Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. The first part shows THE DIFFICULTY OR WELL-NIGH IMPOSSIBILITY OF CIRCUMVENTING AND CAPTURING THIS HUGE AND SLIPPERY CREATURE. (Vers, 1-7.) In language of irony and almost of taunt this fact is set forth. Here, then, is a mere creature of God before which man must feel his helplessness. If man cannot overcome the creature, how much less shall he pretend to vie with the Creator, make his imperfect will the rule of the world, and bend the pride of the wicked beneath him?
II. The second part (vers. 8-34) is A DESCRIPTION IN DETAIL OF THE PARTS, THE ORGANS, THE TERRIBLE ASPECT, THE FURY, THE OBSTINATE POWER OF DEFENCE, AND THE PROUD DOMINION OF THIS TERRIBLE CREATURE OVER ALL OTHERS IN HIS RIVER-HAUNTS. Without at all straining the language or the sense, the crocodile may be regarded as the type or allegory of the wicked - in his destructive fierceness and passion, his callousness, his place of pride and worldly defences - the alarm and confusion which he spreads around him. So fearful and so real does wickedness seem in the high places of the earth. Inwardly, the good man may escape from its power and influence; outwardly, he seems exposed to its baneful sway, and seeks in vain for dominion over it. The leviathan is the symbol of those "kings of the children of pride." The conquest over the kingdoms of force and fraud is reserved for the Divine might of righteousness alone. The great lesson of this chapter is, then, that almighty power and justice are inseparable. Separate in thought for a moment these principles, and imagine either without the other to be associated with the nature of God, and we have a world that is horrible to contemplate - a world where force without right is the only law, or a world where right is ever vainly struggling against force. Put these cases before the mind, and we at once see that they are not only dreadful but impossible alternatives, Neither is that human world, in which, with all its mysteries and seeming inconsequences, pious and dutiful souls are thankful and content to live, the world that is firmly and broadly based upon the eternal will of absolute power and justice. Thus, too, we are taught the truth concerning ourselves. Till we know both our weakness and our moral frailty, we know nothing truly about ourselves. To be conscious of impotence in presence of evil is to confess that we are unrighteous. And this leads to that humble conviction of dependence in which is the great root of piety. Dependence, in the natural and in the moral life, is the law of our being. In the recognition of it, in the acceptance of those relations and the fulfilment of those duties which the gospel builds upon this foundation, consists man's health and peace. The thought of a God who is mere arbitrary power, as the gods and fates of the heathen, can never inspire loving trust or holiness. The thought of a God who is just, but not all-powerful, so that he cannot carry out his righteous purposes (as in ancient Manichaeism and in the strange theory, e.g., of J. S. Mill), can never support the feeble soul in the midst of the temptations of the world, in its struggle against evil. The foundation laid in Zion is built of no such crumbling material; it is raised upon a truth on which to rest is to be secure from disturbance, for upon it all the history of time and the life of mankind are built.
"Praise, everlasting praise, be paid
I. THERE ARE TERRIBLE THINGS IN NATURE. When we look at the cruel jaws of the crocodile, gaping in readiness for its prey, and the little snake-like eyes watching intently, in spite of an inert attitude of body that tempts us to despise the creature as no better than a log of wood, we have before us the mystery of natural terror. Could God have made this horrible monster? Is there something in the animal world like the tares in the field, that an enemy sowed in the night? The unity and harmony of nature forbid such a thought. Moreover, the crocodile has as much right to live as the fish or the calf that it feeds on. Even when it snaps at an innocent and beautiful young creature, it is but fulfilling that great natural instinct of hunger, without which the world would perish. Far more terrible than the crocodile is the old serpent, who brought into the world not natural death, but sin and the death of the soul.
II. NATURE IS ADVANCING IN BEAUTY AND JOY. Both behemoth and leviathan - the idealized hippopotamus and the idealized crocodile - are survivals of a more ancient order of creatures than those which now inhabit our globe. Geology teaches us that once such creatures, and greater ones, were the chief if not the sole inhabitants of the earth. They are really akin to the huge mastodon, a monster that would dwarf an elephant; and the dinosaurus and ichthyosaurus, in comparison with which the most tremendous reptile of our own day is an insignificant animal. While these monsters crashed through the forests or plunged in the rivers the world was no fit place for man. But since their time God has peopled the earth with a fairer and more docile fauna. At all events, with such animals as now inhabit it, he has made it possible for so weak a being as man to rule the world. The older ugly and fearful creatures remain to bear witness to the past. But by their contrast with the general life of the present they show how God is improving the earth.
III. THE MOST FEARFUL CREATURES HAVE THEIR LIVES ADJUSTED BY GOD. There is poetry in the magnificent description of leviathan, especially because the whole hangs together in harmony. There are no real "freaks of nature." The most eccentric creatures have their spheres. The terror and fury of the lower life of nature is all calmly provided for by God. We may, perhaps, think that something must have been wrong,
"When dragons in their prime
I. IT INCLUDES THE PHYSICAL UNIVERSE. All nature is as much under the hand and power of God to-day as when it first appeared at the dawn of creation. Even the disorder and confusion that have entered into nature have not been able to tear it away from the rule of God. God rules through terror and confusion and death as truly as through beauty and life. God does not confine himself to what we call the spiritual. He is not only concerned with that which, in the narrow sense of the word, we understand as "the religious." He is the great Architect, Mechanic, Engineer, of the universe.
