While we may have grown up with cute little Bible story books, containing lots of tame, fuzzy animals (maybe an image of predators and prey peacefully sitting together, see Isaiah 11:6-9), the Bible refers to some interesting creatures that aren’t nearly as docile:
- A dragon is referred to multiple times in Revelation chapters 12, 13, and elsewhere. In Nehemiah 2:13, we find a reference to a “Dragon’s Well”. (Monsters like this certainly pre-dated Medieval times.)
- A great creature called Leviathan is described in Job 41, which foils the attempts of man to hunt it with conventional weapons. (See also Job 3:8, Psalm 74:14, Psalm 104:24-26.)
- Another creature, this one sounding like more of a herbivore, is called Behemoth. Behemoth’s description sounds pretty imposing in Job 40:15-24.
While we may think of dragons from fantasy stories (Smaug, Pete’s Dragon, Spyro, etc.), the following verse from Isaiah paints a simpler, and more tangible, picture of a mighty sea creature:
In that day the LORD will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent,
With His fierce and great and mighty sword,
Even Leviathan the twisted serpent;
And He will kill the dragon who lives in the sea.
Isaiah 27:1 NASB
Opinions vary on this, but I am of the belief that these were real animals. (Some have tried to pin down their specific identities, but we don’t have to be dogmatic about that. And, if you believe that these were legendary or fictitious constructs, used to make a point, we can still get along just fine…see below.) Regardless of what these creatures would correspond to from our knowledge (and in our language) today, the authors and readers of these writings from millennia ago would have understood these references.
Clearly, there is some translation going on, here. We shouldn’t project our modern interpretation of dragons, monsters, or other great creatures onto what the original authors of the Bible were talking about. However, there were definitely some fearsome beasts whose abilities were respected by writers in those days.
That is, these may not have all been fire-breathing, flying creatures who stole princesses, but history and archaeology certainly indicate that creatures used to roam the earth that were much mightier than the tamed or caged animals that we find in urban centers, today.
Imagine watching an animal that was virtually un-defeatable, and just did what it wanted (unmoved by human intervention). That would be something worthy of respect – not only of the “monster” itself, but of Someone who could put it there, and Who could overcome it at will.
In our world of high-powered hunting rifles and heavy weapons, we may feel superior to many animals. However, when we see how God created both creatures and other elements of His universe that are awesome to behold, we should be reminded that He is the ultimate source of power.
On the other hand, let’s say that you don’t believe that anything scarier than an alligator or mountain lion existed at the same time as human beings, and you believe that these animals were just the stuff of legend. I still think that considering some of the uniquely-made ferocious – but still extant – creatures in our present world should still instill a bit of awe in us, as we get to know the God who made them.
For some thoughts on why the idea of big, scary creatures tend to pique our curiosity and retain our interest, stick around for Part 2 of this article.