Interpreters of the Book of Job have struggled to unlock its mysteries and to determine its message and modern relevance. One of the more important questions facing interpreters of this challenging book pertains to the identity of Behemoth and Leviathan, two imposing creatures described in detail in chapters 40–41. For some these are two especially impressive creatures (perhaps the hippopotamus and crocodile, respectively) from the natural realm. In this view, these chapters simply intensify the presentation of chapters 38–39, offering Job additional evidence of God’s sovereignty over His created order.
More recently some writers, detecting mythological imagery of death and evil behind the figures of Behemoth and Leviathan, have challenged this view. Some see a background in Egyptian mythology (see Tryggve N. D. Mettinger, In Search of God: The Meaning and Message of the Everlasting Names [Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1988], 196, who relies on Othmar Keel’s earlier work), while others propose a Canaanite background. In this book Fyall, who teaches Old Testament at St. John’s College in Durham and is a Church of Scotland minister, makes a convincing case for the latter viewpoint. In doing so he illumines the meaning and theological message of the Book of Job.
Combining careful exegetical analysis of the Hebrew text with pertinent material from Ugaritic mythology, Fyall proposes that the Behemoth symbolizes Mot, the god of death, and that the Leviathan, whom the text calls “the king of the sons of pride” (41:34; Heb., 26), is the chaos monster (well-known from other biblical texts and from Ugaritic myths)—a symbol of evil behind which Satan lurks. Typically interpreters of Job see Satan, who appears briefly in the book’s prologue, as fading from sight; some even regard him as little more than a cosmic prosecuting attorney, albeit a mean-spirited one. But in Fyall’s interpretation, exposing Satan’s role in the fallen world caps off God’s speech to Job, providing a powerful answer to Job’s dilemma. Fyall argues that Job’s friends “have a mechanical view of creation and providence and fail utterly to glimpse the supernatural dimensions of Job’s agony” (p. 181). He explains that they “failed to perceive” a “diabolical foe” (p. 183). “Trapped in their mechanical universe, they rightly believe that God is supreme but fail to see the sheer power and personality of evil. That power which has masqueraded in many guises has been exposed in chapter 41. Here Satan has been and is a terrible adversary, but he cannot thwart the final outcome” (ibid.).
Fyall’s work is an important contribution to Joban studies. Many interpreters of the book have missed the core of its message by failing to identify Behemoth and Leviathan as symbols of death and evil, respectively. Once one correctly understands what they represent, one recognizes that God addressed Job’s concerns in a very pointed way by reminding him that the chaos in the world originates with the enemy—an enemy that God alone can and will subdue. Taking to heart God’s message to Job, His servants must avoid the temptation to attribute chaos and evil to God. Instead, they must trust God, the Creator of the world, to redeem the fallen world, restore order to it, and ultimately reward His faithful followers.