II. IT IS NOT ALWAYS VISIBLE TO MAN. The hand that guides is unseen. The reign of law seems to drive back the reign of God. Thus Matthew Arnold writes -
"The sea of faith III. IT IS NOT THE LESS REAL BECAUSE IT IS UNSEEN. We cannot see the guiding hand, but often we can most thankfully detect its presence by the providential result. We may not be able to discern the steersman for the driving spray, but if we have come safely into port we may be sure that he is at-the helm. The reign of law cannot dispense with the rule of God, if God is the great Lawgiver. The most wonderful scientific truth that has been brought home to recent generations is the fixed and uniform system of law in nature. How came this to be so? and how is it that the rigorous laws make for the well-being of God's creatures, as they obviously do? Surely law itself points to a ruling mind. The world is not left to itself, or it would be in chaos. The order of the world throughout, extending to the most distant galaxy of stars, proclaims the universal rule of its one Lord. IV. IT WILL MAKE ITSELF FELT BY THOSE WHO DO NOT ACKNOWLEDGE IT AT PRESENT. Our denial of God's universal rule does not destroy it. We do not abrogate God's laws by ignoring them. The existence of an atheist does not mean the non-existence of God. For the present God waits, giving us our trial, and opportunities for knowing him peaceably and happily. But some day we must behold his throne of glory, if that throne exists at all. Then it will be well for us to have acknowledged it first, and to approach it as his obedient servants coming home from their toil. - W.F.A.
III. IT IS NOT THE LESS REAL BECAUSE IT IS UNSEEN. We cannot see the guiding hand, but often we can most thankfully detect its presence by the providential result. We may not be able to discern the steersman for the driving spray, but if we have come safely into port we may be sure that he is at-the helm. The reign of law cannot dispense with the rule of God, if God is the great Lawgiver. The most wonderful scientific truth that has been brought home to recent generations is the fixed and uniform system of law in nature. How came this to be so? and how is it that the rigorous laws make for the well-being of God's creatures, as they obviously do? Surely law itself points to a ruling mind. The world is not left to itself, or it would be in chaos. The order of the world throughout, extending to the most distant galaxy of stars, proclaims the universal rule of its one Lord.
IV. IT WILL MAKE ITSELF FELT BY THOSE WHO DO NOT ACKNOWLEDGE IT AT PRESENT. Our denial of God's universal rule does not destroy it. We do not abrogate God's laws by ignoring them. The existence of an atheist does not mean the non-existence of God. For the present God waits, giving us our trial, and opportunities for knowing him peaceably and happily. But some day we must behold his throne of glory, if that throne exists at all. Then it will be well for us to have acknowledged it first, and to approach it as his obedient servants coming home from their toil. - W.F.A.
I. THERE ARE GRADATIONS OF RANK IN NATURE. Nature is not democratic or communistic. Among her various orders we observe ascending ranks of living creatures. There is a natural aristocracy; there is a natural kingship. All creatures are not endowed alike. Some are gifted with powers that lift them above their fellows. We see the same facts in the human world. All men are not endowed equally. Some have five talents, some two talents, some but one talent. There are men who seem born to rule; power is native to them. Now, these facts may seem to justify a rigid adherence to differences of rank and a repression of efforts to bring about a state of equality. But we must modify the application of them to men in two or three respects.
1. Men are all of one greatly, and are therefore am! brethren, whereas in the animal world we have been considering differences of species.
2. Men have a moral nature, and can discern a higher right than that of might.
3. Men have a religion, which teaches them that their own instincts and wills are to be subordinate to the will of God.
II. THE HIGHEST KINGSHIP IS MENTAL AND MORAL. It is only in a highly rhetorical description that the crocodile, even when idealized, can be described as "a king over all the children of pride," for he does not really rule over the beasts and birds and fishes of the Nile. It is his dragon-like size and form and power that suggest to us an idea of royalty. And what royalty! Here we have the reductio ad absurdum of the kingship of force. It is natural and right in the crocodile, who lives up to his nature. Yet with all his toughness and terror this animal is one of the most senseless of creatures. It is not much to be able to boast of physical supremacy. The born kings of men are the great leaders in the higher life - leaders of thought, as Plato, Augustine, Aquinas, Bacon, Newton, Kant; leaders of religious life and conduct, as St. Paul, Athanasius, Luther, Wesley.
III. GOD IS KING OF KINGS. It would be a fearful thing if the power and supremacy that are entrusted to the larger animals had been given to them without limits or restraints. But the kingly animals, the lion and the eagle, as well as leviathan himself, are all obedient subjects of the Lord who rules over all the works of nature. They could not rebel against their Suzerain if they would. Their kingdoms are but satrapies of the grand empire of nature which God rules absolutely. Hence the order of the worm in spite of the power of these monstrous creatures. Man alone is able to rebel. Yet God overrules the rebellion even of the human world, and brings kings to do his will, although they may recognize him as little as leviathan recognizes his Lord and Maker. Thus God gives power within limits. Men of the largest liberty and the highest privileges will be called to account before their supreme Master. Therefore it is for us to look up above all earthly greatness and rule to that perfect kingship and that one supreme authority which has been revealed to us in Christ for the guidance of our lives into the path of loyal obedience. - W.F.A.