 41:10)?
Additional Leviathan References
The psalmist in declaring the power of God wrote “You crushed the heads of Leviathan; you gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness” (Psalm 74:4) and the author uses the very same Hebrew word “livyathan” which again, when translated, means “sea monster” or “dragon.” Next to Job 41, Isaiah gives us the clearest evidence that this is no star constellation or fossil that he is writing about as we read in Isaiah 27:1 “In that day the Lord with his hard and great and strong sword will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the twisting serpent, and he will slay the dragon that is in the sea.” Here Isaiah not only uses the word for sea monster or dragon (Hebrew “livyathan”) but the word “dragon” which is from the Hebrew word “tanniyn” and means “dragon, serpent” or “sea monster” which could also be another name for a dinosaur. This “dragon” is just another name for the leviathan because the context of this sentence shows that the Lord will punish the leviathan…the twisting serpent, and slay the dragon (tanniyn) that is in the sea. This is surely no constellation that Isaiah is writing about nor is it any fossil that has been discovered.
The leviathan must have certainly been impressive, whatever it was, but not nearly as impressive as its Creator who spoke and the worlds existed (Psalm 33:9) and today He still speaks but it is through His written Word the Bible and He says to those who have not yet trusted in Christ, “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed” (Acts 17:30-31a). Today is the day of your salvation (2 Cor 6:2) for tomorrow may be too late because “at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Dan 12:1b-2).
Article by Jack Wellman
Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Blind Chance or Intelligent Design available on Amazon.