What is a Leviathan?

BibleAsk TeamPosted on

The word Leviathan has become synonymous with any large sea monster or creature. In literature (e.g., Herman Melville’s) it refers to great whales while in modern Hebrew it simply means “whale.”

In ancient Canaanite mythology “leviathan” was regarded as a seven-headed serpent that fought the gods and the good forces. It was therefore regarded as the personification of evil. This seven-headed monster is mentioned in the ancient Canaanite texts from Ras Shamrah (Vol. I, pp. 128, 129) as “Lotan.” This beast is regarded as the same name as the Biblical word “leviathan” (Heb. liwyathan).

Leviathan is mentioned six times in the Old Testament (Job 3:8; 41:1-34; Psalms 74:13, 14; Psalms 104:26; Isaiah 27:1). Let’s examine these references:

Job 3:8 refers to Leviathan as great creature and Job 41:1–34 gives a detailed description to this incredible creature: “Behold, the hope of him is in vain; shall not one be cast down even at the sight of him?” The creature is represented as wild, fierce, and uncrushable, having a large sized mouth with strong teeth. Its body is covered with scales set near together. Whether Job is here describing an animal we know or one that is now extinct is not clear.

In Psalms 74, God is said to “break the heads of Leviathan in pieces” before giving his flesh to the people of the wilderness. Here, the psalmist, refers to the destruction of the Egyptian army in the Red Sea (v. 13, 14). A many-headed crocodile would be a symbolic monster quite appropriate as a designation for Egypt where crocodiles flourished in the River Nile. As for Psalms 104, God is praised for having made all things, including Leviathan.

Isaiah 27:1 says, “In that day Jehovah with his hard and great and strong sword will punish leviathan the swift serpent, and leviathan the crooked serpent; and he will slay the monster that is in the sea.” Here, the inspired writer makes reference to leviathan in a prophetic passage depicting the future victory of God over His foes. The devil is called the “wriggling serpent” who will be killed at the end of time.

Check out our Bible Answers page for more information on a variety of topics.

In His service,

BibleAsk Team