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Word Wisdom: Behemoth

The latest inspirational column from Rev. Dr. John Kreutzwieser.
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Word Wisdom

Jacob Carpenter wrote in Fortune magazine on June 2, 2022, “Jeff Bezos built Amazon into a behemoth, reimagining the world of e-commerce and logistics, but his company decimated many small businesses while pushing its employees to the brink.” The word behemoth means something of monstrous size, power, or appearance. It can refer to a company, an empire, a gas-guzzling SUV, a monster truck, anything that could be considered a colossus. Even churches can become behemoths. “[Rev. Rick] Warren transformed his church into a behemoth of evangelical Christianity,” penned Chris Kuo in the Los Angeles Times of June 8, 2021.

Behemoth is a word taken from the Bible. It is a Hebrew word used in Job chapter 40. “Behold, Behemoth, which I made as I made you; he eats grass like an ox. Behold, his strength in his loins, and his power in the muscles of his belly. He makes his tail stiff like a cedar; the sinews of his thighs are knit together. His bones are tubes of bronze, his limbs like bars of iron. He is the first of the works of God; let him who made him bring near his sword! For the mountains yield food for him where all the wild beasts play. Under the lotus plants he lies, in the shelter of the reeds and in the marsh. For his shade the lotus trees cover him; the willows of the brook surround him.” (Job 40:15-22)

No one is certain to what animal the word refers. The ancient Hebrew behaymowth could describe a hippopotamus, a water ox, or perhaps an extinct dinosaur, according to Bible scholars. Behemoth derives from behaymaw which does refer to a very large animal, often labeled as a dumb beast. The dictionary lists synonyms of behemoth as leviathan and Goliath, also Biblical words.

Leviathan is a type of sea monster. Isaiah 27:1 records, “In that day the Lord with his hard and great and strong sword will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the twisting serpent, and he will slay the dragon that is in the sea.” The symbolism connected to this word implies something evil, maybe even Satan himself. In the Book of Enosh, an ancient Hebrew apocalyptic text, Behemoth is described as a male land animal and Leviathan as a female sea monster. According to Jewish tradition both will become food for the righteous at the end of time.

Goliath is the gigantic man that David, the shepherd boy, fought on the battlefield when no other soldier would dare to fight him. “And the Philistines stood on the mountain on the one side, and Israel stood on the mountain on the other side, with a valley between them. And there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span (2.38 m or 7’10”). . . . He stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why have you come out to draw up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants. But if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us.” And the Philistine said, “I defy the ranks of Israel this day. Give me a man, that we may fight together.” When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid. . . . And David said to the men who stood by him, “For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God? Let no man’s heart fail because of him. Your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” . . . When the Goliath arose and came and drew near to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. And David put his hand in his bag and took out a stone and slung it and struck the Philistine on his forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell on his face to the ground. So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and struck the Philistine and killed him.”

There are a lot of English words that have been taken directly out of the Bible. It is useful to be familiar with many Bible stories to understand our own use of words today.

Columnist John Kreutzwieser loves to research words and writes this weekly Word Wisdom column for Moose Jaw Express/MooseJawToday.com.  He has an interest in the usage, origin, and relevance of words for society today. Greek and Latin form the basis of many words, with ancient Hebrew shedding light on word usage.

John would like to know if anyone has a sincere interest in a relevant word that he could possibly research for an upcoming column. If so, please send your requests to wordwisdom2021@gmail.com . Words will be selected according to relevance and research criteria. We cannot confirm that all words will be used.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of this publication.