Review: Piercing Leviathan

Piercing Leviathan (New Studies in Biblical Theology), Eric Ortlund. Downers Grove and London: IVP Academic and Apollos, 2021. (Link for UK publisher).

Summary: A study of the book of Job that focuses on the second of the Lord’s speeches to Job, focused on describing Behemoth and Leviathan.

There is so much that is challenging to understand about the book of Job, from the willingness of God to permit Job’s loss and suffering to the seemingly endless speeches of Job’s friends and Job’s protestations of innocence and desire that God come and answer. In this book, Eric Ortlund covers all this material but focuses his treatment on God’s two speeches to Job, and especially the second and more baffling, where God at length discusses two imposing creatures: Behemoth and Leviathan. God never directly answers Job about why he has suffered, yet in the end, Job describes himself as having uttered what he did not understand and repents in dust and ashes.

Many of us have imagined ourselves responding, “But, but, but…” Why doesn’t Job? Have these strange answers truly given the answers Job needed, or is Job just acquiescing in the face of God’s awesome presence? Eric Ortlund contends the former, offering a close reading both of Job’s complaint and responses, and the speeches themselves, especially the second on Behemoth and Leviathan. In some sense, Ortlund’s whole book is a prologue to his discussion of this second speech. Even so, I found his elucidation of the Accuser’s test and the friends speeches assuming a retributive answer brought clarity to these chapters–both the inflexible fallback of the friends on the theory that Job must have sinned and thus deserved the tragedy that followed, and the insistence of Job that God has wrongly punished him and his desire to have God justify his ways.

Ortlund describes the first speech with its questions as a massive reminder of God’s good rule in creation, and that God is not the arbitrary deity who has punished Job without cause. And Job admits that his criticism of God’s rule was wrong, but that he has nothing else to say in response. Implicit is still this question of all the evil that has befallen him. Then God launches on the descriptions of the massive and threatening Behemoth and Leviathan, who may only be conquered by their Maker. Yet the conquest is not described here, only the formidable armament and power of these “evil” creatures.

Ortlund considers various possible interpretations for these creatures, contending that they represent supernatural chaos and evil. On this interpretation, the comfort to Job is that it is not simply God and Job in the story but that “a massive, writhing evil is loose in the creation.” There may be other possibilities than God unjustly afflicting Job, or Job having done something worth affliction. The massiveness of Leviathan offers reason to believe there is a source outside God for the terrible evil done Job. And the fact that God wields the sword and fishhook that will bring these creatures down, but not yet, offers hope for ultimate justice.

Then more briefly, a discussion follows on the restoration of Job, and why God never fills Job in, as the reader is, on the specifics behind his suffering. Ortlund argues that any such explanation would have invalidated the test, saying that Job only repented and believed to have blessings restored. As told, while Job is restored, what he lost is lost, and throughout his life, he believes God for God’s sake.

To my mind, Ortlund offers a treatment of Job that coheres. More than that, he portrays a Job that believes God for God’s sake, even in his accusations, and a God who finally will defeat evil and is overwhelmingly good, even when this is not readily apparent in the chaos of the world. He treats other views of Leviathan in the course of this book. What I think Ortlund has done is establish an alternate proposal that other readings will have to address and helped make sense of Job’s ultimate response to God’s speeches.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

One thought on “Review: Piercing Leviathan

  1. Pingback: The Month in Reviews: February 2022 | Bob on Books

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