Question: "What is the behemoth?"
Answer: The behemoth is a large animal mentioned in Job 40:15–24 as God addresses Job. God’s description of this animal focuses on its great size and strength in comparison to Job’s smallness and human frailty. Modern language has picked up on the biblical description and uses the word behemoth to mean “anything of monstrous size or power.”
The way the behemoth is described in Job 40 gives us the idea that this animal, familiar to Job, was an unstoppable, fearless creature. It’s impossible to identify what species the behemoth is, but we do know this: the behemoth is a plant-eater (Job 40:15) that lives near water (verses 21–23). It is at home even in a flooded, raging river (verse 23). The behemoth is very strong and muscular (verses 16, 18); in fact, “it ranks first among the works of God” (verse 19), and only its Creator can master it. The behemoth has a massive tail that “sways like a cedar” (verse 17). Hunting the behemoth is futile, because it cannot be captured (verse 24).
Some commentators identify the behemoth as a hippopotamus, a rhinoceros, or an elephant. However, the description of its cedar-like tail in Job 40:17 hardly fits the stubby or rope-like tails of those animals. Another theory is that Job 40 describes a type of dinosaur such as a diplodocus or an apatosaurus. Such sauropods were the largest of all land animals (ten times heavier than elephants), were marsh-loving plant-eaters, had tails like trees, and could truly be called “kings” of the animals.
The Bible teaches that animals, which must have included Behemoth, were created on the same day as man (Genesis 1:24–27; Job 40:15). We don’t know when the dinosaurs became extinct, and it’s scripturally possible that some still remained in Job’s day, which was sometime between Genesis 11 (the tower of Babel) and Genesis 12 (the call of Abraham).
As Job sought to justify himself and demand an answer from God concerning his troubles, God shows up in the whirlwind (Job 38:1) and speaks directly to Job. In the end, it is God who does the questioning: “Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me” (Job 38:3).
To help Job remember his place in the world, God points him to two of the mightiest creatures: the behemoth on land and the leviathan in the sea. These animals were incredibly powerful and frightening to behold. They were no one’s pets—except for God’s. The pride and glory of man paled in comparison to the dreadful, untamable strength of the behemoth and the leviathan. How much more humble is man in God’s presence? And that’s the point. Neither Job nor anyone else has the right to criticize God’s work. The One who created Behemoth is worthy of our reverence, awe, and worship. “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!” (Job 40:2).